I have been super-inspired (shout out to all the #GTTribe followers out there!) by Matt Miller’s book series, Ditch that Textbook and Ditch that Homework. Both of these publications are so revolutionary for teachers that they should be on every educator’s reading list (and by the way, here is my current list of books to get through - I will be writing a blog post real soon about why teachers must always be learners so watch this space!). The premise of the books is that those things that we are convinced are the way things must be (when was it ever conceivable that teachers wouldn’t need textbooks as their font of knowledge or that homework as a concept would become unnecessary in its traditional forms?) are in fact worth changing.
As shown in the change theory model above, Lewin suggests that change is almost always identical in its theoretical system. What I am proposing in this article is that we need to Ditch that Marking and will need to ensure we reach the stage where we reinforce the change through norms. Marking may well be something that Miller will address in a future publication, but as yet, I haven’t seen anything about this, although it is intimated in many guises. A 2016 study suggests that 17% of teachers are spending 11 hours or more per week on marking. And I think that is probably conservative as a statistic.
In fact, one of my most poignant Googly moments was when I had a pile of assessments to mark that I knew was going to take the best part of 4hours to get done. I seemed to be writing the same comments as feedback: “Use a quotation to support your argument”, “Include a religious view as an alternative” (I am a Religious Studies teacher if you didn’t know!), “Take care with the spelling of ….”. It got to me and made me realise that in writing the same comments, I was wasting time I could spend on meaningful feedback.
I decided to Ditch That Marking. Well...not quite. But I certainly ditched the way I had always done it. I asked myself the question: Why do I mark? And it gave me several answers:
I even used a variety of colours of pens:
At my daughter’s school they have a range of highlighters that teachers use - my personal favourite is the Yellow Highlighter of Doom (that’s what they call it!!!). This is on top of a rainbow-full of pens/highlighters and stickers.
Going back to why...I felt if I’m honest that #5 was the primary reason (To follow school policy (or to show leaders/OfSTED/parents/children that I was earning my crust!) when it should’ve been the previous four. If I was marking to jump through hoops, I needed ways to do what needed doing and then find a path to using marking to improve performance.
My journey began with trying electronic submission of homework: I simply asked students to email work or submit it in Google Docs. This meant that I could at least make comments electronically and copy & paste appropriately. This meant that I could then have time to type something more personal and bespoke for the students (and save these for future records to see if students actually responded!). The marking then became a dialogue, even an extension of how we worked in class, using Comments features in the applications (Docs and Slides primarily. This evolved into using Google Classroom as I became more competent. I really love GC - I think it should be the lanchpad for every class - if I were advising any educator to start somewhere, I would suggest here (and by the way, there are LOADS of resources, tips and tricks for making the most out of Classroom - you could even start here - Alice Keeler is one of the best! )
So, has this reduced my marking load? Yes in some ways but the next phase in my less-marking-world is split into 5 key suggestions, all of which are currently works in progress for me:
Marking as a discipline isn’t going away - and I don’t think it should. However, we do as educators need to keep looking at becoming more effective and efficient in this field so we don’t waste time. We don’t have enough of it as it is…
Please spread the love with this infographic.
My latest read is a fantastic book by Professor Damian Hughes, Liquid Thinking. It has the premise of being clear about setting targets, surrounding yourself with like-minded yet driven people and ensuring that your beliefs affect your behaviour in the manner you want them to. He discusses the concept of Possibility vs Probability Thinkers, in reference to those who are "Yes and..." vs "Yes but..." people. I know I have been more a probability thinker in the past - looking for potential pitfalls and sizing up the chance of things going wrong! Hughes asserts that we need more Possibility Thinkers - those who stand with you and your dream and believe in you.
I think his point is not that we should be overtly optimistic (although Duckworth and others suggest that this is a fantastic trait to have) nor should we be dramatically pessimistic. Perhaps it is all in the balance again - when you are formulating a dream you need both types of thinkers to shape it and make it better. When you get on the journey, you need both too - people to help you refine when things don't go well and realign when you've lost focus. However, too many times we fall into the trap of sticking with too many Probability Thinkers or Dream Snatchers as another called them. I want to be a Possibility Thinker for myself and others. Who do you have that is standing with you, spurring you on?
In the last part of this blog series on the G-Suite, I focused on tips and tricks for using the hub of the GSuite, Google Drive, effectively. I acknowledged that if used as intended (and kept organised!), the Drive can be a repository of all your files, it can be fully searchable and can save time and money for schools. Today, we will be looking at Google Slides - the presentation application within the G-Suite. Many people will be familiar with PowerPoint or Keynote and many of the features do cross over (which is good and saves times eh?) but I would love to showcase a few of the specific tools and features of Slides (and it has had a recent overhaul in September 2017 which is exciting!).
Google Slides: The Reel
I decided to call Google Slides, 'The Reel', to harp back to the good 'ol days of cinema film reels. I am not quite old enough to remember the reels having to be changed part way through a film but I do remember the whirring of the machine and the 'man in the back'. The Old Cinema I used to frequent in Blackburn is now a church (yes, that way round!) yet I still remember the excitement of queuing up to go and see such timeless classics as Titanic and Jurassic Park (the first one!). Slides, Google's answer to PowerPoint, Keynote and Prezi is an amazing tool for showcasing just about anything.
"The process actually felt easier, more lightweight and straightforward, than I’ve become accustomed to in PowerPoint." (Joshua Kim, InsideHigherEd)
Feel free to download and share this infographic, especially to those already using Slides - we don't always see all the feature updates and this one is amazing. Next up in this series we will look at Google Docs - the most famous of the apps within the G-Suite.
The notion of Data-Driven Improvement (DDI) has come to the forefront in education over the last few years, most notably as part of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo's seminal works, Driven by Data and Leverage Leadership in which he argues that 'data-driven instruction' is central to good educational leadership. This work has formed the basis of a movement in the U.S. through Uncommon Schools, which is gaining traction as a model in the U.K.
So the idea of basing everything on data and a continuous cycle of improvement is at the crux of this model. In fact, the mantra of "aggressive monitoring" is held up as good practice. My question: is it crucially about the data we have or the children we teach? I admit the two are not mutually exclusive - children create data - but that is the very heart of my argument: children come first. I believe in our data-heavy (as opposed to data-rich) schools, we are measuring the impact of everything (which in itself is not an evil but often leads to such, including marking for the sake of marking, reports and analysis that look nice but tell us very little) and proverbially placing the cart before the horse. Perhaps the 'data' we gather and drive from needs a rethink.
"If you teach and students do not learn, is it really teaching? You cannot know if students are learning at the highest levels if you don’t assess that learning."
I don't think anyone would argue with this message. We have all sat through (and probably even delivered) lessons that are just the teacher spewing out information without any consideration for whether students understand the material. Indeed, there are probably young people right now sat in classrooms thinking, "What is the point in this? I don't even know what he's going on about!" Aimless teaching is neither use nor ornament. However, what I am trying to say is that there is still too much assessment OF learning (despite insets or guidance otherwise on AFL). How many times do we as teachers sit with marked assessments or verbal question answers in front of us before we plan the next session? Rarely, I guess. Isn't it simply enough that we have covered it? The answer is no! We must KNOW our students and how best to cater to their needs. This does require data but the amount and frequency of collecting thus is perhaps unsustainable and gratuitous.
I am advocating a common sense approach (no pun intended). Students' lives matter. So do teachers'. We cannot continue working at the rate and intensity that is expected from all - parents, SLT, OfSTED, whoever is placing the demands this week. So, perhaps rather than data-driven instruction, it should be child-centred - if the data is about the child, then gather it; if it's not, let's not waste the time. Let the children drive the curriculum and their learning. Data is, in fact, a great servant but a poor leader. It does matter but not as much as we give it credit for!
In my last blog post, I focused on tips and tricks for using the preferred browser for all things G-Suite, Google Chrome. In this article, I aim to look at tips, tricks and ideas for using Google Drive effectively. If used as intended (and kept organised!), the Drive can be a repository of all your files, it can be fully searchable and can save time and money for schools.
Google Drive: The Hub
Despite freaking the world out in September 2017 when Google announced that Drive would be disappearing, what they actually meant was that Drive Sync - the offline version - was being discontinued. The fully fledged hub of all Google files, drive.google.com (by the way, (insert app name).google.com is the address for almost anything Google), is still alive and kicking. Below are some reasons for using it and also some useful tips and tricks for making the most of this brilliant cloud storage facility.
Tips and Tricks for making the most of the Drive
In my previous post, I discussed reasons for Going Google - the foundational rationale for integrating G-Suite into education and not-for-profit settings. Here, I will be starting a series looking at individual tools within the suite (and some that are cool add-ons/apps that make sense to discuss here). NB: I do not intend this to be full descriptions or how-tos for these tools; in fact, I want to create a little bit of intrigue to encourage readers to step out into the unknown. Here goes...
Google Chrome - The Browser
According to Digital Trends, Chrome is the best internet browser. When you are on the internet, some might ask if it really matters which you use (the most common other browsers are Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari). An estimated 67% of all browsing is now done through Chrome and I can tell why. (Some more recent statistics suggest 77%). Below I will outline a number of reasons for using Chrome and tips & tricks for maximising your browsing.
"If you’re not sure which browser you should be using, you should be using Chrome."
My Top 10 Tips for Making Chrome Work for You
Hope this has been useful and keep posted for the next part: Google Drive - The Hub...
So I made another infographic this week that I will be sending to all my PD partners and the schools & colleges I will be making inroads with in the next few weeks. Having been excited about Google Edu stuff for a while and pioneering some ideas in my last setting, I often find people asking me - why Google? Isn't it just where you search for answers at the click of a button? Alas, I have not yet face-palmed nor face-slapped yet...But it did get me thinking about the key reasons why it is important to 'Go Google'.
1. It's totally free and unlimited
For education and non-profit users, who happen to be the two sectors that I am working with currently, the G-Suite is free. That's right - you pay nothing to have a domain, set up multiple users (we had over 1000 in our previous organisation), and have access to the full range of applications that are on offer. The Core Suite (Keep, Docs, Sheets, Classroom, Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Forms, Sites, Slides, Hangouts, Groups) is a perfect place to start and in fact, you probably won't use all of these all at once (NB: I started with Docs & Drive before finding the Pan's Labyrinth that is Google Classroom!). Not only are the apps free but all cloud-based storage is free too...and unlimited. You will never fill your GAFE (Google Apps for Education) space. These two facts alone are saving schools money like you would never know (and heaven knows we need to save schools money in the current climate). One school estimated that eliminating on-site servers has saved them £40k alone. CDW (a leading IT solutions company) suggests that moving over to Chromebooks as the device of choice has saved 93% of IT deployment hours, 68% of annual support time and 61% on 3-Year Costs (Source: IDC Whitepaper: The Economic Value of Chromebooks for Educational Institutions, September 2015). All in all, when you Go Google, you save money and effort.
2. It will boost collaboration between staff and students
According to an African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." This absolutely is at the heart of G-Suite. Working together gets the job done. But it's not just about getting stuff done - it's about stuff being done right. This is not just another job; young people's lives, futures, dreams, mortgages, children all depend on it. That's the truth - we need to take seriously the fact that young people (and all learners for that matter) depend on us as educators to do things properly, for the long-haul not just the instant win. G-Suite allows us to work together on projects that have meaning (e.g. Google Sites allows students to have an authentic audience for their projects). The G-Suite is grounded in collaboration - many of the Core apps allow up to 50 people to be working on them SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Imagine this scenario (because it's probably not too far from your normal teaching experience): a department or faculty needs to write a new Scheme for Learning (SFL) for a year group. They will probably take the following steps:
I haven't even mentioned creating collective slide decks in Slides where each student has responsibility for a different topic area and they all work on the Slides together for homework. Or, perhaps collaborating on a classwide Google Site to showcase their learning for the year. Or, what about the staff who create a consistent assessment model in Google Forms that they share to all students and collate data automatically in Google Sheets? It really makes working together work.
3. It will lead to a less-paper school and world
Ray Fleming, Education Marketing Manager for Microsoft, estimates that most schools spend more on printing than IT and some approximations suggest each school prints around a million sheets per year, equating to about £45000. The last school I worked in actually topped the two million mark in each of the last two years I was there (and that was when iPads and EdTech were already in place!). Practice examination papers, multiple assessment documents and 'regularly updated' displays all take their toll. Now, no-one is suggesting that a 100% paperless classroom is possible, or in fact, necessary. Indeed, there is something magical about holding a book or a magazine or a student's poster being displayed on the corridor. Schools already have lots of wonderful paper-based resources that it would be impractical and unwarranted to simply replace these with digital versions (and theory on the SAMR model would suggest this is only first-level use of technology). We don't want to stop paper use; indeed, as it stands, the terminal examinations at 16 and 18 require use of the written form so we need to ensure students are still utilising written methods.
What is clear though is that the way we are working is unsustainable. Take, for example, the re-issuing of multiple worksheets for homework (students lose them, the dog eats it, their juice spilt over it or you simply didn't print enough). The creation of these still requires the hard graft but the sharing and collection of these can be made simpler (and more eco-friendly) just by sharing them electronically (either in Google Classroom or via links in Drive or Docs). No more excuses - it is simply there to share again. There is also a permanent record of the submitted work rather than relying on worksheets being stuck in books or filed in drawers never to be seen again. If you add in that marking through Classroom with Comment Banks (see coming blog post!) means that staff can access work quicker and in a less cumbersome way (how many wearisome teachers have we seen carrying out a mountain of marking or wheeling their trolleys of torture on a Friday evening?), it really does make sense.
Let's get to saving the world.
4. It stimulates creativity
Singapore is generally regarded by many as one of, if not the best, education systems in the world. A BBC article highlighted how they have placed creativity at the centre of their curriculum and moved to more "holistic education". In fact, "there is strong evidence from across the curriculum and age-range that where children and young people are given some control over their learning and supported to take risks with the right balance between structure and freedom, their creativity is enhanced" (Davies et al, 2013).
One of my greatest epiphanies came in a Y13 Religious Studies class when a certain young man came into the room excited to tell me that he had been watching a video the previous evening on YouTube which proved that I knew what I was talking about with Kantian philosophy (which was a good job because it is a tough gig to get your head around!). It made me realise that students didn't need us to teach them anymore. They needed us to facilitate their learning. No longer is the teacher the sage on the stage or the font of all knowledge. Many students even spend their time researching ways to counter-argue what is being taught anyway from their real 'teacher': the Internet!
The G-Suite certainly allows students control over the learning, and not just through Google's monopoly on the world's two biggest search engines (Google Search & YouTube, which it acquired in 2006 unbeknown to most people at the time). The creative opportunities are immense within the suite, but with amazing add-ons, extensions and third-party apps, there is an even wider plethora of choice. For example, I used EdPuzzle as a method of making/editing educational videos (even using screencasts to showcase 'how tos' for staff and students) and then creating assessments or ongoing questions to check the learning throughout. This was an amazing homework project and allowed us to extend the learning beyond the classroom.
Einstein suggested that, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." It's time to get rid of the box, never mind think outside of it.
5. It is safe, secure and user-friendly
One of the biggest worries that schools, and particularly school leaders, face is that of security. "Won't Google be able to access all of our information, including confidential records?" "What happens if we can't access the cloud?" "Can hackers not get all of our stuff much easier if it isn't backed up on our hard drives?" These and other similar concerns are justified in the light of huge data breaches in recent times. However, Google uses the world's leading encryption (256-bit AES ) making it way more secure as any USB stick or server anywhere on the planet (as this insightful article suggests though, it is only as secure as our use of it!)
Google Vault is Google's archiving and storage system that ensures that all work within a domain (including all comments, searches and user activity) is saved and searchable. This means that any student or staff accounts can be tracked (if necessary) and all important information can be retrieved almost immediately. The G-Suite allows for greater protection of students with restrictions controlled by the administrator, and if your school goes to Chromebooks, this management goes up a whole other level in terms of deployment of apps, whitelisting of websites and checking suitability of YouTube videos. Although no system is ever foolproof, this one goes a long way towards it.
Finally, the G-Suite is amazingly user-friendly. The interactivity between apps is seamless and the commonality of 'Share' functions makes it so easy. Even the world's greatest technophobe will find the navigation of the apps simpler than any other leading competitors. One great example of this has been mentioned earlier and is something I will be blogging about very soon and that is the integration of Google Keep within Docs. I was forever writing the same comments on a pile of student books and was becoming increasingly frustrated at what seemed like a huge waste of time. By typing these common phrases into a Keep note and then simply dragging and dropping them onto the electronic assignment, I was literally saving hours of my life. I was free! (A simple explanation of this can be found here). The G-Suite really was a life-saver.
Going Google has never been easier and more necessary. I urge you all to start the conversation. If I can be of any help on that journey, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Purpose, priority and productivity - a simple formula for extraordinary results. Productivity - work or effort - is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the visible that shows priority and purpose from below the surface. I heard a preacher once say that if you want to know where your priority is let me see your calendar and your bank account - where you spend your time and money tell you what matters most.
Every venture needs productive people. Keller says that "Great businesses are built one productive person at a time." I am convinced that we need more people working harder. But not just harder, smarter too. Working hard at what matters most. People in purpose on purpose for purpose.
How much more satisfying would it be to not only do what you love but get paid for it too? In my role as Director of Sixth Form and looking after EdTech I absolutely did. I loved it, got paid for it, was pretty good at it and certainly it was needed. However, life is seasonal. I am convinced that purpose may be too. Or it could be that there is a fourth P - place. You can be working on purpose, prioritising and being productive but if the placement is wrong, it doesn't necessarily mean the results are your best. You may well achieve extraordinary things but whether you are placed correctly is worth re-evaluating. Sometimes situations make the place untenable despite it being productive.
Know the Why as Simon Sinek would say. Helen Keller then says if we know this we can deal with almost any how. The what & when come next. Perhaps the where is worth another think too. Remember, practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent. Practice in the right way (and place) can make perfect.
I definitely thought this blog piece was just going to be two parts but there's so much in this little book that I need to break it down further! So here is Part 3
Having an ability to determine the ONE Thing comes from asking the right questions according to Keller. He uses the term 'The Focusing Question' to help us frame the important question:
What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?
He breaks this into a few categories:
1. ONE Thing I CAN do - what's within the realms of potential or possibility? What ONE Thing instead of multiple things on a to-do list?
2. Such that by DOING it - what actions can I take? How can I take responsibility?
3. Everything else becomes easier or unnecessary - what will have knock on effects? Think long game.
He then suggests that we must be BIG & Specific in our questioning to get appropriate answers, e.g. What's the ONE Thing I can do today to double sales in the next six months?"
By looking at these 7 areas, he asks some excellent questions and he has them in order starting from spiritual life and then clockwise around the diagram above.
I am blown away by how practical and applicable this concept is to my life. Thinking about priorities and then asking challenging questions - these two ideas will help me focus on the ONE Thing. This season certainly requires that I refocus and reimagine possibilities.
Thinking about balance and counterbalance today. This is a mental concept. We try to fit as many things into our 24hours as is possible to "live life to the max" or because of FOMO. We want to make the most of every moment (which in itself is admirable and desirable) but EVERY moment? Is it possible to be 'on point' at every point in time?
I have lived by the mantra of "It's all about balance" for many years - all things in moderation, don't go overboard, The Golden Mean. But I am thinking - is maintaining the balance what is required for a maximised life? Keller suggests that nothing of value is found in the middle, it's always at the extremes. Scientific breakthroughs, educational wins, political revolutions, personal triumphs. How many times have we heard heroes or athletes talk about "coming to the end of myself" or "pushing myself further than I thought possible"?
Perhaps, life isn't about balances. Perhaps it isn't about fitting everything in and spinning all the plates that our three-score-years-and-ten offers. Perhaps in giving yourself to a few things really well or even ONE thing wholeheartedly, there is freedom, purpose, significance, greatness, happiness, wholeness.
Just a thought...
That said, it is not all about extremes. Keller suggests that there is a need for counterbalance instead of balance - the ability to swing back where necessary from the extremes. Civil servants who worked 55+hour weeks were 67% more likely to die from heart disease! I couldn't put it better than he did:
So...in work, you can be extreme and in personal life you need more counterbalance is his conclusion. Not a bad little thought. Is it really possible? The jury is out on that.