It’s Obvious

Yes, I know it’s not Sunday. But this is too brief to hold back.

According to the Daily Mail (16th July 2018) lecturers at Bath University have been instructed not to use the term “as you know” to students, which could make students feel at fault for not knowing. This is seen as being an example of the fragility of the ‘snowflake generation’.

I do not feel qualified to comment on such language, coming as I do from more robust academic times. I do wonder if there is a basic body of knowledge that students should be expected to know, depending on context.

However, this does remind me of a very good old story about a mathematics tutor. He was giving a lecture one day, chalked something on the blackboard, then said:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is obvious”.

He stopped and looked again at the equation.

At least, I think it’s obvious.”

He grabbed pencil and paper, then disappeared. After a short interval, he came back, beaming, and said:

Yes, it is obvious.”

This probably says more about mathematics than lecturers and students. But it has the ring of truth about it.

It's Obvious

For your pleasure, the caption to this non-copyright picture reads:

Here is more obvious that the boundary is the union of two Mö-bands along the two borders of the vertical annulus.”

Of course.

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So, what would YOU do about education? Part 7: Won’t Get Fooled Again

A recent (brilliant) blog, flagged up by the estimable Mr C., recounted the myths, fads and gimmicks that so many primary teachers, like myself, were duped, coerced or bullied into following. I recommend it. [ Education Fads ]

Among others, it lists learning styles, lesson objectives, learning outcomes, rapid progress, APP, Chinese teaching, zero-tolerance, four-part lessons, verbal feedback stamps and -very interestingly- lesson planning.

Intriguingly, there are some ideas that others have found “faddy” that I found to work. Lesson planning is one to start with. I would have been lost without some sort of map for my lessons. The author of the above blog mentions lolly stick questioning: a technique where you have all the children’s names on lolly sticks and question at random. I liked this because it meant I was being more equal in my choice of responders, but I was rather inconsistent in its use.

So, what would you do about education

There are other techniques which, for all I know, are now mainstream, but which would have seemed radical when I started off

For example, setting targets for writing. I found this really good at moving children on with their writing. Where it fell down was where there was a proliferation of micro-targets or an unwieldy method of assessment. How did we ever teach writing without it? (Setting targets for mathematics, however, I found very difficult. Maths tends to be taught in discrete chunks, focusing on one skill at a time. Targets for these individual areas may be possible; overall targets for individual students are harder.)

Then there’s self-assessment. Teaching children to be aware of how well they are doing must be good, mustn’t it? No, sir, I am not saying this how all assessment should take place. But it is again a big improvement on the “old days”.

I am not surprised to find that there are new techniques which I never encountered and don’t even understand. What is triple marking, anybody? Answers on a postcard to Oblique Towers. There are no prizes.

I could go on, but I detect your attention slipping at the back there. Keep awake, here’s the plenary.

Primary schools need teachers who are flexible, ‘light on their feet’, able to employ strategies as appropriate to the child and their learning. Some new initiatives may not become fads or gimmicks. They may be valuable. Teachers need to have a tool kit of strategies, not a prescribed orthodoxy. Too often they have been “persuaded”, often by managers desperate for results, into following the latest trend; which is great until the next one comes along. I know, I was there. I have no helpful advice for the beleaguered classroom teacher, except to say if it works, use it.

Finally, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and it’s not original: the only constant in education is change. In a week when yet again government is promising to address the problem of teachers’ workload, the solution seems clear to me. Stop innovating. Let teachers get on with it.

[Yes, that student at the back. You were listening. I did say I was going to stop blogging about education. But I haven’t. And I haven’t stopped being sloppy with my conjunctions. And I reserve the right to say more.]

Trouble

X was trouble. He didn’t mean to be trouble. He just ended up in trouble.

There was the time X came to me, indignant because another boy had punched him in the toilets. Trying to be fair to the notoriously trouble-prone X, I quizzed the other boy closely.

“What are you playing at? How dare you punch him?”

“Well….”

“Go on!”

“We were standing in the toilets…..”

“Yes?”

“And he turned round and peed on my shoes.”

Then there was the occasion when he tried to poke his tongue through the grille of the fan in the library. You get the picture.

Sadly I cannot remember any further incidents involving X. I should have followed the example of an elderly retired teacher I once knew, who wrote down every incident in his career and got two modestly profitable books out of his diaries. This has been repeated more recently by Gervase Phinn.

I disliked hardly any of the children I taught, and I tried very hard not to have favourites, but I suppose I felt very sympathetic towards the guilelessly naughty, particularly boys, who frequently knew they were going to get into trouble but went and did it anyway. As I tiresomely and repeatedly pointed out in assemblies, when a child simply says: “Yes, I did it- sorry” it’s very hard to get cross.

Y was also trouble, in a very different way. When we were first married, Mrs O. would come in to school to do cooking with children from my class. She found Y at breaktime copying down a recipe for scone pizzas (a very good recipe). “You don’t have to do that,” she said.

“Oh, I’m going to cook it for my dinner, Miss,” he told her. Y’s mum did not spend a lot of time looking after him. Hence it was no surprise when he came in one morning and told us that he’d been down the pub with her and that she’d been arrested after a punch-up. He matter-of-factly went on to say that he’d been put with a new lady who said he could call her Mum. Later I heard that he had been expelled (that’s ‘permanently excluded’, children) from secondary school for head butting another student.

Much later we met a smart young man in the street. He told us that he was Y, and (justifiably proudly) that he was now a male nurse.

My teaching career, mostly in leafy suburbs, was however very peaceful and uneventful compared to a huge number of the people I am still proud to call colleagues, doing a superb job in trying and even threatening circumstances round the country and around the world. My apologies to them for these minor musings.

B******s Bob

Newport transporter bridge, Mr B. and Bollocks Bob….

Well, there we were, in summer 2013, having just travelled over the aforementioned Newport transporter bridge, after spending some of our holiday…… looking at transporter bridges. (Yes, really.) (Yes, we are dull.) I rarely get calls on my mobile, but at that moment it rang. That fine colleague of mine (now ex-colleague of course), Mr B. said: “Bollocks Bob has had a heart attack.”

Some background is needed here. Note the narrative device.

Our school had been, to be honest, in trouble. We had fallen from grace. Two strong heads had left their mark and left. We braced ourselves for the new head, who we thought would be a new broom, building on our success and bringing us up to date. We were disappointed. For reasons I will be tactful enough not to detail, it didn’t work. (I suppose I have to take some responsibility, as once upon a time the new head had been a probationer under my year leadership.)

We slid and fell. Inevitably, OFSTED arrived and found us wanting, despite the best efforts of the year leaders, led by Mr B, to convince them otherwise. Inevitably the head left, to be replaced by a new regime. I have summed it up briefly, but the process was prolonged and very unpleasant.

There was one light in the darkness. As the aforementioned new regime could not start for a term, an interim or caretaker head was appointed. Bollocks Bob.

He was a retired head, who had apparently been out on his bike when the call came. He came in tieless- at the time that seemed like a big deal- for the new intake (new parents) evening. I seem to remember that he was bearded, with that slight Father Christmas air some bearded men have. He said hello to everybody and took an interest in everybody, telling me it was important to make everybody feel better about themselves. He came in to our in-service planning day and acquired his nickname when he told us that, in his opinion, “OFSTED is bollocks”. Forever after he was Bollocks Bob. I can’t even remember his surname, even if I think it appropriate to give it.

We very much looked forward to working with him, even just for a term. We felt we would be well prepared for the inevitable changes.

Then came the fateful ‘phone call from Mr B. to say that Bollocks Bob had had a heart attack.

So he never arrived; we never got to work with him; we never got to feel better about ourselves. It was a very trepidacious crew that assembled for the new school year. The new regime arrived and did a very good job rescuing the school, although staff morale did not seem to be a high priority. To be told that “the school seems run more for the benefit of the staff than for the pupils” seemed neither fair or helpful. Nevertheless, OFSTED arrived again and went away as happy as OFSTED ever are. Bollocks Bob, you summed it up.

I am ashamed to say I never found out how Bob was. I don’t even know if he recovered. Perhaps he would have been rubbish, but I somehow think not. I like to imagine that we would have been more upbeat and less frightened with him in charge for a term. OK, I’m not necessarily speaking for anybody except myself. Feel free to substitute “I” for “we”. But for me, he’s the great lost leader.

Newport transporter bridge

(To be honest, Newport transporter bridge is quite fun. As the photo shows.)

P.S. After posting this, I looked up “trepidacious”. There is some debate as to whether it should be spelled “trepidatious”, or indeed whether or not it is a real word. It is real, because I just used it and you are so clever that you can understand all the rich nuances of my choice. Or something.

So, what would YOU do about education? Part 6 (the 6th and final part): who cares?

I have now been retired for more than two years. Suffice to say, I don’t miss work. I DO miss the people I used to work with, more than I can express. It’s very quiet here in Oblique Mansions at times, and I miss the camaraderie and fun. It’s lovely being with Mrs Oblique, but I miss having gossip and tales from the day to tell her.

Recently, Ms O. #1 suggested that I should utilise my services as a consultant. My one attempt at this previously was talking to a friend of hers who was having a bad time in her probationary year. With little or no thanks to me, she is at least still teaching, having moved schools. But hang on: probationary year? Do they still use that term? That’s why I don’t want to go back into education: it moves on so quickly that one very soon becomes out of date.

I don’t even want to do something in an advisory role, not that anybody would want me. Even when I was teaching, I always felt I was just blundering through. I felt very strongly about some ideas, but had no coherent view of what I wanted. I was never confident about what I was doing.

Actually, that’s not completely true. I had great lessons and great days, when I was ‘in the zone’ and everything went well. I even feel that I gave some good advice to colleagues, both younger and older. But the way that the system changed relentlessly, pressurised one into unproductive work unneccessarily and increasingly ignored people made me feel that I had nothing to offer apart from general observations on classroom practice; and that would now be meaningless, as I don’t know what the current orthodoxies are.

So I’ll be trying very hard from now on to shut up and not fall into the trap of being an old fart pontificating about education or criticising. What I would do about education becomes less and less relevant. However, I reserve the right to lecture my audience about special needs education, as I still have a daughter in the system; and I may well try to dredge up some memories and anecdotes. You have been warned.

Education 6

Sorry, this was a bit more personal than I intended it to be!

(One day, I’ll tell you the story about the Newport transporter bridge, Mr B. and Bollocks Bob…..)

Print Junkies

Many years ago I was privileged to hear Harold Rosen give a talk at Southampton University. (A few years later I was privileged to hear his son, Michel Rosen, give a talk to teachers and read his poetry, in a classroom in a primary school in Winchester. For free. But I digress.)

I don’t remember the title of Harold Rosen’s talk and I remember virtually nothing of its content. It must have been something to do with reading, or literacy before that became a term hijacked by the as yet unborn National Curriculum. (Yes, children, there was a time before the National Curriculum and I was there. I am that old.) I probably took some notes, but these must be long gone, maybe even in the final clearout I made of all but a few sentimental items from my teaching career.

All I remember of the talk is Mr Rosen calling his audience of teachers and academics ‘print-oriented junkies’. He was right about me then and right about me now.

The Bookworm by Carl SpitzwegWhen I was younger I was that mythical person, a reader of cornflakes packets. If we still ate cornflakes, I would still be that person now. I am addicted to print. If cleaning my shoes (which is rare since I stopped working) I have to read articles in the discarded newspapers I am using. Mrs Oblique still gets annoyed, quite rightly, at my habit of reading signs aloud as we drive or walk down the street. I am addicted to print, especially books.

Like any addict, I do my best to avoid being without my fix. The Kindle has helped. I make sure I have books ready on it whenever we go away, but also take a print/ real book “just in case” the Kindle fails. Another digression: I recently recklessly loaded up on Amazon recommendations for my Kindle when we went away for a fortnight, only to find that at least three of them were dross. But anything will do when you’re craving a hit.

If I go into somebody else’s house, I make a beeline straight for their bookshelves. (Why is it a beeline? Do they always fly straight to their target?) Since I decluttered my own library, as documented earlier on this blog, I am sometimes saddened by the losses from mine. I always expected to have a huge, rambling library in my third age, but living with other people involves compromise.

It’s always a pleasure to meet another print junkie. My eldest daughter is one. She says her gateway drug was ‘The Hobbit’. I am delighted that she is now recommending books to me. I don’t look down on people who don’t read, but I wonder what they get our of life.

Addictions or obsessions have their problems. I have on occasion, probably fairly, been accused of ignoring people because I have had my head in a book. Maybe more seriously, I think that being a fluent reader might have handicapped me in my approach to young readers, both as a parent and as a reader. It’s always been hard to empathise with somebody who just doesn’t get reading, no matter what I might claim.

Now to continue with Miss O’s latest recommendation. ‘Ancillary Justice’, by Ann Leckie, as you are so kind to ask.

The illustration is ‘The Bookworm’ by Karl Spitzweg, in public domain. Mrs O. was unavailable for illustrating duties, being occupied making Dockers’ Chutney.

 

 

So, what would YOU do about education? Part 5

There was some grumbling in the café of the (apparently) posh supermarket today about school in-service days. In England, these are taken at the discretion of individual schools, for the in-service education or professional development of teachers. Basically the staff are working while the children have a holiday; it can admittedly be very difficult for parents when children are at different schools. This got Mrs Oblique and I thinking about some radical changes which are long overdue in education.

  1. Why not allow parents to send their children in for INSET days? They could play while the teachers are doing whatever teachers do.
  2. School staff ought to be grateful to have these short breaks; they should feel privileged to have electricity, water, gas, etc. provided for them. In fact, they should pay the school for all these facilities.
  3. On second thoughts, this ridiculous professional development idea ought to stop. If teachers aren’t good enough, they should either get out or learn how to do it properly in their own time.
  4. School holidays are clearly too long. Much, much too long. This is the grumble of all parents. Parents actually have to acquaint themselves with their children, which is clearly not a good idea. Instead, we propose that staff should run free holiday clubs on all holiday days. These could start nice and early in the mornings- say 6 a.m.- and end at around 9 p.m. Regardless of ability, these could make sure that all children achieve good progress. It would enable staff to keep themselves active. They must get bored during the holidays. They could also do the cleaning, which would widen their experience.
  5. In fact, let’s extend this idea to weekends.
  6. In fact, school should run 365 days a year from 6 in the morning to 9 in the evening. Whatever do teachers do all the time?
  7. We get the impression that some parents feel that teachers are being inconsiderate in having any time off at all; and some teachers will argue that they won’t have any time to get home. To allay their fears, we are prepared to allow teachers to camp on the school field overnight. We might even provide tents. In return, they can cut the grass every morning. With school scissors.
  8. We have heard ridiculous tales of parents buying £40 and £50 gift tokens for teachers. Ridiculous.  (Do we repeat ourselves? Tough.) We feel that teachers ought to buy presents for teachers instead. £100 tokens for each child in the class should do it.
  9. While we’re about it, the standards in education are apalling. Penalty clauses for underperformance will fix this. Let’s say… £250 for every child who doesn’t hit their targets.

It sounded much funnier when we were coming up with the ideas. I wonder how many people would agree with at least 50% of it. Happy holidays, staff and students.