Not quite flipped

‘Flipped classroom’ is a term I’ve encountered frequently over the last couple of years. In my mind it had something to do with the pupils and teachers reversing their roles and I instinctively backed away. Of course, I know better than that, so I’ve done my research and discovered that it’s to do with the lesson structure, not the social structure. Lessons are delivered online and the active part is carried out in class. Knewton has a simple explanation here.

This struck a bit of a chord with me, because my colleague and I made something of a first step in that direction last week. We needed to teach a practical lesson to upper KS2 on mathematical transformations, but we were due to be out of class and this lesson was going to be covered by supply. I was concerned about how I was going to explain to a supply teacher, either in written form or in a hasty conversation at the start of school, how exactly I wanted this taught – a systematic way of achieving an accurate result. Overnight it occurred to me that it would be easier to just film myself giving this demonstration and that would save a lot of time. Teachers on video are so commonplace on Youtube these days, one might expect that we’re all filming ourselves all the time, but it’s surprisingly still remarkably rare. Anyway, stifling our sniggers, my colleague and I carried out our demonstrations on video and these were duly played on the whiteboard at the start of each of two lessons. The pupils, apparently, did not snigger, but I had the best results for mathematical transformations that I can remember!

It’s obvious really. In video it’s much easier to close in on the important parts of the demonstration so that all the pupils can see what’s happening. They were more focussed than they would have been if they were required to watch a live demonstration from a distance, but if they did become confused or forgot what to do next, the video could be replayed. It was a striking success. We’re now thinking of all the other ways in which we could derive benefit from this technique. I would imagine the ‘flipped classroom’ is not a million miles away.

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Dear Assessment Commissioners…

A ‘teacher-led’ commission with zero teachers. Why am I not surprised?

Ramblings of a Teacher

Today we found out who would be on the new Assessment Commission to support schools, and I’ll confess to being slightly disappointed. Not just because I wanted to be on it (any opportunity to make people listen to me!), but because having been promised a teacher-led commission, there isn’t a single practising teacher on the commission. Headteachers are all well and good, but the reality is that very few headteachers have direct responsibility for assessment; I’m not suggesting for a second that they don’t have a place on the commission, but someone who has actual daily responsibility for working with the ins-and-outs of assessment in the classroom seems to me a glaring omission.

I’m also disappointed that despite the primary sector making up 2/3rds of the relevant year groups for which assessment without levels, and the fact that levels was the basis of our statutory end-of-school assessment, the sector seems rather poorly…

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Can we ditch ‘Building Learning Power’ now?

Colleagues in UK primary schools might recognise the reference, ‘Building Learning Power‘ which was another bandwagon that rolled by a few years ago. As ever, many leaped aboard without stopping to check just exactly what the evidence was. Yes, there did appear to be a definite correlation between the attitudinal aspects (‘dispositions‘ and ‘capacities‘) outlined in the promotional literature and pupil attainment, but sadly few of us seem to have learned the old adage that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Moreover we were faced with the claim that ‘it has a robust scientific rationale for suggesting what some of these characteristics might be, and for the guiding assumption that these characteristics are indeed capable of being systematically developed.‘. And who are we, as the nation’s educators, to question such an authoritative basis as a ‘robust scientific rationale’ (in spite of the apparent lack of references)?

So, instead of simply acknowledging these characteristics, we were expected somehow to teach them, present assemblies on them and unpick them to a fine degree. It didn’t sit comfortably with many of us – were we expecting pupils to use those dispositions and capacities whilst learning something else, or were we supposed to teach them separately and specifically? When planning lessons, we were told to list the BLP skills we were focussing on, but we were confused. It seemed like we would always be listing all the skills – inevitably, since they were the characteristics which correlated with attainment. But still, teachers do what they’re told, even if it ties them up in knots sometimes.

So it is with interest I came across this piece of research from the USA:

Little evidence that executive function interventions boost student achievement

As I’m reading, I’m wondering what exactly ‘executive function’ is and why I haven’t really heard about it in the context of teaching and learning in the UK, but, as I read on I see that it is ‘the skills related to thoughtful planning, use of memory and attention, and ability to control impulses and resist distraction’ and it dawns on me that that is the language of BLP! So I read a little more closely and discover that in a 25 year meta-analysis of the research, there is no conclusive evidence that interventions aimed at teaching these skills have had any impact on attainment. To quote:

“Studies that explore the link between executive function and achievement abound, but what is striking about the body of research is how few attempts have been made to conduct rigorous analyses that would support a causal relationship,” said Jacob [author]

The authors note that few studies have controlled for characteristics such as parental education, socioeconomic status, or IQ, although these characteristics have been found to be associated with the development of executive function. They found that even fewer studies have attempted randomized trials to rigorously assess the impact of interventions.

Not such a robust scientific rationale, then? Just to be clear – lack of evidence doesn’t mean there isn’t causation, but isn’t that exactly what we should be concerned with? This is only one of a multitude of initiatives that have been thrown our way in the past decade, many of which have since fallen into disuse or become mindlessly ritualised. We are recently led to believe, however, given the catchphrase bandied about by government ministers and a good degree of funding, through such bodies as The Education Endowment Fund, that there is an increased drive for ‘evidence-based education’, which of course begs the question: what’s been going on – what exactly has underpinned the cascade of initiatives – up to this point?