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Limit children’s screen time, expert urges via the BBC

The contributers to this BBC News article might need to extend their audience, or accept that this is a lost cause!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19870199

japanese school-bus

japanese school-bus

The comments at the end of the BBC article are interesting and help pose a serious question about the direction we are heading in our homes and schools (not forgetting buses!)

I’m not there yet with my thoughts on this one, but interested in everyone else’s!  Thank goodness for the e-readers, however, with their e-ink, eye friendly screens- these offer me holiday breaks from the glare of my other devices…

‘Tis the season for ‘examination-candidate bashing’!

As we approach examination season once more, yet again, as every year,  the media and the lay person conspire to contrast – negatively – the standards of education of a bygone era with those today.  I would argue that it is of no value to do so and indeed that doing so serves no useful nor, most importantly,  accurate purpose!

This is not the defensive rant of an examination teacher, although I have been that: indeed I have even held the accepted view regularly ‘yelled’ from the tabloid tops. Rather, I hope that experience and – stopping to think – (oops, is that allowed?)  make this the post of common sense.

I agree that there are certain standards which do not compare well with those of the past, prominent examples being spelling and basic grammar, as well as the ability to communicate effectively and accurately in writing.

But let’s look at the facts for a moment:

Once upon a time:

  • Not everyone went to school
  • Few people remained in school to examination level and many fewer to A’ and degree levels
  • Fewer subjects were studied, which meant more time was devoted to each subject (I had English lessons 6  times a week at what is now known as KS3, for instance, yet in my current school both GCSE Language and Literature are taught in 2.5 lessons a week.)
  • Taking each subject, and I’ll stick with English if I may, within this reduced time provision, far more needs to be covered than was ever the case in the past.  It is not enough to consider reading and writing, but a student needs to be familiar with a wider range of forms e.g. leaflets, blogs, advertisements, newspaper articles, literature in its various forms: poetry, plays, novels – both modern and of the canon.  Is it any wonder they are unable to write a confident and accurate letter? – a task we repeated on a very regular basis and they may have the opportunity to do only once or twice during their GCSE years.  They also need to be able to write about the way language is used to create meaning and to target audiences at a much more sophisticated level than was the case in the past, when our focus was on precis and comprehension.
  • As mentioned above, far more subjects are now included within the curriculum – how then is it possible to study any one area in the depth which would allow an adequate contrast with the education of the past? It is like comparing like with completely unlike and to what end?  Young people do not spell as well as they used to (those who had the opportunity – usually those fortunate enough to be educated privately or in the grammar system.)  How could they given the current breadth of curriculum requirements? However, they CAN multi-task in a way that we never could in the past: they can create effective, often inspirational materials, using a variety of ICT/ multi-media skills to target a range of audiences and they can explain how they have achieved these things. They can create websites, films,documentaries, podcasts and  manage their social lives, alomgside their studies via Twitter and Facebook!  They can manage projects, work in teams and meet long-term deadlines.

I believe it is far too easy for people of a certain age to, thoughtlessly and carelessly, mentally list what they could do at a certain age and then deride the current education system when our young people are unable to do the same.

Okay so you want them to be able to spell; what then would you remove from the curriculum to enable this to happen? Are these critics parents?  How much time do they spend at home, helping their children consolidate  what they have been taught in school?  as so often was a role played by parents in the past. Indeed many new elements of the curriculum have arisen as a direct consequence of an abdication of parental responsibility – where else did Citizenship and PCSHEE come from?

However, that is all a whole other discussion and I cannot claim to be a saint in that respect!  My final point is let’s prioritise, as a society, what skills from the past are still of value and decide what can go from our over-crowded curriculum to enable us to improve these areas.

In the meantime, let us concentrate on reversing the natural instinct to contrast negatively so that we list instead the skills that children HAVE and we, of a certain generation, have not, rather than ‘knocking’ them during this annual ‘examination-candidate bashing’ season!  Let’s face it – who is better prepared for a world that is very different from that of our bygone age?

Risk-taking is an essential part of development…

I have tussled with my views on eSafety since well before it was ever labelled thus! With an almost Victorian upbringing (but not age!) and no access to television nor computers, throughout my formative years, the influence of my ‘nurture’ has instinctively been to ‘lock things down’ for children, in order to keep them safe and protect them from the undesirable. It has taken me years to understand – largely through experience, research and a bit more independence of thought, that locking everything down simply won’t do.  Indeed I would argue that we place children in more danger by doing so.

Without trying to pretend that I am more knowledgeable than I am, there are some fundamental basics to learning that I think we all understand. Let’s take the development of speech as an example:

1. We learn through imitation; that is why I speak with the accent I have.

2. We learn through making mistakes and having those pointed out to us; that is why some people speak with grammatical accuracy and some do not. During the development of our speech, it is natural to make grammatical errors; such is the complex nature of speaking English that subject agreement is not always logical. Where these ‘errors’ are pointed out, speech is improved. Where it is not, ‘bad practice’ becomes embedded.

3. We learn through experimentation and risk-taking. By pushing the boundaries in our use of vocabulary and in what we read and hear, we learn what is possible and more about ‘what is out there’, extending our knowledge and understanding as we do so.

Okay, you’ve guessed where I am going with this? – over-simplified though it might be:

1. Imitation: I have less of a connection to make with this one, save to say that peer-pressure is involved – ‘My friend is on Facebook, so too must I be’ and of course, this inevitably leads to the making of mistakes.

2. Mistakes: it is natural, and within reason – desirable, for young people to make mistakes – it is a fundamental part of growing up and development. With the way in which eSafety ‘rules’ are moving in this country (as with Health and Safety before it!) we are stifling a key element of our children’s progress. We complain that they are passive and unimaginative, but we do not allow them to explore or to try things out. (Outside of eSafety, this has manifested itself in such developments as children not being allowed to play outdoors, teachers not being allowed to touch their pupils and the reduction in school trips.)

3. Experimentation and risk-taking: ‘Risk-taking’ is a bit of an educational buzz word at the moment. China does it and we don’t apparently. (Yes, I know I’m over-fond of simplification!) It has even been said that it is becoming a Core Skill. (Heather Rolfe, NIESR) By setting Risk-taking as a school objective or target, many UK Schools are setting themselves up for failure – or merely ‘fooling themselves. Increasingly, school policy is written to eliminate any possibility of risk-taking or spontaneity. In protecting ourselves, under the guise of protecting our children, creativity is plain and simply being stifled from the crib on.

Many of the ideas I appear to lambast, I do understand and sympathise with – have even held. I understand that with the changes in the law, key members of our establishments find themselves in impossibly responsible – and frightening – positions. I understand that we all want to do our best to protect the young people around us. My point is not to question this; it is to ask whether or not we have gone, and continue to go, too far in the wrong direction.

In doing so, might the horrible irony be that we are harming the majority, in order to protect from shadowy, unsavoury possibilities?

Might we be producing a generation of young people who are unable to and unwilling to take risks, so afraid have they been made to feel about the possible consequences. Instead of asking, ‘What is the worst possible thing that might happen?’ why don’t we ask, ‘What is the worst possible thing that is likely to happen?’ How much freer might we be, whereas, not to do so leads to equivalents such as not boarding a flight in case it might crash; not visiting the London Olympics lest it is the target of a bombing campaign and indeed, not eating out in case someone has poisoned the food!

Problem finding is oh so easy, but  what is the solution? I would suggest that we accept that the world out there has many similarities to the one we have always lived in and that the dangers posed by the internet etc merely magnify what has always existed. (I never sat in front of a television or computer growing up, but I need more than my 2 hands to count the number of times I was ‘flashed’ at!) I would also suggest that young people today are not quite as horrified by some of the things that horrify us as adults – they have been brought up in a very different way, with access to many different media – bringing them, on a day-to-day basis into contact with what we might not fully approve of.  Although, we may feel this in some ways to be a sad indictment of society, it is a true one and we need to work with practical realities in our efforts to prepare children for their places in the real world.

Over-filtering and blocking access to numerous sites in our schools, keeps us in a legally sound position, but morally, we are doing our pupils no service whatsoever – we merely ‘push’ the problem outside of the school building, intensifying it as we do so. (The increased use of VLEs is forcing us to reconsider this position – and fast.) As teachers, many of us know what the issues are – parents often don’t. We have the curriculum relevance in our schools to be able to educate in these areas. I am a real fan of the 360 eSafety Self Review tool by the South West Grid for Learning:  It seems to work on the very sensible premise that the higher the ‘mark’ your school gains, the less you are likely to have ‘locked down’.  And the reason for that? You will have educated your students to make educated and sensible choices for themselves, freeing them up to take personal responsibility for their actions. What is the point in preventing them from accessing certain sites at school, when they can walk out of the door to the classroom and access it from their unfiltered smartphones? With these devices, they can access it on the bus on the way home and also from the pcs which they have in their bedrooms. This is where the true potential danger lies; that because of our policies and approach, children have neither the experience, nor education to make sensible decisions and their mistakes can become ‘big’ and public very quickly.

Much better to open up, for instance, a low-key chat facility in school, allow them to access YouTube – so useful in so many ways – but all this on a monitored network, where low-level mistakes can be picked up at an early stage and  consequences gradually made clear – all within a safe and controlled environment and with  full communication with parents about what the school is trying to achieve.

With proper planning, effective monitoring, a well-communicated AUP and clear sanctions, all this is possible and desirable. Let them take risks, I say!

Computer Science: the new English Language?

December 7, 2011 2 comments

The last thing I have time for tonight is writing a blog, but this one is bursting through my pores, so if I want to sleep, it has to be given its voice!

The odd thing is that I didn’t even think I had much to say on this topic and yes, I agree the title is somewhat obscure.  Hopefully, whatever falls on the page tonight will make the link less tenuous.

Michael Gove recently stated that, “the ICT curriculum in the past has been written for a subject that is changing all the time. I think that what we should have is computer science in the future.” 

Call me uninformed, but I’m struggling to see how one clause follows the other in this statement.  So humour me while I break it down for my own benefit:

  1. “The ICT curriculum in the past has been written for a subject that is changing all the time.”  Yes, that’s true, so is the point that the curriculum has not kept abreast of the changes in ICT?  Fine, that seems to be the truth and its irrelevance and lack of rigour are in part to blame for the fact that I haven’t been allowed to introduce the subject at examination level in MpoW.
  2. “I think that what we should have is computer science in the future.”  Okay and why not? There is clearly a dearth of availability of Computer Science teaching in UK schools and making it more widely available will please those in the Gaming industries, amongst others.

But I still can’t see why one clause follows the other. 

Why does it have to be one in place of the other?  Surely these are two quite separate, if complementary subject areas?  Is this not like suggesting that English Language teaching is the future, in place of English Literature?  (Ha, link made, but still a little tenuous, I accept!)

Whilst there is overlap between the two subjects and they are often taught by the same teacher, they are each intrinsically valuable – and separate. Where would we be without our studies of literature, of characters from other times and cultures and of their relationships with each other?  However, often meaning and our ability to empathise is enhanced by looking at the language of the piece – how it is constructed and shaped.   An understanding of both subject areas helps to make a valuable whole.

Often, there is an intellectual snobbery about the study of the English Language with only a few continuing this at a higher level –but no-one is suggesting that because it can be more rigorous and challenging as one’s studies progress, that it should replace the teaching of literature!  After all Chaucer, Wordsworth, Shakespeare – they are all dead: it is an outdated syllabus which hasn’t kept up with the times!  That is pretty much an equivalent to Gove’s argument.

No, rather it is recognised that there is a richness, depth and breadth to literature which should never be dismissed – nor in my view made optional, as it so often is, particularly at KS4.

Back to ICT – this should never be abandoned in favour of Computer Science.  Again, there tends to be an intellectual snobbery which emanates from those who hold tight to their Computer Science degrees.  Skilled and specialised they might be, but in my experience, they are often lacking in the C of ICT – communication skills!  (A wild generalisation, I know!)   That C, however, is very important in our modern world and if we take Bloom’s Taxonomy, revised to incorporate digital elements, we can see that ICT is fundamental in being able to deliver this capability – from the lower order communications skills such as texting and emailing right up to the higher order collaboration, negotiating and debating, we can see that the highest order thinking skills can be achieved through the effective teaching of ICT.

The National Curriculum Programme of Study states: “The increasing use of technology in all aspects of society makes confident, creative and productive use of ICT an essential skill for life. ICT capability encompasses not only the mastery of technical skills and techniques, but also the understanding to apply these skills purposefully, safely and responsibly in learning, everyday life and employment. ICT capability is fundamental to participation and engagement in modern society. ICT can be used to find, develop, analyse and present information, as well as to model situations and solve problems.” 

Really, what is there to argue with here?  Does this sound like a subject we can afford to ditch?

What can be argued – and the Computer Scientists DO legitimately argue, is that ICT is not often taught well.  It is rarely taught by specialists – and along with subjects such as PCSHEE- suffers as a consequence.  In addition, teaching is historically towards a qualification which is poorly constructed and tends not reward students who demonstrate higher level skills and thinking.

This does not mean it is not a valid subject.  Poor national qualifications, poor provision and poor teaching do not invalidate ICT as a subject.

What examination bodies and schools must do is recognise the value and importance of ICT.  Do we want our students to go out into the world with the fear and lack of confidence in technology that we see their teachers and parents exhibit in their attempts to function adequately in the modern world?  Technology is not going to go away.

To return to Gove’s comment about ICT  being a subject which is changing all the time, well what better subject within which to incorporate the teaching of and development of independence and transferable skills? 

ICT should be taught to all and at every Key Stage.  Computer Science should be taught more widely – agreed, but in reality, this is likely to be suited to a somewhat narrower body of students, those with a particular and more intellectual interest in the Science behind the practical and more general application of the subject.

both these subjects can and should exist,  as do English Literature and Language in the best of schools: complementing and enriching each other.  ICT should be at the ‘core’ of this relationship: studied by all, helping to deepen and enrich the study of Computer Science where this is chosen.

My appeal to anyone out there who organises, conducts or attends meetings

November 24, 2011 6 comments

Where do I begin with this one?  My feelings about meetings are that often, a great deal is said, very little is decided, very few actions are agreed upon, and virtually nothing is followed up.

I have attended staff meetings, working party meetings, committee meetings, group meetings, department meetings, and more, over a period of  over 20 years, not only at MPoW, but those that preceded it and elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that these are not unique experiences, but endemic in modern institutions.  (How many hours of my life have been lost to meetings? To travel too far down this route of reflection would lead to despair, so let me digress no further!)

To structure my appeal,  I shall revert to my favourite writing form when under stress – The List!

I offer below – freely and with heightened hope,  my personal list of what tend to be the features of the VERY FEW good meetings I have attended in my time:

  1. Clarity for all attendees about what type of meeting it is, for example, is this a meeting about problem-solving, decision-making, management, feedback, information, planning or a combination of these?
  2. An agenda, published well in advance of the meeting.  (The consequence of not doing so means you ‘invite’ attendees to arrive unprepared; you also offer the floor to those who love the sound of their own voices and silence the true thinkers – those who prefer / need to think and reflect before coming to any conclusion or offering contributions. Is that what you want?)
  3. An agenda that is manageable in the time.  (Don’t put things on the agenda that simply cannot be covered in the time you have available.  Don’t put an item on the agenda where there is no time to debate or discuss it – you KNOW if the item is likely to generate debate – you do, really, you do!)
  4. Where possible, host the meeting in a comfortable environment, with a layout which encourages rather than stifles debate and discussion.
  5. Start on time.  (I’m sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, my time is precious – there are always other things I could be doing with it.  If a meeting is supposed to start at 4pm, it should start at 4pm.  Don’t you know it’s rude to be late?  Likewise, the meeting should finish on time.  Don’t assume that other people are free to continue just because you are. That is treating attendees in the same manner as those cold callers who phone when you are eating dinner and assume you are keen to discuss your energy tariff or Sky account without the courtesy of asking if you are free to talk!)
  6. A chairperson who is well-prepared and capable of remaining focused, as well as being strong and confident enough to deal with contradictory opinions.
  7. Maintain focus on the agenda: (as I’ve said – but I need you to hear! – my time is precious and I’m sure yours is too.  Don’t digress, don’t waffle, stick to the point and work towards making those actions / decisions, or whatever it is that the meeting’s aim dictates.)
  8. Don’t be afraid of controversy or problematic discussions. ( If these don’t happen in the meeting, they will take place behind closed office doors, and ‘issues’ will escalate.  It is best to confront difficulty openly, within a framework of courteous discussion.  People should feel able to disagree, but this can be done professionally.)
  9. Someone appointed to take minutes – and given advance warning of this.  (Asking someone to take minutes during the meeting will truly irritate them and potentially add to their stress levels.  If you are anything like me, you want to ‘get your head in the right place’ for taking minutes – and maybe even come prepared with your highly sophisticated minute-taking equipment!!)
  10. Where decision-making is required, avoid involving too many parties. ( This leads to delayed action and frustration.)
  11. Follow-up on last minutes /actions:  people need to be held accountable. ( Individuals need to accept ownership for decisions made; actions need to be followed up and reviewed.  Otherwise what’s the point?  Of course the minutes should be published as soon after the meeting as possible and never, never on the day of the next meeting!)
  12. Assuming number 2, above, is in place, encourage debate from all parties where appropriate – (don’t allow the loud-mouths to dominate – they often have the least to ‘say’.)
  13. Consider the frequency of the meetings:( people tend to anticipate meetings as they do a large filling in a front tooth.  However, this is because they attend so many poor and ineffective meetings!   It is stressful to attend meetings with overfull, unmanageable agendas.  If you need more meeting time, don’t ‘shy away’ from organising more.  Much better to have more frequent, but well planned-meetings where things ‘get done’.  This is a  satisfying and constructive use of  everyone’s time).

And a final rebellious thought for those who attend, rather than conduct meetings: are you prepared to tolerate losing hours of your life to ‘shoddy’ meeting engagements?  Why not speak out and insist upon, at the very least, some basic meeting standards?  Of course, real life can get in the way of a good meeting and we must be understanding of this reality – it is persistent bad practice we must resist!

Certainly, my outburst has made me feel better already – blood pressure levels have gradually reduced, number by number, as my list has progressed!  I would welcome your comments below.

“A little rebellion now and then… is a medicine necessary for the sound health of meetings.” – Thomas Jefferson (with a very minor tweak by me!)

No chatting, please!

This is a ‘hot’ topic of conversation at MPoW these days and throughout the country, I believe.  Again, the views expressed are my own, but as usual, I AM right!   (Hmm…)

With the introduction of the latest VLEs, the opportunities to introduce all sorts of  ‘bells and whistles’ abound.  Suddenly, new and complex issues raise their heads, placing leadership teams across the country in challenging, often difficult positions they haven’t found themselves in before.  This is particularly true of schools where the embracing of technology has been later rather than sooner and where there has not necessarily been a clear vision in place. 

As part of  the introduction of our new VLE (Frog if you are interested), we decided to open up a chat facility for our students.  And of course there have been concerns.  On both sides of the fence, these concerns have been understandable, although not all have been well- informed.   Below, I argue the case for allowing our students to use chat, rather than locking the facility down.  Lock down is so, so easy, but does it do our students justice?

Why did we introduce it?  After all we didn’t have to and it would have saved a lot of work and ‘grief’ to simply untick ‘that’ box in the VLE toolkit!

  1. Frog recommends the use of chat, as did other schools who hadalready implemented their VLEs.  They recommend it as a way of encouraging students to engage with the VLE.  Once logged on, the idea is that they will then visit other areas of Frog for more constructive purposes.
  2. More importantly, in my view, is that Chat offers an opportunity for students to make low level ‘mistakes’, within a safe environment.  This is an important element of their eSafety training.  They may not make these mistakes themselves, necessarily, but as they see and hear about other students being disciplined for infringements, they too will learn about boundaries.  It is important that they are educated to a degree that reduces the likelihood of them making mistakes with potentially more serious consequences, outside of school.
  3. It offers students an informal method of communicating with each other, for instance about what they missed in a lesson. This is in keeping with their preferred methods of communication such as MSN,or BBM,  but within a controlled facility.

What we have recognised from the outset – some, but not all of which has been confirmed in practice:

  1. Chatting amongst students may well include inane and time-wasting entries.
  2. Student behaviour on Chat may add to the pastoral ‘load’.
  3. Bullying and unpleasant language may appear on Chat.

Oh dear: aren’t these clear enough reasons to remove Chat? (Addressed by number, as above.)

  1. No: as long as the person responsible for monitoring Chat (and there does need to be an appointed person(s))  is content that the entries are happening in the girls’ own time, this should not be an issue. What is the difference between them wasting time orally and on Chat? There can indeed be useful benefits as far as the school is concerned. More of this later.
  2. The perception that this might add to the pastoral load is not necessarily the case.  There is some time involved in monitoring the Chat facility, but in my experience this can be done quickly, yet effectively.  If borderline activity is ‘nipped in the bud’, the word spreads amongst the students and that behaviour does stop. At the same time students are learning useful lessons about what is and is not acceptable.   Staff, too, can learn valuable lessons about individual students through the way in which they behave and interact in Chat situations.  (Is that really quiet girl in your lesson, quite so quiet when active in Chat?) Again this can help to draw attention to students who have the potential to behave badly – but before they do any real harm, saving pastoral time in the long run.
  3. It is true that Chat opens up the facility for these things to happen, however, my argument in favour of maintaining the facility is twofold.  By behaving like this on our network, we have the evidence to do something about it early and effectively before the behaviour gets out of hand. Those who behave like this are not going to change their behaviour simply because Frog Chat is removed.  They will do it elsewhere, where it is much more difficult for school to obtain any evidence of their behaviour.  The result is that dealing with these issues becomes more time-consuming for the pastoral team.

In schools, do we need extra documentation offering guidelines on the use of Chat?

  • I would argue not.  Students in our establishment are introduced to the AUP in their very first ICT lessons.  In form time, they are introduced to the School Care and Consideration Rules.  Misuse of Chat directly relates to key areas in each of these documents. I believe they are behavioural issues, not Chat issues and should be dealt with as such. An additional document complicates matters, unnecessarily and distracts from the fact that this is a behavioural issue.  The staff responsible for disciplining students can confidently refer to either of the above documents in the knowledge that the rules and regulations therein  have been clearly explained and discussed to students.

Looking ahead:

  • Students could be appointed and trained to take a more active role in monitoring the Chat facility and reporting back to staff, acting as extra ‘eyes’ on the system.
  • The BCS is offering a new eSafety qualification.  Comments are welcome from anyone who knows more about this!

Starters: I know I shouldn’t laugh…

October 12, 2011 1 comment

Honestly, I do know I shouldn’t laugh, but a colleague passed me a link to Philip Beadle’s comments on starters and I couldn’t help it.  In fact, I found it so amusing that I just had to pass it on here, instead of doing what I should be doing and checking my daughter’s CV – sorry L, maybe tomorrow!  (Anyway, it’s your CV, not mine!)  Please note, that these views are mine and do not necessarily represent those of MPoW!

“Two starters to last you for life | Philip Beadle

I don’t really hold with starters. In fact, I think they may well be the very worst of the many bad ideas the DfES have inflicted on teachers, who were quite busy enough before the advent of this fresh new torment.

The initial reaction that teachers had when this idea was first introduced remains true: where’s the time to write, design and implement a whole new additional six lessons per day on top of the lessons I am already teaching? The answer is, ‘There is no additional time you spineless drone,’ and so my advice would be, don’t do ’em. Ignore the four part lesson plan until such point as you are being observed, and then slap out a perfunctory starter or, better still, do a lesson without a starter that is so good nobody will notice that it doesn’t follow the government’s strictures.

A decent ten-minute start to a lesson can take a decent hour to prepare. And those who are too scared to call it for what it is end up either getting the Scrabble out and letting the children play with squares of ivory for ten minutes, or plunging helplessly in the direction of the wordsearch.

However, you may be working in one of those schools where obedience, from both staff and from pupils, is perceived to be a sign of quality; and for you, here are a couple of starters guaranteed to get senior staff off your back.

Bring in a small ghetto blaster and play them some music: something lyrical; something that excites a response: Tupac, Bob Dylan, MC Paul Barman, Sparks, The Silver Jews; anything which is of interest linguistically, and get your class to transcribe the lyrics. This is not only a really buzzy way to start a lesson, but it gets students quiet, developing their ability to listen pointedly, and allows them a brief moment bathing in language; which may just be a reasonable definition of the service we are employed to provide for them.

Ask them to read their transcriptions back after the exercise. You will find yourself in an interesting debate about how language creates meaning.

The only other starter I have ever used employs – whisper it – PowerPoint. If you are lucky enough to have a stock of mini whiteboards and a surfeit of marker pens, then all the better. Otherwise pieces of blank, unlined paper will do well enough. Ask your students to write the words ‘possessive’ and ‘abbreviation’ on either side of a piece of paper or mini whiteboard, then show them a series of phrases on a Powerpoint which could be one or the other. When they are shown the legend, ‘The Teacher’s shoes look like Cornish pasties,’ they should raise the side to you which says ‘possessive’: when they are shown the sentence ‘The teacher’s a fool who wears Cornish pasty shoes,’ the ‘abbreviation’ side should be on display.

When observed, it makes sense to pretend to take some note of their answers.

Two starters should be enough to see you through a whole teaching career. You will rarely be observed more than twice by the same person. And the whole nonsensical idea will probably have been dropped by the point that the third one is booked.”

I’ve got to confess, I’m probably guilty of rolling the really formal and obvious version of a starter out for ‘The Observation Lesson.’  I haven’t tried either of the above, however; I just need to work out how to adapt them for ICT lessons!

Seriously, though, what do I think of lesson starters?    Is a starter, not something any teachers worth their salt already do as part of  their lessons?  Isn’t it obvious that a decent lesson needs a beginning as well as a middle and an end of some kind?  Whatever happened to common sense?  Actually don’t answer that – we could be here all day! Perhaps in attempting to provide scaffolding for trainee or struggling teachers, the focus has become much more about the starter(and all that other ‘stuff’) itself – and anally having one – rather than the point of it.  For instance, does displaying lesson objectives on the board make them successful? 

Rather, I think if every teacher approaches his or her lessons in the same way, structuring them in exactly the same linear fashion, we’re back to boring our students rigid!  What do you remember most about being at school?  For me, it is those lessons that were different to everyone else’s.  It is those facts and details that were conveyed in an engaging and interesting way by teachers who did not necessarily conform to the accepted ways of delivery.

At the same time, I do not wish to be dismissive.  There are some excellent and creative lesson starters out there which can be used to do exactly what it says on the ‘Starter Tin’ – they can consolidate earlier learning and understanding, create a challenge and an expectation that all students should be thinking and participating in the lesson right from the outset.  And, I’ve got to confess (hrmph) that my colleague and I have just been responsible for uploading the TES’ starter and plenary ideas to our VLE. 

Doesn’t mean I can’t have a laugh about them, though!  And I did. (Sorry about the CV, again, L!)

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