Understanding Autism

by Chloë Barbier – Learning Support Assistant

I just wanted to impart some very interesting facts about autism, which I have been covering in this amazing online course I am doing (TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism). It’s extensive as there are six Units to complete and, so far, I have only done one after having asked for three extensions!

To begin with, here are some key facts to get your teeth into about autism and those who are affected by it:-
● As I am sure you know, there is no known cure for autism and the only
treatment is education and support by finding ways to adapt which will enable them as individuals.
● Some find it hard adapting to mainstream society, depending on how
disabling the condition is for the individual but it may not be immediately
obvious.

FEATURES

There are three key features of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC); High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome:-

  1. Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC): The most important aspect of someone with the ASC is that they adapt to everyday life even though the care and support that person may need can vary. They have limited social, emotional and communication skills and a tendency to engage in obsessive and repetitive behaviour.
  2. High-Functioning Autism (HFA): They are significantly more intelligent than average. Some of the features include limited social skills, obsessive interests and emotional responses, which in some cases are inappropriate. Their intelligence means they are more likely to have professional positions, which is a big benefit in terms of career progression. They have a greater ability to take a key interest in one or more activities, which encourages study, progress and excellence.
  3. Asperger’s Syndrome: Relatively challenging to diagnose therefore many people go medically undiagnosed. Their general behaviour is similar to people in mainstream society; they lack the language and developmental delays of other autism disorders.

Autism can become severe when they have obsessive interests and show a lack of flexibility and adaptability.

Some children are diagnosed as early as 18 months or as late as 18 years old. Their social skills are likely to differ in scope and nature across the autistic spectrum and may include the following:-

● Physical contact (try to avoid it)
● Eye contact (some are more willing than others)
● Response to crowds (can become anxious or distressed)
● Response to unfamiliar surroundings (may become anxious or withdrawn)

From a very early age, my son’s best friend was, and still is, a child with autism and we saw for ourselves that social interaction was a key component to his difficulty but as the years passed and he became comfortable with us socially we felt privileged to be accepted and trusted by him.

KEY FACTS

It is important to remember that obsessions for people with autism is a great source of enjoyment and pleasure. However, it does need to be managed so it doesn’t interfere with day to day activities but it can also lead to positive outcomes like having a career in their particular interest.

It’s worth noting a few of the famous Autistic People in history are/were:-
● Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
● Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
● Tim Burton & Stanley Kubrick – Film Directors
● James Joyce & Lewis Carroll – Authors
● Henry Cavendish – Scientist
● Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
● Emily Dickinson & William Butler Yeats – Poets
● Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
● Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster
● Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
● Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
● Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
● Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
● Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
● Andy Warhol – Artist
● Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosopher

I am looking forward to gaining more knowledge, finishing the other five units and perhaps passing on to you some more information and hopefully some strategies in dealing with them for the best outcome.

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The Virtual Whiteboard for Online Learning – Google’s Jamboard

by Lotoya Patrick-Taylor – School Numeracy Lead & Teaching Lead of Maths

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein

Firstly, on the matter of ‘seeing’ what students are doing ‘live’.

The following are my top three virtual whiteboards that address this issue:

  1. Jamboard. This white board is embedded in the Google Meet.

Why I like this:

I am in love with Google’s Jamboard and I have been using it in literally all of my live lessons since the beginning of this year.

  • It gives the ease of being in the same place as my meet.
  • It allows collaboration among my students. In advance of the lesson, I populate the slides with questions and I use the coloured sticky notes feature to put the names of the students I want to work together or alone on the respective slides. Note: I keep a slide with all the names so that I do not have to write these out each time.
  • I can see what each student is working on and give them instant feedback then move on to the next slide to see what another pair or individual student is doing. The art of circulating virtually! #virtualwalk (This hashtag sounds nice to my brain at this moment in time 🙂 
  • The Jam is always available! It’s like a book; you write on it and then you can skip through the ‘pages’ to go over your notes. 
  • Now, remember how I mention that it is like a notebook – well it’s way better. I can go back and erase and re-write and the students will only see the latest version. Note: please be aware that the students would be able to do this editing also unless you change the editing rights to allow them to only view and not edit. But this is easy stuff.
  • If you do not have a track pad then there is a text box feature for you type or paste your content in.
  • My students love to use this platform. They can make a copy and download this onto their device, for those students who understand what is expected of them – they can continue working on their slides while I am supporting another set of students. Then I can go to their slides to check what they were up to.
  • Also, students can insert pictures of their work from their book/paper onto the jam using their device (but I only advise this if they were struggling to write or finding it too slow)
  • Finally, I could go on and on about this platform because it has become my second best friend for remote teaching. But, I will leave the other goodies and just mention one last pro; you can cut and paste questions/content from another worksheet/past paper or a PowerPoint into the Jam! Woot! Woot! I hope this got you jamming!

Here are two youtube tutorial on how to use Jamboard:

Now for the Cons of using Jamboard

I consider myself a fairly fair and objective person, so here are some things Google needs to fix so that the Jam can be a one-stop shop (although competition is always good for the market right)

  • I have not been able to find the maths symbols in Jamboard nor have I seen them in any video tutorial.
  • I have two students who for some weird reasons, can only join the Jam if I paste the link into Google Classroom – they are unable to access this from the Google Meet. (minor issue)
  • the page/slide length could be longer (obviously also a minor issue since this can be remedied by using another slide). Except, if you have a big class size like my friends in Jamaica (you guys are superstars!)
  • Jamboard is not very helpful if you want to see all your students’ screens simultaneously. This brings me to the next two websites:

Drfrost whiteboard and Whiteboard.fi are another two amazing websites that have many features including many of those mentioned above. However, I will write a post reviewing each of them separately so that they get your undivided attention.

  1. Drfrost whiteboard https://www.drfrostmaths.com/whiteboard/
  2. Whiteboard.fi https://whiteboard.fi/

Cheers to some of my Caribbean readers who requested this post.

Let’s get jamming https://youtu.be/RIMxmnfDSOs (Song by Bob Marley & The Wailers)

Could Flipped Learning Be a Solution to Reduced Curriculum Time?

by Ash Shah – CAL – Maths & Computing

The Research

Flipped learning involves students learning core content without direct teacher instruction prior to lessons, and then using lesson time to participate in activities that reinforce the learning.

How I implemented it

During lockdown I experienced varying levels of engagement from students. Sadly, there was a strong positive correlation between the ability level of the class, and online attendance. An interesting anomaly to this was the relatively poor attendance of Year 12 A-level students. The ability range is more varied than what you may assume of A-level students; their GCSE Maths grades range from a grade 6 upwards. These students did mostly attend the in-person sessions that were arranged towards the end of last year, but were surprisingly slow to engage with online content.

This has resulted in needing to cover a lot of content in Year 13, with lingering concerns over the level of understanding of topics usually taught from April onwards in Year 12. Realising that I’d be short of time, I’ve had to rethink how I can be most effective with lesson time.

I’ve adopted a flipped learning style to help deal with this. The idea of flipped learning isn’t new – it requires students to do the ‘pre-reading’ ahead of the lesson, allowing almost all lesson time to be used for assessment and clarification. It’s closer to the university style tutorials we’re preparing our students for. I’d previously been reluctant to use FL because I didn’t feel quality materials for independent study were easily available, and I wasn’t confident enough students would engage with it, raising the chance that the planned lesson was pitched well beyond their capability. The online innovation over lockdown has helped to reduce these concerns enough for me to give it a go.

So far the results have been promising – the majority of students are engaging with tasks and arrive to lessons with a good level of understanding. I no longer need to deliver content – the lesson presents as a series of attempts and whole class discussions on increasingly difficult questions. Students also seem to be better at supporting each other; I’m no longer the only person in the room with enough knowledge to support others. This allows me to facilitate more than teach, and focus on those who require the most support. With content delivery and independent practice largely happening between lessons, more time has been freed up in class for assessment and support. Lessons are also more interactive and enjoyable, it’s certainly a method I’ll stick with in future years.

Top tips

1. Find a reliable source of ‘pre-reading’ for students to consume ahead of lesson.
I almost exclusively use the Haberdashers Adams’ Maths Department YouTube playlist videos, which offer excellent explanations and link directly to the Pearson Edexcel textbooks.
A huge thank you to those responsible for creating these videos!

2. Be clear with students on what’s expected.
I set the work as an assignment on Google Classroom and students are required to make notes whilst watching the video, copy down the examples with diagrams, attempt selected questions from the textbook, and mark and correct their work (in another colour) to the best of their ability. Students can quite often figure out where they’ve gone wrong once they’ve seen the correct answer. They then need to scan and upload their work using a scanning app on their phones (they all have them!) and leave a private comment detailing any unresolved issues. Consider linking the videos either via online classrooms or your department page on the school site.

3. Set the deadline a day or two before the lesson so you have time to check through their work and can plan the lesson to address the most common issues.
This reduces the need to respond to students individually and makes monitoring their work a breeze.

4. Consider assigning quizzes (via Google Classroom) that will auto-mark and produce a markbook, allowing you to quickly identify the most problematic questions.

5. Stick with it!
About a third of my students have been slow to meet deadlines. This doesn’t represent an increase over more conventional homework tasks and it’s improving over time. It’s worth experimenting with your most reliable class to start with – I’ve recently seen it used to good effect with a Year 10 top set Physics class.

References:

EEF study (KS2 Maths): https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/flipped-learning/ 

TES article: https://www.tes.com/news/we-shouldnt-be-so-quick-dismiss-flipped-learning

My First Year in Teaching – Navigating Cultural Capital in the English Classroom  

by Eli Baigel – Currently a second-year English teacher and Teacher First participant.

It’s Friday morning, period 1 with year 8. Once yawns and animation about weekend plans have softened, we continue with Of Mice and Men. We have just reached the part where there is a vicious attack by the cruel Curley against the sympathetic, harmless giant – Lennie. It’s one of my favourite parts in the novel and the students joke that they can tell I’m excited because I’ve started to sound a bit like Mickey mouse.

The students are gripped, eyes widening as the tension of the narrative reaches its peak. 

Then comes Steinbeck’s piteous metaphor, ‘Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror.’ I pause. 

‘What do you notice about the way Lennie is described here?’

My aim is to gradually move my questioning towards the higher-level Blooms’ taxonomy probing questions. I aim to engage students in a rewarding discussion about the use of animal imagery, focussing on Steinbeck’s astonishing literary prowess whereby he compares Lennie to both predator and prey in order to create fully three dimensional characters that fly off the page and join us in the classroom. But these techniques drilled into us at the training sessions seem a mile off right now.

The students look up with puzzled expressions.

I think perhaps I have posed the question unclearly. 

I rephrase. I pause and I cold-call one of the more confident students. Still no response.

‘Sir, what is bleating?’ He asks.

How silly of me, I should have pre-taught this obscure verb before I started questioning!

‘Great question, it’s the sound a sheep makes.’

More puzzled expressions. 

‘A what?’

‘A sheep.’ I pause again, waiting for that understanding to sink in. But I am not met with receptive faces and nods, rather with more puzzled faces. Even laughter now.

‘You know like BAAAAAA, a sheep.’ 

Sheep impressions have never been my forte (my expertise lies mainly within the field of cow noises). Nevertheless, even my best attempt at bleating does nothing to instil any further understanding within the students. 

After displaying a short Youtube video of a farm and a follow up lesson where I printed out the quote alongside images of a sheep, these students could now tackle any metaphors about farm animals that came their way – dual coding saved the day!  A small win but with big implications. 

I think this is the moment that stands out for me most in my first year of teaching.

It taught me an extremely important lesson; never assume understanding based on the idea that something should be considered ‘essential knowledge’.

However, as much as the story had a happy ending, it is still a learning curve in the way in which I have come to understand this experience. I had originally come to understand this experience through the notion of cultural capital. A term, which I used to bandy about, a bit like ‘flattening the curve’ – pretending I knew what it really meant. I had only recently realised the vast and somewhat controversial implications that this edu-buzzword retains. 

In 2013, Michael Gove had flung the term into contemporary common usage when he stated that ‘The accumulation of cultural capital… is the key to social mobility.’ Even more interestingly, the term has now become a significant aspect of Ofsted’s observation framework but its contemporary use in educational discourse requires further analysis. ‘Cultural capital’ stems from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who examined how the ruling classes have access to abstract cultural capital as well as physical capital that signifies their higher strata. 

The Ofsted definition strays from this original Marxist thought and its ‘cultural capital’ has been defined as, ‘the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’ (Enser, 2019; Ofsted, 2019). The Ofsted definition places an emphasis on human creativity within classroom practice and encourages a form of cultural literacy when discussing the arts. 

My original way of explaining the sheep anecdote had therefore been that the students perhaps lacked cultural capital to understand imagery of rural life due to a mostly urban, inner-city upbringing. However, this sort of interpretation suggests a deficit of knowledge on behalf of these students. It almost sets up a binary opposition between culturally relevant knowledge that must be taught and knowledge which is deemed culturally irrelevant. 

This is a very dangerous proposition that can resultantly undermine cultures that do not fit in with the canon of GCSE texts. The Ofsted definition therefore leaves teachers with an astonishingly vast unanswerable question. A question that I certainly did not feel capable of answering within my trainee year. The question of ‘what is considered essential knowledge?’

Shakespeare? Harry Potter? Benjamin Zephaniah? Priestley? Global Warming? Windrush? World War 1? World War 2? The lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody? 

It is a question that is weighted, charged and infinitely vague. Akala, in his captivating biography provides astounding food for thought when he questions whether formal education, ‘should be a site of power, a place to reproduce the social, societal norms, or a place to be encouraged to question and thus attempt to transcend them and be an active participant in remaking them.’ I think his question could never be more relevant with the recent debates regarding decolonising the curriculum. This is a fascinating but theoretical conversation and can be difficult to transfer to classroom practice.

The ever-pragmatic Barbara Bleiman of the English and Media Centre presents a similar scepticism regarding the term’s cloudy unanswerable question of which culture is deemed essential but goes on to prompt a more practical classroom approach, arguing that teaching ‘cultural capital’ need not be ‘exhaustive but just enough to illuminate the text’ (Bleiman, 2019). She opts for a ‘when it’s needed, along the way, light touch’ approach’. 

Bleiman draws upon the criteria needed at a Cambridge interview and notes that students should display ‘informed enthusiasm and an ability to think independently about your subject… They’re designed to encourage you to think for yourself and develop an argument or tackle a problem.’ (Bleiman, 2019) The essential knowledge needed for the most prestigious universities is more skill-based than knowledge-based.

It is not about whether you know or do not know a piece of culturally specific information but rather whether you can think critically about your chosen topic. In the English-related anecdote above, it is about teaching the skill of metaphor and how it can be applied in various contexts, rather than focussing solely on the context itself. 

For me, there are two main takeaways here: 

  1. Teach context only when and where it enriches and expands upon the literature in question.
  2. Teach criticality of that context (question the credibility source material, the wider socio-political factors at play etc.)

As I go into my NQT year, I hope to move my classroom practice away from being sheepish and bleating away existing societal structures and move it into a classroom that transcends these structures in order to explore multiple cultures through the teaching of critical thinking skills.

The Importance of Teacher Collegiality

by Houmayra Joonus – Teaching Lead – Modern Foreign Languages

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“The journey that we make together will take longer than if we go alone. But we will arrive at our destination richer, with more insights and support.” (Hoerr, 1997)

What is collegiality in teaching?

Teaching is an on-going learning journey which is often influenced by the climate of our school environment. Whilst some teachers may experience the isolated side of the job, others might come across a supportive team which will positively influence their well-being, their classes’ success as well as their career growth. 

According to various studies, schools where a strong collegial culture is present among teachers have a higher percentage of student progress and achievement. In ‘Improving Schools from within’, Roland S. Barth emphasises that to build a successful school culture around collegiality, there are four important aspects to be considered: “teachers talking together about students, teachers developing curriculum together, teachers observing one another teach, and teachers teaching one another”. (Barth, 1990) So how do we create an atmosphere of communication and learning for us all?

Having been the Teaching Lead for MFL over the last two years, it has been really pleasing to be working with a well engaged and supportive team. Working collaboratively has added an immense value to our department’s teaching and learning practices and we have recently developed some effective common strategies of differentiation and AfL in languages lessons. This has led to students showing more engagement in lessons and making very good progress. But how did we achieve this, given the busy day to day schedules we all have? Yes, it was sometimes challenging! However, we chose to make the most of our Friday Sharing Good Practice sessions and Departmental CPDs to share teaching strategies, plan and present new information and skills to one another. Each team member always showed the willingness to try new teaching strategies that would benefit both their teaching and the learning of their classes. We have also used our DEFT Booklet to observe one another putting into practice the new approaches discussed. This proved to be very valuable for our development as observers as well as for the observees. It has not only helped us to strengthen our relationship as team, but has also enabled all of us, from more experienced teachers to beginning teachers to share our experiences and learn from one another, whilst always keeping our students’ progress at the heart of our discussions.

Additionally, in MFL it is not only about collaborative teaching! If you have passed by U42 on a Wednesday you would have noticed that it is our “bring and share” lunch day or also our birthday celebration day together with the EAL and Psychology Team. Once a week, we take some time off from our busy school day to enjoy some food and have a good laugh together, and this certainly gives us a boost of energy and positivity to keep us going. Over the years, this has not only helped us to build a stronger relationship with one another as professionals but also as friends.

A few words from the Team…

“Our MFL department being so diverse with many of us coming from different parts of the world, it is always a delight to share some of our foods/stories/cultural differences and anecdotes, for example during our Wednesday lunch. In that short amount of time, I feel refreshed and in a cheerful mood. In other words, I leave the office with a smile on my face, and we shall never know all the good that a smile can do to some of our students.” (C.Voisin)

“I’ve always believed that relationships are the most important thing in our working lives, in life in general indeed. Strong, caring and supportive relationships between colleagues and with our students are the foundation on which we can build learning and without them students can’t flourish and nor can we. I don’t believe I would be able to do my job without the support of everyone in the MFL team and not just because you often have to teach me things I don’t know but also because you simply make life much happier”. (K.White)

 “What else can I say? No one had ever baked me a cake or any colleague had given me a most gorgeous present for my birthday, especially considering that I had just arrived! Being a teacher is a hard job, but when you have got supportive, caring and enthusiastic colleagues it makes it all so much more bearable, and yes! Great colleagues have such an impact on teacher retention! Thanks so much for all your support even if I can’t be around as much as I would like to!!!” (N.Ribas)

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“Someone take a picture!  My friends won’t believe what my colleagues have done for me!”

“As one of the greatest Portuguese poets, Fernando Pessoa, once said: “Tudo vale a pena quando a alma não é pequena” (everything is worthwhile when the soul is not small). This is just to say that you all have big souls, big hearts, we really care about each other and look after each other and that makes everything so much lovelier, more joyful and more meaningful to everyone (us, the pupils…). Thank you!” (C.Garcia)

“The first thing that comes to mind is a girl called Sabrina who was in my Yr 11 class probably about 6 or 7 years ago now who said to me once:  “Sir, you know what I like about the MFL department?  It’s one of the only departments where all you teachers are actually friends with each other.”  That has always stayed with me!  As well as shaping the pupils’ perception of us, I definitely think our friendship has an impact on the emotions with which we enter the classroom and it must therefore improve the way we approach our relationships with the kids when we teach”. (J.Keep)

What’s next?

The past couple of months of the pandemic have been challenging for each and every one of us but it has also given us time to reflect. Whilst being isolated, we all faced different challenges and will have to go through different obstacles when settling back again into our normal teaching routine. Therefore, as we come back into school, supporting one another will be more important than ever before. Teamwork will be a vital characteristic of having a successful return to school, where student achievement and progress, as well as the wellbeing of both staff and students will be a key priority. 

So, over to you Capital Team! How can you adopt a more collaborative approach towards your team and colleagues? What is the next step towards collegiality that we could all adopt for a better school culture? Leave a reply to share your thoughts and ideas, we look forward to reading them!

References:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042812014115

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13664530100200150

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/1997/04/23/30hoerr.h16.html

The Critical Role PSHE Plays in Shaping the Whole Student

by Donna Hyde – Director of Co-curriculum and Year Team Leader (Year 7)

Covid-19 has forcing us all into lockdown and we are all experiencing different emotions and are desperately trying to find ways to keep healthy and happy. PSHE and SMSC is coming to the forefront due to this. Can we say for sure that the students know how to look after their mental and physical health? Do they know what to do if they need help? How can we help them virtually?

Despite emotional, physical and mental health being high on everyone’s agenda, both in life and education, PSHE still seems to have limited time on the curriculum and staff and students do not always feel comfortable talking about all topics. This is starting to change but what can we do in the mean time?

What is PSHE and why is it important?

Some of you may not know this but the E actually stands for economic, not education and the subject is split into three core themes; health and well-being, relationships and living in the wider world (includes content which meets the Gatsby Benchmarks for careers education).  This can be seen at Capital within the new Personal Development plan put in place from September 2019.

PSHE is a school subject which aims to educate students on the knowledge and skills needed in life and to help them to stay healthy and safe.  If this is pitched wrong then students may not understand and if we teach it too late students may find themselves in undesirable situations or circumstances.  I feel strongly when I say that every teacher is a teacher of PSHE. 

What are the changes?

The Department for Education has written a new statutory Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education (HE) guidance and all schools have to put this in place by September 2020.  We now teach PSHE under the umbrella term Personal Development, that includes PSHE, SRE, HE, transition, independent revision skills and skills for independent learning.  

The new guidelines for SRE and HE are now in the Ofsted inspectors’ scope and they state that they want to see evidence of high quality and age appropriate teaching and planning to ensure that pupils of differing abilities (SEND, EAL and more able) are suitably challenged. SecEd went so far to say that PSHE works best when it is; timetabled, taught by specialist teachers, treated on par with other subjects, planned well, assessed (data collected) and regularly tabled in senior leadership and governor meetings. The DfE states in the Statutory Guidance for Relationships, Sex and Health Education that “schools should have the same high expectations of the quality of pupils’ work in these subjects as for other curriculum areas” therefore assessment for and of learning should be central to any PSHE education provision.

The growing concerns over young people’s personal, mental and social wellbeing and the Ofsted, PSHE Association and Department of Education guidance is the main reason why we have slowly introduced timetabled lessons, books for all students to reflect on learning, new resources and even the introduction of staff training on sensitive topics. 

What is the relationship within the teaching curriculum and how can we include PSHE into lessons?

PSHE and SMSC can be seen in all lessons and often students do not realise. Subjects such as science, PE, ICT, citizenship, and cooking cover large sections of the PSHE curriculum in their lessons. However, if you do not directly cover PSHE in your lessons you should try to relate lesson topics to the student’s everyday life and not be afraid to have challenging conversations. You do not need to refer to it as PSHE or personal development but try using key words that sit within the PSHE curriculum, such as prejudice, equality, tolerance, citizen, responsibility, respect, anxiety, bias, bullying, morals, democracy, ignorance and if the students do not understand the meanings of the words, discuss them and try to put them into a relatable context. The PSHE Association (2020) supports both direct and indirect teaching of PSHE and states ‘when taught well, PSHE education also helps pupils to achieve their academic potential.’ We regularly include our core values into lessons, assemblies and Capital Community activities and we refer to them when having conversations with students on the corridor or in the playground but do we refer to the wider personal development curriculum regularly? If you are referring to money try discussing actual finance responsibilities that a student or their family may have i.e. a TV licence or car insurance, not just going to the shop with money and buying groceries. If you are discussing jobs try referring to what education you may need to do that job and what characteristics you need to be successful in that job. If you are discussing culture don’t just show traditions and compare them, discuss the wider effects culture may have on everyday life, health and wellbeing. If you are covering sensitive topics explore how they make the students feel. You may even be able to link lessons to current affairs and help students to better understand and educate others on the wider world.

The new statutory guidance is the start of a new era for PSHE and personal development and if staff champion the subject and students and parents get on board it will help our students become more rounded citizens and set them up for going into the wider world.

The Importance of Reading Ages

by April Jones – Associate Senior Leader – Teaching & Learning

What is a ‘reading age’?

Put simply, a ‘reading age’ is a measure of whether an individual is reading at the expected level for their age group. A reading age test will assess knowledge of vocabulary and reading comprehension. Reading age tests, such as the NGRT test and the STAR test that is part of the Accelerated Reader program, are designed to assess children’s reading, and the maximum reading age that is tested for is therefore sixteen or seventeen years. A reader with a reading age of 14 years is able to read a Sun newspaper editorial; to read an editorial in the Guardian, you need a reading age of more than 17 years. The average adult reading age in the UK is 11.

Why does it matter?

If the average adult in the UK reads at the level expected of an 11-year-old, it is tempting to think that the ability to read fluently – literacy in general, in fact – is not important. But there is a wealth of research that suggests otherwise. Here are a few key findings:

  • People with poor literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed, have low incomes and poor health behaviours, which in turn can be linked to lower life expectancy. (National Literacy Trust, 2018)
  • There is a strong correlation between reading attainment and: writing ability; general knowledge; community participation (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).
  • Children with reading difficulties are at greater risk of developing mental health problems later in life, including depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, anger and aggression (Boyes, M. E., Leitao, S., Claessen, M., Badcock, N. A., and Nayton, M., 2016).
  • The desire to read is integrally linked with reading ability itself: children are more motivated to read, and engage in it more, when they are good at it (Mol & Bus, 2011; Willingham, 2017).
  • GCSE exam papers assume a reading age of 15 years and 9 months (the average age of the students who will sit the exam).
  • Reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status (OECD, 2002).

The penultimate point is critical if we think about students in year 11, many of whom study incredibly hard and suffer considerable anxiety in the run-up to their exams, yet still do not read regularly (and therefore have lower-than-expected reading ages). These students are at a disadvantage from the outset: their examinations will almost certainly feature words that they do not understand, and their inability to read as fluently as expected will slow them down. The last point offers a ray of hope to those of us who are serious about ‘levelling-up’ (as Boris Johnson likes to call it), however: it tells us that reading widely for pleasure – and anyone who does this will have a high reading age – gives children a fighting chance of success, whatever their background.

The cognitive challenge of reading fluently

For those of us who read widely on a regular basis, it can be difficult to understand what’s so difficult about it. After all, reading is just something that we can do – we learnt to do it years ago and our knowledge of how to do it is so tacit that we assume it must be easy. But, in fact, reading is a cognitively complex process and there are a number of hurdles at which readers of whatever age can fall. First, we must learn to match sounds (phonemes) to strings of letters on a page. Our ability to do this enables us to turn written words into strings of syllables that we understand. Of course, unless the word we sound-out in this way is already in our vocabulary – that is, we have heard it used before and understood its meaning – then we will be none the wiser for all our successful de-coding. This is why oracy plays a critical role in learning to read, and why the level of a child’s oracy at the age of five is an accurate predictor of their reading age at the age of sixteen. Then, in order to understand a text, we need to be able to de-code and match the words we sound-out to their meanings quickly and fluently. If we can’t do this – if, for example, we are familiar with less than 90% of the vocabulary in a written text – then we will not be able to comprehend it. Sometimes, children have a very low reading age despite a good grasp of phonics. These children need practice and vocabulary exercises to improve their reading comprehension – otherwise, they typically get to the end of a text without having any idea of what it was about.

Reading for pleasure

Finally, a word on the holy grail of reading in schools: the fostering of a culture of ‘reading for pleasure’. It is this sort of reading – reading regularly, widely, enthusiastically – that pays the greatest dividends for everything from mental health to academic attainment. And there is no doubt that there is a strong correlation between the Capital library regulars who devour book after book and the students with the highest attainment and progress scores! But we don’t enjoy reading unless we do it regularly, and we don’t do it regularly unless we enjoy it, and – you can see the implications of this cycle for those who aren’t already readers. As teachers and parents, we cannot allow children to become locked into it. Whether they find it pleasurable or not, they must read! If they do so, the pleasure will come.

How Can We Question Better?

by Zoë Lynskey – Teaching Lead – English

Humans have been asking questions since the dawn of time, many of the first instances of learning was through asking questions, and whether we are aware of it or not, teachers ask around 400 questions each day. Presently, you may find yourself asking why this is and whether all these questions are effective.
Questioning is integral of the learning process: teachers engage students and challenge them to deepen their understanding and foster links between what they know and what they are yet to learn. Conversely, through questioning the subject material and the teacher, students build their own critical thinking skills, preparing them for life beyond the classroom.

Although humans are not strangers to the skill of asking questions, this crucial pedagogical skill requires practised knowledge (Cavanaugh and Warwick, 2001).  It is essential that educators use a range of questioning techniques in lessons and do not over-rely on closed, or instructional questions. Closed-questions have their place – I have found them excellent to use when building relationships with lower ability students, as students have a great chance of landing on a correct answer and are less likely to be discouraged – but closed-questions can be all too easy to fall back on, resulting in missed opportunities in challenging all students.
Wragg’s early study (1993) found teachers commonly use three types of questions:

1. Management-related, e.g. ‘Who is still working on the problem on the screen?’

2. Information recall-related, e.g. ‘Who wrote Macbeth?’

3. Higher-order questions, e.g. ‘What evidence do you have for saying that?’

You might be thinking that this isn’t so bad, as one out of three question types involve higher order thinking skills. In this case, however, 1/3 does not equal to 33 per cent. In fact, Wragg’s study found that only a dismal 8 per cent of questions, asked by teachers, challenged higher-order thinking, while 57 per cent were management related and 37 per cent required information recall. If we relate this to the 400 questions that teachers ask in a day, this equates to only 32 higher-order questions!
So, you may be asking yourself, how can I change this in my practice?

We are all familiar with Bloom’s, and in most subject areas there is still a place for the questioning stems that Bloom’s taxonomy provides, however I have recently branched out and tried a different tactic. The below question types have proven effective in helping raise the amount of open and higher order questions that I ask. In my experience, I have always enjoyed a challenge and found that the times, in which I have learnt more, it was because I was being challenged. Why should we not afford that same privilege to our students?  

References:

Cavanaugh MP and Warwick C (2001) Questioning is an art. Language Arts Journal of Michigan 17 (2): 35–38.

Wragg EC (1993) Questioning in the Primary Classroom. London: Routledge.

The Long Trek

by James Keep – Curriculum Area Leader – Modern Foreign Languages

Photo by Mike Tanase on Pexels.com

Warning! Clichéd, extended metaphor coming up in 3, 2, 1…
Colleagues, you are on a long and arduous mountain trek. It’s been tough going so far; some have stumbled, others have sustained bruises and many have been on the verge of giving up. You’re all running low on energy, yet the steepest, toughest climb, for which you and your team have been in training for so long, is just around the corner. Sounds like a sticky situation. Oh and just to top it off, you’re the group leader, so the buck stops with you to get everyone to the top! How are you going to stay positive and keep both yourself and your team going?

This time of the school year is fraught with opportunities to feel miserable and the temptation for us or our pupils to give up, so how can we resist and persist as teachers and leaders of our classes, when our year 7s have suddenly returned from the Easter break with all the signs of turning into a bunch of overly-confident, too-big-for-their-boots year 8 wannabes, and our year 11s are showing more than a fleeting sign of nerves, having suddenly realised that they possibly should have done some revision after all. 

Firstly, when things occasionally and inevitably feel like they’re all going pear-shaped and you’ve just taught what felt like the worst lesson that the British education system has ever seen, just remember, it’s really not the end of the world! You are still a good teacher and there are tweaks you can make for next lesson that will make all the difference. If you’re not sure what they are, ask your coach/mentor/C.A.L. or anyone you trust to come and see if they can help.

Secondly, record the wins; each time someone finally grasps that complex idea, answers a question in a coherent full sentence, or even just sits in the right seat for once, celebrate to yourself or share it with a colleague. Then cling to those things because you made them happen and don’t dwell on the negatives.

Next, every so often on your trek, remember to look back over your shoulder at how far you’ve climbed, how your teaching has improved, how individual pupils have developed in their grasp of your subject, how the pupil who refused to do anything in September does now actually care enough to do their homeworks.

Finally and most importantly, remember why you started the trek as a teacher in the first place; it was probably because you wanted to lead your pupils up the toughest climb of their lives so far. You’ve been in their shoes in the past, so be assured that you are making a difference in their lives. What greater moral purpose could we remind ourselves of to keep us going each morning as we come through the school gates? 

Whatever you do, stay positive right up to the summit of results day or the end of term. After all, we’re all in it together, we’re two thirds of the way there now and the view from the top is spectacular.

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Making it Stick

by Natalia Ribas – Assistant Principal – Teaching & Learning

close up of woman working

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spring term was a busy one for the staff and students at Capital City who are always striving to get better at what we do. Year 11 students in particular have been working hard putting into practice a series of revision strategies that were shared with them during a Flexiday in February. The Capital Revision Strategies were introduced in order to support students better in their preparation for the fast-approaching GCSE exams and consist of 5 steps to ensure revision is a productive business and not a pointless stare-at-my-notes exercise. After advice from Ms Ribas on how to approach the latest AP results, the strategies (Chunking, Elaboration, Quizzing, Spacing and Metacognition) were introduced to year 11 in assembly by Ms Jones, the Associate Senior Leader in charge of Literacy. She also explained to students the science behind memory, information retention and retrieval practice. Students then had the chance to use these skills in several sessions throughout the day, some of which delivered through Science, Maths and English. Year 11 Learning Advisor sessions have also been used to embed the strategies and students are reminded about how to master their use in all their subjects. The initiative has proven very successful and Year 11 students have become increasingly confident in using flashcards; creating revision timetables; listening to their teachers’ feedback and acting on it; and understanding how important it is to take care of oneself during the exam period. Seeing how well-received the initiative is, staff are now looking into embedding the use of these strategies across the school and from Year 7 so that, by the time students have to face their external examinations, they will be well-versed in the power of the approach and well-equipped for the crucial pre-GCSE revision period.
Revision strategies have always been necessary, but since the recent changes to the GCSE Examinations, being proficient in retrieving knowledge has become paramount for our students to do well. Our staff have been working hard to be able to prepare our students well to succeed in this new framework, and therefore, this term we have engaged in a series of workshops under the umbrella title ‘Making it Stick’. Ms Jones kicked off the season with the first Friday Morning session, helping us become more familiar with the research undertaken by Peter C. Brown et al. in their book Making it Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. We learnt that traditional revision routines (underlining, cramming, rereading…) were not as effective as self-testing or interleaving practice of one skill or topic with another.

According to Brown, low stakes testing is a tool for learning. Active retrieval strategies strengthen memory and interrupt the forgetting process. If we engage in massed practice (i.e. repeatedly revising knowledge or practicing a skill until we have ‘mastered it’), the results are less satisfactory than if the practice is interleaved. Concepts learned through spaced and interleaved practice will turn into durable learning, which requires time for mental rehearsal and other processes of consolidation. And surprisingly, the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit. For example, we learn better when we wrestle with new problems before being shown the solution, rather than the other way around. As Carol Dweck also tells us in her book Mindset, children who are challenged and then praised for grappling with a problem (instead of praised for their natural ability to learn) are less risk-averse and become more successful in their undertakings.
Ms Jones presented a variety of non-subject specific strategies to use in our daily practice to help us reinforce active memory retrieval, such as using ‘Do Now’ exercises to recap prior learning (and not only from our last lesson!) and RAG123 activities for meaningful consolidation at the end of the lesson.
Six more Friday Morning sessions followed on that topic from a range of departments in the Academy. in those, we learnt how to embed such principles in our classrooms on a day-to-day basis and with more specific activities, as well as experiencing the great practice that is being delivered by colleagues across the Academy.

At Capital City Academy we are determined to ensure that our students have the best learning experience in the classroom and that we support them well, by building on their successes and developing a culture where every child believes in their power to become better and succeed. However, we are aware that all students need the tools to be able to do so, and we have worked collaboratively to develop this new approach to revision. With the new Ofsted inspection framework’s focus on curriculum and our renewed focus on the Capital Classroom, we now have the very exciting opportunity to continue this push to equip all of our students for success. By embedding the strategies across all the curriculum areas and year groups, we can support the exciting learning experiences that are already taking place in our classrooms and lead students to great outcomes that will positively impact their futures.

After having completed this Professional Development cycle, we will now work on how to develop students’ independence in the classroom, and Ms Belfield will start us off on the first Friday back from the Easter holidays with INSET on how to facilitate lessons where our students lead the learning. I am personally very excited to learn about the great things colleagues are developing in this area of Teaching and Learning!