Author: Holly Billinghurst

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

Late July / early August usually gives teachers and tutors a few moments to take a breath in and take stock of what just happened. It’s a good time for us to look at the data that we have so far before the panic of September crashes on us. Attempting to juggle evaluative data and prepare for new classes in those first few days of September, I often feel like one of those squishy things in the rock pools on our local beach – I’ve spent a lovely summer in the shallows on my rock & now a whole ocean has just arrived and is being dramatic overhead.

This year, is very different for me as it’s my first September tutoring full time (with writing on the side) instead of dividing my time between teaching, tutoring, and writing. That’s not to say that it’s not a tad overwhelming, but it does mean that my boss has given me some very clear targets to work on.. because I’m the boss.

The genetics of teaching are very strong in this one and it is impossible for me not to use the standard teaching appraisal template on myself. However, the difference this year is that I’m making it public for the world to see and have openly invited both teachers from the wider sphere, other tutors, and my own students to evaluate me and help form my targets for this year. Because my personal appraisal and that of TeachAllAboutIt as a business is intrinsically linked, being entirely transparent can really only be a good thing.

So, without further waffling, let’s get this apprisal underway.

My first task is to look at the feedback, as ultimately as a tutor feedback from students, parents, and the colleagues that we work with is right up there as one of the most important factors in how successful we are. I’ve previously blogged about balancing being a perfectionist with resillience, and it was professionally scary to open myself up to comments from all. Between us, this appraisal took me a while to write as I had to take a deep breath after part 1!

The two areas I wanted to focus on was specific student feedback on my tuition and feedback from CS teachers on areas where tuition could help progress. To this end, I posted a public poll on a well used social media page with the following question:

What are your students up to over the summer? Looking for private tutors apparently! I’ve been really surprised at how many requests have come in over what is usually a super quiet time of year.
This year, one of my personal targets as a tutor is to identify how I can work more cohesively & positively with teachers (after all, we’re both working towards the same goal!).
So, to that end, what can tutors do to make your lives as teachers easier and help support your students better?

I’ve added a few ideas, but feel free to add your own

It is abundantly clear that the vast majority felt that reviewing the summative tests with students is a valuable use of tuition time, and I will be using this as a focused target this coming academic year.

An unexpected result of the poll was a number of hostile responses towards the use of tuition as a whole. Whilst I have left the 13% of ‘other’ responses in here (having chosen not to include the wording of the added responses), I felt that it was important not to skew the data by removing them. Instead, I have used this as a learning and evaluation opportunity around resillience and how we talk to others online in our professional capacity. There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback?

The Teaching standards is something that I hold right up there with being a decent human being. Even though tutors aren’t neccesarily required to provide evidence of these, I can’t imagine why a tutor wouldn’t feel confident in applying these to their everyday practice. Rather than present my student feedback as a set of questions with data with little context, this is why I asked them the questions that I did (student feedback was anonymous unless they wished to add their name at the end).

Teaching & Learning

1. A teacher (tutor) must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

There are a number of ways that we could evidence this within TeachAllAboutIt, from the production of the open topic introductions that support students across the UK and beyond, to the private individual feedback pages provided for every student where we link help and show progress. Asking students whether they felt challenged to be independent of my support felt like an appropriate area to focus on here.

I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills
66.7% Strongly Agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills

Clearly, I would have like to see 100% strongly agreeing. I am after all a perfectionist! However this is encouraging that despite intensive 1-2-1 support, my students feel that they can work independently.

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

On an individual basis, this is fundamental to where we are as a company, and also on a personal level. It would be easy for me to talk about what I do to encourage student confidence in lessons, but far more powerful to provide evidence in the form of student feedback. Whilst there have certainly been more eloquent reviews left for me, receiving this feedback from this particular student warms my heart, not solely from the perspective of the improvement in grades, but more so from the increased confidence and responsibility.

I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons 
66.7% - strongly agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons

Whether all of my students see this challenge as a positive thing, I’m not sure. However, this has cemented my firm belief that by setting a baseline and refusing to acknowledge the ceiling helps my students feel confident to make personal progress.

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

This year as been full on in terms of curriculum knowledge. The website has grown to over 100 pages of Computer Science topic introductions that are used by students on a daily basis. Last summer saw me being involved with BBC bitesize as the author of the GCSE AQA Computer Science pages, and throughout this year I have had continued involvement with the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), helping to develop their training programs for teachers of Computing.

Having completed my NCCE facilitator training this summer (shiny enamel badge on its way), the next step in the new academic year is leading the in person training along the south coast in the UK for teachers.

I feel well supported in my learning
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel well supported in my learning

It would be all too easy to sit back and say that this one is ticked off, in the bag, sorted. However, none of us are ever truly done with education and my own journey will continue this year through embarking on obtaining further Masters credits through the Open University as a means to pushing my Computer Science knowledge further.

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

This one is really difficult as a tutor. Lessons are individual to students and often take tangents when a misconception is discovered. Tutoring and teaching in this part are entirely different beasts. Taken from a different perspective, the planning and preparation of lessons via TeachAllAboutIt could also look at the longer term planing of topic revision (or individual teaching for home educated students), with the digital resources for each lesson being uploaded to the student’s feedback area.

The resources made available to the students (every tuition student is given a site subscription for the duration of tuition), and the provision of the online learning platform is also a fundamental part of planning for a tuition lesson. Despite many tuition sessions being student-led, a wide range of ‘pick up and go’ activities must be planned and available in response to student needs.

Resources and support are good
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
Resources and support are good

This coming year, I plan to continue improving this through the completion of the summer website upgrade, publication of three new printed revision guides, and development of further resources that can be used both in tuition and on the website.

This year will also see a collaboration with Tutor In A Box, where I will be developing resources for their monthly learning boxes for KS3 and KS4 Computer Science.

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

During my transition from classroom teaching to private tutoring, one thing that I noticed about tuition is the intensity is far greater than a classroom. Juggling a classroom of mixed ability students requires a completely different skillset to adapting to the changing needs of one individual child.

I absolutely eat my words after the conversation I had last year with a highly respected tutor who told me that being a great teacher doesn’t always make you a great tutor (and vice versa). They were right, and I am so glad that I took their advice to constantly reflect on the needs of child in front of me instead of having an educational theory focus.

I have a choice about how to learn new things
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I have a choice about how to learn new things

That’s not to say that I ignore educational theory whatsoever, however I am more inclined to trust my educator instincts and run with what I know will work for that particular child. On harsh reflection, stepping away from a school-centric focus and having the space to work intensively with learners and really see what works for individuals has made me a much better educator. As someone who believes passionately in education, this is an evaluation that saddens me.

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

Assessment in tuition is often discreet and observed. There is a continuous stream of verbal feedback (my students would certainly agree to that!), and through the use of technology that allows us to collaborate over documents and online whiteboards, written feedback becomes the norm of a lesson.

With that said, within my student voice survey this is the one area that has been highlighted for me to clearly focus on. Whilst a few had commented that they felt neutral as they had no exam to sit (which is fair), I want all of my students to feel confident even if I set them a test out of the blue right now.

I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework
Strongly Agree - 50%
Agree - 16.7%
Neutral - 33.3%
I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework

Based on this, throughout the next academic year I will be placing a focus on improving confidence in my learners around their exams through the introduction of exam planners and examiner feedback pages where they can attempt practice questions and understand what the exam board are look for in particular areas.

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

Behaviour management for online tuition is a world away from classroom management. After a decade of strategies for engaging a room of students and ensuring good behaviour, I’ve moved to working with students across the country via webcam. Behaviour is rarely an issue with tuition, and when it is my strategies are more akin to parenting than teaching (sending a child out of the room when on internet chat isn’t going to work! Nor is there a member of SLT to refer to).

In tuition, behaviour management has much more focus on setting initial ground rules, which in my case are a written contract between me and the student, and talking to them directly when behaviour is not appropriate. This is a real example where 1-2-1 has an enourmously positive impact on students who struggle to feel heard in a group setting.

I feel respected and encouraged in lessons
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I feel respected and encouraged in lessons

It will always be a target for 100% of students to strongly agree with this statement, and I will continue to ensure that students are involved in the set up process of their tuition accounts and understand their rights and responsibilities with regards to their personal data, and right to be treated fairly and equally.

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

As a classroom teacher, wider professional responsibilities included running of clubs, revision sessions, leading CPD etc. Whilst this is a little different now I am tutoring, I have continued to engage with the wider community in terms of developing CPD as part of a team with the National Center for Computing Education (TeachComputing.org). This year, I presented the plenary at the 2019 Exabytes Conference which pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone!

However, one of the wider professional areas that I have focused on this year as been the pastoral aspects of tutoring. Not only focusing on academic progress, but increasing confidence in students whether they are struggling academically or stressed out by pushing for top grades.

I enjoy my lessons and found the work interesting
Strongly Agree - 100%
I enjoy my lessons and find the work interesting

Enjoyment of learning has gone in and out of fashion within observations in education (I’m looking at you Ofsted). However, it is my strongly held belief that when we are enjoying something we learn more and retain more. That’s not to say that lessons shouldn’t be challenging, or tackle tough topics, but there is simply no reason to assume that because something is gruelling it’s more worthwhile than the lesson where you laugh. This is the point where I step down from my soapbox.

Personal & Professional Conduct

As with the teaching and learning areas above, I can’t see why I would want to shy away from the areas below as a tutor. After all, this applies just as much to us as professionals and possibly moreso as there is no overarching professional body to ensure that we meet them.

Teachers (tutors) uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:

  • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
  • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
  • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
  • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways, which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

Within lessons, this is a simple case of following my own policies of respect and high standards. I would hope that students feel comfortable in my lessons and any instances of discrimination are dealt with professionally.

I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly

We have clear safeguarding policies in place including the introduction of staff badges with a lite version of our safeguarding policy & numbers printed on the reverse, and whilst the probability of there being any issues when tutoring online, we have adopted a policy of never say never. This year, we contacted Ofsted to request voluntary registration as a tuition centre. Unfortunately, as we are purely online our request to register was declined. In response to this, we have implemented the required Ofsetd policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment anyway.

Maintaining an online professional presence has been an area that has required a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and self-promotion (not something that comes easy to me!). Since moving to owning my own business, my personal and professional lives have merged significantly and I am far more aware of how my individual actions as Holly will impact on my professional persona as TeachAllAboutIt. I have been extremely lucky to have assistance this year in the form of Catherine who keeps our admin and social media accounts afloat.

Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality

As a tutor, maintaining high standards, attendance, and punctuality is vital to the continuation of what we do as professionals. Of course, there are instances where I have been ill or the technology has failed – we are human after all. However, the teacher work ethic has really come into play here, and in fact has prompted reflection on my available timetable for this coming year.

The quality of tutoring is good
Strongly Agree - 100%
The quality of tutoring is good

I am delighted that my students have wholeheartedly told me that they found the quality of my tutoring was good, but I want it to be great! In order for this to happen, what I am going to focus on this year is creating a balance. In 2018/19 a full time teacher with a full timetable will be in the classroom for 27 hours per week – this allows for planning, and marking etc. Towards the end of this academic year, I was teaching upwards of 35 lessons per week whilst also writing and developing the website. Next year, I have allocated a maximum of 27 hours per week until Easter to allow me time to breathe. In order to accomodate this, I have set a target of taking on an additional Computer Science tutor to work with us this year.

Targets

Goodness! That was quite the essay. But nevertheless, a useful reflective task for me personally, for us as a business, and hopefully gives you a transparent insight into where we are right now and how we intend to improve next year.

So, in summary our targets for the coming academic year are:

  • Complete the summer website upgrade
  • Publish the revision guides for GCSE Computer Science (September)
  • Set up physical revision resources through Tutor In A Box
  • Develop exam-based learning resources to improve student confidence
  • Holly to commence Masters unit of study
  • Continue work with NCCE (TeachComputing) to offer in person teacher CPD
  • Expansion to allow a second Computer Science Tutor to work with us

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

How Much Does Tutoring Cost in The UK?

How Much Does Tutoring Cost in The UK?

The difference between tuition and teaching is vast, and nothing brings this home more than conversations about the cost of private tuition. So, what better topic to celebrate the 1st birthday of the TeachAllAboutIt website than a discussion about the cost of education?

It’s a brave move discussing the cost of tuition openly, especially on social media. As a society, we have become incredibly polarized in our view of access to education and discussing the payment in exchange of tuition or resources has become a taboo subject. I’d like to dispel some of the myths in this post and explain why tutors charge what they do.

According to prospects.ac.uk, the average hourly rate for a private tutor in 2019 is between £30 – £60 dependent on experience, location, and sucess rate. That’s not to say that some tutors don’t charge outside of this range, but from experience upwards of £35 per hour for GCSE is pretty standard. So why do tutors charge so much per hour?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that private tutors are outside of the mainstream education system, and as such are businesses in their own right. Unlike independent schools, they do not have charitable status and have a delicate balance to create in making their lessons as accessible as possible, whilst also earning enough to cover what they would otherwise earn in a classroom (remember that a school will purchase resources, books, and office space on behalf of a teacher, whereas a tutor is responsible for purchasing everything from the fees that they charge).

In so many business networking groups, the phrase “you get what you pay for” crops up again and again, more often than not when someone talks about being burnt by a too good to be true deal. This is often switftly followed by the sharing of a form of the diagram above which is a visual representation of the standard IT phrase, “you can have fast & cheap, cheap & good, or fast & good, but not all three”.

But how does this apply to private tutors?

Well, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” applies just as much here as any other industry, albeit with an extra dimension of the free to access learning.

Fast may apply in a number of ways. In the case of private tutors, fast can mean a number of aspects – this could apply to availability. Expecting a prime space to be available immediately is a tall ask for popular tutors. In fact, most will offer a waiting list of up to 6 months or more. Seeking a tutor during the quieter summer months is highly recommended as tutors are often fully booked within the first few weeks of the autumn term. Alternatively fast could apply to the length between starting tuition and the exam. Spaces are not only limited towards exam season, but the nature of tuition becomes more intensive and often means additional independent work or longer sessions.

Cheap is a subjective term for tuition. Parents have questioned the cost of £5 for a group lesson, only to be followed by a parent who questions why I only charge £41 for an A Level lesson. Comparing tutors to each other requires a certain understanding that not all tutors have the same baseline of education and training that teachers do, and indeed not all tutors are solely working as tutors (this may or may not be a positive for you). All of these are factors to consider when comparing on price – An A Level or undergraduate student will generally charge far less than a qualified teacher. Lower cost lessons are absolutely available with highly qualified tutors with high success rates, but expect these to be in groups or with larger volumes of independent study. My advice to all parents considering tuition is to ask for qualifications of the tutor (DBS goes without saying) – having a teaching qualification will give your child’s tutor insight into the psychology of learning. There’s a reason why all teachers must hold this post-graduate qualification, and it’s not to show off!

Good lessons are an expectation from any tutor. I cannot contemplate offering a student or parent lessons that wouldn’t help them progress, after all what is the point of tuition if not to help the student make progress and build confidence? However, high quality tuition requires preparation, time, and effort. In turn, good tuition requires either a longer time within groups or using independent resources, or the cost of the more intensive 1-2-1 lessons. Ultimately, if I don’t feel that I can provide you or your child with the highest quality of tuition, it’s likely that I will offer you a place on my waiting list or refer you to a colleague. I know very few tutors who wouldn’t do similar.

Free lessons are one of the most searched for term for private tuition. As a private tutor, I work with a huge array of families. No two family situations will be the same, just as no two students will be the same, and financial situations are no different. The Venn diagram highlights this well – most full-time tutors will be engaged with a certain amount of pro-bono work either through their own company, or by working with organisations like The Tutors Network. Either way, the free tuition that you are able to access will be paid for through balancing the fees of other students to allow for lower cost access for those that need it.

Whatever you are looking for in terms of tuition, take the time to talk through your needs as a family as well as the educational needs of your child with your tutor. You never know what solution they may be able to come up with!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

The Impact of Tutoring On Teen Mental Health

If there is one thing that I’ve become more passionate about the longer I’ve been involved in education, it’s the impact that our system has on the mental health of our young people. Each week there seems to be a new hashtag or thread out there to support people who feel like it’s just them. One that’s done the rounds for a long time is #ItsOkToNotBeOk and it remains something that I often look through and offer an ear on.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about implementing a digital detox for a few hours each weekend as a part of improving our own mental health. Perhaps what I missed out on there was the impact that the education system was having on the mental health of almost every member of our family. Our KS3 kids were overwhelmed by the pressure of GCSE options and increasing homework loads; as parents we were stressed out by the pressure to be “good parents” that ensured all school work was done, keep a nice house, and spent quality time with increasingly large people who declared how lame we are; and with exams looming and my tuition timetable overflowing, my anxiety levels were through the roof (which meant everything was being cleaned & organised to within an inch of its life). It’s not really the insta-worthy picture is it?

Photo credit Chalk and Salt

After 7 weeks of our weekly digital detox for just a few hours each weekend, I can report back that everyone is feeling much better without exception. Clearly, we’ve done more than just put our phones away for a few hours, but it’s been the catalyst to consider whether all work and no play is a healthy state of being (spoiler: it isn’t).

However, it dawned on me that I am in a unique position to do something about lessening the impact on those around me as an independent tutor. The views on employing a tutor are polarised, possibly because it often costs a tidy sum to bring an individual into your home to work one-to-one with your child. Because of the price tag attached, it’s seen as only accessible to the elite and another way to create unequal access to education. But talk to many private tutors and you’ll find that the students that come to them from a variety of backgrounds, and more often than not a percentage of their tuition is through scholarship or pro-bono. Talking to tutors will also highlight the variety of reasons that students access their services.

Anxiety is the top reason why parents seek individual tuition for their child from me. Whether this is exam anxiety where I can prepare them better by familiarising them with the exam style and answering their questions until they feel safer (and safer is absolutely the right word to use with anxiety), or an overall fear of what is perceived to be a difficult subject, almost without exception the students seeking tuition are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be ok.

Part of my toolkit for reducing educational anxiety is to use a form of gentle stoacism. We look at the toughest questions together and I mark harshly.

So, if I marked this trace table as a 2 out of 5, but you answered these correctly what is the worst grade you’re going to get?

Ok, so if you get that grade, what’s the worst outcome?

That may sound harsh, but as we progress and the worst grade becomes a 5,6,7, or even 8 or 9. What’s the worst that could happen is that they get their chosen place in college even though it wasn’t a 9. Stoacism is a form of CBT that I use myself (Good rule of thumb: I wouldn’t try anything that I wouldn’t put myself through).

Once students are feeling more confident to try questions, I throw in a few from the next level up (AS questions at GCSE, or A Level for AS) without telling them. Once they’ve answered and gained marks I confess that it was actually far more than they needed. Ater a few weeks, my students know I’m sneaky and expect some kind of evil but fun activity.

Anxiety isn’t the only issue that teenagers are suffering from, but it is the pastoral area where tutors are most likely to be supporting the work that teachers are already putting in. By working one-to-one with a student, we have a unique ability to address that child’s individual fears and help them feel heard. And this is not a dig at teachers – with 30 kids in a classroom for an hour lesson, that’s two minutes per student if you did nothing else but talk to them. This also isn’t a millenial snowflake* situation, but a real issue that impacts on not only grades, but will follow a child into their adult lives.

If a tutor can help a child feel less anxious and give them the tools to learn independently, then we’ve done a huge service to the child, their parents, and their teacher. Strategies like digital detoxing are part of a whole toolkit for mental health – your tutor is another.

*These are quotes words, I shudder using them

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Exam Revision Health Check – Are You Studying Too Much?

Study Revision Blocks

With exam season about to get into full swing it seems a strange question to ask, but are you studying too much? Just how much is too much? And how much should you study during the holidays leading up to exams?

Exams are not just about the ability to simply recall key words, but being able to apply then in context; and this is where long term memory techniques are needed! Comitting information to your long term memory requires a combination of repetation of similar topics in small chunks, and a low stress environment.

According to Barnaby Lennon, ICS (Independent School Council) Chairman and former Headmaster of Harrow, students should be revising for 7 hours each day for most of the Easter Holidays. This applies to both gcse and a level students. whilst I don’t entirely disagree with him open brackets and certainly don’t disagree with his methods close brackets, my own approach uses the 10-minute approach that can be applied to any year group.

The 10 minute method is usually applied to the amount of time for homework during a usual term time. But can be easily adapted to plan revision during the holidays full stop new line the system suggests 10 minutes of study for each year of education per day. For example, in year 11 in the UK, you’ve been in formal education for 12 years:

12 x 10 minutes = 120 minutes or 2 hours per night

This means that over 5 days you’ll be studying 2 hours per night or 10 hours per week when also attending school with usual lessons.

Revision Takes Time
Revision takes time. But how long?

Using Barnaby Lennon’s theory, if you continue your 2 hours of homework time throughout the holidays and add the time you would usually be in class (5 hours) then 7 hours makes perfect sense. However, class time also includes group discussion, admin (register, answering questions, other disruptions) so working individually may not actually require quite so long. Instead, try this equation for working out your easter revision schedule:

10 Minute Rule (TMR)  = (Year Group + 1) x 10 minutes

TMR x 5

Add (2 x Number of Subjects)

Using this, the average Year 11 with eight GCSE subjects could calculate their time in the following way:

TMR = (11 + 1) x 10 = 120 minutes per day (2 hours)

(TMR x 5) + (Subjects x 2)

(2 x 5) + (8 x 2)

10 + 16

= 26 Hours per week during the holidays

  OR

  5.2 hours each day

But how do I spend that much time studying?!

Breaking down your revision into manageable chunks will help. using the calculation above, you could cover all 8 subjects each day with 40 minutes per subject.

Study for 80 minutes, then build in a 20-minute break. The example below shows how you could divide your eight subjects into smaller, more manageable daily chunks. This is a technique called “time chunking’ that many bloggers and vloggers use to maximise their time:

9.00English
9.40Maths
10.20BREAK
10.40History
11.20German
11.40LUNCH
12.40Computer Science
1.20Science 1
1.40BREAK
2.20Music
2.40Science 2
3.20FREEDOM!


For the days you want to go out with friends, or just have a little downtime, split the study in two or get started little earlier. Don’t be tempted to remove the breaks though! It’s important to give your brain some time to digest the information – just like you wouldn’t go for a run straight after a meal.


If you’re struggling to set out your study plan, you can always use a timetable templates like my Painlessly Planned Revision planner to help get organised. Just remember to spend more time revising then planning!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

On April Fools Day, Education Is No Joke

I was all for writing a lighthearted blog this week with a quick fool in it. After all, the sun is shinging, the tank is clean…

Unfortunately, I was also sent this article over the weekend and my heart just hurts.

Pupils without 100% attendance sent to the back of the lunch queu

I know that school attendance is important, and there is clear evidence of a correlation between good attendance and higher levels of achievement. Encouraging good attendance is never a bad thing. But using food and public shaming as a punishment can’t possibly be seen as an acceptable method to deploy… anywhere, let alone a school.

For those that haven’t read the article about Immanuel College in Birmingham in full, in summary each student is awarded two badges at the start of the term – one for attendance and one for behaviour. Those without 100% attendance lose their badge, those who misbehave lose their other badge. When joining the queue for lunch, those with two badges go first, followed by the “one badges”, with those without badges going last.

After working in education for over a decade, and with young people for over twenty years, I am acutely aware of the unique and individual issues that any number of children face with attendance and behaviour. There is no way I could tackle the intricacies of these in a single blog (or even a whole book), but to just skim the surface…

The following issues may cause a drop in attendance:

  • A virus
  • Obeying the 48 hour vomiting rule
  • Injury (sports or otherwise)
  • Medical appointments
  • Mental health
  • A family funeral

Of course, there are students who may stay off school for illnesses where they could be ok to be in school, and yes there are students who truant. However, combining the student who had emergency surgery with the student who sauntered off at lunchtime & didn’t return is just plain wrong at best, and at worst dips into disability discrimination.

My other concern here is the risk that parents will begin to ignore the rules on contagious periods. As someone with a compromised immune system, contact with a child with flu is a nightmare (and one of the reasons I changed my role), but with these rules I wholly understand why a parent would feel under pressure to send them in.

Finally, let’s turn to the behaviour badge. Whilst the attendance badge irked me, this badge made me sadder for our education system than I have been for a long time.

Put yourself in the position of the child for a moment: Home is perhaps unstable, you have caring responsibilities and you’re tired, or your anxiety is at an all time high, so because you’re a teenager who is still wrangling your hormones you verbally lash out. Instead of a teacher stepping in and acting like the adult that you need and talking you through what’s going on, you lose your behaviour badge. For the rest of the term you are visibly less than the others around you. How’s that anger issue going?

Kids with poor behaviour do not deserve to be stigmatised by the adults who are meant to be supporting them and encouraging them to take an alternative path. Yes, they are hard work. Yes, there needs to be consequences for poor behaviour. But consequences shouldn’t be making a child feel that they are less worthy than others.

As educators, we need to do better.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Going Screen Free – Helpful or Harmful?

Over the past few weeks we have begun to introduce screen-free time into our family lives. A combination of both adults working from home, me setting up my own business, and two teenagers means that a large proportion of our lives is spent working at or conversing through screens. After what has felt like an alarmingly long and grey winter we were all feeling a bit, well, meh.

The jury seems to be out on whether screen time is is a good or bad thing. Certainly, there are arguments for both sides and a study at the University of Cambridge in 2018 suggested that it was no more damaging than eating potatoes.

As a teacher & tutor, spring is my busiest time of year – daily emails requesting a space for lessons remind me that I am just one person and there are only so many hours that I can offer. I have not yet mastered the art of cloning myself or dividing into two like bacteria, so for now I will have to resign myself to pleasing some of the people most of the time.

The pressure that I was beginning to feel from my email and social media accounts pinging at me appeared to be mirrored in my family, perhaps not from work but the feeling that when a message was sent to them they had a duty to respond no matter what time of day or night. I don’t believe that this is true, and decided over the past two weeks to test this theory.

I started testing the theory on my own to see if it made any difference to how I felt before inflicting my psychological studies on my kin. On Sundays, I have been writing a short blog but have switched off my emails. Then during the week, I have switched on my email assistant after 7pm. I’ve fiddled with social media, but only on my own accounts – work accounts are switched off. In effect, I wasn’t limiting my screen time but giving myself permission to enjoy other activities.

Suggesting a walk outside to teenagers instead of the standard combination of Playstation & Discord may seem laughable, but once the predictable groaning and flopping into the car was over we all experienced a change. The teens were delighted and confused in equal measure that I insisted on them abandoning homework and leaving the house. Putting down the phones and being outside allowed us to chatter and drop the pressure of being ‘on duty’. Instead of being horrified at mess & disorder, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the teens chase each other about with muddy sticks and explore.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Now clearly, I’m not suggesting that we transformed into the Von Trapps with a couple of weekends of fresh air, but with the rise in teenage stress levels during exam season there is method in my madness.

As parents and teachers we sometimes forget that the overwhelming stress and pressure to be a success is also felt by our children, and with the more emphasis placed on exams at all key stages the need to walk away for a while is more pressing than ever.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Being in the fresh air may work for us, but isn’t the answer for everyone. Whatever is it that allows you to step back for a while and just be whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent is what is right for you. In some cases, that may well be screen time!

Now back at work and typing a blog about sharpening my own axe, the connection between me needing a break from my emails and my students needing a break from constant revision is really clear. So parents: please make sure your teenager gets some regular down time (even if like madam above she doesn’t appear entirely enthused!), and teachers: the most frequent feedback I get as a tutor is planning for homework. Please give kids a week to complete it. Let them attend those time out activities, have that family time, and get to bed early.

Oh, and one other benefit of getting outside and away from screens? How often do you get to see things like this? David Attenborough eat your heart out! (alsocue swaggery teens instantly whisper-squealing things about Bambi)

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt


Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Why GPS Isn’t The Solution To Knife Crime – A Computer Science Approach

This morning I was sent a link to a tweet suggesting that I read the responses for some amusement. I duly did so, and I’ll admit some of the responses did make me chuckle. But then I considered the suggestion from a teacher’s perspective and realised that the suggestion really did come from a place of good intention, but also from an ignorance of technology.

Tweets like this one by @td_ward highlighted the reason for me writing this rather lengthy blog. The frustration expressed by people who understand technology is utterly understandable, but are we doing enough to educate those that don’t understand?

In 2017, 0.4% of female A Level students, and only 5% male A Level Students elected to study Computer Science according to the Department for Education’s report on take-up of academic subjects in 2017. Those numbers have risen slightly, but not enough. The removal of the GCSE IT qualification has reduced the numbers of students studying a computer technology subject substantially.

Why have I included those statistics?

Because, the fewer young people that study technology but use devices that seem to work as if by magic, the more people will make mistakes like Scott Mann. So, rather than ridiculing him, I want to use this as a learning opportunity to look at the potential for technology to make an impact on knife crime, not just in the UK, but anywhere.

bath ducks bathing bathroom bathtub

One of the things we teach in Computer Science is to avoid the solution until we understand what problem we are trying to solve. Decomposition of a problem often allows us to identify problems that we didn’t realise we were actually trying to solve.

Much like rubber duck debugging, explaining the problem in enough basic detail so that even a rubber duck could understand quite often helps us to identify the real problem on our own (many thanks to my husband who acts as my own rubber duck when I get frustrated with code on here! Quack quack)

What Problem Are We Solving?

Knife crime is quite a big issue and has so many aspects that a simple solution may well not be enough. So let’s decompose the problem (this is a fictitious conversation to show how I would decompose the problem – please do get in touch if this could be more accurate):

What’s the problem?

We need to solve knife crime

What would a solution look like?

A reduction in the number of cases

Does the problem lie with the weapon or the person?

Both

Which one could technology help with more?

The knives

What is the problem with the current solution? (carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3″ is already an offence)

We can’t trace the knife to the person

Why doesn’t DNA testing work?

It takes too long & isn’t always accurate

What information do you want from finding the knife?

The owner, the address, and for it to be a deterrent

….

Using this conversation in my head, I would assume that what Scott Mann was actually trying to suggest was a way of firstly deterring people from carrying knives, but also a way of reliably tracing them back once they were found. I could of course be wrong and he was indeed trying to track each one like a vehicle can be.

So let’s look at some possible devices that are small enough and would link to his idea:

An NFC Chip

The chip that I believe Mr Mann was referring to (I could of course be wrong, but I live in hope) is actually an NFC, or Near Field Communication chip.

Using the breakdown of the problem above, this actually could be a potential partial solution. NFC requires no power to run, so could be easily implanted into the handle of a knife, or added as a sticker or such once a knife is bought.

NFC technology is wonderfully useful for storing small amounts of registration data. There are a number of different types of NFC – those that we use in our phone are powered and can send & receive data such as files and contact information, or the less powerful passive NFC used in payment cards that allow a reader to access information using a ‘tap’ of the card.

What’s the downside? Well, using NFC to identify a knife would be as simple as having an app on a phone to read the data, but only at distances of a few centimeters. This would be fine for searches, or in the sad cases where the knife was used. However, the data would be accessible to anyone with a reader so there would be a serious issue of data protection. Inside the home, this would be less of an issue, but in the case of work or fishing what would prevent someone from walking past and reading your data? In short, not a great deal.

It is for this same reason that anti-NFC wallets have been created.

An RFID Chip

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification was actually developed before NFC and like NFC has a variety of types both powered and unpowered.

If you’ve ever taken your pet to be “microchipped” then you’ve used a form of passive RFID. Your pet is not actually bionic or powering the device, but the chip is powered when a reader is placed nearby and activates the chip to send data.

RFID chips can be placed in an amazing amount of devices and are often used to open doors via security cards, or to save identification information to retrieve a lost device. The potential to use RFID as an identification tool has some distinct possibilities – RFID can be programmed to only be read by certain devices (like pet microchips), although there’s nothing to stop someone developing a reader as this is an open standard and would need to be for all manufacturers to include them.

Passive RFID can also be read from up to 25m which means that the ID could be read from a safe distance (but probably not soon enough). The longer range active RFID can have ranges of 100m, but then how many knives are there within a 100m range at any given time, and the issue of power crops up again.

RFID is indeed small enough to add to any knife, but then a database of every knife would be needed. The owners of the Pet microchip database will tell you how difficult it is when the users don’t update their information – this has become easier with the introduction of a website to keep them up to date. But, if people are reluctant to update ID information about pets that they love, how likely are they to update data about their kitchen implements?

A GPS Chip

In his original tweet, Mr Mann suggested placing a GPS device on every knife sold in the UK. GPS chips can be quite small, but there are a few issues with this.

GPS is a wonderful invention and has been used to track people and devices to within a few meters. I use this on a daily basis with my children as they come home from school (with their consent!), and would be quite literally lost without it every time we travel.

Unfortunately, placing a GPS device requires a power source. Try an experiment with your phone to prove this: Monitor your battery usage for an hour with your location services switched off, now using the same apps & in the same place switch on your location services & monitor your battery usage for another hour. The difference in power consumption will explain the first issue.

In order for this system to work, you would need to charge your knives. Simply allowing the battery to run out would then take the knife “off the grid”.

The second issue with this is detection. I mentioned that I use GPS to track the location of my children (or at least their mobile phones – they don’t have GPS implanted in them!), but with their consent. In order to see their position they have to individually allow me to see their position, and it’s something that they can switch off at any time. An ethical debate comes up when a device like this is embedded in a device with implied consent that the location can be seen by a governing body.

  • Is implied consent enough? (GDPR)
  • What if the knife is stolen?
  • What if you use them for work?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the loss of privacy?
  • Who is monitoring the data?
  • What if the data is hacked?

Of course, in almost every news story my inner teacher will spot an educational element, and this was no different. In fact, in writing this blog, I spy an exam ethics essay question!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

With the festive season firmly underway, the days of education for this year are definitely coming to a close. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t employ ‘the 12 days of teaching’. Put simply, it’s 12 tips for you this festive season, and we’re going to go ahead and get right into it here and now.

12 Days Off Working

Kicking things off is 12 days off work. While it doesn’t have to be 12 days exactly (or at all!), the basic principle remains. You need to take the time to stop and think about your own health and wellbeing and put all your work out of sight and mind. Remember to try and focus on your own inner peace for a few days, then you should be recharged and ready to continue. A burnt out teacher isn’t a great teacher – you can’t keep drinking from a cup that isn’t refilled.

11 Pens-a-Clickin’

The best practical present that you can get for someone who is teaching is stationery, although the January sales are often better for that! Many teachers will ask for equipment to complete their tasks with, and so it’s worth joining the many people who are looking to do so.

10 Boots-a-Walkin’

When you do happen to have time off from the chaos of the classroom, it’s worth considering going for a walk during the festive season, or at least getting out in the fresh air. The weather may indeed be frightful sometimes, but there’s no question that it’s good for you to go and be active while getting some fresh air. You might be sceptical at first, but there’s no doubt that it’ll help you to get a new perspective and clear your head.

9 Board Games Playing

The problem with the festive season is that even when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family and enjoying life at the moment, your mind can often be elsewhere, focused instead on the papers you have to look over or the lessons you need to plan. That’s why it’s usually highly recommended that you take the time to actually play some board games, just to try and maintain a sense of the present. Board games are absolutely not just for kids!

8 Tweets-a-Tweeting

Social media, especially EduTwitter is an amazing resource, but equally can be a real distraction during the holidays, and often serves as a means to stress and worry. With a lot of holidaying teachers all looking through their favourite sites, the chances of running into an article that upsets you or finding something to distract yourself from the here and now is pretty likely. That’s why it’s a good idea to distract yourself from the online world and take a detox for a few days if you can possibly manage it. Don’t feel guilty about not tweeting or blogging for a few days!

7 Doors-a-Closing

Sometimes you’ve just got to make sure that you’re taking a stand for you and really pushing to make sure that you look after yourself. Teaching & tutoring is time intensive, so keeping a day for yourself to stay in pjs, read a book, or do whatever makes you happy is not selfish. It can be useful for you to make a day all about you and do whatever you need to, so you can just chill out.

6 Tunes-a-Playing

Music is a beautiful part of Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean what you listen to has to be festive by any means. The important thing here is that you do your best to listen to tunes which appeal to you and make you feel better because music can seriously do you a lot of good.

5 Gold Stars

Seriously, who doesn’t love a gold star? However, they’re just symbolic here of rewarding yourself for a job well done. Being a teacher can be a challenging task, and there’s no doubt that it can be a struggle to try and motivate yourself to keep going during winter months when the terms are much longer & mock exam marking is everywhere. However, rewarding yourself and keeping your mind positive is the best possible way to succeed. Even if you do just give yourself a gold star.

4 Spa’s -a-cleaning

When you’re struggling to chill out and end the year on a high note, it might be time to consider a spa trip. There’s no doubt that a spa trip can make almost anyone feel like new again – all the rejuvenating properties and activities, along with the feeling of freedom from responsibility can be intoxicating. Men, this applies to you too – never be afraid to self-care!

3 Rooms-a-Cleaning

Have you ever heard that the state of our rooms are a reflection of our minds and how we are currently feeling? For example, an untidy room might suggest a scattered mind that’s trying to deal with too much all at once. This is where taking the time to clean out your rooms can really help you – it gives you the much-needed concentration to regain your focus.

2 Decluttered Drawers!

What you have to appreciate about decluttering is that it makes you feel so much better about yourself. Go and find a drawer in your home, and declutter it until it looks like new. It’s exceptionally therapeutic, and also provides a productive distraction from your work.

And a Day With Your Family!!

One of the best things to do when you want to be able to wind down and spend time with other people is to go and visit your family. They’re the people you’ve grown up with and celebrated all your best moments with. They’re great for forgetting your problems with, catching up on their lives and making some beautiful memories.

All in all, these are the 12 best ways that you can enjoy the festive season while taking the time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s not always an easy task by any means, but it is one which will seriously mean a lot to you if you can get it nailed. When Christmas time approaches, we’re all wondering how just to take that step back and relax. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s one we all need to learn to do, especially teachers. It’s crucial that you take the time to sit back, relax and forget for a day or two because there’s no arguing that teaching can be a very demanding vocation. You have to give yourself over to it a lot, which is why it can be essential to try and make a portion of the season about you.

If you’d like some practial everyday tips for teaching in the classroom, you can buy my book in paperback & e-book now!

Until then, wishing you a very peaceful Christmas.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Helping Your Teen Revise Over Christmas

Christmas GCSE Revision

Christmas is almost here! There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time, and the whole family comes together. However, when you’ve got a teen who’s trying to revise for their mock GCSE Computer Science exam, everything becomes a bit more complicated! Of course, it’s important to make sure that they’re studying for the exam, but at the same time taking the time to be with family, so we’re going to look at how you can help them with this.

 

Establish Goals From the Beginning

One of the first things that you’re going to need to do is to establish a clear set of goals from the beginning with your teen. Make sure that you know what they need to do to be ready for their exam, and what Computer Science revision needs to get done. If you set clear objectives with them from the very beginning, then you can make sure that they’re doing what needs to be done without compromising on family time.

 

Be Positive

When trying to get the GCSE mock revision exam nailed, it’s easy for your teen to be discouraged or even upset. It’s brand new territory for them – there won’t have been exams like this before on this scale, and it can be seriously tough. However, what’s important is that you take the time to encourage them and support them through the journey. They may be older children now, but they’re still your kids, and your encouragement will mean everything.

 

Help Them Revise

pexels-photo-1467564

For some teens, their Computer Science exam may well fall on how good their general knowledge is. You can help them in this area, so it’s often worth taking the time to do just that! If they need someone to revise with, then this could be your chance. Even if you’re helping them with quizzes and general knowledge questions, it’ll make the revision process a bit easier for everyone. If you feel particularly nervous about the content, have our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages open.

 

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Revision is an essential part of any teen’s school life, but a balance is also vital. You need to try and find that balance to help your children to do well without burning out. It is the festive season, after all, so you should take the time to give them breaks from their revision. Revising in chunks of 30 minutes broken up by a mince pie & a cup of tea is going to give their brains chance to digest what they were working on and be ready for the next topic. No-one wants to work over a family holiday and teenagers especially find it difficult to visualise the long-term benefits of giving up fun things, so avoiding long periods of work and arguments really will go in everyone’s favour.

 

Overall, these are some of the things that you can do to help your teen revise over the festive period. It’s not an easy task by any means, but they’ll be so thankful they took the time to revise; it makes all the difference when it comes to trying to get those higher grades. However, you need to make sure that your teen has good mental health as well because we all know how difficult it can be to try and juggle all of these responsibilities while at the same time looking to the future.

If you’re a parent in the UK and concerned about your teen’s mental health, you can get in contact with Young Minds who support both parents and young people. You can also support us on our Facebook Page where we are raising money throughout 2019 for the charity.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

 

 

 

Kipling Feedback – It’s Exceedingly Good

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a concept called Flapjack Learning that a friend had coined. The general idea was that it was a healthier ‘snack’ of knowledge.

Of course, that evolved into a list of 2am cake related learning ideas that were written in my blog book (if you have 2am flashes of inspiration, I highly recommend keeping a notebook next to your desk to write these down – if nothing else, to allow you to re-read the notes and wonder what you meant by “not a cat”?!).

Kipling feedback works in a similar way, in that it’s bitesize, kids look forward to it, and It’s exceedingly good!

cupcakeConsider why we eat cake – unless you’re Marie Antoinette, it’s not to sustain you. Cake is a treat, cake gives us a boost, cake makes us feel better. Not once have I been given cake as a punishment. Cake has never made me feel bad (in moderation) – but I have been told that I’m stupid by a teacher. In that case, it was being told outright, but when we give overly negative feedback under the guise of progress, we chip away at a child’s self-esteem.

Thankfully, the breed of teacher who believes that a child will be motivated by being chastised is almost extinct. However, with grade expectations hanging over our heads, we can easily inadvertently punish a student with our feedback.

Our verbal feedback & teaching should be the main meals – nutritious & satisfying, leaving the written feedback as the cake.

Consider this written on a longer answer question:

Your answer isn’t balanced – where are your examples? Check your SPaG & presentation.

Ouch. It would be easy to be understandably cross when a student doesn’t take care in their work and hands in something that’s rushed and scruffy. But, is there a way to sweeten the feedback? A certain nanny once said something about a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. What if the feedback was written as:

Have you considered both sides of the argument? This would be much more detailed if you included examples – try looking up “examples of…”. Please check your SpaG where highlighed. I’d like you to write this out in neat, taking care of your presentation.

Yes, the feedback is a little more wordy, but given time in class, or as a homework to redraft and improve, this more nutritious style of feedback keeps in mind that this is a person. More detailed, but less frequent written feedback often produces far better progress as they take notice of it. If we were constantly eating learge meals, we’d never appreciate them – they need to be hungry for your feedback.

In class, the verbal feeback is the cake. Ask deeper questions, but lead with a postive:

Evelyn, that image works really well for your website topic. I’d like you to think about the presentation next – How could you adapt your code so the image is in line with your text?

 

question matrix

If you’re unsure about asking differentiates questions on the fly, try using a Question Matrix.The concept is quite simple – Your questions take a starter word from the left, and a follow up from the top. For students working at the top of Blooms Taxonomy, start at the top left of the grid with a “What is…” question.

The further towards the bottom right your question, the deeper the student has to think about their answer.

If you’ve not used one before, try this Printable Questioning Matrix – while you’re planning your lesson, add in some potential questions that you could ask students based on the lesson. Even if you’re a seasoned teacher, using the matrix can help you to reflect on how you perceive your students working in contrast to how tey actually are (if your planned questions are usable, you’ve predicted acurately).

So there you have it, Kipling Feedback – it really is exceedingly good.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school