Why a bit of drama is good for you.

Country Gate

Ophelia brilliantly played by teenager Astrid Bishop Picture by Ellen Day

Years of research show that involvement with the creative arts is closely linked to almost everything that parents say they want for their children: academic achievement, social and emotional development, life skills and equality of opportunity among other things. As creative arts subjects in schools are squeezed further by the demands of the National Curriculum and the current regime of being in thrall to league tables and continuous testing, one of the few places where valuable life skills can be fostered in teenagers is by involvement in a local drama group. You know the skills I mean? All together now.

  • Communication
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-evaluation
  • Teamwork
  • Creative thinking
  • Marketing
  • Working to a budget
  • Meeting deadlines

 These are the skills everybody needs beyond school. Testing does not prepare a student for the real world. Life skills are what students need and what…

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Education and Adoption Bill: right aim, wrong means

Robert Hill's blog

The Secretary of State has to be right. No child or young person’s future should be jeopardised by being educated in a school that is judged inadequate.

Schools where pupils do not make the progress they should, ought also to be challenged and supported.

And I am an advocate of the careful growth and nurturing of multi-academy trusts (MATs).

Put all this together and you might think that this means that I support the content of the government’s Education and Adoption Bill. But I have reservations.

First, it’s partly the underlying culture and message of the Bill. I thought we were meant to be moving towards a system where schools led improvement. That has been the government’s mantra. But this Bill feels like yet another notch is being turned on the rack of central intervention. It is more of the ‘done-to’ heavy duty accountability regime which is in danger of…

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KS3 – another revamp!

Musings of a music teacher

Every year we tweak our KS3 curriculum. Every year I think it gets better, and we move closer to something that is really musical and really works, for everyone. Various things have been influencing my thinking in the last few weeks:

  • Some of my students still don’t know where to find the notes on the keyboard. Clearly I need to have more efficient ways of reinforcing this: this made me think that actually, we’re trying to cover too much, and not reinforcing these basic (and rather useful) things
  • One of my colleagues did a great lesson where she made a video explaining major and minor chords that students watched for homework. In the lesson, they had a choice of songs to play, some with easy chords, some with harder ones such as F# major. All were songs they knew, and the application of the knowledge was direct, time-efficient and differentiated…

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Tales from the dark side

For the past few years, as well as working hard at the coal-face of teaching, I have also worked for an exam board. This was mainly due to receiving negligible CPD in my first few years of teaching, so took matters into my own hands and applied to said exam board to mark their A-Level Media Studies papers. At the time, I was leading the Media Studies A-Level, so it was professionally a wise move. I began marking their A2 ‘Critical Research Study’ paper, which took the form of a dissertation but on a smaller scale.  I had a break whilst I moved schools (out of a frying pan into a blazing furnace of hell, but I digress) and changed tack….to moderating course work. 

The ellipses is deliberate, for I knew not what I had let myself in for.  Exam marking is hard, it’s relentless, punishing and the deadlines are, well, mental, but as I found out later, compared to moderating course work, exam marking is a mere ‘Ofsted Inspection monitoring visit’ compared to moderating’s, ‘Full blown Ofsted inspection’ stress levels. 

I’ll briefly give context for the type of course work I was moderating. Centres are given a range of briefs to choose from in the specification, such as a music video or a short film as the main task, plus two smaller ancillary tasks such as a digi-pak and poster.  This should be preceded by detailed research and planning and at the end an evaluation that answers four compulsory questions. The course work should all be produced and published electronically, preferably on a blog – the specification is very specific about this…not that you’d know it from the many, incorrect, variables I saw. 

You attend the standardisation meeting and you then have six weeks to moderate your allocation.  Six weeks you say? Six weeks? That’s got to be better than having just three weeks to mark you exam scripts allocation, brilliant.  Then you begin opening your grey parcels of doom and reality kicks you in the shin as you notice the poor admin (teachers comments copied and pasted, or one sentence comments) or elements of the course work executed so poorly by the candidates, you become livid, angry for them that they were let down so badly by their school.  In short, I spent 6 weeks being tired, exhausted, hungry and often angry.  I moderated for two years in a row and my department, having seen me turn into a shadow of myself over the six weeks, made me promise not to do it again ever.  Hell would need to freeze over and penguins be figure skating upon it before I did it again.  

Now, I could write a list of all the things I learned during my two years working with the grey parcels of doom moderating, however, as therapy at the end of the last session in 2011, I wrote an ‘I wish I could have sent this moderator’s report.’  Be prepared, it is acerbic to say the least:

The politically incorrect version NOT sent to any Centre, but oh how I wish I could have done….

The Centre is thanked for the submission of the coursework although, to be frank, it was a miracle it arrived judging from the inept way in which it was packaged, for, within my sample I discovered the sample that was meant for the AS moderator.   All coursework had been submitted on paper, whereas the Specification clearly states that all coursework MUST be submitted electronically, which begs the question, did you bother to read the Specification before you started teaching it?  The damning Moderator’s report sent last examination period suggests not. Several emails and a ‘jobs-worth’ examinations officer later, the electronic material turned up, which was discovered in, you guessed it, the AS moderator’s sample which made the Examination’s Officer’s assertion that she had ‘carefully packaged up the sample’ somewhat laughable.

The candidates, between the four of them, undertook a 5 minute film in its entirety together with a poster and a magazine article as ancillaries.

It was felt that the marks allocated for Research and Planning were over generous. The candidates’ produced a tedious PowerPoint slide, consisting of dense text that used tiny fonts mainly consisting of work copied from Wikipedia.  It was most interesting that the candidates themselves saw fit to use words and phrases from the mark scheme in said tedious PowerPoint slide show, for example ‘Excellent research into similar products’ without having a clear idea of what the term ‘excellent’ really meant in this context.

For construction, the 5 minute film in it’s entirety, scored in the lower mark bands due to the overuse of a monotonous voice over, which gives the impression that Harrison Ford’s V/O in Blade Runner contains the enthusiasm of Graham Norton. This, combined with ill considered Mise-en-Scene, and the worst wig seen to date in a piece of video coursework, made me greatly relieved when the 5 minutes was up. It begs the question; does your teacher have any interest in the Media at all? The ancillary tasks were massively over-marked due to barely resembling the target product. 

Evaluations were also generously marked due to once again having to sit through poorly executed PowerPoint slides.  All four compulsory questions had been answered, but judging by the content, not necessarily understood.

The Centre is strongly advised to encourage the teacher concerned to sit down and actually read the Specification, perhaps ‘Google’ something about technical codes for moving image even.  More importantly the snooty and unhelpful Examinations Officer should be shown the door and receive her P45 forthwith. 

The Centre is encouraged to continue to take advantage of the resources offered by OCR so the Centre has a clear grasp of what ‘good practice’ actually is. The site at http://ocrmediastudies.weebly.com will provide links to resources and examples of work from all units and the new community site at http://social.ocr.org.uk holds an archived forum for information and discussion.

Here endeth the rant.

So, never underestimate the value of time spent reading the Specification thoroughly; the value of good administration; clear, detailed summative comments that use words from the mark scheme very explicitly, clear evidence of internal moderation; punctual delivery of your sample to your moderator; easily accessible (for the online coursework) and well packaged samples, and an efficient and competent exams officer.  If all these things have nice big  ‘ticks’ against them, your moderator is already in a good mood. Your Centre can be quickly and efficiently moderated and your marks are less likely to be altered.  

I marked exam papers this year, three weeks, 269 scripts which, for me,  felt like a joyful ride on a carousel this year.

Moderating, not for the faint hearted. 


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One small step for me, one giant leap for teacher-kind

So, I emerge from my reasonably safe landing craft onto the surface of an altogether new type of moon, the educational or teacher blog.  There, not so bad, just made my first step.

Continuing with the moon landing metaphor, my journey here began many weeks ago by dipping my toes back into Twitter. I’d opened an account a couple of years ago, got bored, couldn’t really see the point of it, it went dormant. Then I saw some of my (rather wonderful all girls group) of yr 11s getting a tad obsessive about Twitter and my curiosity was peaked. After scratching my head, peering back into the mists of time, my username and password emerged out of the ether and I logged back on.

Initially, I trooped down the more frivolous route of finding celebrities I knew or rated and eagerly followed them, much like my yr 11s. I’m almost, but not terribly, ashamed to admit to being rather over-excited when @EmmaK67 (Emma Kennedy) and @ajhmurray (Al Murray) replied to some direct tweets.  In my defence, and admittedly, it’s a weak one, I was tweeting Emma about her book ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ If you’ve never read it, please do, you may well even LOL and ROLF (deliberate use of text speak there, you know, so I’m a bit ‘street’) and Al Murray when he was having a justifiable moan about tweeter’s lack of grammar skills, mainly involving homophones.  I posted him a link of ALL the homophones within our mongrel language and got a reply, and, even more groupie like, kept the emails notifying me of their replies.  I was becoming swept away by the possibility of contact with ‘real’ celebrities. I could go off on a postmodern, Baudrillardan diatribe here, but think it moot not to, better to move onto the nub of the post.

This did not last long. My twitterverse soon began to change and I think I can lay the blame for this firmly at @ukedchat’s door when I stumbled across it while scrolling down my twitter feed, and like Lucy Pevensie stepping into C. S Lewis’s beautifully crafted wardrobe, I’d emerged into an altogether more worthwhile Twitterverse.

I emerged wide-eyed and blinking, and rather than happen across a talking fawn, I stumbled across a new acronym.  I’m not a huge fan of acronyms, they are often like getting an eye-lash stuck in your eye, an irritant.  This new, pedagogical one was a mystery and she is called #SOLO.  Baffled, I waded in on a #ukdedchat discussion (every Thursday evening, 8pm, hosted by a different teacher each week) about it and asked some naive, perhaps even blonde questions. The first being, ‘What is #SOLO?’  Now, I could have got a barrage of ‘You call yourself a teacher?’ kind of comments but instead, @ICTEvangelist, that evening’s #ukedchat host, posted me a wikipedia link that briefly explained what it was: Structure of Observed Learning Outcome.  I was a little wiser, but not much.  I needed context and I needed it quickly.

Before I knew it, Obi Wan Kenobi, or @Learningspy (David Didau) wondered into my feed, @ICTEvangelist posted me a youtube link of David’s that showed him explaining #SOLO to his colleagues. I had a light bulb moment, I translated it into something I understood in my head, and quite simply #SOLO is all about joined up thinking.  The joined up thinking enables students to do so many things but one of the most important is to make considerable progress during the course of a lesson, VERY Deatheater, I mean OFSTED, friendly, but more importantly, fully engage pupils in their learning and even better still, allows them to fully internalise the content of a lesson and understand its content BEYOND that of what you may have expected. The learning is deep and thorough and involves using hexagons in a way you may not have expected.  Have a peak at @David_Triptico’s http://www.triptico.co.uk/thinklink.html to give you an idea of how hexagons and #SOLO can work together.

So, my light bulb had not just been lit, but sparked, something different and inspiring had entered my brain, a new and better way of teaching, I had to keep returning to my feed and find out more, find more teachers to follow, I had become a very different kind of groupie and kept returning to @ukedchat each Thursday evening and hoovered up twitter teachers as often as I could. Twitter had changed from the celebrity caterpillar into a CPD butterfly.  (I’m going to run out of analogies and metaphors if I’m not careful).

Twitter teachers are full of opinions, ideas, resources, advice, support, friendship, banter and an urge to drink heavily at the end of term.

Many, and I do mean many, of them write blogs. Whilst marking what seemed like an epic amount of OCR A2 Media Studies papers, my wind-down time was spent mooching on twitter, chatting to tweachers, and reading numerous useful, well-written, inspirational, downright scarily good blogs about education and teaching, which was, in many ways, intimidating.  I thought, ‘These people aren’t just good, they’re bloody brilliant.’  which is what has put me off contributing to the blogosphere, cowardice.  However, I have a strong sense of justice and was it really fair me to read all these blogs and not contribute myself? Perhaps not.

I have two tweachers to thank here: @Pekabelo and @kennypieper for encouraging me to blog, advising me of the best platform to use, providing me with a deadline to complete my blog post (yes really) and offering to proof-read and give feedback before going public with it, which is frankly a little terrifying.

So here I am, having my small step for me, but Twitter continues to make its giant leap for teacher kind, and long may it do so.

Here follows a list of tweachers who I follow and often interact with and the very good reasons for doing so. Their blogs are on their Twitter autobiographies.

1. @Learningspy (Obi Wan Kenobi) – writes regular, informative, intelligent, inspiring blogs about teaching and debates (there are so many) that surround it.  Author of ‘The Perfect English Ofsted Lesson’. (waiting for me at school along with Pam Hook’s books on #SOLO), frequently posts many useful articles about teaching.

2. @hgaldinoshea English and Media Teacher, regular tweeter of interesting opinions, ideas, encouraging and supportive of #SOLO, good twitter tweacher banter.

3. @lisajaneashes English teacher, AST, soon to be published author and advocate of #SOLO, full of enthusiasm, writes a mean blog.

4. @LGolton – Physics teacher, fully fledged #SOLO teacher, excellent blogger.

5. @KDWScience – was an NQT when we ‘followed’ soon to be Director of Literacy in her school, #SOLO advocate and blogger.

6.@CanonsOPP – always a sage voice amongst the maelstrom of a #ukedchat dabate, well except near the end of term. Blogger of a wide range of educational topics, #SOLO advocate, leader of teaching and learning.

7. @tomboulter – HoF English teacher, blogger and helpful on all things AFL especially with KS3, lots of useful stuff on his school site.

8. @tombennett71 – TES behaviour guru, fabulously entertaining and useful tweets and blogs, a must read.

9. @ICTEvangelist – does what it (he) says on the tin, organiser of teachmeets, all round good egg.

10. @Pekabelo – blogger, first class tweacher banter, encouraged me to blog and set my deadline

11. @kennypieper – blogger, advocate of teacher blogging and encouraged me to do this.

12. @JamesTheo – English teacher, tweeter of ideas, opinions and no end of useful articles, and am eternally grateful for the ‘Slinky on a treadmill’ youtube clip, which has an infinite number of possible uses; discussions on ‘Classroom Praxis’ – e.g. planning lessons with very open ended outcomes.

13. @MissBex-M – young, bright eyed and bushy tailed teacher with a beautiful blog on tumblr.

14. @GeorgeEBlack – fellow OCR examiner and has a most excellent blog hub for her AS and A2 Media Students, exemplary (speaking as an ex-A2 Media Studies moderator for OCR).


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