The problem with knowing stuff. (I know lots of stuff, most of it pointless)

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I am just going to put it out there, I know lots of stuff, I am good in a pub quiz (especially if there is a round on music 1970-2000 and Children’s literature.) If you need to know who played the bass on Lovecats by the Cure, or indeed what position it got to in the charts, and in what year… then I’m your man. This can sometimes be entertaining and add to a discussion but sometimes it makes me come across as an annoying, arrogant know-it-all.

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There is currently a lot of talk about knowledge, I see knowledge organisers flying around all over the place. The term ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ is bandied about with a drive for kids to know facts about stuff. My worry is that people aren’t stopping to think about what they are teaching and why. Knowledge is important, but knowing stuff is a start not an end – is there any purpose to the knowing of stuff? Just knowing stuff is not enough.

Lets take vocabulary, we have to teach challenging vocabulary. The reading test in 2015 made it abundantly clear that our assessment system has an expectation that children have an expansive vocabulary. For many schools this means there is a huge catch-up that needs to happen. This is tackled in some schools by the presence of word lists ahoy, lots of words out of context…”learn these words”. If you want children to learn words they can use, context is everything. Use great books, find the words in context, discuss the meaning, explore for alternate meanings then use them…in other words teach them.

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We need to make sure our curriculums don’t just teach knowledge but creates a purpose and a reason for having it. The driver for knowledge should be the design of our curriculum.

As I succinctly summarised  after reading  Ben Newmark’s thought-provoking blog (see below)

“Knowledge is only as good as the curriculum it comes from.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever been succinct.

You’ll note I’ve been really careful not to get into the discussion about what that curriculum should be. That’s a whole other debate that I really haven’t the energy to get into at the moment.

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Children are revoltin’ – Good behaviour in school is a team game.

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‘Never again will she get the best of me!
Never again will she take away my freedom.
And we won’t forget the day we fought
For the right to be a little bit naughty!’

Revolting Children written by Tim Minchin

 

“We don’t want children to behave”

said no teacher ever.

I’m really proud of the behaviour in our school. Behaviour in our school is really good. It’s really good because we work really hard to make it so. We have effective systems that are rigourously upheld. As a headteacher, part of my job is to back -up the teachers and follow through when behaviour incidents occur. When I came to our school,  behaviour was a problem… a serious problem. I spent quite a lot of time dealing with behaviour. The previous regime had used detentions and exclusions it hadn’t solved the problem. The first thing we did was streamline our behaviour policy and make it really clear for children to understand. We monitored it  and we followed it to the letter. Improvement was rapid. The key was communicating and working with the parents. We very quickly found we’d actually created a policy for a dozen children and the rest of the children didn’t really need it.

Now call me naive if you want, in fact a deputy at another school did just that, but I believe that children want to behave and want to do the right thing. It may be naive but I can honestly say it makes going to school everyday much easier. An important aspect of our school is teaching children the difference between right and wrong. For me the true test of behaviour is what children do when you’re not watching them not what they do when you are. Trust surely has to be the goal of any behaviour policy.

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That’s not to say we don’t have behaviour incidents…sometimes we do. Children sometimes do the wrong thing, children are sometimes naughty. At the age of ten I got the slipper from the headteacher for kissing Helen Massam in the maths storeroom. I can honestly say that the punishment did not stop me kissing girls – although thinking about it I have always held an disproportional hatred of slippers. But when I wasn’t allowed to be Maths monitor now that was the punishment that had an impact. Understanding how to effectively manage behaviour is an ‘all hands on deck’ task and disruptive behaviour needs thinking about from all angles.

I know that  bad behaviour occasionally comes from inconsistent routines and practices.  I’ll be honest as a teacher sometimes I have had lessons that have gone completely Pete Tong, sometimes the children have become over excited or I wasn’t clear enough on expectations, sometimes my lessons were just duff.   If we’re honest about this  however then we can get it right in our classroom. If we portray ourselves as infallible then we give away the power to change it. Being able to reflect on our lessons and think about how it could work differently is important. Tweaking what we do can have a huge impact, we are not excusing bad behaviour (whatever the circumstance children who misbehave should be responsible for their actions) but actively seeking to address it.

A key ingredient of improving behaviour is working with parents and if necessary supporting parents as well. Parents supporting the school’s actions, especially in a primary context, probably makes the most difference in improving behaviour. I remember my son getting into trouble for scratching his name into a desk. When he got home the first thing we did was march him back to school and made him apologise. We then offered to pay for a new desk. I can say categorically he never did it again. Creating relationships and trust with parents so they support the school in it’s work cannot be underestimated. To do that you have to communicate the good as well as the bad. You have to celebrate pupil’s successes. The more we pay attention to the behaviour we want the more likely we are to get it.

 

Sadly in some schools honesty about behaviour is used as a weapon against a teacher. Teachers need to be able to be open when they are having a problem without fear of it being used against them. We need to create cultures in which we can be honest about problems and issues.  We need SLT’s to listen and act to support teachers. We need effective systems that are  upheld and don’t waver. Being honest about the issues and challenges is actually how you solve them.

…and don’t get me started on “Well they weren’t a problem when I taught them!” probably one of the most damaging phrases ever uttered in a school.

 

‘Bad behaviour
Was my saviour
Making mischief
Used to make my day’

Bad Behaviour Super Furry Animals

 

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