Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Writing About Leadership - Leap Of Faith

So, I have put off writing a leadership post since starting this blog.  I'm not sure why really.  No, actually I do know why.  For me, leadership is so complex that you have a duty to be mindful, honest and to consider your impact.  Because of these points, I feel a great responsibility whenever I go to press the publish button. 

Leaders have to be themselves to be truly successful.  They must know their professional mind and marry that with who they are in the real world. They must also not let who they are in the real world stop them being a great leader.  No mean feat.  I took quite some time to allow myself to be 'me' as well as a leader I was happy with - it took some harsh lessons and experience of some very different leaders for me to get there.  Professing to know all there is to know about leadership would be silly - I am still (and aim to always be) learning.

To write about leadership... Where do you begin? Blogging, when it is done well, lays the personality of the writer bare. There is nothing quite like reading a post where someone has been brave enough to share their raw experiences.  These posts have been too rare for me so far; looking back over the last year or so (since I started blogging) I have opened my heart fully in six of the thirty two posts I have published.  Each time I have written one of these posts I have felt a stronger bond with the job that I do. It is a leap of faith, a step out into the unknown.  Speaking from the heart is thrilling and petrifying all at once - it gets under your skin and changes you.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing the informative posts too; I like reading practical posts for inspiration myself.  But the posts where you invest a little of your soul... they free you.

I am working on a series of leadership posts at the moment.  I will try my best to be open and honest about my experience.  I hope I do my past leaders, present leaders and the people I have lead over the years justice - they have taught me so much about leadership and myself. I have the deepest respect for the colleagues that I have worked with - the kindred spirits and those that have been poles apart alike.  Being a school leader is a brilliant position to hold and I have been on one heck of a journey so far.  

So here goes...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Digital Debates - Teacher Talk - Issue 7

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine.

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to effective teacher talk. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.
 Edited by Sarah Findlater

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Marking For The Masses And Feedback For The Future

So this year, inspired by the force of nature that is Chris Waugh, I have taken my classes into a bright new era of marking, feedback and improvement.  We have gone digital.  No more lugging of books home on a regular basis.  Now, from my iPad, I can mark and feedback to all the students with a swoosh of my finger.  No more "Miss I have lost my book and now I don't have the feedback you gave me."  It is there for ever in a safe and secure place to look at, work on and track improvements.  No more giving targets and waiting until the next piece of work in a few weeks to make the improvements.  They are done live, acted on immediately and tracked automatically. No more parental complaints about not knowing what their children are doing in class or how to help them.  They have direct and immediate access to what we are doing in class as well as how their child is doing in each task if the wish to have it.

No more tatty, dogeared exercise books that have been used for months and having to be kept to track work over the years.  Now the students can neatly keep their work from the start of their school life to the finish and access it from anywhere and on any device.  This my friends, this is the future!  Starting with my Y8 and Y10 class, I have introduced them to three new tools to allow us to do this effectively.  We have started using Edmodo, Google Drive and individual blogs on Wordpress.   These three simple tools have been a revelation, they have opened up a really effective way for students to engage with tasks, take on feedback and celebrate their work.  

Note - I fully understand the importance of writing by hand and provide plenty of opportunity for this to take place in class.  They write in their notes books regularly and some assessments are written by hand, a photo taken and submitted via Edmodo as a picture. Until the exams change to allow digital format (that will happen) we will mix the two skills in class.

The Tools - An Overview:
Edmodo is a safe, secure and open environment for communication with students and parents.  It looks a little like Facebook but is completely controlled by the teacher and only viewable my teacher, students and parents if they opt in.  It is so simple to set up.  The teacher signs up, creates a group and a code is generated.  Then, in class, the teacher sends the student to the Edmodo site where they click "I am a student" and enter their name and the code you give them.  This automatically adds them to the class and allows them to see all posts you send to the class.  You can set it so that all comments from students are moderated too if you wish for have full control.  You can set class tasks or homework and feedback on work they have submitted for assessment. You have a digital mark book for the class built into the site allowing for easy tracking of progress.  You can enter the grades for specific tasks here.  There is also the option of creating automatically marked quizzes here and adding them to your mark book too.  Edmodo is where my students submit work, get feedback and grades from me and watch for notices.  Only the student, the parent and I can see this.  An introduction video is below.

Google Drive in essence is simply computing in the cloud.  It allows students to sign in using a Gmail account and have access to the Google Drive facility.  Students are able to create documents (very much like word), spreadsheets (very much like Excel) and presentations (very much like Powerpoint) and they save automatically in the cloud.  This is great as there is never a chance of loosing a document as it save on the spot as you type.  Another great feature is that you can access all previous versions of the document you have created, eliminating the possibility of loosing work.  Also you can access and edit the document from home and in school using any device that allows you access to the internet - brilliant.  There's more though! The peice de resistance with Google Drive is that it allows the students to share a document.  You could ask pairs to share their work with each other and create a presentation collaboratively.  You could ask the student to share a document with you as they work so that you can view and comment live without interrupting their flow or stopping them working.  Google Drive links directly with Edmodo, allowing students to hand in a Google Doc from within Edmodo.  Brilliant tool with endless possibilities in the classroom. An introduction video is below.

Wordpress blogs are the final essential digital tool this year for my classes.  This has been a labour of love for me but well worth it.  I have created a network of blogs spanning down from my main introduction page which is more or less static.  The middle level of blogs houses the individual class hubs for each class I teach.  The final lower layer being the individual student blogs for every student in my class.  The blogs a linked by a network of hyperlinked buttons on the pages creating the experience of a website.  During the creation of this network of blogs, I was advised often by the wonderful Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net) who has created a similar, and in many ways much more sophisticated version for his classes.  Thanks Chris!

Example Digital Work Flow:
Step 1 - Setting The Task:
I open my lessons as normal with students seated at tables, me introducing a concept, skill or new knowledge.  Students will complete a starter or introductory activity in their note books.  I will then guide the students toward the main activity of the lesson, model expectations, clarify any misconceptions apparent from the starter and talk them through the task.  Students will plan or make preparation notes in their notebooks.  Once I am satisfied this has been completed to the expected standard, I will direct individual student to the computers allocated to them.  A reminder of the task set will be waiting for them when they log into Edmodo, often with a help sheet of suggested sites to aid them if they are stuck. There is a button in the message reminding them of the task that says 'turn in assignment' that the students use to submit their task once they have finished.I can see live how many of them have turned in the task and if they were late from my login.

Step 2 - Completing The Task:
Students have a Google account set up via the school as they are under 13.  Older students can use their own Google login if they have one.  The students leave Edmodo up on one tab and open another tab.  Students go to their Google Drive, create a document and use their notes from the starter activity to complete the task.  The save the piece in a folder called 'English' and possibly even a sub-folder for that individual unit of work; All of which is very easy to set up.  As they work I often ask to have access to the document.  Students allow me to view the document from my PC or iPad by clicking the 'Share' button on the document in Google Drive and entering my email.  I can then view their file and advise them via the comment or chat facility.  This allows them to continue working uninterrupted while I assess their work and help them improve.  I can often see them making the specific improvements straight after I advise them.

Step 3 - Handing in Work
Once the time is up for the task, students shut down the tab with Googe Drove on it - knowing that the document automatically saves so no fear of losing the work.  This will leave only the Edmodo window open. The message I sent them in Edmodo that outlined the task also has a 'Turn in Assignment' button within it.  The students have already linked their Google Drive to Edmodo so they can submit a document straight from within Edmodo.  They click on 'Turn in Assignment', select the relevant document from their Google Drive as instructed and hand in their work.  They can also write a message to you as they do so if they have a particular thing they want to ask you or for you to focus on when you mark it.  As the students hand in their work I can see that they have done so immediately either from my PC or on my iPad and can access the document.

Step 4 - Marking and Feedback:
All the completed pieces of work are now available for you to view and mark from within Edmodo.  I use our school levelling system and feedback something specific from relevant level descriptor that I liked about the piece.  I also clearly write a target from the level descriptor above to help them strive towards the next level.  There is a library facility in Edmodo where I store the level descriptors for students and parents to use when looking at feedback.  Students also have copies of the descriptors of the level they are working on and the next level up in their paper notebooks for reference.  Students have a dedicated 'Marking and Feedback Reflection' section in the back of their paper notebooks.  Once I have marked the pieces, I ask the students to log into Edmodo, read the positive comment and target I have given them.  They then note this down in their Marking and Feedback Reflection section of their note books.  Underneath this they write a response to my marking, committing to specific actions they will take to work on the improvements that I have asked them to make.

Step 5 - Moving Forward and making Improvements - The Blog / E-Portfolio
Students then close down Edmodo.  They open up and log into Google Drive and Wordpress in two separate tabs.  They copy their pieces without any improvements made and paste the words into a draft post on their individual blogs.  They then close down Google Drive and simply have their Wordpress blog open on the computer.  Now their task is to take the action they have just committed to after looking at my targets.  Once they have done this they publish their pieces.  They have a piece of work they should be proud of and a real audience to show it to.  I do not level the pieces publicly on their blogs; they have already had a level from my privately in Edmodo.  When it comes to reporting I will use the level from Edmodo and their new and improved pieces on their blogs to form my judgement.  I will be place a comment on each blog post saying what I like about the final version.  For me, this part is still a work in progress.  The only class I have actually got live blogging are my Y8 and they were so excited to publish that a lot of them have not yet made the improvements, but they will be updating their posts to improve next lesson.  Y10 will be doing starting to blog their new and improved pieces this week too!  As long as they are moving forward, I'm happy.  These E-Portfolios are a brilliant way of the students showcasing their work and forming a positive digital footprint for themselves.  Parents can see their improvements by looking at Edmodo, then the blog and seeing for themselves the differences the students have made.

It is early days but the signs of success are glimmering on the horizon.  With only a few weeks gone of the school year, I am very excited about the possibilities.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Digital Debates - Homework - Issue 6

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine.

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to homework / home learning. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Saturday, 5 October 2013

You what? A You Tube Channel For Teaching You Say.

The internet is an amazing tool for finding great educational videos.  I use You Tube all the time. It is a great to place to find video clips of just about anything.  But that is the issue, unless you know where to look you can get very lost indeed.  There is a lot of great stuff on there but also a lot of silly and useless stuff too.  If you direct students to find or research things on You Tube in class or at home they can waste time.  What is the solution? A You Tube channel.  There are so many uses for You Tube in the classroom.  Below are a few ideas to get you going.

Upload your own videos
A great way to engage your pupils is to make short videos for various topics you are teaching or wanting students to revise.  You could video yourself speaking to the camera talking through a topic - a reassuring teacher face in a time of need perhaps.  You can use screen casting programs to record a walk through of a PTT with your voice-over included.  I recommend using something like Screencast O'Matic or Explain Everything. These videos can be used again and again if you teach a topic to more than one class or repeat it year on year. 

Create playlists of videos for class topics
You don't have to create your own videos and upload them to You Tube to use the site for revision or pre-learning tasks, there are plenty of ready made videos and playlists on millions of topics from philosophy to molecular science.  Teachers up across the world have uploaded their lovingly made videos on topics a plenty.  Simply search a particular topic or subject and hey presto - the videos will appear.

Create playlists for inspiration
I like to create playlists to inspire and motivate my students.  I may collect together videos I have used or want to use for assembly or to recommend to my tutors to use with their tutor group.  I also like to have a playlist of videos to pull out of the hat whenever one of those "Miss... why should we care about learning..." conversations start in class.  Great to discuss it and they view a clip to bring it outside of the classroom.  I also like to save music collections in a playlist to have playing in the background for when pupils are writing.  We listened to a variety of love songs while writing poetry the other week, the James Bond theme tune collection for spy writing,  classical music for general focus (Y11 asked for this again today after pretending to hate it last lesson - you know who you are! ;-))  There are lots of collections you could create to help set the tone and mood of your lessons.

Create playlists for extension tasks
We all have the super speedy students in our classes.  Well have them log on, or have their device ready, as the enter.  When they finish early (because they always do!) you can direct them to your you tube channel to look at a particular playlist for the topic and extend their knowledge.  Get them to present the extra information they have gathered to the class when the task ends for everyone else. Everyone is happy!

Save private videos for select groups
You can save videos in your you tube channel privately.  Only you and the people you select can see them then.  This is ideal for when you film students doing presentations and drama for example.  Something that they may be fearful of having filmed if it was available in the public domain.  That way you can still review it, share it with specific people via email and not have to take up memory on devices and computers - and still be able to view the piece from wherever you are.

Create discussions around selected videos
Ask students to comment on videos you have created or directed them to. They will need guidance as to how to do this and what to say so it is useful.  This can be an interesting discussion task with a wider audience.

Flip your classroom
You can set homework to watch a clip / series of clips in preparation for the next lesson.  That way you save precious class time for doing rather than watching and instructing. More information on flipping your classroom can be found here.

Below is a video showing you how to set up a channel if you think it may be of use.