Mise en Place

Mise en place, is a term used in professional kitchens that refers to having equipment and ingredients organised and arranged in their correct places in order to make the preparation of a dish efficient in a busy kitchen.  The term means, “putting in place.”

This is something that teachers should take seriously too.  I’m not talking about a tidy classroom, that is an entirely different matter.  What I am talking about is setting up your classroom so that you can conduct an impromtu discussion, or use the visuliser at a moment’s notice, or carry out any one of a range of pedagogical techniques while the lesson flows seamlessly on.

Plans are essential for effective teaching but we all know that no plan survives first contact with a class.  Plans should be flexible and reactive if the objectives of the lesson are to be delivered.  A lesson based on the same plan could be delivered to two different classes and the lessons could take on quite different courses depending on how the learners react to the plan.  A perceptive teacher should be able to react to the learners’ needs and use whatever pedagogical technique is appropriate – even if it was not on the original plan.  Having the correct equipment to hand, in the right place will make this really easy to achieve.

If teachers follow this idea through they will find it very easy to move from one teaching technique to another, because they have all been thought through before hand and resourced appropriately, and the necesary resources will be available at any time.  The down side is that a teacher will be very efficient in their own classroom but they could well be lost in another room because they will not know where things are – or even if the required resources are in the room at all – and will therefore not be able to move effortlessly through their pedagogical repertoire.

Professional cooks know that having things organised and in the right place before starting to cook is essential.  Equally, teachers should do the same so that they have their whole pedagogical arsenal on standby at all times.

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Mise en Place

Will They Really Answer The Question?

I have seen answers to GCSE mock exam questions similar to the one above for many years.  No matter how many times I tell my learners to read the question, a substantial number of them don’t recognise the important words in the question.  I’ve used samples, including the one above, to try to persuade learners not to make the same mistake, but it hasn’t had much impact.  This is important as it costs learners many marks because they answer a question similar to the one that was actually asked, rather than the one that really was asked.

Thanks to John Tomsett, I think I might have found a technique that will make this more explicit to learners.  The idea is to model your approach to an exam, from your first sight of the exam paper, going through the process of understanding what is required in the exam from reading the information on the front cover until just before answering the first question.  This technique goes further than just highlighting key words in the question, in the words of my colleague Heidi, “It shows pupils what we are thinking in order to carry out the steps that we teach them in order to approach a question. We tell them to read a question carefully and highlight key words. But this method shows what we are thinking as we read the question and how we decide which are the key words. This is written evidence, that pupils can take time to process visually, of adult metacognition.”  You can read more about Heidi’s experiences with this technique here.

I’ve tried this technique with my Year 11 GCSE group, going through a past paper, highlighting key words and instructions, and making notes on the paper to illustrate my thinking.  I was really pleased when, a few lessons later I gave them another set of past exam questions to do and the first thing that many students did was to get out their highlighters and mark up the questions showing key words, and making notes to help their thinking.  Interestingly, the learners who struggled with the questions were those who had dived into the questions straight away without taking the time to really understand what was required.

I also tried this with my AS Level Computing class.  Again, a few lessons later I gave them another  past exam paper to do.  I asked them if there were any questions that they wanted me to go through with them.  With the one that they chose, the first thing I did was turn on my visualiser and pick up my highlighter.  Once I had gone through the question itself and explained my thinking to them they were far more confident in answering the question – without me actually going through the answer with them.

My AS Level Applied ICT group have also been victims of this technique!  Earlier this week I was in their real AS exam as technical trouble shooter, to sort out any problems that might arise with the computers that they were using.  I was really pleased to see that the first thing that the vast majority of them did when they started the exam was get their highlighters out and start marking up the paper.

So perhaps this technique is having some impact.  In the future I will introduce this to my learners earlier.  For example, I would use it with my Year 11 GCSE class when they are preparing for their mock exams in the autumn.  This would give them an opportunity to try out the technique in a real exam situation and it would give them longer to embed the technique before it really mattered in the summer.  Certainly, this is a technique that I intend to grow.

[I would like to thank Heidi for her continual support and challenge.  Without colleagues who are willing and able to listen to our ideas and experiences it is difficult to grow as a teacher.  Heidi certainly offers that for me.]

Will They Really Answer The Question?

Blogging – The First Steps

Getting Started
This is a quick and easy start up guide to ease you into the world of blogging and particularly, educational blogging.

WordPress is a platform that will allow you to set up you blog easily.  You can register here.  Other platforms are available and are probably just as good.  But many educational bloggers use WordPress, which makes it easier to follow them and keep track of their posts.  WordPress has apps for tablet and smartphone.

To make life a little easier, you might want to look at some tutorials to show you how to get started.

You can share your experiences using this forum.

Influential Educational Blog
Here are some links to influential educational blogs (this does not imply any endorsement!):

@TeacherToolkit

headguruteacher

David Didau The Learning Spy

Hunting English (not just for English teachers)

johntomsett

Evidence into Practice

Blogs by People I Know Personally
Teacher Hacks

miketidd.com

I’m sure that you will find many more blogs of interest as your blogging journey progresses.  Have fun!

Blogging – The First Steps

Poles Apart?

A few days ago I fell into a conversation with a hospital doctor who happened to come from Poland.  The conversation covered a wide range of topics but it touched on education and his perceptions of education in this country and in Poland.

He said that in Poland every child is pushed.  The children from the poorest backgrounds are pushed as hard as those from more affluent homes.  It is possible for poor children to ‘make it’ because of the push that they get.  He was very clear that the this idea of valuing achievement was ingrained in Polish culture.  The push came as much from parents as it did from teachers.  He was equally clear that high achieving children were pushed just as hard as lower achieving children.  Children were always made aware that there was another level to be conquered.

He contrasted his understanding of the Polish system with his experience of his own children going through the English system.  He said that in England no one was pushed.  At parents’ evenings everything is sweetness and light and achievements are celebrated but there is no apparent aspiration for the next level and there is little recognition of children’s faults.  He did finish off by saying that despite these differences, it is the Anglo-Saxon (American) culture that has ‘conquered the world’.

I was very interested in these opinions from someone who obviously achieved highly throughout his education.  The obvious question is, should children in England he pushed more?  Should they be more aware of the ‘next level’ and how they can reach it?  And more crucially, does English society as a whole value education?

Another whole area is opened up by this conversation: the difference between perception and reality.  A conversation with one Polish doctor is a pretty poor foundation for research.  Equally, this man’s view of each education system may be wide of the mark.  He may have thought that he was telling me about the education systems but he was really telling me about his perception of the education systems.  Perception is reality filtered through our experiences and preconceptions.  In fact, for all practical purposes, it is our own personal reality.  In many ways, perceptions are at least as important as the underlying reality.  The only problem is that two people may have different perceptions of the same reality.  This relationship between perception and reality has many implications for teachers in the classroom, and for schools in general.  For instance, one learner my perceive a task to be hard, and another may perceive it be to easy.  One learner may think that a sanction was harsh and another think that it was lenient.  These perceptions will be based on differing previous experiences and preconceptions.  It is important for teachers to remember this.

Poles Apart?

Who Am I Working For?

The start of the Spring Term is always a busy one for me.  As a Computing and ICT teacher, my subjects have a great deal of controlled assessment and coursework.  Long assignments certainly have a part to play in assessing these subjects.  There is no other way of assessing the learners ability to analyse and break a large problem down into smaller parts that themselves can be solved.  This is the time when the learners need to get their tasks finished with as many marks as possible.  Once the learners have done their bit, I need to get a sample of their portfolios prepared to send to the exam boards.

Recently I was talking to a friend who is high up in the international construction business – I think he spends as much time flying as he does with his feet on the ground.  He was saying that if he saw a workload bottle neck coming he would rearrange tasks and organise it out of the way.  He saw immediately that in my job that organising the bottle neck away was not an option.  Preparing these controlled assessment and coursework portfolios is certainly one of these workload bottle necks that cannot be organised away.

Over the last few weeks, at a conservative estimate, I have spend 50 hours getting these portfolios together.  The work needs to be marked, and the marking annotated to explain it to the moderator so that I can justify the marks that I have awarded.  The portfolios need to be put into the format that the exam board demands.  Then the portfolios can finally be sent off to the moderators.

Certainly, the exam boards need this task to be completed on time in order for their systems to function and for the results to be available on time in August so that universities can issue offers and students can start their courses in the autumn.  But…should this be the job of a teacher?  As I have said, I can see how this benefits the exam board but I cannot see how it benefits my learners – at all.  This is a terminal assessment and there is no time for the learners to make any improvements to their work – the exam board deadline looms.  Effectively I have used 50 hours working solely for the benefit of the exam board, that time could have been used profitably to benefit my learners in many different ways, through lesson preparation, formative assessment, development of new courses, arranging out of lesson experiences, etc, etc, etc.

I will never get those 50 hours back – and neither will my learners ever benefit from them.

Who Am I Working For?