There’s 12 hours reading here even if you pause to make notes, make lunch and walk the dog. Kate Clanchy has been my weekend read. I go through most of it on one of those ‘stay in bed’, wet mid-December days in 2020 when bedtime became most of the time – at least for me, when not at work in the spare bedroom next door.
I’ve reached the point of maximum hunger when it comes to learning about teaching. I will snatch at anything related to the subject if it is waved in front of me. This is the danger of shopping online; it knows my desires.
I like this on teaching
‘It’s a bodily experience, like learning to be a beekeeper, or an acrobat: a series of stinging humiliations and painful accidents and occasional sublime flights which leave you either crippled or changed’. (p.1)
Can teaching online via webcam be such a bodily experience? An ‘out body’ experience perhaps? It is not helped where none of the students are present – all have their webcams turned off. Like playing blind-man’s buff in a classrom – and at first, just as scary. Yet you are in your own space, not a darkened room.
Does teaching have to be negotiated when we each in our own domain? Who knows if the student is comfortable on the sofa, in bed, the back of Dad’s car, at the kitchen table or the only one in college at a desk in the learning resource centre?
‘All children will behave perfectly … if they want to know something very much, about sex or anything else, and an adult sincerely sets out to tell them.’ (p.15) Kate Clanchy makes this optimistic remark about her students (she teaches in school). This confluence is surely a difficult one to achieve? ‘if they want to know something’ she states. It is the perennial ‘if’ which is too often answered by, ‘but they don’t’.
How do we know what they want to know? Are we more often than not trying to impart in them knowledge and experience that they feel is unnecessary or not for them? Yet they’ve signed up for a course. There is of course choice when it comes to HE, less so at FE and little at all in school.
What if neither the teacher not the students want to know?
Take ‘Black Lives Matter’. Not my view, but I have had others ask why it is being taught to a group of all white students – or harder, how to teach it to a class where one student is black. Should it be awkward? Would it be like teaching menstruation to a class of predominantly boys with one girl present? What if the class was entirely black but for one white kid? I think the teacher missed the point, the institution failed in selling the purpose of teaching the class on Black Lives. It is about diversity, respect and community. It is about difference, teasing and bullying. It is about the history of all people on a small planet. That we are all black – afterall, we all came out of Africa. Should it not be the case that only those who know what they are talking about get up to teach? Governments and institutions can be overly prescriptive. And why should a tutor in construction be taking such a lesson?
For ‘Inclusion’ read ‘Exclusion’
A further insight into the students comes where the Kate Clanchy sums up her experience of working with students who had been isolated in the ‘inclusion’ portacabin on the other side of the playing field. These children had misbehaved so badly or so often that they were separated from the rest of the school. Kate Clanchy is a saint; she has a lot to teach us. She tells a story of how she encouraged them to write her notes and put them anonymously in a box. Those that were scrumpled up and dropped in the bin proved more revealing as it told stories of physical and mental abuse and neglect. We know that how children are raised has a profound impact on their behaviour and response to the wider world.
‘No one is bad, though many are sad, and a few are mad’ she writes on page 56.
I’m ‘consuming’ a lot at the moment. This is my immersion in learning without the ‘e’.
In between reviewing a 1 hour 42 minutes talk by Dylan Wiliam on ‘Formative Assessment’ and the need for actions in schools to be based on evidence and checking through Dave White on ‘Visitors and Residents’ in the digital world, I riggle my way through the rest of Kate Clanchy.
There are no surprises that she uncovers systemic racism in poetry competitions she enters her pupils for; no surprises at how awkwardly church schools fit into secular and multiracial Britain; nor how middle-class parents point their kids towards middle-class and aspirational schools so extracing ourselves from the wider population and in this country leaving us unnecessarily fragmented. What unites the United Kingdom? Not much.
Very Quiet Foreign Girls is worth Googling for their poems.
Like ‘Dead Poets Society’ this is a group of underprivileged girls, rather than privileged boys, who met to read and compose poetry. The multiracial and international mix of students is extraordianry: Khurds, Iranians, Somalians, Poles and Hungarians, Moroccan, Afghan, Indian and Pakistani – a few Brits of Afro-Carribean, Irish and Scottish heritage with a suitable mix of relgions across branches of Islam, as well as Hindu, Cathollic and no religion at all.
Deprivation can be a shocker
We get the social worker’s inside view of the way some children live, their poverty, how treated at home. Clanchy makes the point that the uniform is a release for a child from having to find anything special or different to wear, shoes in all weathers a pair of flip flops, travel to London from Essex, let alone ‘abroad’ a signal of something ‘beyond’ and out of their reach to the point of feeling like impostors to be with anyone so privileged.
‘Poverty is stronger than plumbing’ Kate Clanchy writes (p.160), ‘stronger than medicine, stronger than art’.
[The first taste I personally got of a sense of poverty was on benefits in London in April 1985; not an expected path for an Oxford graduate who’d been spoilt for choices at the end of the Milk Round the Year Before. Then doing odd jobs, in a flat in Willesden and joining the Tricycle Youth Theatre and being around as many black faces as white. I’d not lived; I’d not travelled in my own country. I’ve been rubbing off the all-male public school experience ever since. I has taken a long time to reclaim Oxford too; I’d had a tendency of late to state that I went to ‘college’ – even university was a confession too far for a period.]
Education is national, it is the community, it ought to be a melting pot, it ought to be a leveller.
It should not be the fragmented, privileged, excluding, isolating experience that it is in Britain where too many children’s experience is amongst ‘their own kind’ geographically, and by race, religion, class and wealth.
Kate Clanchy has made this a weekend
My working week extended with the Dylan Wiliam SSAT keynote online talk to digest (it will take three passes through my gut like a cow chewing the cud). What surprises me is when out of the blue Kate Clanchy drops her thoughts on poetry and the Inclusion Group and macks into Black and Wiliam and Formative Assessment (WALT) with the enthusiasm of a vengeant pugilist.
I like her for it. My first notes on Wiliam are to question the keynote I have just sat through as a self-serving literature review which makes a lot of poor research conducted in the States so that it provides him with something to destroy. More of Wiliam elsewhere – I applaud ‘evidence based’ responses to any problem, though not, Kate Clanchy would say, if this is at the expense of creativity and poetry. Is Wiliam and his brand of formative assessment most suited to math and engineering rather than the arts? Would fine art, pottery or make up courses benefit from or be destroyed by formative assessment?
At what point, by way of example, does formative assessment in the training of a competitive sailor have to give way to intuition, for the musician to play the piece their way? Is formative assessment the scales and these alone will make for a dull clone?
We get into the apostrophe in English as a defining standard for how well it is taught, or not, and taken up by Grammar Schools but not the Comprehensive – or not. It is a detail too far for me. I take her point that the simplest advice to those in doubt over the use of the apostrophe is to never use it.
From p.207 to p.217 the PostIts I used to indicate where I need to quote and make notes cover most of each page. Her attack on formative assessment is heartfelt. I have, in the US parlance, a lot to ‘unpack’. Kate Clanchy ‘began teaching thirty years ago’ (1990s). Since when there has been ‘the inexorable rise of the thing called ‘formative assessment’, and its lumpen classroom equivalent, the WALT’. ‘(p.207)
WALT stands for ‘We Are Learning To …’
They should head a trainee teacher’s lesson plan and guide any observation.
The theory goes, Kate Clanchy explains, is that WALTs ‘interact seamlessly with the curriculum and let everyone know where they are at’.
‘They break up the lesson into simple learning objectives that the children themselves understand’. (p.207)
‘This is formative assessment because it forms and changes he student as well as marking them’. (p.208).
[I can only think in terms of old school essay writing for homework. Formative assessment at its most successful, for feedback and differentiation – surely? And then the five hundred year old Oxbridge tutorial were students armed with essays debating one with their tutor and mentally marking their own effort as excellent, average, mediocre or non-existent, while forming a view of their own months, even years before any summative assessment into a formal written exam].
‘Formative assessment does not allow for ineffable processes,’ she writes (p.210) as she expands on a case study of a student who grew into himself and developed self awareness and confidence as a result of his creative writing, something she is sure would have been stymied by WALT and overly prescriptive formative assessment.
She has a dig at something called the ‘Black Box’ which is an idea that Black and Wiliam also developed around WALT and formative assessment; I am currently ignorant of it. She argues that often there is less need for this kind of formative assessment and a greater need for summative assessment in the form of a concluding ‘well done’. (p.210).
Then she bemoans how an English test has been reduced to using a Wikipedia entry on Titanic to compose a nonfiction essay. A task that she considers thin and limited because it starts from not much and has little opportunity to flower the way the simple experience of listening to a poem and then writing one of your own can have. (p.211).
‘In my dreams,’ she writes on p.212, ‘we never need to write another WALT. In my dreams my colleagues are trusted to choose great, rich texts to teach, and we all trust the texts to teach the children. We assess both creative and critical responses to them as their final exams’.
Some decades later Kate Clanchy spotted this her most promising student from those days of poetry and creative english. She got up the courage to contact him by LinkedIn.
‘When we read books with you,’ he wrote, ‘the world opened up. Your lessons were I learnt who I was,’ he continued, ‘became conscious of myself, grew up. That time was important to me, a free space’. (p.217) She goes on to provide illustrative anecdotes for dyslexia and ASD I like that as much is devoted to what those with such issues can do, rather than what they can not do. Then we cover body image, the Audrey Hepburn like nymph who gains weight so quickly and others too, another raped and a third caught up a child marriage or engagement in Pakistan.
And so endeth my weekend of learning about education. I read Kate Blanchy cover to cover. I took copious notes on a second viewing of a 1 hours 42 mnutes Dylan Wiliam lecture then Q&A on the woes of education in England and how Fomative Assessment is the cure-all … and I even foundd time for a fourth or fifth viewing of Dave Williams on his ‘Visitor vs. Resident’ thesis that provides a simplified description of how we behave online – we are task orientated or live there, and can wear different hats when we do so.
40 years ago, on the 11th and 12th of December 1980, I attended interviews at Balliol College, Oxford to study modern history. I took some photos. They’re in a scrapbook. I’d been keeping a diary for several years; this is what I recall.
My mother drove me down from Newcastle to Chipping Camden to stay with her long term boyfriend; my parents had separated and then divorced ten years earlier. According to my diary my maternal grandparents were with us too. The cottage in the Cotswalds was tiny.
The next day my Mum drove me into Oxford along the A34 and dropped me at the entrance to Balliol. I had a rucksack, an acoustic guiitar and a pair of skis. I felt like a traveller who had got lost.
I must have gone to the porter’s lodge, must have been given a key to a room. I can’t recall where it was – staircase 11 to 15, one they set aside for the conference season.
I had two interiews and may also have met my ‘pastoral tutor’. The first interview was on the subject I was hoping to study. We discussed Henry VII and then the Reformation. We’d not talked much at the RGS during class – it had been more a case of take notes, write the essay, learn stuff and make sure its in your head by the time of the written exam.
I had plenty of time between interviews; I do not recall coming across any other students at all.
I wandered over to the Sheldonian and Bodliean and took photographs with my Minolta. I must have eaten in hall. The next morning I want to the Ashmolean Museum opposite. Then I had a second interview. Once again there were two tutors. This was a general interview. I spoke about acting at schools and the People’s Theatre: the Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Dracula Spectacula!
I took myself down to the Station for the train into London. I made my way out to Brentford Docks where my father had his London flat then. This may have been my third time ever to London and the first time travelling alone. I stayed with Dad. Did we eat out in town? Did he introduce me to his girlfriend of that moment? His view of my song writing efforts were that there were ‘too many words’. I take it he didn’t like my singing, my voice, my playing … that’s Dad for you.
The next afternoon I took the train from Victoria to Folkestone and got the ferry across to Calais. I made friends with a girl my age and a young couple. The crossing was rough and this girl, Paula and I loved every moment of it, even when a vending machine broke loose and slid across the deck. I had her name, but no number. We were just young people pasing through.
Across Paris with my clobber by bus; skis and guitar. And the night train from Gar du Nord. Onwards to Bourg St Maurice, to Val d’Isere, the Hotel Sofitel and a job immersed amongst French ‘seasoniere’ where, in a Marks & Spencer grey suit I was the ‘day porter, English speaking, snow shovelling, breakfast delivering errand boy’.
University life at Balliol eventually began in October 1981. I was back last year. And ten years before that. I married the daughter of a former fellow of Balliol College – they had (and still have) a house in the Cotswolds. The A34 has been my attachment to my wife’s family for 30 years. It still feels as if more was done in three years at Oxford than in the thirty years since – there was no need to stop if you were in a hurry. Sleep felt like an indulgence.
Your perspective changes of course. And when you see someone you have not seen for ages and you look into their eyes you see they are unchanged despite the beard, the hair loss, their daughter on their arm …
A close friend from those days died a month ago. Life’s so short – embrace it.
All to change in education
Total mayhem all around at this end.
The PGCE I am doing, onto Module 3 now, was a must have to balance against the Masters in Education I did 7 years ago. I need the front line practice and experience I do not feel I get as a learning technologist. It makes the academic theory more relevant. I see myself as a Learning Designer in future and will teach both online and in the class.
Due to a Covid-19 scare I have ‘volunteered’ to run five 90 minute online workshops on Screencastify using Google Meet. I’ve done one session which was a scary experience. It can only get easier … or not. Some will have poor online access, or try to listen in from their phone sitting in their Dad’s car – the only place they can work undisturbed. Others for lack of device or internet will have to come into college … or not. Some want to learn and race ahead. Some have less desire to learn. Motivation and relevance is one thing, but ‘digital poverty’ is getting in the way too. Not all of us have the Internet connection, the speedy device (with a QWERTY keyboard) or the quite space to work from at home.
I have just completed ‘Take Your Teaching Online’ a free course with the Open University > https://bit.ly/39LI4Vw
If you want to understand the design and delivery of online learning this is the best that there is for now. It could be shorter: some of the content is a bit dated or no longer relevant. The multiple choice formative quizzes are flawed. The formal assessments are a worthy challenge.
I see education going the way of retail.
The ‘disruption’ brought on by Amazon has been 20 years in the making. Exactly 20 years ago, or perhaps 19, I recall being overly generous with my credit card and buying books from Amazon for every family member I expected to see that Christmas at two annual gatherings split between my family (4 children, mother and stepfather, stepbrother and between 6 and 8 children) and my wife’s smaller family (3 children, mum and dad and 3 children). The disruption on the high street has been a slow burn; Covid-19 kicked everything online.
Disrupting education may take as long. The change has already been at least 20 years in the making.
In 10 years, or sooner, the education landscape will look as different and will have experienced as much disruption. Far more people will learn at a pace suited to their desire to learn and abilities. Or their parents’ desire for their children to learn and the depths of their pockets – all private education costs. And you get what you pay for. Why not home educate as the aristocracy and landed gentry of 120+ years ago did? Being a virtual tutor could be a new job description where teaching online as an educator you tutor enough students privately one to one (rarely face to face) to make a good living.
The brightest will start university courses at 14 or 15; that is already happening.
Everyone needs to become a ‘lifelong learner’ just to stay abreast of the changes.
It’s a phrase I used a decade ago ‘learning at the speed of desire’.
Just Google it, then get on with it. What’s the fuss? Tell me what you cannot learn online if you set your mind to the task??
EdTech 2020 said the other week to expect educational institutions, FE and HE, rather than primary and secondary (I think) moving to a model of 25% to 100% online. Some colleges will close and operate like the Open University. They will deliver it all online … albeit with a twice monthly tutorial day and possibly the acclaimed Open University residential courses. Labs and workshops will be used differently. Online, self-paced or synchronous all has its place. Why not have international students join a class that is part face to face in a classroom and partially online? I’ve been there already with a number of different students a laptop in the class.
Meanwhile if Climate Change causes major ‘weather events’ every ten years rather than every 50 or 60, I am equally worried, for the same reasons – population pressure, that pandemics like Covid-19 will also come every 20 years or so rather than every 100. We will see.
All doom and gloom? Not for me, I thrive on change.
A teaching team of two (at least) is what teaching requires in 2020. Digital changes everything, whether online or off, as soon as it goes on a screen it has to compete for the ‘attention of eyeballs’. Not only that, it isn’t a cliché that ‘two heads are better than one’. Advertisers know that it takes a write and an art director to create a compelling idea. For something compelling to work online it need the write, visualiser and coder. A team of three might be asking for too much, but the point remains.
How many people does it take to create a module of online learning at the Open University? The figure is more than one. Why therefore are teachers and tutors expected to do everything themselves?
David Susskind at the EdTech Summit 2020
The Future of Education
This was a lecture that sustained its pace. I’ve changed its title because I suspect that he adapted ‘the lecture of the book’ ‘A World Without Work’ and then journalistically tossed in a bit of Covid, when in fact his presentation and thesis was that education is getting behind and profound change is in the air. Some have already embraced it. Woe betide those who get left behind.
There is a time and place for talking not teaching. Teaching can be talking, whatever you are taught in PGCE.
There were several parts to this memorable and important talk. The part on education is what matters to us in education – the rest was a preamble.
I got the impression that Susskind was saying that it felt as if education was operating in isolation from the ‘real world’. My experience is that it is not helped by being underfunded and so under capitalised. Do we have the right kit, the best kit, the most appropriate platforms and apps and do we have a team of experienced, hot e-learning experts?
I rather feel that if we want to prepare students for the world of work then they need to be equally familiar with Microsoft systems (Team and 360) and Google through G Suite for education. What if G Suite is the better delivery system for education, but once out there students are going to have to get their heads around Microsoft from scratch. The brave thing would be to go Google with the creative industries, Apple Macs too – while everyone else goes with Microsoft and PCs.
It was an eyeopener to learn what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is doing in medicine, journalism, law and architecture. Where is it making headway in education? Accountancy, law, languages …
As a society we suffer from a bias towards the status quo, Susskind said. I have to wonder if we are governed by little Englanders. We can never be Singapore, though I suspect Scotland could be. Does education lack the desire to succeed if that requires change? Success in education is built on and requires school thinking and methods. I have to wonder if education is populated by what Everett Rogers would term the ‘laggards’ rather than ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’. Certainly in the public sector the money is lacking. How well off are private schools by comparison? Even certain universities – the rich ones. Is money dictating a person’s ability to get into the world of e-work, let alone thrive in it?
During the EdTech Summit 2020 there has been repeated talk of the ‘widening gap’ in education. Too many kids do not have a laptop, desktop of tablet; if they are fortunate they have a phone. Too many kids do not have Internet access at home. And if there’s a computer at home they have to compete for time on it, and then use it in a shared space. This is hardly conducive to studying and absolutely not suited to live-streaming conference classes.
Speaking like a consultant to the education sector, Susskind warned that ‘the way we teach people hasn’t changed for decades.’ It was ironic therefore that he was speaking from a Balliol College study, one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, in one of the oldest universities in the world, a university that has its foundation and geographical location based on the printed book, its rarity and exclusive access to the knowledge they contain through the Bodleian Library.
Susskind spoke of ‘spectacular failures in teaching people remotely’ though he shied away from offering examples. Are we talking institutions, apps, trends? There have been successes too. He didn’t say what they were.
“We need to think more boldly about the way we teach and face the inevitability, ambiguity and uncertainty – and be willing to retrain.”
I need to read his books!
I got ‘A World Without Work’ via Amazon in a few clicks. Not wanting the digital version – I’m not going to drop everything to read it anyway, I ordered a hardback copy. It arrived less than 22 hours later.
It is now stacked with no fewer than 27 other books I want to read and review. I will have to set some priorities: First World War History Books forms one stream – by far the largest. I can have two of these on the go at any one time. E-Learning comes next, and includes a backlog of TES magazine and now Daniel Susskind. There is also a small stack on sustainability and the environment – mostly George Monbiot’s back catalogue.
I’ve had a profound week, utterly immersed in all things digital, with two intense days online with the EdTech Summit 2020 in which two radically superior classroom online platforms were used, AND two far, far superior collaborative ‘white boards’ (comparing Padlet, Trello and Jamboard) were used too – the most impressive being something called Miro from www.miro.com
I’ve got about 8 hours of notes with screenshots, and recordings to go back over all to write up over the weekend. I’ll work through the weekend because I feel we are, right now, pushing through a fundamental change in the way education is delivered. 2021 will not be a return to 2019 – and 2020 can only be defined by the pandemic.
The word from all the ‘top table’ names who spoke at EdTech, Government Ministers, leaders from Education, Academy, FE College and University heads, is that working online and ‘at a distance’ will see a substantial part of any curriculum not only being based on digital availability, but will be delivered online too.
My own experience between the digital and analogue worlds is that we are quickly establishing what works best, either online, or face to face, and where the mix, or a hybrid study world will land. Workshops need students under cars, cutting wood, shaping hair, building props and putting up stage lights. ‘Book Learning’ is most readily translated to the digital domain, indeed, platforms and Apps which teach accountancy and law do a better job than the lecturer. What is still needed though is the personalised feedback and the adjustment and monitoring of course content and its consumption to individualise the learning journey a student goes on.
My concern for staff who hot desk (me) and students is that they will often sit down at a computer where someone has sneezed onto the keyboard and screen without any attempt whatsoever to shield their environment from the germs they are spreading.
I see this often. What about you?
The answer is to educate staff and students.
Add cleaning keyboards and screens to what the cleaning staff do.
Get rid of the all use ‘Press this Button’ pads that used to enter the building , and libraries and corridors – except for those with a disability, who clearly need to use them.
Students and staff touch these repeatedly across the day so no wonder germs spread fast and so many people end up off ill.
Without frequent handwashing it is hardly surprising that so many people end up ill.