IBDP induction

The last week in September was a week of firsts.

It was the first time that I presented at a conference and the first time that I ran an IBDP induction morning for my new year 12s.

Most induction programs happen at the start but what I know about how people learn tells me that spacing information out over a period of time is probably best for their long term retention of the facts.

There is a trade-off then, between front loading inductions which save time but probably doesn’t help attendees remember the material all that much and spacing them out which may maximise retention but takes a lot more time.

In fact one of my prior schools used to do just this, new staff induction was spaced out over the first term.

This year, I ran the induction morning at the end of week 5. This, I hoped, gave kids the chance to get used to the new routines and social dynamics of year 12 but was near enough the beginning of the program to not render the information meaningless.

The following were the objectives of the morning:

  • Introduce students to key information about the IBDP
  • Introduce our students to the Academic Integrity Policy
  • Introduce students to the idea of assessment, specifically formative and summative assessment and the difference between them.
  • Introduce students to the library, Questia and citations
  • Introduce some key ideas surrounding study habits

For the assessment activity we had a paper airplane competition where students were judged on the criteria below. If students asked to know what the criteria were we shared them but if they didn’t and just proceeded to make an airplane using their own assumptions about what the assessment criteria were.

Download (DOCX, 13KB)

When they came to be judged they were given one set of “feedback” against the rubric and a chance to resubmit.

Understanding the IB Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay for Admissions

Last week, on September 21st I presented at the CIS-EARCOS Regional Institute on Admissions and Guidance in Bangkok. My session, which I co-presented, was entitled “Understanding the IB TOK and EE for Admissions”.

This was the first time I had given a presentation at any conference so represented a significant step for me.

The presentation focussed on the questions:

  1. Are IBDP students fairly rewarded for completing the EE and TOK elements of the DP?
  2. Do university admissions officers understand what these courses require?
  3. How can students best show case their knowledge and development from these experiences in the applications to university?

My co-presenter and I spent the few months prior collecting data from university admissions officers and interviewing teachers and students about their experiences with these elements. We the presented our findings and thinking, inviting discussion about how universities thought the best way to proceed may be.

Download (PPTX, 4.4MB)

I survived 18-19

This is my last post for the school year 2018-19. I will be back in August/September with some new material.

What have I done this year?

I certainly don’t do things by halves. In the space of one year I have moved house, country, and continent with my family, engaging with a whole new culture, paradigm and language.  This involved huge adjustments in life (just going to the supermarket was one!) and parenting routines as well as overcoming significant cultural adjustments. It’s been a hard year to be a parent and husband.

At the same time I have changed schools and jobs, taking on a new senior role involving acting as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, HS Diploma Coordinator and the University Guidance Officer. My new school had recently moved from A Levels to the IBDP and this year was to be the final year for the first cohort. It was exciting to be a first time DPC, working with a new program: lots of potential for positive change and influence where necessary.

I have also moved back to teaching IGCSE biology for the first time in six years and picked up a year 13 class which resulted in me having to adapt my normal teaching SOW to fit their needs. It has been quite a challenge; having taught the IB Middle Years Program for four years where I had to adapt the biology curriculum on an ongoing basis, I had to start over in planning and prepping the IGCSE biology course.

I wrote my reflections on my first term in this role up in this post, and throughout this year, as I wrote about previously, I have led training on academic integrity, leading to a new policy, coordinated the IB Extended Essay (which was a unexpected surprise) and implemented a development plan to embed TOK in the whole secondary Yr7-13 curriculum.

On top of all of this I have continued to work as a university guidance officer and managed kids applications to universities in Hong Kong, China and South Korea for the first time, alongside apps to Canada and the US. Korean University applications are far from simple!

Finally, I have undertaken significant professional development, through the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership via UCL’s Leadership Colab’s cluster group at Harrow International in Beijing attending five Saturday sessions. I am now looking to write up my 5000 word project based on my role as IB DPC and implementing change in the Key Stage 5 curriculum. Added to this I have attended the CIS-EARCOS institute on higher education  in Bangkok and the IBO’s global conference in Hong Kong as well as fitted in university visits to four universities in Hong Kong.

Reflections on classroom practice

The teaching has been enjoyable but frustrating when I haven’t been able to deliver a much loved course in the way that I would like, particularly after I have spent so much time reading, thinking and writing about my ideas regarding life science instruction over the last few years. I am looking forward to beginning a new course with year 12 in August, and further developing my ideas surrounding using stimuli material to help link the course to other subject areas and generate big inquiry questions, linked to real world issues. I have enjoyed the IGCSE teaching, mainly because this has been an opportunity to take a course from the start and really think about how my ideas for the IB biology curriculum translate over to the IGCSE curriculum. I am looking forward to continuing the course with a fantastic group of year 10s soon to be year 11s.

The major problem I have been consumed with recently, both for my own classroom practice and from a whole curriculum perspective, is how to make the learning authentic and meaningful for students. By this I mean is how can we help to students to see how what they are learning links to the real world, and real world, current issues – to help them understand the global narrative that they are their curriculum is part of. I also mean how can we inject more meaning into the their performances and the artefacts that they are producing. I summarised my ideas in this post.

Reflections on leadership

As I wrote previously, this was my first year in senior leadership and this year has been a steep learning curve in that regard. Leadership is a proper marathon. You can’t afford to slacken off – there are always relationships to be built, and the wrong smile or word can undo weeks of hard labour on this front. This has come home a lot for me as we wind into the last three weeks of a very long year. Teachers are tired, I am tired, the leadership team is tired…..what is  the learning from this?

One thing I have noticed is that my sleeping thoughts, those just as I am going to sleep and when I wake up are much more preoccuppied with work. Aside from the occasionally sunday night worries, or worries the night before a new term start, this has never happened to me on this scale that I can remember. This year it has been a constant feature of life. Several nights a week, for most weeks of the year I have found myself thinking about things that I am responsible for and have no direct control over. I wish my waking thoughts were preoccupied with my own kids but no mostly these are do with the administration of the Extended Essay or something to do with Academic Honesty.

Since Christmas a huge amount of my time has been taken up with thinking about exams! First it was the mock exams and then the May exams. The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into running an exam session is truly extraordinary. There is the exam secure storage to sort out, so that it meets new and ever changing standards. There is the exam timetable to put together so IB and IGCSE exams are in one calendar, there is the invigilation schedule to plan and organise, and find creative ways to make this easily understood by teachers. In our case there was a re-rooming schedule to organise. Added to this there is making sure that all the correct exam stationary is present and accounted for, that we have received the correct exams, that the examination rooms are set up correctly and in line with regulations, that the invigilators are briefed and know what they can and can’t do, that the students and parents are briefed. This aspect of the job is highly administrative but still requires learning of new procedure and reflection on how to improve the processes that we put in place last year.

The approach to exams this year reminded me of prior learning. Some of the conversations I have had this year with colleagues have surrounded accountability and quality assurance. I refused to make personalised exam timetables for my students in year 12 and 13 this year. Not only is this a MASSIVE opportunity cost for me, but it means that potentially kids miss out on a massive formative opportunity for development. The argument that we should was basically to ensure that they didn’t miss any exams, but so what if they miss a mock exam? Surely that is going to teach that student something valuable. I know it did when it happened to me at university. Secondary leaders and teachers have got to remember that we are in the business of raising adults, we shouldn’t be taking away opportunities for kids to learn, no matter the cost, because better learn it now, the stakes are only going to get higher.

Aside from exams, I have had to guide the teaching team through their first set of IBDP eCoursework procedures. Making sure that teachers knew which items they were uploading and which of these were meant to graded and annotated and which weren’t. We also had to think, as a team, about good marking and moderation procedures and practices as well as what were consistent annotations on student work. Again I think that there is still room for improvement here.

Because the IBDP has such a large volume of coursework that is both externally assessed and internally assessed, externally moderated, student and teacher understandings of academic integrity issues is paramount. Next year, there is still work to be done in this area, particularly in terms of improving our students understandings, but we have made steps in the right direction this year in developing a shared understanding of the policy and procedures surrounding this.

Another aspect of the IBDP curriculum we have been beginning to look at this year is the narrative and coherence of the curriculum both horizontally, within year 12 and 13 and vertically with the rest of the secondary school. The first step in this was to look at how TOK brings the curriculum areas together. This involves developing subject specialists understanding of TOK and what it brings to their subjects and exploring links between the TOK and subject areas. We have begun this process this year with some training on TOK and P4C and will continue with training in this area next year. I have been much inspired by Mary Myatt and Martin Robinson in this area.

I have continued to be mindful of building positive relationships and a positive atmosphere, as I identified this as an area of development for me coming into the role. Teacher issues and resolving them, has been the real stumbling block here. How do you build trusting, respectful and positive relationships but still hold colleagues to account for the actions or lack thereof. Managing challenging personalities remains an area for development for me, as well as maintaining my own positivity and proactive outlook when stress, tiredness, and difficult attitudes can make it even harder to be empathetic and understanding of others at times. How do you be an inspiring leader and get people on board with your vision when, at times, you have to call others out? How do you do this without allowing others to take advantage of your attempts to be understanding and to empathise?

Even if I don’t pass the assessment, the NPQSL course has been really quite valuable to me. I wanted to take this course because I recognised that I had a lack of leadership training, if you will. I wanted some exposure to the theory behind leadership for learning.  I have taken away something from each of the five face to face session and blogged about four of those sessions; here, here, here and here.

Finally, At the start of this year I expressed some frustration to my boss about my lack of line managing anyone. I was new to SLT in my school and with the new leadership position I had expected to be formally part of the appraisal process for staff. I felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of coaching colleagues etc. I have come to learn over this year that leadership isn’t about being anyones boss. Instead it is about relationships. I am pleased to reflect on the fact that several HoDs have sought me out on regular occasions for advice and support. I am pleased to give it to them and pleased that after 8 months in a school I am at a position where despite the lack of official “line management” in the org chart, colleagues have felt that they could approach me with questions and that I am able to support them. Leadership and management is far more than box ticking appraisal and I now reflect that I am happy being an unofficial coach and mentor than having direct reports.

No wonder I have not always felt the best on an emotional and psychological level this year, it has been a ride. Time for a much needed holiday . Looking forward to celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary in Otterburn, Northumberland with all my siblings and their families. Oh, and I better get writing that NPQSL project up….

Parental engagement with learning

Notes from pre sessional reading of NPQSL session 4, leading affective partnerships. The pre-reading was the report Engaging parents in raising achievement Do parents know they matter?”

Underpining this policy is the central tennet that parental engagement makes a significant difference to the educational outcomes of you people and that parents have a key role to play in raising educational standards.

Reference to Every Parent Matters (DofE 2007)

In demonstrating that families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life. When schools, families and community work together to support learning, children often do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more.

Parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school – parental involvement rather than parental engagement. Activities not directly connected to learning have little impact on pupil achievement.

Schools that offer bespoke forms of support to these parents (i.e. literacy classess, parenting skill support) are more likely to engage them in their child’s learning. Schools should constantly reinforce the fact that parents matter. (For the DP it is important to make the parents feel included).

There are barriers to engaging parents such as lack of time, language barriers, child care issues and practical skills such as literacy issues and the ability to understand and negotiate the school system.

How can the DP program engage parents to help students learn? Parental engagement and personalising provision for them as learners could be NPQH project! 🙂 We need parent and student voice.

The empirical evidence shows that parental involvement in learning is one of the key factors in securing higher student achievement and sustained school performance (Harris and Chrispeels 2006).

Longitudinal studies such as those conducted by Sylvia et al (1999) and Meluish et al (2001) provide the most recent research evidence about parental involvement. These studies reinforce the impact of parental involvement in learning activities in the home with better cognitive achievement, particularly in the early years. In contrast parental involvement acted out in the school confers little or no real benefit on the individual child, though it is valuavle for the schools and parents in terms of community relations.

Parental involvement takes many forms including good parenting in the home, including the provision of a secure and stable environment, intellectual stimulation, parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values and high aspiration relating to personal fulfillment and good citizenship; contact with schools to share information, participation in school events, participation in the work of the school, and participation in school governance.

This is because parental involvement inititative presuppose that schools, aprents and student are relatively homogenous and equaly willing and capable of developing parental involvement schemes, which is not always the case. We need to be mindfull of the differences between parents.

Mothers feel more involved than fathers. Primary more than secondary. Whilst many paretns wanted to increase their involvement to include for example supporting extra-curricular initiative, they felt that the main barriers to further involvement were limitations on their own time.

Individuals with positional ambition increased their education further in order to maintain a relative advantage. As Lupton (2006) points out ‘most working class parents think education is important but they see it as something that happens in the school and not the home’.

Across all groups, students did better if their parents helped them see the importance of taking advanced science and maths courses and took them to exhibitions, science fairs and the like. Parents who are more involved with their adolescents schooling, regardless of parents gender or educational level have offspring who do better in schools irrespective of the child’s gender, ethnicity and family structure.

Parental involvement, especially in the form of parental values and aspirations modelling in the home is a major positive force shaping students achievement and adjustment.

Working class parents face certain institutional barreiers as schools are middle class institutions with their own values. If the IB is western organization to what extent does the IB philosophy act as a barrier to parental involvement?

Schools that succeed in engaging families from very diverse background share certain key practices. They focus on building trusting collborative relationships among teachers, families, and community members; they recongnise, respect and address families needs as well as class and cultural differences. There needs to be strategic planning which embeds parental involvement schemes in whole school development planning.

Help parents understand elements of the curriculum, advice about revision techniques at KS3 and 4 as well as more divers activities designed to stimulate parental engagement with schools and raise parents aspirations for their children.

How can we get DP parents into school?. Dads and lads maths events, centering on cars and football. family learning events and helping parents understand the contemporary curriculum and homework/coursework. Parents attending parent and child learning events. or attend help your child learn courses. Booklets for parents on the same subject and allowing parents to shadow a year group during a school day to experience contemporary schooling for themselves.

Courses on parenting, on family issues, these events provided not only expert advice from teachers or other agencies (Parent Line) but allowed parents to discuss family and learning related issues with peers. Their focus was on the parent-child relationship. The provision of parent handbooks was also successful; parents reported satisfaction with the availability of information and the ease of finding the information needed. Schools engaged mentors for students and supported both students and their parents about issues of attendance and punctuaity. A number of schools targeted year six pupils and parents offering support and pastoral care around transition for both groups. Other schools responded to parental requests for support in specific areas.

Some schools did institute a cycle of “you said, we did”, and found that increased parental engagement with the school. Other schools made it clear in their reports that their conception of intelligent reporting was still a front ended one, originating with the school and ending with the parent. Schools have reduced and simplified their reports to parents, on the basis of parental preference; language used in reports has been made consistent and staff workload reduced, as reports are shorter and more to the point, staff have agreed that the new systems instituted are a different way of working, rather than more work. Parents can now access online, real time data for their own children, leading to family conversations with have had a beneficial effect on behaviour.

Parental engagement is not about engaging with the school but with the learning of the child. We could give a weekly coordinators learner profile award, voted for on Friday. Awarded on Monday.

Student don’t seek parental engagement with school activities but engagement and participation in their learning. Parental engagement policy? Homework policy in the DP?

Students were very clear that parental interest in their education had a direct and positive effect on in-school behaviour. Good behaviour was not reinforced and bad behaviour was not punished.

Homework – either in terms of monitoring it or helping with it – came from far down the list of activities valued by students and yet it is often the way that parental engagement is understood.

The data suggests that while involvement in homework is of value, in and of itself it doesn’t fulfll the prescriptions of students needs. Rather it is the beginning of the process that should lead to deeper discussions.

When parents feel that they have the opportunities, skills and knowledge required to help their children, they are more likely to be engaged. Such reluctance or reticence on the part of parents is a powerful signal to their children that education is not valued or indeed valuable.

Authentic learning, real world meaning.

After reading Mary Myatt’s “The Curriculum”, I’ve been beginning to spend some time thinking about how the IBDP can provide opportunities to make the students work more purposeful via opportunities for authentic performance. In her chapter on Beautiful work she writes:

“children’s work should be honored. It should be of the highest quality and it should also have an audience.”

She goes on to quote Ron Berger “Once a pupil creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom – work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same”.

So far I’m thinking about elements common to all Diploma students:

  • The Group 4 project: this is a collborative 10 hour project that student teams composed of students from different subjects work on together. The project is not assessed but is mandatory. The theme is set by the school and in four schools over 10 years this has usually involved the HOD Sci using a word like colour or survival. However there can have some real world stimulus like the UN sustainable development goals to focus the project. The students would design experiments along this theme and then present their project to the wider school community and guests.
  • CAS: Im not an expert here by any stretch and you could argue that CAS is already the most authentic part of the DP. What could be more authentic than working on projects that have direct application in the real world? but how many projects in schools around the world actually do? Is there scope here to raise the bar? the students CAS project could also center around a real world stimulus, the activity stage focussed on taking action in some way, again an exhibition to the community could be used to sum up students work in some authentic way.
  • TOK: TOK has a heavy summative assessment component with a 1600 word academic essay and ten minute presentation, I would be loathe to add to this…but, the presentations could definitely be delivered to a wider audience..school assemblies, some other exhibitions or the community could be invited to the assessment itself.
  • Extended Essay: With over 40 hrs of work and 4000 words in the making the extended essay is a beast for most students. There are issues with it and you could already argue that, as a piece of original work, it has real world application. This year we are taking the small step to publish our students TOK and Extended Essays together in a volume, a bit like a journal, with work from some of our Visual Arts students work being used as the cover pieces. But I also like the idea of having student’s undertake a more public viva, like a PhD defense. Clearly, an EE is not a PhD but can we make it so that the process is less tick boxy and more formal? I am keen to hear what other schools do.

With all these things I think about scalability. What works in a small school doesn’t necessarily work in a very large one. Ok, sit through 2 group 4 presentations but 30? So instead schools could ensure that some students present at one event and others at another, so long as each student gets some opportunity to deliver their work meaningfully in the real world.

I realise that my ideas are a little unoriginal and perhaps I am a little bit behind the times (some schools are already doing great work) focussing mostly on presentations and exhibitions, what do you think? How else could we make our student’s DP work have more real world meaning?