An accreditation pathway for SEN students

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I blogged recently about the lack of suitable courses for my students at KS4.   Having discussed the options with teaching professionals, the exam boards and my governing body we have decided to run with a single science GCSE (and entry level).

The rationale for our decision can be seen in this presentation which I put together showing the key points.

I’d be interested to hear what other schools are doing with their SEN students at KS4.

Why aren’t teachers sharing more?

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At the York Tweetup/Teachmeet I attended on the 22nd August, Alex Weatherall asked how we could work better together as a profession to share resources and ideas.  I’ve been asking this question since 2010 in one form or another.

My original answer to this was to upload the resources I used to my website. Initially I used a wiki to upload the resources but then I brought them within the main site using a WordPress plugin.  Many of my resources were uploaded to the TES site (where they have had over 600k downloads) but someone else did this for me (it was a huge job)

I’ve had to change the way that I share the resources on my site because the plugin I used wasn’t updated and posed a risk to the security of my site.  I put the resources in my OneDrive account and put links on my website but this is far from ideal as cloud storage is blocked in many schools (my own included).

I’ve since made hundreds of new resources that I’ve used to deliver Activate (ks3) and AQA Core GCSE but I haven’t shared these on my site.   Unfortunately the internet has become an increasingly litigious place and there is increasing competition for screen time and clicks.

My lack of time (it wasn’t always like this!) means that if I’m honest I’m not as careful about the source of my images as I used to be.  I used to meticulously hunt down creative commons or public domain imagery to use in my resources, now I check that they don’t belong to a stock imagery reseller and that’s about it.  The latest version of Office doesn’t help as you can insert creative commons images from Bing search but who goes to each site and checks the images are actually covered by a creative commons licence?  I also tend to ‘steal’ slides from different TES resources and use these within my own presentations – and it would be wrong to pass these off as my own.

I keep the working copy of my teaching resources within cloud storage and have been known to share folders when asked, however I just don’t have time to sift through all my resources to find out which are able to be shared.  I also lack a (free) technical platform on which to share them, one in which I retain control and I know won’t be closed down in the near future.

I know other publishers aren’t so careful.  Only this week I’ve downloaded resources from the TES with slides from Boardworks embedded in the presentation, or images that clearly display copyright information.

Schemes of work are tweaked to suit a department and resources end up being tweaked by conscientious teachers to suit their teaching style. Is there any value in sharing teaching ideas for individual topics and lessons instead?  I don’t have time to go to the IoP, RSC etc to find the best ideas when I might be planning for several year groups and topics each week.  If so what would a suitable platform look like?  Who would curate it and who would have access to upload materials?

We have come a long way, professionally and technologically, over the last few years but individual teachers (and departments) are still reinventing the wheel in schools all over country.  There has to be a better way of sharing what we do but even if there is many of us are lacking the time to put it into practice…

 

 

Come on teachers – take back control of your CPD

Every teacher needs CPD.  Even the best of teachers can benefit from new ideas and techniques, I’m told “there is always room for improvement”. Unfortunately the demands of modern teaching mean that CPD delivered in INSET days is often linked to school improvement priorities (or worse, isn’t developmental in nature).  Even if you see a course outside your institution and your school can afford to fund it, you are often asked how it links to school improvement plan and if it doesn’t you can’t go.  To cut a long story short, teachers find it hard to get out of school for CPD.

With the school out of the equation it is down to teachers to take back this control.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need any – even the act of meeting other (science) teachers and the networking that comes with it can be a source of ideas and inspiration.

Join Twitter and look for twitter groups and chat that is linked to your subject – e.g. #ASEchat for science teachers, and get networking for ideas. Many people prefer to keep a separate Twitter account for this whilst others (like myself) prefer to maintain a professional manner at all times.

Next I would recommend you join a subject association and look for the courses they run.  Quite often you will find that they are available to members at a heavily subsidised rate.  Speak to your school coordinator about being released to attend the courses they run – you are more likely to be released for courses run by subject associations.  Some associations run events on a Saturday which means teachers can attend if prepared to give up a day on a weekend.  Experience of organising regional events for the ASE tells me that many teachers are prepared to give up time on a Saturday but getting word to them about courses proves to be very difficult (so make sure you sign up to any mailing lists to keep up to date). Science teachers check out the conferences organised by the ASE here – you don’t have to be a member to attend (although you get subsidised prices if you do!)  Speak to your school about them paying for you to attend weekend courses if you go down this route – many of the courses are far cheaper than a paying a supply teacher for a day.

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Yesterday I attended a teachmeet/tweet-up where a group of science teachers came together to share ideas.  Members of this group had three things in common

  • Most were members of the same subject association – the ASE
  • Many were known to each other in cyberspace through Twitter
  • All were prepared to give up a day (or longer) of their holiday for the chance to get together and exchange good practice (and spend some time in the local pub as well!)

Teachmeets are less formal/structured but free – and vary in location, duration and subject content.  Many are advertised on the teachmeet wiki and others through subject associations websites/newsletters.  Not only are they a brilliant source of ideas but they also provide an excellent opportunity to network with like minded teachers.  Exam boards often have network or hub meetings which can serve a similar purpose, although these tend to be more one-way.

So there you have three ways that you can take control of your CPD to help you develop as a professional but the I can’t finish without a word of advice to fellow school leaders.

  • Set directed time aside to allow teachers to take part in CPD.  Even cancelling the odd meeting would go some way towards easing the time pressures that teachers face and be seen as a measure of good will.
  • Don’t insist on all CPD being linked to school improvement priorities.  Yes this is where you might target the bulk of your resources but think of the impact of a course that moves a teacher from being a good teacher to being an outstanding teacher.
  • Set up a teachmeet style sharing session in your own school and get teachers sharing good practice – if you aren’t sure what a teachmeet should look like then send someone out to do some research.

 

This is how I went paperless #asechat #ukedchat

I’ve investigated online planning systems before but never found an off the peg solution that worked for me.  I moved instead to a combination of tools that allows me to work without paper – no paper diaries and worksheets are printed on demand.

Lesson plans/planning

I don’t write detailed lesson plans as I write my powerpoints (or smartboard notebooks) to be the lesson plan, leading me through the lesson and and acting as a prompt.  I write my lesson plans in my online calendar (I use my work Exchange calendar but any online calendaring system should work as well).  I set up a repeating lesson with an empty lesson plan template and then edit individual lesson plans with activities etc.  I have blogged about my system before.

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Teaching resources

I create and edit my resources at home (my powerpoints all have a very similar theme with learning outcomes in the footer).  I often grab YouTube videos using KeepVid which guarantees that they will play when I need them.  I have Dropbox on my own laptop and Dropbox portable on an encrypted USB flashdrive so that each machine has the latest version of every resource.  We have a Sharepoint drive at work for all our school documents so I only use Dropbox for my teaching outsources.  An added perk of using online cloud storage platforms is the ability to share folders with other teachers when required.

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Organisation

Every professional needs a to-do list.  I’ve tried all kinds of stand alone systems like Wunderlist but these didn’t work for me.  Instead have two lists – my inbox and a tasks list in Outlook.  I prioritise tasks to help manage my workload, marking tasks (and emails) for follow-up within a specific time frame.  I always aim for inbox zero but tend only to achieve this at the end of term as I catch up in the holidays.

I sync this list using the Reminders app on my iPad and using Nine (my exchange client) so that I can always add tasks as they occur to me.

Teaching ideas and articles

evernoteI read a lot of teaching blogs and articles in the media.  I’ve blogged before about using Feedly to keep up with blogs but I do follow other sources like the Guardian and the TES.  Some teachers use Pinterest or Google+ to bookmark interesting sites.  I did used to rely heavily on delicious.com but I have concerns about the longevity of this site and so I have come to rely on Evernote more and more.  Evernote is hard to summarise in one sentence but I think of it as a sort of notebook and data storage/organisation system.

I store interesting articles into Evernote so I can find them later.  I also store seminar notes in here, for example notes I took at the ASE conference together with handouts and accompanying resources.

Advantages of being paperless

I’ve mentioned that I use my work and own laptops (I prefer my own as it has a higher resolution screen).  I also use an iPad and my phone.  The beauty of running a paperless system means I can access my documents on any of my devices.  Being paperless means all my resources are kept securely (with 2-Factor authentication protecting my accounts) and backed up by the companies who host them.

 

Do TV programmes like the Undateables and Special Needs Hotel give false hope?

I love to sit down with my partner and watch TV programmes like the Undateables and Special Needs Hotel.  For me I see lots of familiar personas and traits similar to the ones I might see at work.  For my partner it is light entertainment with some loveable characters. However you look at it these programmes are TV gold for the production companies but are they selling false hope to people who have special needs?

large_size_1024x576I’ve worked in special education for many years now and taught students with a variety of special needs.  It is great to hear from students who left us years ago, some even pop in to say hello.  When I hear from ex-students I’m always interested to learn about what they have done since leaving school, although too often this isn’t much.  Jobs for adults with special needs are in short supply and tend to be offered by people who have a personal connection to someone with needs in their own life.  The special needs hotel is a fantastic venture and one that needs replicating over the country but with recent cuts to government spending you would be lucky to get daycare provision from social care, let alone a sheltered employment or training place. We make a big deal of the qualifications we offer, and the development of employability and life skills because it’s a big world out there and there is competition for every job that comes up.  In an ideal world there would be a job for everyone, which is important not just for a earning an income and a sense of self-worth but also for mixing and developing those social skills further.

 

Boyfriends and girlfriends carry the same sort of desirability as mobile phones. Most of my students know they want one but they aren’t really sure what they are for and don’t know what to do with them if they get one!  The Undateables follows the romantic endeavours of adults with learning difficulties but this time they are looking for love with a special needs dating agency.  Dates are set up between matched partners and are chaperoned to make sure there is no inappropriate behaviour. Again the way the programme is edited does nothing to suggest that agencies like this as extremely rare and that the majority of special needs adults might not even leave the house or have friends, let alone go out into the big wide world on dates.

As a teacher who deals with special needs students I have mixed feelings about these programmes.  On one hand they serve as a source of inspiration to adults with special needs and their families that they can have a normal life and the things the rest of us take for granted.  On the other these programmes can give the impression that everyone can find a date or a job for them, which is far from the case.

I’d be interested to hear from readers of my blog what you think but in the meantime I will continue what I’ve always done, making sure my students get the best education they possibly can which includes academic qualifications and the best life skills education we can possibly offer so they can lead as independent a life as possible.