Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Advanced Skills Teachers. RIP ?

Back in 2003 I went through the (rather gruelling) process to become an Advanced Skills Teacher. The idea was to give teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom doing what they love plus work across a range of schools. Also for their salary to be enhanced and their school to have extra funding to allow this to happen. RESULT!

(HERE is some information about the AST role also here .)

I had decided  that I was not looking for a management position so I was very excited about the prospect of outreach and working on collaborative projects. The idea of making a difference beyond my school was an extremely attractive one.

So began a series of requests and work in schools across the county. Somewhat hit and miss with some ASTs being used extensively whilst others were used less widely and a strategic long term plan did not materialise.

Fast track to 2014, a new curriculum starting in September.  Funding cuts across local authorities have led to the cessation of the AST scheme. (read more here ) and there are fewer and fewer  subject advisors across the country. I'm one of the fortunate ones in so far as my LA agreed to safeguard my salary until the end of this year. And I have NEVER been busier with outreach work than at present. Funny that!

Few courses being offered by the county, no subject specialist at county level. Just me. Since becoming a member of the pstt (www.psst.org.uk) I have been lucky enough to receive some valuable CPD which I have been able to cascade to my school and others. But what about all the schools who don't have access to this?

How short sighted is the present system? Teacher training in schools, teachers teaching teachers- this is what the DFE are telling us should be done. (lots of details here ) but WHO is going to train the teachers ? The government have said how important it is to have good CPD , the opposition have muted their ideas (here) but nobody is saying who will provide the CPD (or who will pay for it!?)

Or is this part of the plan to kick teachers out after a few years (see here and here ) I'm all for getting new teachers into the profession- I love working with trainees and NQTs and they have heaps to offer a school, and can certainly provide up to the moment advice , but what about the teachers who have been in the profession for a long time (+20 years = me. Still loving it)

How are we meant to be trained? It's all very well expecting us to train each other- but exactly how and when?

Oh yes, silly me- in our own time of course. Well, that's what a lot of teachers already do- twitter has certainly helped with that- teachmeets growing in popularity.

BUT why oh why end the AST scheme? Other than to save money.

BOOM , without wanting to sound cynical, why else?

And, how short sighted is that?

There is a new scheme to "replace" ASTs- see  here

but there is a problem with that...MONEY!!

ASTs could have (should have) been an incredible support across the country which should have been better managed, better publicised and continued. Excellent teachers supporting others, learning form each other, working together

I'm not bitter about it, I always suspected that it would be a finite thing (there's that cynicism again) and it was good while it lasted. I can't help but think that in the future, someone somewhere will come up with a fantastic idea. "Let's give great teachers the chance to share good practice with others and work together, and let's help to facilitate that by giving schools funding to allow that to happen."

It IS possible to make these schemes work, just need to be well managed and have a purpose. What a pity that this did not happen. But, the future is not set and I shall certainly continue fight for such roles to be values and continued.  How about a secondment basis? One per cluster? See, not that difficult at all, just that little problem with the funding. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

"Opportunity, sooner or later, comes to all who work and wish."
Lord Stanley

Monday, 17 March 2014

Guided reading. An approach that works for me (for now at least!)

Always a topic that promotes animated discussion . Guided reading. How many groups? How often? What do the other groups do? How do you ensure progress? How do you manage it?

We have guided reading sessions daily, 20 minutes. That's a lot of the week when you look at it in its total. So it has to be meaningful to justify that amount of time .

I read an interesting piece this week which you can find  here courtesy of @prawnseye

 There are so many strategies being used out there for guided reading.  I was observed in our recent Ofsted for an entire guided reading session which had good feedback so I hope that you can use some of the ideas.

(My class are a muxed year 4, 5 class. All classes follow a similar format in KS2 )

There are five groups which rotate throughout the week. Children are grouped according to their ability and moved into different groups if appropriate during the year.

Group activities:

1)     Guided reading- with an adult (teacher or TA) using a range of fiction and non fiction texts concentrating on AFs . We have various resources which suggest questions to use for the different AFs. We use some commercial guided reading scheme books alongside sets of books both fiction and non fiction. For example this term I using Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion with one group and The Hodgeheg (Dick Kng Smith ) with another. Records are kept each session to record responses (AF linked) which is used to assist tracking.

2)     Reading Journals- each child has a reading journal in which they keep activity sheets. These were produced by a previous LA advisor and tie in to AFs. We also have various “take your pick” activities for non fiction and fiction which the children complete independently. Sometimes this might be an activity linked to a class read. (For example during Ofsted this group were writing a first person account linked to the class story “The Indian in the Cupboard- Lynne Reid Banks. The inspector had asked me later why I had not scaffolded the work as it was fairly challenging and I explained its purpose was to establish their understanding and had been specifically designed to be an independent task. Positive feedback given.) We devote two of the sessions to reading journal time.

3)     Spellings/Handwriting The children use this time to practice their weekly spellings and to complete handwriting exercises. Each child has a folder for this.

4)     Independent reading. This time is for the children to read ANYTHING of their choice or to listen to an audio book (I am slowly building a collection) They don’t have to write anything at all J

Some children who have difficulties with their reading have more time on guided reading , but all children have time to read books of their choosing. It takes a bit of setting up at the start of the year- even though we do it all the way through the school the start of the new academic year is always like starting again from scratch! However, the initial effort is well worth it. Children make very good progress with their reading and the vast majority enjoy reading.

The new curriculum wont necessitate a huge change in the way we carry out our guided reading sessions. 

One of the most useful tips I can pass on is that I always write down the questions/AFs I am going to focus on a week in advance. This makes for far more structured and focused sessions. I also trained up my TAs by working with them to begin with so that they could take groups as well; this frees me up to hear readers or talk to the children during some sessions. Throughout the year groups change so that I will have worked with them all at some point.

Thanks for taking the time to read; I’d love to hear your views/opinions on this.

Some resources and ideas on pinterest here
A "how to " guide for the children here
More views and ideas here

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lesson Observations

This morning I read the latest blog post by The Primary Head (find it here : http://theprimaryhead.com/2014/03/04/judge-me/comment-page-1/#comment-789 )

It was a very interesting piece following on from the recent discussions on twitter regarding lesson observations and to grade or not to grade. 
( Find it here:  http://educationechochamber.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/beyond-lesson-observation-grades-teacher-development-trust/ )

So I thought I would add my thoughts to the mix .

I don't mind being observed, in fact, if I am going to get some helpful feedback to improve my teaching then it's a good thing. Do I need to be given a grade? Not really. What I need is feedback and reflection. 

 An excellent post on this can be found here: 
 where the school do carry out regular observations (often in pairs) and the feedback is well structured and focuses on development.

I would love to know how schools are able to fund this; I work in a small (6 class) primary and have few opportunities to watch my colleagues teach and to be watched other than the performance management/maths/english monitoring cycles. I'd be more than happy to have a lesson videoed and used as a discussion point (especially if I could have my hair/nails/face done as part of the deal!!- OK, that's probably not going to be part of the process!)

That way would save release time for other staff and the video could be used in a staff meeting to focus on questioning/more able/TA support...the list goes on. 

I would love to hear from schools (particularly primary) who have successfully implemented this. I know that some of my colleagues would balk at the thought of being videoed but it's not going to be put on youtube (!) 

Lesson observations are an integral part of a teachers development. Grading an individual lesson (or worse still just a part of it) does not, in my opinion, do much good for anyone. What teacher does not want to do the best they can to provide the children in their care a stimulating and productive learning environment? Strategies to improve teaching and learning are always welcomed. The day that I wouldn't want that would be the day I leave teaching. I am an experienced teacher and have many opportunities to observe NQTs, trainees and to support staff in my role as an AST. What I would love the opportunity to do more of is to watch examples of excellent teaching from experienced teachers and have time to reflect on the lesson with others. Budget always seems to get in the way of this, but I will continue to strive for this to happen.  

Should I be in the position to make such decisions in the future I would strive to have a model of collaborative observations to allow all staff to observe/be observed and discuss openly where the teaching is most successful and WHY that is. As teachers we constantly model to the children; something we too need for our development.

** I have just read this excellent post http://prawnseyeblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/three-steps-to-heaven-or-at-least-making-observations-more-meaningful/  This is exactly the sort of model I would love to be a part of. **