A unique insight: the first few weeks of teacher training with the Alban TSA

I suppose the biggest point that has struck me, having now visited four secondary schools in the Federation, is how widely the schools vary in their philosophy and approaches to education whilst at the same time providing their students with the opportunities essential for success. For example, at Verulam the whole approach (from lesson structure through to behaviour management techniques) is geared towards the school’s understanding of how boys can be engaged in their learning. It was interesting to see the same techniques employed during a boys only PE lesson at Marlborough School. I am looking forward to my visit to STAGS, to see how their understanding of girls’ learning affects their policies and approaches to teaching.  The interesting extrapolation will then be the extent to which gender-led techniques are streamed into mixed gender schools.

The most interesting systemic approach, unique so far in my experience, is St George’s vertical house system. The House is the core organisational and motivational unit through which all facets of non-teaching school life are channelled: behavioural; pastoral; student leadership; and competitive activities. One consequence and major difference from other schools is that there are no Heads of Years – these functions fuse into the Head of House. Fascinating, but at this stage I don’t know enough to weigh the pros and cons of this.

Turning to Beaumont, I want to thank all of the staff, who have been very welcoming and supportive and ready to provide me with opportunities to develop my understanding of the practicalities of day to day teaching. Being able to observe subjects outside of my own speciality has allowed me to see a variety of approaches and methods, and gain insights as to how some can be translated successfully into the music environment. The music lessons I have observed are far and away the most interesting and entertaining I have ever experienced! The sense of enjoyment and humour that pervade classes of any age combined with the practical focus in the lessons themselves create enthusiasm for experimentation, self- expression and recognition of the pleasure available from music even for students who would not otherwise enjoy it.  The challenge for me, which I face with a mixture of relish and apprehension, is finding out if I can deliver anything remotely akin to this when eventually I get in front of a class.

By Jonathan Burrett

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Step aside, VLEs. Google Classroom is here, and it’s free.

Hanh originally posted this on her own blog as part of a New Year’s resolution to blog more, and has kindly allowed us to publish this separately! You can read Hanh’s original blog post here.

By Hanh Doan

I’ve always enjoyed giving students an online option to resources used in the classroom and making homework tasks and deadlines as clear as possible. In 2008 I set up the Beaumont Music Department Blog which is still going strong.  Curriculum and extra-curricular information and resources are posted here, and students understand that they need to check here before coming to ask me an “unquality question.” My school has made some attempts into VLEs, and both times I have jumped on board and tried to use them.  However, the downsides (as many will agree) to Serco (I think it was called this) and Frog were too many to overcome and too many to name here. Students didn’t love it and quite frankly, neither did I.  But I tried, and the students tried but only because I persuaded them to, not because they wanted to.

Eventually, along with my colleague and now boss, Dave Guinane, we have been using the blog, Evernote, and a very cool app which Dave designed to manage students’ work.  Of course, at KS4 and KS5 they still hand in work on paper, and that’s fine too.  We have always known that it hasn’t been the perfect system, but it’s been close. There is a link to KS3 recordings from lessons on the blog, and feedback and “dialogue” (groan) all on the end of each recording. Boom. At KS4 and 5 however, I still found myself with a huge folder of stuff. Most of it is written or harmony work which needs marking which is fine, but then there are countless bits of paper with information like names of pieces for solo and ensemble performances, or music which needs to be scanned in for submission to examiners.  It was manageable, but you know how life is, the fear of losing something really important was always there, and occasionally it happened.

This year, the school has started to trial Google Classroom.  The word “Google” made me think that this was always going to be a winner and I signed up immediately to be on Andy Gray’s team of teachers who would pilot it. Andy is a 2nd year teacher and a member of the school’s T&L team, he knows loads of stuff about technology and more importantly has the personality to work with teachers to show them how to implement relevant technology into their current practice. But here’s the thing, after he set up my classlists (the school needs to sign up to a domain for Google Classroom, you can’t just do it as an individual teacher) and gave me and a test class (or 3) our passwords, we didn’t need any training. It’s so intuitive and easy to use. Like any other Google app. What’s more, the students love it too, because they are logging onto something that they all use every day. Google Classroom is also FREE unlike most VLEs. As well as being fantastic, each member of staff and student gets UNLIMITED STORAGE on Google Drive. Unbelievable.

Google Classroom is basically a virtual classroom. You can securely share comments, files and all sorts with your students, as well as have a dialogue with them about their work. The Google Classroom app is available for Apple and Android devices, and again, it’s free. Students who have downloaded the app receive notifications when the teacher posts assignments, returns work, or comments on their work. Here’s how we have used it so far:

Homepage: 4 classes so far (the UCAS one is something separate):

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You can post an assignment, announcement, question or reuse a post:

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Assignments:

Creating and assignment means you can set work and attach files or Google docs/slides and assign them to everyone in the class:

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Students can then return with a private message and you can discuss amendments either on the document or in private message (please note this is from a Year 8 German class I teach):

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Here’s an example of an interaction with a student:

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And here is an excerpt from the document:

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So you might be now thinking, well that’s fine for written work, but what about other types of work? When assigning a task, you can attach a link a sound file or even a YouTube video along with questions on a document as well:

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Announcements

These are brilliant for just posting up quick bits of information, resources, or useful links. You can upload from Google Drive, your own computer, or weblinks:

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Students can also post comments on the classroom. Whilst you may fear that they might take advantage, I have found that giving clear boundaries with clear sanctions for inappropriate comments deals with this issue. Students have posted questions for me or classmates.

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The most recent paper and time saver, however, was actually the question function.  I asked “What are you doing for your ensemble piece?”

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Their answers are all private (you can set them to be public as well) and all in one place! No random bits of paper everywhere or emails clogging up your inbox:

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Genius!

This is only the story so far and there’s huge scope for students uploading recordings at KS3 in particular. On a whole school level, we are working on Google Classroom reading our MIS and fingers crossed, we will be good to go on a wider basis. We have no intentions to get rid of our blog or twitter accounts; they are still essential in the running of our department, but they will probably focus more on extra-curricular activities and celebrating students’ work and achievements. I do think that in terms of a virtual classroom, Google has everything you need.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it justice here, but happy to discuss on Twitter.


 

As Hanh mentions above, Andy Gray will be leading on piloting Google Classrooms at Beaumont, so you can expect to see more this in the future! If you have been inspired in the meantime, speak to Hanh or Andy for more information.