Brain Rules – John Medina

I’ve really enjoyed reading Medina’s book. I bought it three years ago, started a difficult job and put it down having only read a few pages. Picking it back up to engage with and think about has been really helpful.

Summer is that time in which lots of teachers move into dry-dock and tweak those obviously failings, reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Other colleagues forget entirely about the classroom and don’t think about school again until Sept 1st. What has been interesting this summer for me, is that I have been excited to keep the learning going, supported by Twitter, my Google reader, my to-do list and my notepad.  Another sign that the bailing of water has stopped, the storm has stopped and the refit of the teaching boat can continue unabated.

In his book, Medina sets out 12 rules that he derives from recent advances in neuroscience and fully supports all of his claims with peer-reviewed research.

The links this makes with everything I’m thinking about – assessment, the importance of the visual, the resetting of the ‘ten minute’ attention window – is great.  A real sense of everything being connected.  When I think about my learning as a teacher I see lots of important parallels.  I don’t learn well when under continual social stress, I don’t learn well when I don’t sleep or exercise enough and so on.  Medina gives some suggestions for further research and ways his findings might be implemented in the workplace and school.  As I think about how these findings might change my living and working, reflecting on how I can use this information to help my students then I feel the book I’ve read has been worthwhile.

Highly recommended.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) in the UK

This has been a fun year. I went from being a Head of Department in a “national challenge” school to working as a normal member of a Maths Department in a school that isn’t doing too badly. It took a while to get used to that shift in gear but I’m there and ready to start changing things again in my classroom.

Term finishes here on Wednesday and so all meaningful teaching is finished. I’ve been reading a lot about Standard Based Grading and seeing similarities with some of the work I have been trying around Assessing Pupils’ Progress. The focus on that has been using dialogue as an assessment tool, discussing with students and using probing questions in meaningful ways.

I really like Standards Based Grading from what I’ve seen but when I look at the systems that others have implemented, I have a quandary.

Quandary 1: Spiral Systems

Most of the systems I have seen are based on the American model of Algebra I, Algebra II, etc. but I teach in the UK. My school , like most schools in the UK, works closely to the Sample Medium Term plans published to work alongside the Framework. These have been added to and developed, probing questions and rich tasks have been added, but the structure is predominantly the same. For me, this seems to be problematic.

Why?

Because this is a spiral based system. In the first year of secondary education kids study bits of Number, Algebra, Geometry and Statistics. In the second year, they study most of that again but only in a bit more depth. And in the third.

So?

I guess I’m a bit daunted in thinking about implementing this system in this context. I have to cover quite major concepts in each year in most areas of mathematics. I have the state published level descriptors and objectives, but I feel like most lists are the very similar for each year. Or at least, I feel like I want evidence of all the previous standards when I am faced with a new class.

Quandary 2: 3 hours a week versus every day

Another thing which seems to be different in the UK is that we don’t see our classes every day. I see a class for 3 hours in a week, at different times on different days. I have seven different classes to prepare for, at 6 different grade levels and across the ability spectrum. Should this make a difference?

Quandary 3: Teacher Assessment

We have two grading systems in the UK dependant on the age of the student. From reception (K) to Year 9 students are given a level from 1 up to 8 for each subject. In Maths, this is broken mainly broken into the 4 areas I listed earlier (Number, Geometry, Data, Algebra) with an extra one called “Using and Applying”. The same assessment criteria is used all the way through their schooling and kids are expected to make levelled progression through each year. So, in a class I might start with level 5 students and be hoping to take them to level 6 or so by the end of the year. I don’t normally get a break-down of the strands but one grouped grade and so have to work out where the students are and work from there.

After that students are externally assessed and are graded at 16 (GCSEs), 17 (AS Levels) and 18 (A-Levels).

So, I train my students to know what level they are at and why. Show them how to make the next steps and we go! But, with five strands going on there is a bit of criteria overload.

Conclusion

I want to do this – I’m willing to put the work in over the next month or so to prepare for it and the next years to tweak or redo it – but I want to know if anyone in the UK has already done some work on this and can give me some advice? Is this something you’ve thought about and discarded? If so, why? Are these problems distinctive to the UK?  Is the UK solution just to have previous level, current level and next level for each strand?

I’ve found it really helpful reading old blog posts from Kate Nowak, Dan Meyer and Jason Buell but would really value some UK based thinking on this. Or someone assuring me that the situation is so similar I should stop hesitating and just get on with it.