All posts by Georgia Fullarton

I blink, and it’s over – A long overdue reflection.

The past year has passed by in a flash. I know I’m not exactly old, but I now realise how true it is that time seems to fly by as you get older. There’s no more sitting in a classroom trying to keep my eyes open on a Friday afternoon, or traipsing to classes I didn’t enjoy only to sit there disinterested for fifty minutes. Instead, I blink and first year is over. I’m doing something I truly enjoy.

As I enter the second year of my teaching journey, I feel as though this is a perfect time to reflect on my experiences thus far. First year saw me face many challenges and handed me new opportunities and experiences; my most favourable being my school-based placement. This gave me the opportunity to put what I had learned in lectures, into practice.

Second semester was a bit of a whirlwind. One day we were sat in the lecture theatre learning about strategies for behaviour management and the next, we were using them in our own classes. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit overwhelmed during this semester, having to think about lesson planning, curriculum knowledge, behaviour management strategies and lesson content all whilst preparing for two assignments and two exams. I felt a bit lost-as though everything had been thrown at us all at once. As much as I felt I had been hounded with information, I was so excited to get out on placement and use what I had learned.

Placement was exhausting, but extremely rewarding. I was lucky enough to have a fantastic placement experience, in a great school with extremely supportive mentors and a hard-working and respectful class. This does not mean, however, that I didn’t run into any challenges. Placement taught me a lot.

Here are my top 6 tips for a successful placement!

  1. Teaching is an ongoing journey and you cannot perfect everything in your first six weeks of being in a classroom – I was fortunate enough to have two fantastic mentors, who I was able to collect lots of tips and tricks from, and whilst I feel a lot more confident in my teaching ability, I still have A LOT to learn.
  2. Relationships are key. Get to know your pupils needs, their abilities, their interests, THEM. Strong relationships are an integral part of an effective classroom. Once you get to know them, it will make your experience much easier– your pupils will engage more in your lessons if they’re tailored to suit them.
  3. Whilst what we learn in lectures is extremely beneficial and helped me enormously, you really do learn the most when in the classroom. Go in and observe your mentor(s) AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – get the most out of your time there, it’ll go by in a flash!
  4. Making mistakes is okay, in fact, it’s crucial. The mistakes you make help shape you into the teacher that you’ll become. Looking back, the lesson in which I made the most ‘mistakes’ is probably the one the children enjoyed the most, and the one which improved my teaching enormously.
  5. Have time for YOU. Whilst it is obviously vital that you spend time planning lessons, marking work and reflecting on your teaching, it is important that you find and maintain that work-life balance; something that in the past, I have found challenging.  To allow you to work to your highest possible standard, it is important that you take time out to do something else. Don’t burn yourself out.
  6. HAVE FUN AND ENJOY IT. As daunting as it may seem, being told that you will have full responsibility over the class for a couple of days, everything falls into place nicely. I can safely say that my placement made my first year of university.

I cannot wait to get back into the classroom come November and do what I love doing.

Until next time x

 

IB; Concept-based learning

Concept-based learning is an approach which excites me- it moves away from subject specific content and instead focuses on ‘big ideas’ that span various subject areas. For example, children may learn about ‘change’. They may do this through change of value in mathematics, change of leaders in history and through studying the life cycle in sciences.

This form of learning is said to encourage pupils to think about content and facts at a much deeper level.Further, it mandates more critical thinking at increasingly higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. (Erickson, 2012). The diagrams below show the 2D and 3D models of learning; the latter being concept-based. It illustrates that there is more to learning than memorising facts, and suggests that with concept-based learning comes a whole range of new skills.

It is important for us as educators to see the clear difference between a topic and a concept. Concepts can be taught in any classroom, no matter what the content includes. A concept is a broad idea that is both universal and timeless, and should drive pupils towards higher levels of thinking.

Growing up with the 3-18 curriculum, and latterly the CfE, where the results we get in our exams seem to determine our futures, I find it tricky to understand how concept-based learning can be assessed. This is something I most look forward to seeing in practice, during my time in a school which have adopted the IB curriculum, next year.

 

“90% of what we teach in school is a waste of time… It just doesn’t matter.”

As a future Primary Teacher, it is very alarming to hear that so many of our pupils fail to see the relevance of our learning. Learning in my opinion, and in line with the aims of the PYP curriculum should be fun, engaging and relevant. If our pupils have the view that it is in fact the opposite, we must be doing something wrong.

To suggest that all learning is useful, is naive. Of course we can’t teach content which is useful to every pupil, all of the time; it wouldn’t be possible. But what we absolutely can do is make sure that all of our pupils are catered for by offering a broad range of activities, allowing personalisation and choice to provide the best learning opportunities for our pupils.

It’s our job as educators to dispel any misconceptions about the irrelevance of learning. But what we first must do, is fully understand the relevance ourselves. Once we are confident about the purpose of what we are teaching it is absolutely vital that we convey this to all pupils by applying it to real life situations.

If you had presented me with the above statement when I was thirteen years old, or in fact this time last year, I most definitely would’ve agreed with it. To some extent, I still do. It isn’t a waste of time, but when taught without context, it is difficult to understand its purpose. It does matter, but without teaching them why it matters, it’s useless.

 

International mindedness; a mindset.

International mindedness needs time to develop. It is not a lesson that can just ‘be taught’ but instead an outlook which you can choose to adopt and build on.

Much like I already thought, this blog post confirms that there are different degrees of international mindedness, and that when you’re thirty-years-old, you’ll most likely look at it very differently from when you were six. At such a young age, it can be tricky to comprehend why countries work together for a mutual benefit, or to appreciate a foreign film or TV show. It is therefore important that us as teachers give them the opportunity to adopt this mindset in a different way. This could be through a class discussion about their home countries or even through looking at the nationalities of famous people, for example. It is then important that they use this information to build on each other and create a sense of togetherness.

Once children get a bit older, teachers can begin to explore more complex ideas such as trade, similarities and differences between countries, and of course modern languages. This is an easy concept to embed in lessons, or even explore through the viewing of newsround in the morning. Watching something similar to this will more-often-than-not spark conversation which encourages inquiry-based learning whilst simultaneously delving into the idea of being internationally minded.

The local as well as the global. Whilst exploring content about other areas of the world, it is vital that teachers don’t forget what is right there on their doorstop. To develop international thinking, it is helpful to begin with information about the host country and their culture. We need to give our children the opportunity to immerse themselves into their own culture, and develop their knowledge and awareness of the things directly around them.

In my opinion, being internationally minded comes with many benefits. Children (and adults alike) will have ease finding friends from different backgrounds, they’ll be able to see themselves as responsible and global citizens and above all will increase their self-awareness and empathy. Language skills are becoming ever more important in the world, and many employers seek those with an additional language. I really can’t find any disadvantages and I am fully confident that by encouraging our children to adopt this mindset, we are contributing to creating an interconnected world.

It’s about doing everything on their level. By doing this we should successfully achieve an international education which gives our pupils the best chance in the interconnected and globalised world in which we live.

The history of IB; Educational Trends.

The first trend which I believe to be present in both curricula is ‘child centred’. This along with ‘Education of the wh.ole child’ relates to the CfE as in the CfE, the learners themselves are at the centre of everything that goes on within the classroom. This is inline with ‘getting it right for every child’ (GIRFEC); a legislation which ensures each child receives the best possible education that suits their needs and abilities.

Similarly, the progressive trend of student choice links to CfE as children are encouraged to have personalisation and choice (curricular principle) in their education, again, to ensure they are getting an education which is suited to them. Both of the aforementioned trends confirm that both curricula are very pupil orientated.

Transdisciplinarity is another progressive trend which links closely to interdisciplinary learning which can be seen in the CfE. This is whereby cross-curricular lessons are taught, enhancing learning, by adding either numeracy, health and wellbeing or literacy to each lesson. This is done through the introduction of the Responsibility for All E’s and O’s. I believe this to also link to the curricular principle of relevance. Learners are taught things which are not only useful in the classroom, but also in the wider world.

In relation to classroom teaching, Criterion References, means testing a child’s knowledge on a specific subject area in relation to a set of standards. In the CfE, we do this through the use of Experiences and Outcomes(Es and Os), and by setting clear Learning Intentions and Success Criteria for our pupils. Using the Es and Os helps teachers plan their lessons and set relevant Learning Intentions, and Success Criteria which are achievable and realistic. By doing this, it ensures consistency for our learners.

Lastly, I understand the trend of critical analysis is something which is also embedded within the CfE. In CfE children are encouraged to reflect on their learning, often by setting SMART targets.

The ones mentioned above are those which I believe to be most similar. Many have loosely related traits, and a couple I personally do not see any links to. For example ‘open plan rooms’ is something which I  haven’t seen often in Scotland, potentially something we will see more of in the near future.

IB and CfE: Learner attributes.

There is no doubt that the attributes of the Learner’s Profile and the four capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) are very similar. The four capacities of the CfE are much broader than that of the Learner Profile Attributes, yet aim to develop a similar set of skills to the Learner Profile Attributes.

I began to categorise the Learner Attributes using the four capacities as subheadings but quickly found that a lot seem to overlap, and be interchangeable between the four. What was meant to be a sleek and well-presented note page quickly turned into a spaghetti looking thing which you’d likely discourage your class from doing.

In order for our pupils to become a responsible citizen, the CfE states that they should “show respect” for others, which aligns with the Attributes of ‘caring’ and ‘principled’. If  a child is a risk taker, an enquirer, open-minded and learns to be reflective then they are taking steps in the correct direction to become a confident individual. Whilst this is possibly the most obvious capacity to link it to, I believe them to also fall under the capacity of Responsible Citizens, giving them the skills to make effective and appropriate decisions and to understand the world around them. These are just a few examples of clear cross overs.

Though very similar there is a difference in characteristics between the two. As previously touched on, the layout of these are in a different format. With the IB Learner Profile having ten attributes whilst the CfE has only four. Additionally, the CfE teaches us to be enthusiastic, motivated and resilient; three attributes which seem to be absent from the IB Learner Profile. It appears that the CfE is very much focused on Scotland and educating our pupils about the country in which we live. This differs from an IB education as they are very diverse and focus on the whole world around them.

As there are many similar skills and attributes, I did see many of the Learner Attributes coming through within my placement class. They were encouraged to be open minded and accept new ideas, especially whilst completing group work. I also prompted them to be reflective; reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses of that particular piece of work, whether it be in the form of two stars and a wish, verbal discussion or a traffic light system.

Ultimately, both the attributes and capacities aim to aid children in becoming successful, life-long learners by providing the best possible education.

IB and CfE: Aims.

Upon researching the International Baccalaureate (IB), I quickly released that its aims aren’t too dissimilar to those of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

The aims of IB are that it centres on learners, develops effective approaches to teaching and learning, works within global contexts and explores significant content (IB, 2013). Whilst the aim of the CfE, is to help children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century, including skills for learning, life and work (Education Scotland, 2019).

Both curricula appear very similar in terms of their aims. The two provide learning useful to life beyond the school environment. IB explores significant content (Cambridge High School 2015), meanwhile the CfE provides us with Skills for Learning, Skills for Life and Skills for Work (Education Scotland, 2019). These aims twin each other; content taught in both of the aforementioned curricula will be relevant, significant and useful for later life. This also aligns with the CfE curricular principle of design; relevance.

The similarities continue as I delve deeper into research and observe that both curricula are child-focused. IB centres on learners (Cambridge High School, 2015). Similarly, the CfE ensures the child is at the centre of all learning that goes on in the classroom, and wider school. For example, the introduction of the principles of design, most specifically ‘personalisation and choice’, encourages individual learners to work at their own pace and not that of the teacher.

Upon reflection of my experiences with the CfE, I can confidently say that many of aspects of the aims of IB shine through. For example, a core value of IB is that learners must be open minded, understanding and respecting their own and others’ cultures. A large part of the Advanced Higher French course that I completed not too long ago, focuses on cultural appreciation. After studying this, I believe to be much more open minded and I can absolutely see the value of this for all learners. Whilst on placement, I then shared my knowledge with my Primary Five class, during a ‘Scotland vs. France’ topic. Whilst I used French as an example, it is not the sole subject to immerse and educate learners in others’ cultures and beliefs. RMPS, Geography, Modern Studies and Spanish are other subjects I have studied which have allowed me to be more acceptant of the wider world.

Pupils following the IB curriculum are aiming to be “knowledgeable learners who explore local and global significant ideas” (Cambridge High School, 2015). My placement class achieved this aim whilst watching Newsround every morning. I also quizzed them on ‘current affairs’ each week, broadening their awareness of the world around them. This encouraged them to be ‘inquirers’ (Cambridge High School, 2015), curious, enthusiastic, analytical and excited to learn relevant content.

Thus far, I have not come across any major differences between the two curricula and it would, so far, seem that most content could be interchangeable.

References:

Cambridge High School. (2015) What is an IB education? Available At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZPi2-x0zkc (Accessed: 10/08/19)

Education Scotland. (2019) What is Curriculum for Excellence? Available At: https://education.gov.scot/scottish-education-system/policy-for-scottish-education/policy-drivers/cfe-(building-from-the-statement-appendix-incl-btc1-5)/What%20is%20Curriculum%20for%20Excellence (Accessed: 10/08/19)

The counter productivity of to-do lists.

Why we shouldn’t treat our students equally.

Although we tend to use the words interchangeably, fair and equal are not the same.

Image result for fair vs equal

Take this as an example: Three children of varying heights are trying to reach for the sweets that are on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Treating them equally would mean giving all three children a box to stand on; but the smallest child still can’t reach, whilst the tallest child may be able to reach the shelf without the need for a box. Treating them fairly, then, would mean giving two boxes to the shortest, one to the middle and none to the tallest.

How does this relate to teaching? Well, let’s take a look at a more classroom-like scenario…

You have a classroom of twenty pupils, three of whom have misbehaved enormously over the course of the week and consequently have been told they are getting 10 minutes less ‘Golden Time’ on Friday afternoon. The remaining seventeen, will get the full amount.  Although the kids who have been punished may claim this is ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’, it is the complete antipodal.

If we were to tackle this situation with an ‘equal’ approach, all children would get the same amount of Golden Time, regardless of their behavior OR all children would lose 10 minutes of their Golden Time due to the actions of the minority. You and I both know that neither of the above options are fair.

It’s important to remember that fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same, fair means giving students what they need in order to succeed; this could be time, resources or words of encouragement. If you go to a doctor and the patient before you had a cough, and then you went in with a sore head; he wouldn’t provide you both with cough medicine? So why as a teacher would you provide copious amounts of resources for all of your pupils but spend little or no time explaining it? Whilst some children would be happy to sit and independently work through worksheet after worksheet, this just isn’t possible, and simply would not work for every student, just like cough medicine wouldn’t work for every patient.

As teachers, it can often be easy to think you’re doing good by treating your classroom of young people equally; giving each pupil exactly the same work, providing them with exactly the same resources and explaining things in exactly the same way to everyone. Many may believe that by doing this you are treating your class fairly, which isn’t the case, and whilst equality promotes fairness and justice by giving everyone the same thing, it only works if everyone starts off from the same place; which definitely won’t be the case in your classroom.

Treating the young people in your class fairly requires you to look at each and every one of them as an individual with unique needs and circumstances which are personal to them. This will aid you in determining how much time and help they each need in order to flourish, and help you set specific rules to suit them.  It’s important to let everyone in your class know that what works for a classmate, may not work for them.

It may seem time consuming and challenging to treat every pupil fairly. And truthfully, in the short run, it is. Be that as it may, in the long run it is much, much more effective and surprisingly easier.