Tag Archives: ICT

What did my first job teach me?

As any teacher will tell you, your PGCE (or other training route) is only the start of you learning to be a teacher. Most trainee teachers heave a huge sigh of relief at finishing their course and securing their first job – and rightly so, but the way ahead is steep and difficult. I would be lying if I didn’t say that your first teaching job makes your PGCE seem, relatively, easy.

I attended three interviews before I secured my first job. It was in an 11-16 school in my home county of Somerset, a rural school, totally different from the inner city I trained in. I was so pleased to be offered the job I almost cried – most unlike me. Then it was back to finish the course and graduate.

September 2001 arrived and I started my first term as an English teacher and form tutor. Luckily, I had a Year 7 tutor group who were as nervous and wide eyed as I was, which meant that, for the first day I didn’t really have time to worry. My timetable was a mixture of groups including Year 10 and Year 11 GCSE groups, some ‘nice’ and some ‘challenging’. Having this mix is important. Sometimes, new teachers are kept away from exam groups and difficult classes – this isn’t helpful as they have to learn to teach these groups at some point. All it does is put more pressure on those who end up with large numbers of exam/difficult groups and creates a situation where these groups are taught by a select few due to the fear of a dip in results.

The department was small, a head of department who started at the same time as me, three part timers and two NQTs. There were filing cabinets full of ‘resources’, many of them printed on Banda machines (one to Google if you have never heard of it) and newspaper articles from the early 80s. Schemes of work were almost non-existent. This was a blessing and a curse as it forced me to produce my own resources and schemes – tough work but I believe it set me up for my teaching career. My planning and lesson delivery improved (to see the gaping chasm between these two read @tstarkey1212‘s blog post on planning).

Being part of a small department, and a small school meant that I got the opportunity to take on extra responsibility. This included being the first in the department to get an interactive whiteboard in my second year. A classroom was built from a section of corridor and part of a toilet block (I kid you not) and the board was installed. As is often the case, it didn’t occur to anyone that I might actually need a traditional board as well – especially with a relatively new, untried piece of equipment (this was eventually sorted out). I had to teach myself how to use the board and its software, as well as having back up lessons for when it broke down. I learnt to wing it, when necessary, and rely on my subject knowledge and my teaching ability.

I eventually moved to another school, for promotion, after three years and was genuinely sad to leave.

So, what did my first job teach me?

  • There is no substitute for doing it yourself. Although there was support and guidance, most of the schemes I taught were created by me. This made me a much better teacher and improved my subject knowledge. I am all for sharing resources, but I think there is a danger of going too far, with whole schemes produced on powerpoint, lesson by lesson. Teachers need to make the lesson their own and the danger with this is that they don’t. I have observed a lesson power point, which I had produced and shared, being taught by someone who thought all they had to do was show the slides to their class – they hadn’t even read the text fully – needless to say, the lesson was a disaster. Yes it takes longer to create new resources or tweak existing ones, but that is what a good teacher does.
  • ‘Bad’ groups have sometimes been short changed. My first GCSE group was one which was a terrifying prospect. Year 11, lots of SEN, challenging behaviour – you know the type. I was given them, I suspect, because if I didn’t manage to get results out of them it wasn’t the end of the world. The class had had three teachers in Year 10, one of whom had walked out mid-lesson never to return. When I looked at their ‘coursework’ I was horrified – none of it was acceptable and mostly there were just a series of posters made after watching films. The group had been failed – by their teachers and by the previous head of department. Over the course of a year we worked hard to complete the missing work and prepare for the exam. It was not plain sailing. I had to convince the group that I was going to stay and that they were capable of GCSE work. There were tantrums and upturned tables (a pupil, not me), but eventually it was done – all but one achieved a pass, and two got a C grade. Those C grades mean the world to me as I know just how hard the pupils worked for them. From that point on, I was careful not to judge a class by their data and reputation and knew the importance of high expectations.
  • Sometimes you have to go with your instincts. The more observant of you will have noticed that my first teaching position coincided with a tragic time in world history, 9/11. My new Year 8 class were doing a scheme of work on the media. We had covered the difference between a tabloid and a broadsheet, looked at the layout of a front page and the questions an article aims to answer. Homework was to bring in a tabloid or a broadsheet newspaper for analysis in the next lesson. I went home that night to see the news full of the horrible events in New York. The next day, I met my Year 8 class again – almost every child had brought in a newspaper, some had brought in two. At the start of the lesson I had had a vague plan of getting the group to write a newspaper article on a completely unrelated topic, or to pull out the textbooks. However, the group wanted to explore the front pages, naturally they were shocked and frightened by what had happened but also curious. Nervously, I decided to go ahead with the planned lesson. We looked at the front pages and the way the headlines were written, the choice of images and the difference between the tabloid and broadsheet coverage. The class were brilliant – fantastic, probing questions; thoughtful comments and a solid understanding of how newspapers cover a major international event. When I spoke to other members of the department about the lesson some were shocked and suggested that parents would complain – not a single one did. It was a tough lesson emotionally for all of us, but I’m glad I went with my instinct.
  • Life sometimes gets in the way. The danger with teaching is that it can be all encompassing. However, sometimes you need to prioritise ‘real’ life: your family and friends. During my first teaching position, this was reinforced by three events – my father having a (thankfully non-fatal) heart attack, my grandmother dying while I was on an overnight school trip and a friend being shot and killed in the local pub. What I learnt from these three incidents was that you need to let someone in school know (however private a person you are), and that ‘good enough’ teaching, whether it be use of worksheets, textbooks or whatever, is good enough until you are in a position to get back to your normal standard of teaching. No one, will criticise or blame you (and if they do then, frankly it is not a school you want to work in) if your lessons are less than brilliant and the books not marked for a while. Concentrate on what is important and let HoDs and SLT deal with the rest, after all, that is what they are paid extra for.
  • School politics can be bizarre. Schools can be a hotbed for all sorts of odd behaviour – you probably have all kinds of stories (real and exaggerated) from your own school days. My first job reinforced that: the ‘reserved’ seats in the staffroom, mugs and the all too common rivalry between the Maths, Science and English departments. However, I also experienced the minefield that can be departmental politics. My new HoD was in the unenviable position of having to work with his predecessor, a lady nearing retirement who had given up the head of department job to teach part time (not entirely voluntarily, I suspect). They did not see eye to eye. She wanted to hoard the old resources (Banda sheets and all, many of which hadn’t been touched for years) and was reluctant to make any changes to ‘the way things have always been done’, even when a change was desperately needed. Pupils had been set in Year 7 and then remained in the same class throughout their school career, she never saw the problems this caused in the lower groups as she only taught the top ones. In departmental meetings, she was vocally against any suggestions that were not her own – it was clear that she had become totally disillusioned with teaching and did not enjoy what she did. Eventually she made the decision to resign (to the relief of the rest of the department, who were sick of the tension) and left after giving a speech to the whole staff about the awful state of education and that children should not have to attend school after 14 years of age. My advice, if you find yourself caught in a similarly bizarre situation, observe, listen but keep your own counsel (in public at least).

Your first teaching job, good or bad, is something that helps shape you as a teacher. It will be hard (realistically it should be) and it may convince some that teaching is not for them, but for those who stay in the job it is unforgettable.

Using Piktochart in Class

Being a keen follower of twitter I was very pleased to spot a couple of tweets by  @ictevangelist about using infographics and in class.

I had toyed with using Adobe publisher for creating infographics and written about it in an earlier post, and if you want a vast variety of tools and colours and complete control over the layout, then that is the program for you. It is, however, a very technical program and it does take time to produce results. Unless you have a class with very strong design skills using a program of this nature is probably a step too far.

I enjoy pottering around with tech and trying new programs but I did find Illustrator tricky to get going and it took a long time, great if you have the time, but probably not ideal for a lesson.

I have a Y9 group who I see twice a fortnight, as a result, I do additional tasks with them that support the main teacher. The unit we are doing at the moment is Blood Brothers, building up to an exam later in the year. As it is the start of a new term, I am in the position that the main teacher hasn’t seen the group yet, and I am not covering the text with them, so I needed to think of something linked to the text for the two lessons I have with them this week. The obvious choice was some background research into some of the key elements of the play.

However, the prospect of watching a group copy and paste chunks from wikipedia or some other site, was not what I was looking for. To create a really effective piece of research, I wanted the group to select material carefully and think of ways to present the information in a more interesting way. That is where infographics seemed to fit the bill.

Having read about it on @ictevangelist’s blog, I decided to give Piktochart a go. I was a little concerned as there is sometimes a difference between what I can access as a teacher and what the students can. To cover this eventuality, I gave the group a choice of programs. The topics the students were to look at were: the 1960s – 1980s, Liverpool and Skelmersdale and the theme of fate. I showed the group several examples of infographics from the site 40coolinfographics to give the class a chance to see what they could look like. I then showed them the Piktochart site via the whiteboard and showed them an example I had made that morning. I showed them where the tools were and how to access them, and also how to move items and change colours, then they were off on the task.I hadn’t been aware that there was a limit of 1 image that could be uploaded, but that is really a bonus as it means they have to select their image carefully.

The vast majority of the group decided to try Piktochart, the remainder chose to make a Prezi instead. There was much more focus on the program than on copying chunks of text and some of the pieces in progress are looking pretty good. The group complete their work and printed it out to stick into their English books with their main teacher.

Definitely a real win, they class enjoyed using the program and it was very simple for them to use with minimal support.

Creating Revision Resources Using Toondoo

As we are at the time of year that the focus shifts onto Y11 exam preparation, I have been looking for new ways to present the key information they need. I wanted to avoid dull presentation like printing out exam dates for display, as most of the time, students pay little attention. I decided that we needed something that is more visually appealing and that brought me  to one of @teamtaits tweets. The tweet mentioned using Toondoo as a free tool to produce cartoons of key ideas.

The site itself is easy to navigate and, although creating your own cartoon character does take a little time, it does save for future use, which wasn’t a possibility with some of the free sites I have used. I decided to create two cartoon characters, one very loosely representing me (Cartoon me has had a bit of a nip and tuck) and one for the Head of English. I created two posters, one as a teaser about key exam nuggets of information and one outlining the exam dates.

They were relatively quick to produce and easy to save onto my laptop, I also converted them to PDF so I could email them. We have printed them on A3 in colour for display. The future ‘nuggets’ will also include a QR code for the students to scan to upload further information.. So overall a very good set of resources.

Socrative – A Really Useful Addition To Your Teaching Tools

As seems to be the norm at the moment, I have been finding all sorts of useful tools on the internet. I found Socrative on a list of Web 2.0 tools. Although we have SMART response in school, I have only had a brief training session on them and need to learn how to use them. Socrative seemed to be similar, but without the fuss. One of the things I liked about Socrative was that I could set things up at home and use them in school.

I have completed three trials with Socrative, with a range of different classes to explore how it works and also how the classes respond to it.

Trial 1

My first trial was a quiz on ‘Of Mice and Men’ for my top set Year 10 class. As Socrative can be used on iPhones, Android as well as via 3G and on PC I thought I would try allowing the pupils to use their own mobile devices. As this was the first time I had used this, I tried to keep the task as simple as possible.

The students were very keen to use their phones, but not all could access this – even students with the same types of phone. In the end, they got into groups with someone with a device that worked and completed the quiz that way. They enjoyed the task and being able to show them who had responded was useful. Even more useful was the option on Socrative to download an Excel spreadsheet of the results, allowing the teacher to review the responses.

Due to the technical issues, I decided not to carry on using the program during the lesson.

Trial 2

For the second lesson, I tried the program using a class set of laptops. I planned two tasks – a quiz and an Exit Ticket. It was much quicker loading up the program on the laptops and generally the program worked well, but for the reasons outlined below we only did the quiz.

I encountered two main difficulties, firstly the randomise answers option seemed to move the answers but not which one was correct, so students were marked wrong for correct answers. The second problem was really down to my choice of class. This was a group of Year 10 students who I see once a fortnight. I thought that they would enjoy the change of task, but in retrospect my relationship with the group was not good enough to trial something new. However, several students did say that they had enjoyed using the program.

Trial 3

My most recent trial was with my Y12 Film Studies class. I decided to use the quiz tool as a starter and to assess whether the group had been covering the revision topics they had been given. Using the downloadable Excel template, I created a 20 question multiple choice quiz. The template was very simple to use, allowing me to write the quiz and check it belore uploading it to Socrative.The feedback form would show me student responses, allowing me to make revision tasks more targeted.

I also decided to use the Exit Ticket tool. This asks students:

  • How well did you understand today’s material?
  • What did you learn today? – very useful to check that what we think a class are learning and what they think they are learning are the same!
  • Please solve the problem on the board – a final plenary question
  • There is also an option to pass the Exit Ticket to another student, great if they need to share a device.

With an iPad it is very straightforward, as the App sits on the desktop and one click allows the student to login, unfortunately for me, we don’t have them so my trial was done on laptops.

The Y12s reacted very well to the quiz, they enjoyed it and the whole class found it easy to login.

The Exit Ticket was the best part, each student worked through the prompts and identified the areas they felt they needed more work on. This was very simple to view through the Excel feedback form – I could see at a glance who was confident and which specific areas needed more work.

Final Thoughts

Socrative is an excellent program, currently free as it is in the beta testing phase. It has some very useful features and is simple to use. Definitely worth a try.

Using SideVibe in Class

In my last post I wrote about my experiment with SideVibe, as suggested by @coolcatteacher. I had decided to try it with two groups – a Year 9 class, during lesson time, and a Y12 class for revision homework.

I have now used SideVibe with my Y9 class, looking at some short stories – below is the verdict, mine and theirs!

The Lesson

I had selected two very short stories from Short Stories at East of the Web – the site allows you to search by genre, age range and length. I then prepared a series of relatively simple questions on each of the stories for the students to comment on. I used the ‘Written Response’, ‘Ranking’ and ‘Discussion’ task options. I also used the ‘Multiple choice’ option and a free text  to get feedback from the class.

Logging In

Getting the class onto the site was relatively painless. I had produced a Powerpoint showing them what to do and included the teacher reference. We did find that, when they went to the first ‘vibe’, the website did not show up. This was down to the school system not fully downloading the page and was easily sorted.

Classwork

The class worked through the tasks at varying speeds as the tasks allowed them to work at their own pace. I could keep track on their work by circulating and also by checking the feedback option on the teacher site.

Feedback

I had only spent a short amount of time producing the ‘vibes’ and some of the tasks were a little repetitive, however the group as a whole seemed to like what they were doing. They particularly enjoyed the ‘Discussion’ task as it brings up the responses of their classmates and allows them to respond. This would need to be used carefully and with clear rules, with some groups, to avoid rude comments, but each comment is logged to an individual student and therefore any misuse provides clear evidence! As it was, only a couple of the group made silly comments and they were daft rather than malicious.

The ‘Feedback’ option allows teachers to feedback to individual students – this is something I will explore with the Y12 homework task.

Via the ‘Feedback’ option, it was also possible to create reports of the student responses for all tasks or for each individual task – this could allow you to stick the work into their books. It also means that you could evaluate responses from a whole class pretty quickly, so if the tasks were designed to test particular skills you could use it as a snapshot diagnostic tool.

About 75% of the class said they enjoyed the tasks – although, I would certainly work on improving the tasks when doing this again. I also gave the group the chance to tell me what they thought could be  improved – here are a selection of their comments:

Comments From Y9

Overall

Definitely worth using. The tasks are easy to set up and allow students to work at their own pace.