Saturday, 12 February 2011

Options, league tables and English Baccalaureate.

It's that time of the year again.

Options time for year 9 students.

Or as I like to think of it: Trying to make my subject look much better than it really is, in order to get students who I don't want in my class, and who don't want to be in my class, to join my class.

This year it's a little different from previous years because we now have the English Baccalaureate.

Over the past few years schools in England and Wales have been placed into league tables based on the number of students who achieve 5 GCSE A-C passes (including English and maths).

The higher you are in the league tables, the better your school is, right?


For some years now schools have been misleading parents and students into choosing subjects which are "worth" 2 or even 4 GCSE grades in order that the school moves up the league table.

So, rather than do history or Spanish, students have been persuaded to opt for alternative qualifications which have made schools look amazingly better than they really are.

A school near me improved its 5 GCSE A-C pass rate from 42% to over 80% in one year just by introducing these alternative subjects.

I have no problem with students taking ICT or child care or pottery (people will always need MoMs) or even health and social care (whatever that is) but shouldn't all subjects be worth 1 GCSE?

The coalition government in the UK has introduced the English Baccalaureate on which it is now rating schools in the league tables. It also wants universities to accept the Ebacc as a minimum entry requirement for university. As far as I am aware, no university has subscribed to this, yet.

Am I fan of the Ebacc? No, not really.

I do have an idea, though.

It's going to be controversial.

Why not have a system where all subjects are worth exactly the same and students are impartially advised to choose a variety of subjects in which they can achieve and which will enable them to have a well-rounded education?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Mug of Misery (Increasing student participation)

Would you like your students to focus more in class?

Would you like a way to make your students participate more in lessons?

Would you like your students to be better motivated?

Would you like a random name picker which doesn't need an interactive whiteboard or internet connection?

The answer is right in front of you. It's in your hand. It has coffee in it.

This is the Mug of Misery.
Affectionately known as MoM.
It is amazing.
It is not magic, nor does it have any special powers.
To be honest, it wasn't even chosen because of it's wonderful image of the Eiffel Tower.
It was chosen because it was the only clean mug in my classroom cupboard.
I have mentioned it before and preached about it's greatness at the most recent TeachMeetNorthEast and at MFLSAT in Oldham last year and I felt that it deserved a blogpost all of its own.

So, how does it work?

It contains medical tongue depressors (or if you prefer ice lolly or popsicle sticks) on which the name of each student in the group is written.

In my classroom there is a "no hands rule".
Each time I ask a question rather than the usual 2 or 3 students responding immediately, I give the class thinking time and then I choose a stick at random from the MoM. The chosen student then answers (or tries to answer) the question and his/her stick goes back into the MoM for the next question.

The fact that the stick goes back into the MoM means that a student cannot sit back thinking that they have had their question and they can now relax and do nothing. On the contrary, they could be called upon at any time to answer another question and so need to keep listening and learning.

Since I started using the MoM I have had a good response from students of all ages and abilities. It does take a bit of time to write the names on the sticks, but once it is done you need never do it again. Apart from that and the odd splinter I have had no problems.

Other teachers I know have adopted the MoM system and are finding it works well for them and their students, too.

If you use a MoM in your class or you are going to try it out, I'd love to hear from you. If you send me a picture of your MoM I'll add it to this post for all the world to see.

Guest MoMs

This MoM belongs to Annalise Adam a modern languages teacher in Southampton, UK. Annalise's students think the MoM is a great idea, too.

The second "Guest MoM" belongs to Kirsty Chapman. Kirsty teaches French and German in a secondary school in Kent.

The Tintin and Snowy MoM belongs to Fiona Joyce. She teaches French, German, Spanish and Latin in Stockton in the north east of England. Fiona also has a cool lolly stick box bedecked with Daleks (no Amy Pond, though) Fiona is the creator and curator of the amazing mfl storybirds wiki.

This MoM belongs to Helena Butterfield. She teaches in Teesside, in the north east of England and is an expert on e-twinning. Helena recently started a new job as Head of MFL.

The "cookies" mug of misery belongs to Isabelle Rodriguez who teaches in Poole in Dorset. Her students "love to hate" her MoM, apparently. Isabelle has an amazing blog with lots of French A Level links.