Category Archives: Blogging

Looking back, looking forward

Over the past week on Twitter #nurture1314 has featured strongly in my timeline. It has been really interesting reading all the fantastic things people have accomplished over the past year and their plans for 2014.

I thought it would be a nice way to finish the year to write my own list of highlights and hopes, although I wasn’t quite able to come up with 13 highlights.

My Highlights.

  1. Graduating with my MA (Distinction) in Education from Edge Hill University. This is undoubtably one of the things that I am most proud of. It was very hard work, especially persevering over several years part time. Distance learning certainly has its benefits but it can leave you feeling quite isolated – Twitter was great for linking me to other teachers and academics. DSCF0381
  2. Learning differential and inferential statistics. One of the challenges I faced when completing my final assignment was the analysis of my data. I had a basic knowledge of statistics but needed to get to grips with chi square and statistical significance. The internet and my tutor came to the rescue, especially the Khan Academy videos. It also helped prove once and for all that I can ‘do’ maths, it is just a matter of learning how.
  3. Gaining a detailed understanding of the SOLO taxonomy, both as a teacher and as a learner. I had been teaching and experimenting with SOLO techniques for about a year and had found them useful, not a magic bullet but certainly something worth exploring in greater detail. However, it was when I applied SOLO to my own studies that it really came into its own. One of the sections of my assignment that I found particularly tricky was the literature review – the difficulty of bringing together all my reading into a coherent story. I had lots of ideas and quotations but it was only when I looked at this stage as being the SOLO multistructural level that it clicked – I needed to make detailed links between the texts and ideas (relational) before I could fully understand the topic. Once I had grouped my ideas it was much easier to identify a unifying thread. Sections which just wouldn’t fit often needed more information – reinforcing the idea of SOLO as a series of cycles rather than a linear or hierarchical model.
  4. Settling into a new country. Although Ireland isn’t exactly a million miles away from the UK, there are a number of differences between the two countries. The tax, medical and education systems are all slightly different and it can be tricky to get your head round everything.
  5. Taking lots of photos and, hopefully, improving my skills as a photographer. This summer I focused on taking landscapes and nature pictures, they are great to look back at, especially when the weather is awful. DSCF0299
  6. Learning to sew. This was something I had wanted to do for some time, partly because I had been shockingly awful at it when I was at school. I signed up for a course of lessons in Dublin city centre with ‘When Poppy Met Daisy’ and learnt the basics, making a skirt. For Christmas i made stockings to go under the tree. I am not particularly good yet, but hopefully I will improve over the next year.
  7. Improving my fitness – this is something I need to work on, but I was certainly more active this year.
  8. Continuing my blog – I have now had nearly 10k views and have had visitors from all over the world, something which never ceases to amaze me.
  9. Deciding to apply to study for a PhD. I have thought about further study for years, but it has only been a pipe dream up to now. Taking a break from secondary teaching has given me the chance to take steps towards making this a reality. I have now identified a topic and have been preparing my proposal.
  10. Getting a reading card for the National Library of Ireland and studying in its beautiful domed reading room.
  11. Ate out at some great restaurants – a little thing, but something that I hadn’t really done for years.

My Hopes

  1. Apply for my PhD in English. I am hoping to be able to study full time which will be a huge luxury. I also hope to be able to do some teaching at university level. It has been great fun exploring the initial literature and bouncing ideas around. However, I do need to finalise my proposal and submit it.
  2. Set up a new blog for my PhD studies to explore ideas and hopefully continue to use the internet to make academic links.
  3. Continue blogging on educational topics, although I am not teaching at the moment I see myself working in education at some level in the future.
  4. To read lots of books for pleasure – I have been rather disappointed with my reading in 2013 as most of it has been study related, so this year I want to make a real effort to read more for fun.
  5. To complete a course in Corpus Linguistics. I have signed up for a MOOC in Corpus Linguistics, from University of Lancaster, to help prepare me for my PhD. The 8 week course sounds really interesting and gives me a chance to  use some of the software as well as read more about the topic.
  6. To make an item of clothing from scratch that is actually wearable. This is going to be a big challenge and will take some practice, but I would love to be able to make the occasional item of clothing.
  7. To really work on my fitness. I have an existing gym membership but my visits have been rather sporadic, so I want to make much better use of it.
  8. I want to take more photos, but especially I want to try to take some star photos.
  9. I’d like to travel a little more and visit some new places.
  10. Eat more healthy food, especially more vegetables.
  11. To learn how to use Excel more effectively, especially the statistical packages.
  12. To be more selective over what I watch on TV.
  13. To go to the cinema more often. I love watching films and don’t go to the cinema nearly enough.
  14. To spend more time with those I love.

SOLO Research Project – Findings Part 1

Overview of the Project

As the project was to investigate an aspect of my teaching practice, I chose to use an action research approach. Alongside this, and the literature review, I also carried out a small scale survey of students involved and a slightly larger scale survey of teachers. The final part of the project was an analysis of exam results (I will go through the findings of the exam analysis in another post).

Throughout the action research I completed a series of blog posts outlining my experiments with three separate SOLO techniques: use of hexagons, use of HOT maps and the use of rubrics and SOLO stations. Within each entry I tried to outline the techniques used and comment on my perception of their effectiveness. Newbury (2001:3) describes the ‘research diary’ as:

A form through which the interaction of subjective and objective aspects of doing research can be openly acknowledged and brought into a productive relationship.

I felt that, as one of the criticisms of the action research model was that results were often restricted to the teacher carrying out the research, it would be helpful if I shared my experiences with other teachers via a blog. As Weston (2012) states in his blog post:

Researchers need to develop a culture where findings are not simply broadcast to schools, but where they engage with increasing numbers of schools to find out how to successfully adapt the approach in different contexts, how to overcome different challenges, and how to successfully combine the idea with other priorities in the classroom.

My observations focused mostly on Year 10 classes, although I also trialled SOLO based activities with Year 11 and Year 12. Classes were chosen using convenience sampling.

Any personal commentary, especially reflecting on one’s own teaching, is subject to bias, as Gavron (1996:159, cited in Biggam, 2011) notes:

It is difficult to see how this can be avoided completely, but awareness of the problem plus constant self-control can help.

 I have endeavoured to keep this in mind through my analysis, and chosen to use data from a range of different sources to mitigate any unconscious bias. In addition, although convenience sampling is not ideal, as the sample size is relatively small and the groups were not chosen at random, this is acceptable for action research.

My Observations

The blog posts on each of the techniques can be found here:
Hexagons – 1, 2, 3, 4
HOT Maps – 1, 2,

SOLO Stations – 1, 2, 3,4

Overall, I felt that the techniques had been useful in conjunction with existing teaching methods. The use of the rubric to specify key elements of the knowledge being taught was particularly helpful for structuring feedback with clear next steps. I will expand on this in my final post (Conclusions).

Student and Teacher Surveys

Unfortunately, the number of students who took part in the survey was small (partly as my time ended up being rather cut short due to my relocation). However, on the whole, the students found the SOLO lessons useful and felt that they had helped them develop their knowledge of the text and how to present their responses more clearly.

In March, I asked for volunteers to complete a short questionnaire about using the SOLO taxonomy in lessons as part of my MA. I was overwhelmed that so many readers took the time to complete the survey – 60 of you in total! Thank you so much for your help.

Evidence 1aThe majority of teachers who responded felt that SOLO techniques were effective and based this belief on a range of indicators, not simply personal observation.

Evidence 1The most popular techniques were, perhaps unsurprisingly, those which have had the most coverage in blogs and are the most straightforward to implement.

Evidence 2My final questions asked which subject the teachers taught and how long they had been teaching. Teachers from a wide range of subjects took part, from science to history, from PE to English – suggesting that SOLO techniques have the potential to be used effectively across the curriculum.

Evidence 3 The findings of this survey certainly suggest that teachers with 6 or more years teaching experience are using social networking and experimenting with new techniques. Now I am not saying that those who have been teaching longer are ‘better’ than those just entering the profession. This is more to do with – the difference between ‘experienced’ and ‘expert’ teachers. Effective, expert teachers are prepared to experiment, and adapt their teaching, not because Ofsted or SMT want it, but because they have decided that it would be beneficial to their students.

New Year, New Start

Change, in education and in life, is one of the only constants. It is what we expect with every new education minister and every new academic year. As a teacher, I expect, and generally welcome, change – but I hadn’t realised to what extent things would change for me in the course of 2012.

Twitter and Blogging

2012 was the year that my twitter use shifted up a gear. It moved from being a bit of entertainment, to being essential CPD and giving me the opportunity to discuss educational ideas with a huge range of fantastic #tweachers. Far from being trivial (although, at times, that is no bad thing) I was surprised at how academic and detailed some of the discussions became – no mean feat in 140 characters. Twitter became a fantastic resource and a way of keeping up to date with the latest developments in education.

Inspirational teachers shared their ideas and ecperiments with technology and techniques. I tried some, not all worked well, but my teaching certainly developed over the year – discussing ideas with other teachers helped me become more reflective and certainly more experimental.

Along side the experimentation, I started this blog to explore some of my experiments, to reflect and to share my successes and failures. When I started the blog in March I had no idea that I would still be blogging almost a year later. I have found blogging about my teaching very useful, time and lessons fly by during the school year and it has been really useful to pause and look back.

The Really Unexpected

However, it was in the final part of 2012 that the biggest changes and challenges took place. A great job opportunity for my husband in Dublin, meant a rush of resignation, removals and relocation. From finding out he got the job at the end of October, to finally moving over to Ireland at the end of December – it has been a whirlwind. My final half term was full of meetings, hand overs, controlled assessment marking and packing. Hardly any time really to take on board the massive change I have signed up to. To be honest, I still feel like I’m spinning.

So, here I am, 2013 in a new country. I have a little time on my hands while I get to grips with where I am, sort out my paperwork for applying for jobs, as well as getting my head around the differences between the UK and Irish system. Scary but exciting times ahead!