Three books I’d recommend to any teacher entering the profession

At my school we are trying something new. A blog called Academic Chat where teachers are invited to post about one of four suggested topics. It is a new branch to various formats for ‘Academic Chat’ that has taken place in recent years. Since I am new to the school, and enjoy thinking about education in different ways, I’m joining in. The blog (WordPress, self-hosted, author account for each participant), should you be interested, is here. I recommend you have a read; my colleagues have written some excellent stuff. My chosen topic is about three books…


I’m not an avid reader. I find books a significant commitment, and they swirl around my head in ways I do not always find comfortable. So, this is by no means a selection of choice items from some infinite learned bookshelf, but three pieces of work I have found inspiring.

DibsFirst up is Dibs, In Search of Self by Virginia Axline, 1964. This was recommended to me by an amazing woman nearly twenty years ago.  Wikipedia says:

The book chronicles a series of play therapy sessions over a period of one year with an emotionally crippled boy (Dibs) who comes from a wealthy and highly educated family. Despite signs that he is gifted, his mother, father, and most of his teachers perceive him as having an emotional or cognitive disorder. Dibs presents abnormal social behaviour by continuously isolating himself, rarely speaking, and physically lashing out at those around him. When Axline first meets Dibs’s parents, they describe her as their son’s last hope. The book details the interactions between Dibs and Axline and utilises actual session transcripts for dialogue.

I read this as I became a parent, but also as I was working in an EBD school with a class of six 12 year olds with various character traits ranging from the most outspoken to the safety of silence. I was struck by the detail Axline noted about Dibs; the smallest of things smacking with significance. When I was eleven, I walked into the music block of Nunthorpe Comprehensive School, a new face in a new school in a new town. Too many people had to pass through the only doorway as lessons exchanged learners, and, from nowhere, a senior boy hit me hard on my nose. I had never met him before. It was odd; I was furious. Later that day, bound by my injustice, I recall telling myself that, when I was  older, I would remember that what I was thinking right there and right then was real: important, consuming and worthwhile. Not that I was right, but that my thoughts mattered. As Dibs is discovered by Axline, as Axline discovers her self – as I read this book – it gave me words that resonated with my eleven-year-old self. It helped me become a better person: able to interact with others in ways I could now understand rather than guess at. It made me a better father, and a better teacher. It taught me to be gentle and thoughtful in my observations and judgements (not that I am always gentle).

hattie

My second choice is Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, 2012. I first came across Hattie whilst studying for my MA, and have written about his work before, which provides an easy way in if you’re new to it.

Initially, I was very impressed with Hattie’s attempt to collate educational research and his prescription for how to decipher it into useful classroom/school strategies to improve teaching and learning. However, since then my views on this have changed; Hattie uses complicated algorithms to summarise research done by others over many years, and, in doing so, he has hung his hat on empirical evidence and analysis. This leaves his findings exposed to criticism, e.g. this post, ‘the educational world according to john‘. My reason for including it here is that any new teacher joining the profession should have an awareness of educational research, and Hattie’s book is an excellent lens for understanding the complexities of using research to improve teaching and learning. This book feels somewhat inaccessible at first, but do persevere. Hattie demonstrates how little impact class size and homework have on learning outcomes; do you agree?

nudge

Finally, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Cass Sunstein & Richard Thaler, 2012. This book was recommended to me by several educators I have had the pleasure to work with. I am cheating a bit here because I am still reading it, but it is great. So far, the authors are scrutinising how we think. Examining the difference between two main ways of thinking: the gut instinct ‘Automatic System’ and the more rational ‘Reflective System’. For example, if I ask you the answer to 2 + 2, you will automatically say 4, but, try these:

  1. A bat and ball cost £1.10 in total. The bat costs £1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?___ pence
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take100 machines to make 100 widgets? ___ minutes
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? ___ days

Answers are at the bottom of the post.

Another example of how easily our thinking can be influenced is given in this illustration. If you were choosing a coffee table to sit in front of your sofa, which would it be?

Get a ruler and measure...
Get a ruler and measure…

 

I picked the long, thin one on the left. I wasn’t wrong; they are the same table. Their analysis expands into the power of suggestion, from which the book draws it’s title, ‘nudge’. This is simply a way of influencing how people make choices by carefully planning how the question is set and the context in which it is delivered. For example, how much of this bag of crisps should I eat? Well the size of the bag plays a part in the answer, and, have you noticed the increase in the stocking of family-sized crisp packets? These principles have been used in marketing for years. The relevance of all this to teaching is: how to talk to a large group of people, how to present your material or encourage participation or cooperation, or, how to design your slides in a presentation. This has added benefits for me because I design websites for teachers and pupils and I need to encourage them to use the digital services the school provides. I am not interested in manipulating their responses, but I do want to be mindful of how I present these services to my community.

There are my three books. They are not seminal works, but, for me, a new teacher would be richer for reading any one of them. Whether it be the heart-warming granular detail of a troubled boy, the cold stats of educational research, or, choice architecture exposing how we think, the common thread is human behaviour. That is why I enjoy my job.

I would love to hear about any books you have enjoyed in the comments, or on twitter.

Answers:

  1. 5 pence
  2. 5 minutes
  3. 47 days

All images are sourced from Amazon

Three books I’d recommend to any teacher entering the profession

New Mobile Phone – Hello Moto

Yes, bamboo...
Yes, bamboo…

Motorola Moto X – it’s made of bamboo! And some chatter about battery life at the end…

sad face

Sadly I smashed my Nexus 5 by throwing it out of my pocket onto the tarmac whilst riding my newly acquired second hand BMX (thank you Gumtree). Screen repair was possible because the device still worked, but it was getting a little slow, and so a new handset was required. I have an EE SIM only deal that includes calls, texts and 10Gb of data for £10.00 pcm with no contractual obligation. Therefore, I buy my handsets outright. In the past, I was aware of all the handsets on the market; the latest and greatest shiny!

Not now though. So, I needed to do a little research using the web and twitter and facebook to ask my friends and acquaintances what they were aware of. Suggestions of the Linux phone and iPhones came in, but the best value handset out there at the moment appeared to be the Motorola Moto X with Android. This appeals because it has the most *vanilla* android experience on the market, as well as a serious attempt to provide a top-end handset for less money, as documented here. So, I sourced the best price I could find on Amazon, but I noticed another seller was based 20 miles from where I live, so off I trundled to part with £285.00 for my new phone from HandTec.

One of my pupils is going to repair the Nexus 5 and then I’ll sell it to offset some of the cost of the new shiny.

I’m really pleased so far. All features seem good enough for me. Also, it has a couple of clever Moto tricks, for example, whenever it suspects I want to use it – pulled out of pocket, or picked up, or my hand passes over the screen – the lock screen comes on so there is no need to press the power button. Simple and efficient. It also locks quickly by itself but keeps checking to see if I am looking at the screen and remains active whilst I am.

I’m enjoying not having to be overly concerned about battery time. Isn’t it pathetic and manipulative that batteries are not replaceable in handsets? Battery life seems the most frequent complaint and, there is no doubt that battery performance deteriorates with time. Why are retailers not offering a battery swap? I presume because they are often selling new handsets and they would rather encourage you to part with more cash. A quick search shows how I could replace my own Nexus 5 battery, for less than £20.00. You can do it for iPhone 5 too with instructions on YouTube. But if you’d rather not do it yourself, you can search for a repair centre to do it for you.

New Mobile Phone – Hello Moto

Am I a Rugby Referee?

Source: RugbyDump

“the referee’s a teacher!

the referee’s a teacher!

the referee’s a teacher!”

Watching the Six Nations rugby tournament play out this afternoon, I was again impressed by the referees of this aggressive and skilful game. There are characteristics about the variety of voices a ref uses, and parallels can be made between the behaviours of individuals and groups that are encountered on the pitch, and those brought to mind by my role in the classroom. The most used is a calm, measured voice, proffering guidance, explanation and reason; spattered around the focal point of (often frenetic) activity amidst thirty players. When activity is high-tempo and noise fogs the air, you hear the ref bark an order, raised voice used deliberately to communicate effectively. You never hear that voice used to address an individual, even when the behaviour is shameful and breaks all rules of engagement. The phrases used are varied in length, considered, appropriate; sometimes stock words, sometimes ad hoc. The ref is always talking to the players. In groups, in pairs, one-to-one. The communication is multi-directional: the ref must listen to the players and his eyes at the sides, process the information and deliver a course of action that confirms the rules of play and is fair to all involved. Disputes must be negotiated with firm boundaries drawn and a clear absence of bias. Justice is not always done, but all parties must have faith in the deference of the ref to the agreed rules of the game and the people involved. The ref works hard, right in the mix of the play, not hiding thought or rationale.

When I teach, when I am at my best, it feels like this. Of course, the aggression of a rugby game isn’t in my classroom, but the learning is varied like the phases of play. It exists on spectrums between words such as: messy and tidy, fast and slow, turgid and buoyant, hazy and clear. When I am at my best, there are no cheap laughs, the tone is serious and cheerful. The players are the learners. The game is theirs, not mine. I exist to bring the game structure and let it breathe and grow to the conclusion determined by those who came to play, not by me. This is what I aspire to as a teacher. In observing the roles and responsibilities in society, it is the rugby referee that repeatedly chimes as being most like mine. It’s not sexy and exciting, but hopefully – if I can meet my aspirations, judge situations well and deliver my interventions with calm purpose – the players are at their best: agile and confident, shrugging off mistakes. The players feel the pleasure and purpose of their work, consuming the fruits of their labour.

Of course this analogy is flawed. Pupils do not appear at my classroom door prepared for the game of their lives. There is no audience, although let’s not forget how the social web can help here. I must be a coach and foster meaningful training that aligns with their sense of progress.

And, more importantly, I do not always arrive at my classroom door ready to ‘ref’ the game. As often as not, lessons do not unfold as I have implied above. And I could should have done more to make sure it was better. But, hopefully, I will be able to make the necessary calls with calm purpose and honesty to bring about something meaningful.

But sometimes, it just goes wrong…

Incidentally, I do think about football referees in a similar manner, but in the vast number of games I have watched of my preferred sport, the analogy does not hold as well. There are examples of when it does, but mostly when Pierluigi Collina was at the top of his profession.

Am I a Rugby Referee?

Drew Buddie: This is how I work

I am Drew Buddie and this is how I work

 

Twitter: @digitalmaverick

Current job: Head of (newly titled) Computing

Been a teacher since: 1987

Location: Rickmansworth, Herts

Current mobile device: iPhone 5

Current computer: I currently use a battered old Acer laptop creaking under the strain of all of the malware software that my son has inadvertently downloaded onto it in his eternal pursuit of the perfect video file conversion software. I also am starting to rely more and more on my iPad but I sometimes feel like I need a much more robust device (if some kind soul has one lying around).

School-issued devices: None – having an iPad of my own, I ‘donated’ my school-given one to a colleague so that she could participate in our staff iPad pilot scheme.

One word that best describes how you work: Flibbertigibbet

How do you manage your calendar/diary?

My daughter is in charge of that 🙂

How do you manage your lesson planning?

I guess having taught my subject for over 20 years, most of my lessons are ‘in my head’.  I seldom use notes, except when I am being observed, or if I am covering a topic that is new to me.  I work paperlessly with my students, seldom if ever giving out worksheets, or printing out their completed work.  I try to prepare thoroughly for each lesson I teach by ensuring that the resources we need are available and that they work properly.  Crucially, I have a back-up plan for every occasion, in case the technology that I have to rely on does not work – so for every ICT lesson I have a non-ICT lesson up my sleeve, just in case.  I currently teach all of Years 7 -9 (that’s 4 classes in each year group) so a lesson is well-refined by the time the final group has me for a particular topic.  I always make notes on what happens in class and frequently ask  for feedback from my students about what they thought of what they did in class.  The 4 R’s (Resilience, Reciprocity, Reflection, Resourcefulness) are firmly embedded within our school curriculum and I practice what I preach by employing each of these when evaluating my own performance. I started Twitter as a reflective tool, never for a moment thinking using that indispensible tool would take me on such a life-changing personal learning journey.

How do you manage your marking?

I do it all in school, as my classes tend to be small. I use comment only marking as my assessment for learning policy.

What’s your best tip for term-time weekends?

Don’t forget your family! Also, don’t forget yourself! After I have enjoyed a relaxing weekend, if possible I allocate myself 7pm onwards on Sunday evenings to doing school-related work, the only exceptions being at pressurised times of year (such as when 120 reports have to be written).  I also use weekends to learn what I can from reading – usually by  following the links I’ve favourited  in Twitter.  I feel that ‘favouriting’ is massively undervalued by most Twitter users, and (let’s be honest) by Twitter themselves.  I have in excess of 75,000 Twitter favourites, all of which are (or were) linked to my Delicious account via Packrati.us. I allocate a 2-3 hour period during the weekend to sift through the Favourites I’ve made during the week.  I also use this process to read articles that I have saved for offline reading via Instapaper.  I live on the school premises, so it can sometimes be hard to escape from the parochial nature of our school community, hence I try to go to gigs or travel around if I can when the opportunity arises.

What do you do during school holidays?

I start the summer holidays watching the spectacular coverage of the Tour de France (I bought an HD TV for this specific reason). I then go to music festivals later in the year – Green Man and End of the Road.  I have started volunteering for various organisations and I do a fair bit of that during the holidays.  This summer I am an invited speaker at the Scratch Conference in Barcelona, a city I have never visited before,  so i am really looking forward to going there. I was recently awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship with which I have been given a sizeable grant to carry out personal research around the world during this coming year – I will be doing my travel (to Estonia, Ireland, Colombia & southern USA) over the holiday periods in the coming academic year.  Although relaxing during my holidays too, if I see a course I am interested in, and can learn  from, then I sign up to attend it. Holiday periods also give me time to explore new topics that I want to embark on for the coming year eg. Open Badges, programming, our Comenius project are some topics I will be looking at this summer. I also maintain a project for our Gifted and Talented students which takes place within our VLE every summer.  The participants have anonymised accounts so that no participant knows the identity (and therefore the ages) of other participants.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Scoop.it, Bit.ly, Toondoo, Kerpoof, Bubbl.us, Tagxedo, Delicious, Storybird, Powtoon are just a few.

What offline tools can’t you live without?

The Moleskine in which I note down the pick of my Twitter ‘Favourites’ (somewhat retro and a bit bizarre I accept). Jesse Schell’s ‘Art of Game Design’ is a remarkable book which has hugely influenced changes in my recent approach to teaching and is my coffee table book of choice. I also like my 20Q quiz machine, my Powerball (which is supposed to eliminate RSI) and currently, my MakeyMakey.

What’s your main workspace like?

I have a VERY CLUTTERED (mainly due to the TEN Big Traks that I have stored therein) office which overlooks our 300 acre grounds – it is a remarkable place to have an office (especially when the apple & cherry blossom is in full bloom) and makes me count my blessings every day. I used to have a ceramic  scale model of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University in it, but as it was 4 feet square I had to get rid of it.

What do you listen to while you work?

I recently bought a turntable, so have been rediscovering my old vinyl, as well as buying new.  My favourite music to work to at the moment is anything by The Decemberists, Calexico or Sigur Ros, and more specifically the truly beautiful ‘Mariqopa’ by Damien Jurado (I could listen to the track ‘Working Titles all day long)’,  Admiral Fallow’s ‘Boots met my face’, British Sea Power’s sublime soundtrack to ‘Man of Aran’ or Beirut’s ‘Gulag Orkestar’.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Scooping a  great weblink to Scoop.it for later reading by either myself, or my students.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I don’t use one :-O

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My record player – a recent purchase, it helped me rediscover my vinyl collection and compelled me to start buying vinyl instead of CDs and MP3s.  It also made me decide to play much more music in my home and to buy LPs for my children for their birthdays & Christmas.  I am sad that my children will never know the feeling of being in a queue outside Woolworth’s on a rainy  Saturday morning with pocket money in hand, waiting to buy the latest single releases. Or that ecstatic feeling the first time I put on the ‘Bat out of Hell’ platter having saved for 5 weeks to buy it.  I also like my handheld stapler in the shape of a dog’s head, which I try to keep handy. My Aeropress coffee filter is the greatest culinary aid I have ever purchased – no other coffee maker comes close.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I believe I am good at bringing people together from diverse backgrounds.  I always engage with people on Twitter and follow a diverse number of people from all sorts of backgrounds based on my personal interests.  As a result I have a ‘quiver full of arrows’ to call on whenever people want someone to solve a problem, provide advice or speak at a conference. I am also good at doing a Burns Supper (from cooking, to singing and reciting ‘To a haggis’. I am also good at letting a garden get out of hand.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Erratic.  I’m a bit of a nighthawk – I have to blame satellite TVs almost constant showing of CSI episodes for that! I work best at  around 11pm to 1am.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Anyone who has seen my LOUD  shirts, or some of my TeachMeet presentations will know that I give a very good impression of being extrovert when the need arises, but I fear that this gives a false impression of who I am. I would say I am introverted in my daily life and at home, often preferring solitude to the company of others whilst I read and listen to music.  Having said that,  I am quite an energetic teacher in the classroom, and whatever else my students may derive from my lessons, they can’t fail (I hope) to at least grasp my enthusiasm for my subject. I think, being almost 20 years in the same job, I have perhaps become too comfortable with my working surroundings, which may have led to me almost blending in so much that colleagues and students can forget I am around.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My wee Gran was full of  ‘Scottish Grannie-isms’, one of my favourites being ‘Keep a £1 in each of your trouser pockets and you’ll stand between your two closest friends’.  The worst piece of pre-teaching advice I was given is undoubtedly the old ‘Don’t smile til Christmas’ mantra.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to see  Ian Stuart  (@islayian) answer these same questions.

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Many thanks to Drew for agreeing to post here. Other This is how I work posts are available here.

Drew Buddie: This is how I work

John Blake: This is how I work

I am John Blake and this is how I work

 

John Blake
John Blake

Blog: www.johndavidblake.org // twitter: @johndavidblake

Current job: Head of History, editor of Labour Teachers

Been a teacher since: 2006

Location: London

Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy SIII – I like it much better than my old iPhone, although it’s resolute refusal to communicate with my iPad is a bit frustrating

Current computer: iPad, my lovely, lovely iPad. I also have a computer at home that wheezes to life when I need something that’s got Flash in it

School-issued devices: None, yet, but change is coming – very excited about the possibilities of tablets in schools

One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently (I think)

How do you manage your calendar/diary?

When my son broke my iPhone and I couldn’t afford to get another one, I lost access to Google Calendar on the move. It was a disaster. Now I live my those little red boxes.

How do you manage your lesson planning?

My department does a lot of collaborative planning for medium-term stuff, so most of my planning is adapting down to my specific classes – it’s great to have colleagues whose work you trust, saves time and effort.

How do you manage your marking?

The driving force of all our assessment is reducing the marking load – marking is best when it’s done quickly, but our school is huge so it’s always a challenge. That sounds like an excuse for not marking enough, which it probably is.

What’s your best tip for term-time weekends?

Set up everything for Monday before you go home on Friday, so you’re not worrying about photocopying whilst trying to listen to briefing. Don’t take work home.

What do you do during school holidays?

Aside from family life, a lot of my time outside of school is taken up with political stuff,  either Labour Teachers or campaigning locally for Labour. Other than that, I read a lot of history – knowing more about my subject is the best way to improve as a teacher.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Twitter appears to have conquered my life; I don’t tweet as much as other people I follow, but I watch a lot of conversations about education politics with interest. Sometimes I think we might all be learning too much about what we all think, but I enjoy the clash of ideas.

What offline tools can’t you live without?

Books. Waterstone’s 3-for-2 on History books gets me every time and discovering cheap second-hand books about Labour politics in the 80s on Amazon nearly bankrupted me.

What’s your main workspace like?

Terrible. I currently work part-time and another teacher uses my class on Tuesdays. I occasionally pin Post-It notes with “I’m so sorry” written on them to the piles of stuff, but I don’t think she’s ever found them amidst the detritus. I’m getting my own office next year, in which I hope to be tidier.

What do you listen to while you work?

Musical theatre (currently a lot of “Book of Mormon” but there’s always room for some “Les  Mis”) – but I have to do it after school, or the kids catch me singing along.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Unless there’s a pressing reason not to, do little stuff immediately. Occasionally, I find myself writing “send ‘thank you’ email” in my planner and I think “That’s taken more time than the email would have done.”

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I’ve got a free app on my iPad called “Errands”. I downloaded it because it was the first one that come on on the App Store but it’s actually really good.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Remote control for my Virgin TiVo Box – it doesn’t seem to have any other way you can operate it and you can’t make our DVD player work without switching the box off, which you need the remote to do. Last time we lost it, our only viewing option for four days was CBeebies.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Denouncing the quality of leadership of the teaching profession provided by the main trade unions. I despair at the things ‘teaching leaders’ say sometimes, so I’ve just got more and more pointed in criticising them.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Entirely depends on my kids.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’ve got a loud voice and lots of opinions, so in most political meetings I tend to appear an extrovert, but—aside from time with my family—I’m most happy reading a good history book on my own.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The struggle is not the victory.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“If I believed the development of socialism meant the absolute crushing of liberty, then I should plump for liberty because the advance of human development depends entirely on the right to think, to speak, and to use reason, and allow what I call the upsurge to come from the bottom to reach the top.” – Ernest Bevin

I would like to I’d like to see @headguruteacher answer these same questions.

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Many thanks to John for agreeing to post here. Other This is how I work posts are available here.

John Blake: This is how I work