Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy II

In November I shared the first stages of my thinking about developing our academic honesty policy. In this post I want to follow-up, to document the most recent steps.

Last Monday, while trying to find my mind, which I appeared to have left somewhere between the UK and China, I lead the second inset session on academic honesty. Running inset when you are jet lagged isn’t fun – especially when all the team is equally as tired!

During this session, I followed a very similar model to October’s inset, using chalk talk as a way to elicit thoughts and ideas about the academic honesty policy.

I am keen not to simply impose my ideas about academic honesty on the teaching body but to encourage by in, I want to grow a policy as a team. It may seem like this is a little esoteric, but having a shared understanding of the why’s, what’s and how’s of teaching academic honesty is a really important part of what we do as educators. Understanding the issues of good practice in this area impacts on many other aspects of classroom practice and should engender a change in the way that we approach planning of units, lessons and tasks.

We started the session with a Quizlet live game of academic honesty terminology before moving on to practice the chalk talk again. I was inspired by my Christmas reading of Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C and so started with the question:

–What is more important:

–developing students knowledge of facts or ability to critique and discuss facts?

Following from that we rotated around the three questions of:

  1. Why teach academic honesty
  2. How teach academic honesty
  3. When teach academic honesty

Finally, the team was asked to present the discussion points and ideas on the question sheets that they started with to the rest of the group.

Before ending the session with a call for volunteers to join a working party, I shared the results from the staff citation survey that I conducted in November. These results certainly gave me some food for thought as there were some good arguments presented for not having a centralised citation policy. Most staff thought it would be a good idea to have a centralised policy but the arguments against it were that essential that students should be exposed to a variety of different ways, no one way is right, students joining the school may have learned different systems and should be allowed to demonstrate that learning. All valid points and I must have admit shifted my thinking on this one a little.

Another advantage of decentralising the policy could be that departments take responsibility for agreeing a policy together and therefore think about and implement a procedure that is useful for them. Considering that only one member of staff has taken me up on my offer to form a working party to develop a policy, this could be another avenue for ensuring buy in to the new policy. I may ask HODs to formulate a policy and to let me know what system they are going to teach to ensure that we avoid the attitude of “let some other department deal with it”.

Now I need to think about how to take this forward so that we can launch a policy next August. I have now had staff contribute to the triage of where the school is at. Now we need to decide what to put in the policy and write it and I need to think of how best to achieve this, if teachers don’t volunteer to join the working group?

Developing a progression model for IBDP biology

I recently completed Daisy Christodolou’s “Making good progress?”. You can see my notes here. In the final chapters, after presenting an argument building up to this, she outlines the key aspects of what she terms a “progression model”. In this post I want to line up some ideas about what this may look like in delivering the IB DP Biology course.

In her book Christodoulou suggests, and I agree, that to effectively help students make progress we have to break down the skills required to be successful in the final assessments into sub-skills and practice these. This is a bit analogous to a football team practicing dribbling, striking or defending in order to make progress in the main game.

In the book she also stresses the difference between formative and summative assessments, what they can and can’t be used for respectively and why one assessment can’t necessarily be used for both.

A progression model for biology

A progression model would clearly map out how to get from the start to the finish of any given course, and make progress in mastering the skills and concepts associated with that domain. In order to do this we need to think carefully about:

  1. What are the key skills being assessed in the final summative tasks (don’t forget that language or maths skills might be a large component of this)?
  2. What sub-components make up these skills?
  3. What tasks can be designed to appropriately formatively assess the development of these sub-skills or, in other words, What does deliberate practice look like in biology?
  4. What would be our formative item bank?
  5. What could be our standardised assessment bank?
  6. What are appropriate summative assessment tasks throughout that would allow us to measure progress throughout the course?
  7. What could be our summative item bank?
  8. How often should progress to the final summative task be measured i.e. how often should we set summative assessments in an academic year that track progress?

Key skills in biology

This is quite a tricky concept to pin down in biology specifically and in the sciences in general. What skills exactly are kids being assessed on in those final summative IGCSE or IBDP/A Level exams. I haven’t done a thorough literature review here so currently I am not sure what previous work has been in this area.

However,  I would contend that most final written summative exams are assessing students conceptual understanding of the domain. If this is the case then the skill is really, thinking and understanding about and with the material of the domain. Students who have a deeper understanding of the links between concepts are likely to do better.

In addition, those courses with a practical component, like the IBDP group 4 internal assessment are assessing a students understanding of the scientific process. While it may seem like these components are assessing practical skills per se, they only do this indirectly, as it is the actual written report that is assessed and moderated. To do well the student is actually demonstrating an understanding of the process, regardless of where their practical skills are in terms of development.

Indeed if we look at the assessment objectives of IBDP biology we see that this is very much the case. Students are assessed on their ability to: demonstrate knowledge and understanding and apply that understanding of facts, concepts and terminology; methodologies and communication in science etc.

Sub-skills

How can we move students to a place where they can competently demonstrate knowledge and understanding, apply that understanding as well as formulate, analyse and evaluate aspects of the scientific method and communication.

The literature on the psychology of learning would suggest breaking down these skills into their subcomponents. This means we need to look at methods that develop knowledge and understanding from knowledge. Organising our units in ways that help students see the bigger concepts and connections between concepts within the domain will also help. For more on this see my previous post here. I think that understanding develops from knowledge.

I recently read that Thomas Khun claimed that expertise in science was achieved by the studying of exemplars. Scientific experts are experts because they have learned to draw the general concepts of the specific examples.

Useful sub-skills would be:

  • Fluency with the terminology of the domain
  • Ability to read graphs and data
  • Explicit knowledge of very specific examples
  • Explicit knowledge of abstract concepts illustrated by the specific examples
  • Ability to generate hypothesis and construct controlled experiments

Deliberate practice in biology

Thinking about these sub-skills, then, we can see what may constitute deliberate practice in biology and thus what would make useful formative assessments within the subject.

Fluency with the terminology can be gained through the studying of terminology decks like those available on quizlet. In addition, the work of Isabel Beck. Suggests that learning words isolated from text is not that helpful to gaining an understanding of those terms. To gain this, students need to be exposed to these words in context. Therefore there is a lot to be said for tasks and formative assessments that get students reading. Formative assessments could then consist of vocab tests and reading comprehension exercises of selected texts.

Reading and interpreting data can be improved through practice of these skills. This is an area where inquiry alone won’t help students make progress. Students need to be shown how to interpret data and read tables and graphs before making judgements. Ideally, in my opinion they should do this once they have learned the relevant factual knowledge of a related topic. Formative assessments focussing on data interpretation should therefore come a little later once students have covered a bulk of the content.

To build up conceptual understanding, students need to be exposed to specific examples related to those topics as I outlined in this post. Tests (MCQs) that assess how well students know the specific details of an example could be useful here to guide learners to which parts they know and those they don’t.

Following this we can begin to link examples together to build knowledge of a more abstract concept. Concepts can then be knitted together to develop the domain specific thinking skills: thinking like a biologist.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments could take the form of MCQs but as outlined above, vocab tests, reading comprehension activities, and other tasks may well have their place here.

Summative assessments for measuring progress

I am now thinking that to truly assess student progress against the domain, individual unit tests just won’t cut it. As Christodolou argues, summative tests exists to create shared meaning and do that need to be valid and reliable. Does scoring a 7 in a unit test on one topic of an 11 topic syllabus mean that the student is on track to score a 7? Not necessarily. Not only is the unit test not comparable to the IB 7 because it is only sampling a tiny portion of the full domain, but the construction and administration of the test may not be as rigorous as that of the actual IB papers.

Clearly it isn’t ideal to use the formative assessments described above as these are nothing like the final summative assessment of the course, plus their purpose is to guide teaching and learning, not to measure progress.

I would argue that summative assessments over the two-year course should use entire past papers. These past papers sample the entire domain of the course and performance against them is the best method of progress in the domain. A past paper could be administered right at the start of the course to establish a base line. Subsequent, infrequent, summative tests, also composed of past papers could then measure progress against this baseline.

Why should summative assessments use past papers? What not use unit tests? Unit tests, aggregated, is not the same thing as performance on a single assessment sampling the whole domain. They cannot produce the same shared meaning as an assessment that samples the entire domain. In addition the use of many single unit, high stakes tests will cause teaching to the test as well as much more student anxiety. Instead lots of formative testing and practice of recall should help to build students confidence in themselves.

Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy I

One of my focuses this year as Diploma Programme Coordinator will be to work with the schools educators to devise a secondary wide academic honesty policy. This is the first time I have had to lead a collaborative project across the secondary and I am spending a lot of time thinking about how best to implement this.

The easiest thing, and the first thing that I considered, would have been to simply lift policies from previous schools (with permission of course – oh the irony!) and adopt it in the new context. On reflection I decided not to go down this path because doing so would have meant we lost a good opportunity for collaboration amongst the team and would have probably also ensured that we didn’t get the buy in and subsequent up-skilling, that we need if the policy is going to be successful.

Teaching academic honesty is one of those things that I think it is easy to expect everyone on the teaching team to be able to do and assume that they know how to do it when in fact there may well be understandable knowledge gaps within the team. Different people also respond to their own knowledge gaps differently. Not admitting to knowledge gaps is an behaviour that can develop insidiously in educators due to perceived peer, parent and student expectations. The culture of a school may well be one where, admitting ignorance is something that is frowned upon. I am also aware that simply admitting ignorance isn’t enough. People need to be motivated to fill the gaps once identified and this process takes effort. We all avoid the effortful path at times.

For this project, I decided to go down the long road and start afresh. I want buy-in from the team and I want to identify skill needs amongst the team so that we can begin to help teachers develop their own skills in this area, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the IB requirements for academic honesty.

One of the things that I learned as a workshop leader with the IB is that all training sessions with staff should aim to help colleagues develop their teaching skills and share pedagogical techniques as a secondary objective to the primary aims of the session. Thus, when I utilised one staff inset session in October, I planned to use visible thinking routine “chalk talk” as a route to triage where the team was in their thinking and understanding about academic honesty.

I started this session by introducing chalk talk with a practice question. On a prior inset session led by another team member we had looked at Hattie’s research and so to transition from that I chose the question: “Is homework necessary?” to get the team used to the format of the chalk talk.

For the main event, I took questions from the IBO’s documentation on academic honesty and grouped them into categories. I prepared the session in advance by writing questions onto the back of the paper I was going to use. In this chalk-talk, instead of answering one question and rotating through each table, each table had a different set of questions that each group responded too as they rotated through them.

The results can be seen here:

Following from the chalk talk, I asked each group to summarise the discussion and responses prompted by the questions they started with. I gave them 15minutes to prepare a presentation for the rest of the team, and asked them to reflect on that instruction: how do they effectively get their students to collaborate on tasks like this? How do we teach students to work collaboratively or do we expect that they will be able to do it? We ended the session by sharing the general findings from each of the groups.

Following on from this session I have written and disseminated a survey based around some of the concepts surrounding academic honesty and citations, in order to give staff a chance to have some continual input into the formation of our academic honesty policy. In January I hope to be able to review the data collected from this chalk talk and survey to begin working on developing our policy but I am unsure of where to take this next to ensure collaboration and buy-in amongst the team. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them!

Undervalued & under-taught: concepts missing in teacher education

Friere, Piaget and Vygotsky are the usual suspects in the theory that underpins many initial teacher training courses, at least in my experience; I am happy to be corrected. The theories of these men, while useful and, in parts, necessary are often presented as the ground truths of teaching and learning or as outright fact.

Over the past few years I have picked up a little bit of knowledge about certain concepts that, if not completely debunking many of these operational fact-theories, certainly voice a challenge to them and I think it would do a lot to develop educators own critical thinking faculties if these concepts were taught alongside the main teacher training dogma.

Many of these ideas I have been exposed to through my own semi-self directed reading about education. I write semi-self directed because although I am choosing which books to read and when, I rely on the recommendations of colleagues and the educators that I follow on twitter.

While each of these, on their own may not be threshold concepts as such (if such a thing exists) learning about them has had a developmental effect on my thinking as an educator.

In my thirties, I can now begin to trace back my own intellectual interests and growth of knowledge. Originally, I was only interested in biology and things directly related to that field. Working as a teacher, my interest in this subject prompted me to develop my knowledge of neuroscience, among others. From here I developed an interest in the teenage brain and then neuromyths.

During my PGCE top-up, it was clear that subjective research processes were held to be just as valid as objective research methods. I challenged some of the ideas fed to us about subjective & experienced based research, arguing that evidence needs to be as objective as possible. My ideas were met with some scepticism, but I went ahead and tried to summarise some of the work on educational neuroscience and to do some sort of quantifiable research on teachers understanding of neuromyths.

Despite the lack of rigour and balanced curriculum, topping up my GTP to a PGCE was worth it. I wanted to do the PGCE because I felt my GTP had not had any academic focus and I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t know much about the theory behind what I was being told to do in the classroom. My PGCE served to get me academically engaged with the educational theory and it is only since I completed it that I have continued to maintain that engagement.

My interest in this area hasn’t abated but as I learn more it has become more nuanced. I agree that we need to be careful interpreting the results of much cognitive research but I do think that it offers that power to help guide us to what may better versus worse pedagogical techniques. They may well help us hone our pedagogical content knowledge.

Currently, these are the ideas that I believe that all teachers should have some training on (in no particular order):

Where can you go to get more valuable knowledge on these concepts? Here are some of the resources that I would recommend:

The Education Endowment Foundation

Daniel Willingham’s blog

The Education Development Trust

Core Knowledge Curriculum

The Learning Scientists

The Learning Spy

PGCE Research: Teacher Understandings of Educational Neuroscience

Below is the pdf of my research project that I completed as part of my PGCE top-up course. It followed from a fuller literature review that can be read here.

Completed in 2015, I only just realised that I didn’t have a link to it.

Download (PDF, 387KB)