“Falling over the line”…

…is how a fellow Head of Department described this final week before half-term. It’s been pretty tough, to be honest: we’re tired; the pupils are tired; the holiday was tantalisingly close but just not here quickly enough.

Despite the running-through-treacle feeling of the last few days, there have also been some highlights, including a bit of a refresher at the ATL Midlands TeachMeet on Thursday evening (of which, more anon – too much for one blog-post!). I’ve also enjoyed teaching the first bits of the Management section of the new A-level course. I regularly teach new stuff (let’s face it, my Y11 class this year is the only class where I’m teaching stuff I’ve taught before; this isn’t the first time it’s happened) but this is the first time in a long time where I’m teaching stuff that is properly new – not just old topics repackaged for a new specification, but actual brand-spanking, sparkly new content.

We’re getting the pupils to pre-read (“low-tech flipped” if you must, but please don’t) before lessons, and that has worked very well so far, but I think that the more theoretical aspects are working better with a teacher overview first and then supported by individual reading/notes. I used that model for PED and YED, and was really pleased with the level of understanding (being an economist helped, for sure). I’m planning to do similar for the management theories, such as the Blake-Mouton grid, as they arise. Most of these theories appear in Section 2 of the new course – it’s been part of the IB course for a long time, I think, but I’ve not had to teach management theory before. I started Section 2 this week with Mintzberg’s roles of management – I gave each pair lots of ‘manager cards’, each with one of the ten different roles identified by Mintzberg. The pair then had to sort them into the three categories (inter-personal, decisional and informational). A brief bit of discussion followed, then I challenged them to identify examples of the school’s Head playing each of those roles. Having a context that they all knew so clearly made a real difference to their understanding, and this is something that I’m definitely going to tap into in the future. I’m not sure whether or not to upload stuff to the TES resources section – it’s so difficult to navigate that I suspect no-one would find it!

Now, though, it’s the start of half-term. I’ve survived seven weeks as a Head of Department. I’ve got much better at Excel. I’ve had to negotiate tricky decisions about UCAS predictions. I’ve re-written the department handbook from scratch so it aligns with the format expected by The Powers That Be. I’ve taught a fair few lessons, and now it’s time to sleep.G’night.

It started with a textbook…

One of our big responsibilities yesterday was finalising the choice of textbook. It’s been quite a dilemma choosing the right text, but at least we’ve had a choice: our new Head of Economics tells me that he’s had one inspection copy so far, which – given that their spec hasn’t changed much – seems pretty poor.

After discussion, we’ve decided to use Surridge & Gillespie for the student text, with Wolinski and Coates as an additional teachers’ book. Interestingly, having made the decision, we then had a really useful discussion about how we are going to use the textbook, which then developed into a broader discussion about pedagogy.

Our plan is to get the Y12 to read ahead and to highlight/annote in their books in advance (much as ‘prep’ work used to be; “low-tech-flipped”, if you prefer!) and then making summary revision cards/notes that they can then use for self-testing. I think we’re going to specify that revision notes should be no more than one side of A4, so it’s a real summary rather than a ‘writing out’ of the textbook – after all, if they’ve got the textbook, why would they need to write it out word for word?!

As teachers, we then have to spend spend just the first lesson of a topic clarifying the main issues, before being able to delve off into more interesting discussion work to reinforce the learning. I suspect that it will take a while to build this culture with our new Y12, but at least if everyone in the department is consistently taking the same approach then we stand more chance of embedding it. I’m going to lay out our expectations really clearly in the Y12 handbook (a.k.a. The Oracle), and ask every teacher of Y12 to discuss this during their first lesson with each class.

The other interesting school-wide development that might pair with this is the introduction of Firefly as a VLE, and in the longer-term I see no reason why we shouldn’t magpie assorted videos from youtube as a way to explain the trickier topics alsongside the textbook, in advance of lessons. I don’t envisage us going fully high-tech-flipped (as it were!), but there are some topics where I imagine a videoed explanation could be very helpful. I anticipate this evolving over time, rather than an enforced change: the principles of Kaizen are always useful!

The textbook dilemma

We have received inspection copies of three different textbooks for (the first year of) the new A-level Business course. It’s been interesting comparing them side-by-side, and there was no immediate front-runner. I think, though, that we’re close to making a decision. Well, actually, I’m close to reaching a decision. I’m interested in seeing what the others in the department think when we all get a chance to discuss it next Wednesday at our department planning day, and what teachers from other schools think too.

For me, the ideal textbook for the new course should have:

  • clarity of explanation, particularly for the new theoretical concepts that are being introduced in the course. This is particularly important for our pupils with specific learning difficulties, who find it hard to identify the key information in our current textbook: the explanations are good but long, and they find it hard to sift concepts from illustrative example.
  • suitable language. I spend the first month of each academic year banning the word “you” (in the context of “if you cut prices, revenue may increase if you have elastic demand”): it immediately moves speech and work from an academic register into colloquial explanation (more about academic register here: lots of thought-provoking ideas for building literacy).
  • activities that reflect the assessment models used in the course. While I have no intention of encouraging teaching to the test, at the same time I’d like pupils to see topics covered in a range of different styles of questions. This is particularly important for the new linear course, where any topic could be assessed in any way. It’s also a better way of assessing understanding – not just about regurgitating a learned answer but having the flexibility of thought to use the information in a variety of ways.

We don’t have a consistent way of using textbooks in the department: some teachers use it simply for setting preparatory reading, consolidation notes and homework activities; others use the activities within lessons. I suspect that some of our Y13 have hardly used their textbooks at all. I’d like to use the textbooks more effectively, but this is something that we need to discuss further at department level; maybe a topic for consider for department day next week.

At first glance, there are quite a few differences between the three inspection copies we’ve received. At least one uses “you” in some of its explanations. One has completely the wrong graphs for correlation. At least one has an excellent set of explanations of a break-even chart. Only one has activities covering the full gamut of question styles found on the A-level paper. One includes lots of detail and extra theories that will help to stretch our most able pupils, but could cause no end of extraneous baggage for those who struggle. It’s not going to be an easy decision!