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Working From Home: The New Normal

Members of the @ccc_pathways team share what it’s like to #WFH.

As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the world, working from home has become the new normal – at least for now. As educators, we are often used to the busy buzz of our classrooms and workshops, to face-to-face contact with those who share our teaching and learning spaces. We’re used to actively engaging with learners, to building welcoming and engaging atmospheres, and to noticing (through our highly attuned teacher senses), when things aren’t quite working and we need to change tack. When we want to bounce ideas around regarding our next revolutionary resource, we can nip into our colleagues’ classrooms to share our plans. When we want to wax lyrical about that lesson that worked, or rant over the one that got away from us, we can rest assured that there will always be a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea waiting in the staffroom. 

As the world settles into home working, there have been some amusing posts flying about the Twittersphere. For teachers, these have largely centered on our blind panic to remember our VLE login details, not to mention how to stealth-load the materials onto it that we were supposed to add at the start of term…

For many of us, we are well aware that getting to grips with teaching and learning via digital platforms (and sprucing up our own digital literacy practices while we’re at it) will undoubtedly serve us well. There are lots of opportunities available at the moment for us to develop in new digital directions (see the Education and Training Foundation’s Enhance modules for example, or visit PD Norther Gail Lydon’s fabulous teaching online and developing your practice padlet). 

But what about the more holistic aspects of working from home – working from home’s ‘soft skills’ if you like? As home workers (some fairly new to our roles, others with plenty of years’ service under our belts), we thought we’d share some of our top tips for turning what can be a lonely and stressful process into something more enjoyable and productive. 


Working Environment

Vicky: If at all possible, find a space to work that doesn’t encroach on your everyday living space. If you have a separate space you can use as an office – amazing. If not, clear away your work things each evening so you can enjoy your night free from a visual reminder of everything you need to get through tomorrow. A joy of working from home is that it gives you an opportunity to design a workspace that meets your needs – you can be as tidy or as messy as you want to be, you can surround yourself with superb stationary or embrace minimalism. As someone who is used to moving about a lot (in teaching and in sport), I found sitting down for long periods of time quite uncomfortable. I’ve now constructed a standing desk (by putting my laptop on top of an old chest of draws), which suits me so much better. 

Jo: Have a dedicated space for working so that when finished for the day you can switch off.  I have always used my dining room although these days it is really an office as there is no dining table anymore.

Chloe: When I started working from home, I’d gone from teaching all day with an hour or two on a computer in the evening to a full day at the screen. My body wasn’t happy with it and I got RSI in my wrists and ankles. As well as regular breaks away from screen (and my desk), I placed a rolled up towel under my wrists and put my feet on a small step. I later got a vertical mouse which was a game changer! When it’s cold, I also wear fingerless gloves. 

If you’re having remote meetings using video be mindful of where the camera is and try to position it so your colleagues can see your whole face (it’s nice to see people :-)). Also be mindful of what’s in the background. My office is in my sewing and laundry room. I use a shelving unit to split the room in two so my colleagues can’t see our washing airer! I also have passwords and meeting links on my work whiteboard so I position my computer away from this so people can’t see it.


Routine

Chloe: I have a routine in the morning that helps set myself (and our family) up for the day. Having a shower in the morning can be really stressful with a baby (and a waste of time once covered in her breakfast!) so instead I finish the working day with a bath (with my baby!). 

I used to find it hard to stay in work-mode when I’d make myself a cup of tea because I’d want to start cleaning and doing jobs around the house. It meant my work day was getting longer as I wasn’t getting work done so I force myself to look only at the kettle and nothing else when I leave the office for a brew!

Vicky: Getting in the right headspace for home working can be tricky. It can be hard to haul yourself out of bed in the morning (and hard to stop working at the end of the day too). Establishing a routine (whether that’s a 9am – 5pm working day with lunch at 1pm or something else that works for you) can help get you in the mindset for productive, well boundaried home working. 

Now this may well be a nod to my September born Virgo-ness, but I really like to begin my working from home days as clean and as fresh as I would be for my face-to-face training. When I’m showered and dressed, I feel ready to face the day; when I’m in last night’s PJ’s, I feel ready for Netflix. Of course I love to work from home in trackie bottoms and a hoodie as much as the next person – comfort and cleanliness are both winners in my book! 

Jo: You still need a routine so set a timetable of daily activities so that you need to do and stick to it.  I use my calendar with reminders all of the time so i don’t forget. Unlike Vicky I roll out of bed in the morning, make a cuppa and log on for the day.  I work really well early in the mornings so this works perfectly for me. Then by the time Millie (my furry friend) gets up for a wee and a bit of breakfast (she is a bit lazy) I then get dressed (maybe!!!) and clean my teeth.


Time and Workload Management

Chloe: This year I’ve started to use Trello (free via www.trello.com) to let my manager know what I have done each day. I also use it as a to-do list to save time. I have one column with things to do under the days and I simply move them under the correct day when they’re completed. I archive the lists each week so they are still accessible but not clogging up my screen. To manage my own productivity expectations, I set myself a target of 3 things I plan to achieve each day. 

Vicky: Managing your time and workload can be more challenging from home, especially when you factor in learning a whole new load of digital platforms to get to grips with! Screen Time can take its toll, so make sure you factor in regular breaks for you and for learners. I like to take a swift walk around the block, cuddle my cat or feed the birds. Rumour has it a dance around your living room can work wonders too! 

Jo: I write a to do list every morning and prioritise three things that I need to have completed by the end of the day on a post it note and put it next to my keyboard in plain site, this helps me keep to stay focused despite all the phone calls and emails. Remember that just because you are working from home don’t forget about breaks, you must try to factor some breaks in during the day.  

I also always flag up emails that I need to deal with and file those that have been dealt with so that it doesn’t look as chaotic and make a point of doing this every evening before I log off for the day as well so that I start the next day fresh.


Communication and connection

Chloe: When I started to work from home I needed even more a distinction between home life and work life. This included the way in which I communicated with people. For work, I much prefer email (rather than social media) because it is the most formal but also because I can flag important jobs, seperate actioned emails into folders and categorise projects by colour. This helps a lot with my productivity in a way that other methods of communication can’t.

Vicky: It can feel very strange at first when face-to-face contact is minimised. When I first started working from home I found I was more chatty than I’d ever been before when unleashed back into face-to-face work. Nevertheless, through platforms such as Zoom, where you can see people, hear people and notice their body language (from the shoulders up at least) it is still possible to build and grow meaningful connections, with learners and with fellow practitioners. A lovely example of where being apart can actually enhance collaborative work is through the use of Google or One Drive to establish and engage in collective writing tasks. These tasks can enhance learners’ written and communicative skills, as well as developing their problem solving, decision making and negotiation skills (as learners work together to edit and submit their work). 

Jo: Keep in touch regularly with colleagues using email, phone and remote conferencing services so that you don’t feel isolated.  


Working with kids and furry friends

Chloe: If you have remote meetings, it’s good ‘nettiquette’ to mute yourself when you’re not speaking. Not just because it reduces feedback but also eliminates background noise (for me – cats and baby excitement!) from your own work environment.

Vicky: If you’re working at home with furry friends chances are they will want to join you. I find that my cat likes particular people’s voices, and when I’m speaking on zoom, he often thinks that I’m speaking to him. There are times when indulging your furry friends and letting them in on your meetings feels right – they’re part of our families after all! However, there are times where having your dog barking or your cat jumping up on the sides and treading on your keyboard isn’t appropriate. When I shut my door, my cat knows (begrudgingly) that play time is off limits. He’ll try his luck with scratches and meows, but I usually find he’ll give up and curl up on the bed after a minute or two!

Jo: My little furry friend Millie has her own chair (well it actually belongs to the Grandchildren but while they are at school it is Millie’s) and she uses this to sit next to me whilst i am working which kind of makes her happy.


Working from home with kids

Having spent the last 12 years offering granny day care and after school club to my grandchildren I find the following pretty useful.

Routine: Set a timetable of daily activities with the children so that they have a routine and stick to it.

20 minutes: 20 minutes for very important work and 20 minutes for very important play used throughout the day, use a timer so kids can see the count down.

Fresh air: set a time to down tools everyday and get outside for some fresh air and a little run around.

Quiet time: identify areas in the home that is everyone’s individual space where they can sit and have quiet time alone either day dreaming, reading etc and everyone has to respect that.  Make it part of your daily routine and encourage quiet time, everyone will get used to it and eventually enjoy it.


Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our top tips for home working. We love working from home, and whilst admittedly, it’s no substitute for face-to-face work where you can see the whites of people’s eyes, sense whether the energy in the room is restless or excitable, give a big high five to a learner or hug a colleague, home working can nevertheless be a creative and innovative space to work as educators. We have found we can still build and grow our communities of practice, with learners, with colleagues and with the wider world. 

We’d love to hear about your experiences as you embrace home working in all its glorious forms – welcome to our normal. 

‘If I only had the nerve’: possessing GRIT and having courage

By Annie Pendrey. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research exchange.

Just 2 weeks ago I was discussing GRIT with my tutor group before I left my current role for pastures new. My tutor group were feeling overwhelmed with assignment hand in dates, reflecting using Pebble Pad and planning and delivering lessons to capture Professional Standards. It was in our space that we discussed how to show grit and recognise the characteristics we possessed to keep going! Little did I realise that just 2 weeks later that CONVID19 would take hold and I would revisit GRIT and write an article for FE NEWS.

Grit is a topic spearheaded by Angela Duckworth and believed to be a trait possessed by individuals who demonstrate passion and perseverance, exactly what I had shared with my tutor group.

In addition to passion is the trait perseverance. We have weeks ahead of us where we will have to display perseverance, preserving to set learners tasks, power points and reading materials that allow our learners to work towards and complete their goal and in turn hoping our learners will have the perseverance to continue with their studies and be self- motivated  whilst working in what is potentially a new mode of learning for many.

There are five more characteristics of grit and I wish to take time to explore one at a time over this period of turbulent time we face as educators.

The first one I wish to explore is courage. When I use the word courage, the image of the lion from the Wizard of Oz instantly comes to mind (it is my favourite film) and how can we display much more innate courage as educators, than the lion who had to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where the Great Oz bequeathed him with a medal of courage?

I have felt and witnessed courage by so many of my colleagues on Twitter and other online platforms in the past 2 weeks, but have you taken time to stop, recognise and reflect upon the courage you have displayed? Would you like to share these with me and join in my journey of collating reflections of GRIT in the coming weeks and months?

If the Lion from the Wizard of Oz was to end this blog he would say to me ‘What have they got I ain’t got?’ and I would reply ‘COURAGE!’

Tweet me @AnniePendrey

Duckworth, G. (2016) Grit: The Passion and Perseverance. Scribner: New York

Organising the CPD Exchange Week #3

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

Once the venues were sorted, we set up an Eventbrite for the day. This ticketing service is a real boon for free events like ours, because there’s no charge, it looks good and you can generate signing in sheets and pre-event emails too. If it’s a pay-for event they take a percentage so you have to factor that in when you are setting the fee. It’s also really easy to generate a link which can then be shared on social media (and you’re not messing about with lots of emails). Once people start signing up, it becomes real.

The push now is to populate the workshops. Our PDNorth Professional Exchange Groups are packed with educators who love sharing and learning different ways to teach their subject, but not all have the confidence to do this outside the group. The Regional Leads have a job to do in identifying individuals to run workshops, then nurturing and mentoring them. We have some stalwarts – people who are on the bill each year and always bring something new – and we love them. But we’re also determined to amplify new voices. There’s so much brilliant work out there.

We’ve also got an imperative around finding someone to help us make a digital story – an everywoman film of one person’s journey through the Professional Exchange. We can design and storyboard, we can even do some filming, but we’re hoping to collaborate with a talented tutor or student, to help us pull the whole thing together. If you know anyone who might be interested, give us a shout!

Organising the CPD Exchange Week #2 (Again)

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

Wow.


I actually wrote this article (see previous blog below that was scheduled for yesterday) last week, knowing something was coming but no idea of the scale of what. Only ten days later, reading it takes me back to a different time. 


As this is published, schools and colleges are closing, people are (mostly) social distancing, supermarket shelves are bare, bars and restaurants are laying off their staff and the word ‘lockdown’ is on everyone’s lips. For some, those of us who have been building communities online for education and activism for a decade, it feels like everything has been moving towards this moment. The watchword is ‘community’. Whether or not #PDNorth2020 becomes a virtual event, the country is moving from individualism to thinking as a hive. This is reflected in professional development too, in the shift from those events where educators turn up looking for ‘stuff from experts’ to the line of flight PDNorth has been taking in recent years; not only sharing practice but creating spaces (and provocations) to think.


We originally planned three concurrent events, connected by a virtual thread and guided by the critical question: what can we do to help people feel part of a community even when they are in different places? The last few days have thrown up communities everywhere: Italians singing at 6pm every night from their balconies, the #DanceForJoy virtual flashmob or local communities setting up Covid-19 support networks and neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, encouraging one another to shop locally. It would be a community organiser’s dream…if it wasn’t for the threat we face. 


If today’s predictions are reliable – and who can know? – by June 26th we’ll be coming out the other end, craving face-to-face encounters with one another but inevitably more skilled, more confident with digital. It has taken a global pandemic for the lightbulb to go on – digital is there to help us communicate with one another, if we use it properly. It’s not money we need to spend (sorry, predatory tech companies), it’s time, to think of novel ways to listen and learn from one another. 


In the last few weeks educators have been rushing to set up learning communities – one of the best we’ve found (if you’re on Facebook) is The Spring 2020 Online Learning Collective. 10k members in less than a week but people are sharing with generosity and humility. It’s a great place to learn. If you’re on Twitter, check out the discussion on #UKFEChat (19th March 2020) for some great ideas – how to take teaching online whilst nurturing ourselves (not selfISH, selfFUL) and looking out for one another. Finally, FE is unfolding its arms and the FABDigital principles enshrined in PDNorth from the start are going to serve us all well throughout this time.

We don’t yet know what the 26th June will look like – in any sense. For many, this is the last day at the ranch for…how long? We don’t know. But we can assure you that it will be all about bringing us back together, taking stock…and continuing to reaffirm our shared, uninterrupted, love of FE.

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #2

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

Once the venues are sorted, we can set up an Eventbrite for the day. This ticketing service is a real boon for free events like ours, because there’s no charge, it looks good and you can generate signing in sheets and pre-event emails too. If it’s a pay-for event they take a percentage so you have to factor that in when you are setting the fee. It’s also really easy to generate a link which can then be shared on social media (and you’re not messing about with lots of emails). Once people start signing up, it becomes real.

The push now is to populate the workshops. Our PDNorth Professional Exchange Groups are packed with educators who love sharing and learning different ways to teach their subject, but not all have the confidence to do this outside the group. The Regional Leads have a job to do in identifying individuals to run workshops, then nurturing and mentoring them. We have some stalwarts – people who are on the bill each year and always bring something new – and we love them. But we’re also determined to amplify new voices. There’s so much brilliant work out there.

We’ve also got an imperative around finding someone to help us make a digital story – an everywoman film of one person’s journey through the Professional Exchange. We can design and storyboard, we can even do some filming, but we’re hoping to collaborate with a talented tutor or student, to help us pull the whole thing together. If you know anyone who might be interested, give us a shout!

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #1

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

So the wheels are in motion for the PDNorth CPD Exchange 2020. We’ve booked the venues – old favourite Liverpool Quakers, Leeds City College’s gorgeous Printworks and TBC. We’re holding all three on the same day, with Claire and me MCing them on the big screen. So getting the tech right is critical. Once we get the basics in place we’re going to work on this.

One of the things that’s always challenging when leading a collaborative event is that everyone has different priorities – and you can’t do it all at once! For me a hashtag is an early action – we’re using #PDNorth2020 – so that we can start putting ‘hold the date’ messages out on social media and at this stage it’s great to have the venues and tag them in because they amplify the reach for us. But Regional Leads naturally want content and timings, to sell to their PEN members. When those very PEN members are the people providing content – because an exchange is all about learning from each other – we’ve got a chicken and egg situation.

Luckily, there’s a lot of love in the PDNorth team after three years working together and we don’t fall out during this early phase. It’s so great being in a team where you can be yourself and be truthful with the others. Regular PDNorth event delegates will recall Christina Donovan’s thought-provoking keynotes last year around trust and distrust in FE. It’s that trust we have between us that ensures our conversations are cheerful and collegiate, even when our immediate priorities diverge.

Trying out phonic-based approaches with ESOL students – an action research approach

By Laura Kehdi – Westway Trust. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research group

I am currently teaching ESOL pre-entry at Westway Trust and I just love it, as it is very rewarding. I have based my research on a pre-entry group of lovely international students, who I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays for two and a half hours per lesson. Each student has a different background, nationality and age. Most of them are illiterate and many also have learning differences and difficulties. Many speak Arabic as their first language, others speak Portuguese, Spanish and Farsi.


Stage 1: Getting feedback from students

Image by Kidaha on Pixabay

I asked my students what they like about my lessons, what they don’t like, and what they would like to continue doing. As they are beginners, I did this by talking to them directly (using translation when necessary), and by taking notes. Their response didn’t surprise me at all; they were all very happy and enthusiastic about what we are currently doing. However, what everyone really wanted to be able to do was to keep trying to learn how to read and write certain words. In essence the group want to become literate, which as an ESOL teacher, is my aim for them too! Following some phonics training our team accessed in November as part of our Outstanding Teaching and Learning (OTLA) CPD, a particular approach caught my attention – something so simple but so useful at the same time. I had never thought of it before, and I felt it could potentially help my students very much when it came to learning a new word, especially when writing and reading it.


Stage 2 implementing a new teaching strategy: From copy and speak to copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!

The technique I first tried out with students is focused on copying words while speaking them at the same time. So, while a student is writing one word, it is extremely helpful to speak the sound of each letter instead of being silent. However, notice that it is the sound of the word that we are taking in consideration, not the name of the letters. So, for example, with the word “cook”, students would say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k), and not see-ou-ou-key / c-o-o-k.

I shared this strategy with my students, as a new way of practising and learning a new word while becoming more independent; in fact, students can use this strategy anytime and anywhere, without the teacher‘s help. However, I found that just copying the words wasn’t enough for students to both understand the word and to check how much they had actually learned. Building on my reflections, my work with students, and my learning during the CPD course, I developed the following exercise: copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!

STEP 1 Copy, copy, copy

Students copy the word multiple times and concurrently speak the sound of the word (we copied the same word at least 10 times).

STEP 2 No copy

Students cover the sheet where they have copied the word many times. On another sheet, they then try to write the word without copying, just one time.

STEP 3 Check!

Students compare the word they have written without copying (step 2) with the original word (step 1). Students can then see if the word is correct, how many letters were right and how many were wrong – by doing so, students can see by themselves what was correct and what they need to practise.

Repeat this cycle as many times as needed with the same word. Once students feel confident with the word chosen, they can change it and start all over again with another word. I found that it was helpful to stress the name of the steps ‘copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!’ almost like a chant, as this was very helpful for students to memorise the sequence of the exercise, which also helped promote students’ independence.


Stage 3: Reflecting on the results of copy, copy, no copy, check!

I am very pleased with the outcome of the activity so far; I could see huge improvements in every student! For instance:

  • Most of the students can remember and write the word at stage 2 100% correctly. I was impressed on how much copying while speaking the sound of the word, could help students to memorising it – incredible!
  • A few students did not write the word completely correctly. However, I saw a huge improvement in my group. Sometimes from one letter correct to three or four.
  • Speaking the word is key. The sound itself massively helps students at stage 2, when they have to remember the spelling of the word without copying it. Students have combined and memorised the letter and the sound together, therefore this helps them with remembering each letter of the word when saying it.

A key finding from this intervention is that it has helped students to become much more independent when studying a new word. They learn how to practise, to check and correct the word by themselves, and not with the help of the teacher as usual. This is a huge step, especially for illiterate pre-entry ESOL students. 

There are however situations where this approach could be less successful; it is helpful to be aware of these problems, to avoid disappointment. For instance:

  • Students might not be aware nor confident enough with the pronunciation of the word. Make sure the teacher does a lot of drilling first and records the word with the student’s phone to help them and to promote self-study.
  • Students might start spelling the word (name of the letters) instead of speaking the sound of it. For example, with the word “cook”, students would say see-ow-ow-key / c-o-o-k, but actually they must say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k).
  • Students might struggle with speaking the sound of the word and copying/writing it at the same time. For example, some of them might have just started copying the first letter but finished to pronounce the whole word already. Teacher’s must show students a few examples on the board first, and the stress the fact that writing and speaking must be concurrently.
  • Many students forget to continue speaking after a while. They get back to what they used to do, which was copying without any sound. Make sure you always monitor and encourage students to persist with the nature of the exercise.
  • Students might struggle with remembering the chant at first. Make sure to reinforce this as it helps students to be independent, knowing what to do without any help. Without the chant, it is extremely difficult for students to remember what to do at every stage, especially at pre-entry levels.

Stage 4 – Concluding thoughts and next steps

I am truly pleased on the very positive results I had with my group. I believe that having included the technique as a three-stage cycle improved the outcome even more. This activity works very well not only when it comes to helping students, (especially those who are just beginning to learn to read and write), to learn and practise a new word, but also to promote self-study. I designed this activity for pre-entry students, but it can be adapted and used with higher levels too. For example, instead of learning one word, students might want to practise a whole sentence. Timewise, the exercise can be done in 5 minutes or in 15 – do it as much as it is needed, I would say. I intend to keep adapting my approaches based on learner feedback and my observations, and I will continue engaging in action research as a way of reflecting upon the strategies I develop to support my learners.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to engage in action research and to work on such an enjoyable and important project. I hope that many teachers will find this activity as useful and efficient as I did, and that they will use it to help students to become literate and more independent. 

Twenty years in FE: How Practitioner Research has shaped my professional development.

Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.

I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.

iPad set up and storage (screenshot: click to see video)

I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.

I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.

iPads in a maths class

With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom.  This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.

It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.

English apps in class, at home and on the bus (screenshot: click to see video)

In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.

Playing games helps English (screenshot: click to see video)

Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year.  There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.

Acronym Key

  • CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
  • EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
  • NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
  • ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
  • LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
  • OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
  • PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
  • MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
  • NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
  • SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
  • AP – Advanced Practitioner
  • CPD – Continual Professional Development

Showcasing Digital: Inspiring others to #HaveAGo

by Susanna Brandon, PDNorth Northwest TLA exchange

As part of the PDNorth TLA (Teaching, Learning & Assessment) professional exchange, our Myerscough Director of Quality and procedures Sue Keenan facilitated an afternoon showcase of our latest digital skills projects and teaching tips delivered by members of the Myerscough digital skills team and selected teaching staff with the aim of building further collaborative opportunities to share good practice and really drive the project forward.

At Myerscough, we have a dedicated digital skills team who have been generating some fantastic training opportunities for staff to develop their digital skills and also working on new projects funded by the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) to further embed and use technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR) to bridge skills gaps between training and employment.

Over 20 delegates from colleges and University centres around the North West attended on the day. The afternoon events started with an overview of the Myerscough developed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Spiral, by Sandy Hunter. Then for the majority of the afternoon the visitors attended five short showcases where they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in some of the VR programmes; including milking at the farm, buying fresh flowers at the wholesaler and also the use of VR to stimulate creativity in creative writing. There was also the opportunity for the attendees to access a range of free Apps that tutors at Myerscough have successfully utilised within their own teaching.

One of my remits as ATP is to liaise with the digital skills team in trialing new technology in my own teaching and then sharing with my team. The digital skills fair allowed the extension of this approach beyond Myerscough and into the wider teaching community.

The close of the session was delivered by Punam, who shared more technology in her briefing in the form of her (Mentimeter) presentation, which linked to the ETF professional standards and also the proposed method of communication (Zoom) to allow all attendees to stay in touch, share experiences and generally support each other in developing outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

Some of the comments taken from the day included;

 ‘It’s been great, I just wanted to stay and play!’ 

‘…feel more confident about encouraging staff.’

‘Great for my own CPD and how I can share my work with others.’

‘Very inspiring.’

As you can see from the comments, the afternoon proved a great success. Hopefully the energy from the room will continue to filter through all of the educational settings and we have lots to discuss when we next meet. Monthly Zoom meetings have been scheduled to keep everyone on track and we look forward to hosting again in July 2020 when the attendees come back to Myerscough to share the impact of their individual projects.


Susanna Brandon is the Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for Greenspace and Creative studies at Myerscough College.

Contextualising maths and English within vocational learning – reflections from a professional catering teacher

Robert Broome, a practitioner from our online action research exchange, explores how language and context matters when embedding Functional Skills.

My name is Robert Broome. I’m a level 1 course team leader in professional cookery at North Hertfordshire College and I am also completing my PGCE teaching degree at Bedford college. As part of my course I was asked to complete an action research project of my choice. Because I teach on a vocational course, I decided to see whether adding contextualised examples of maths and English work within my cookery sessions could help students with their maths and English studies. This has been of interest to me not only within my profession but because, I too at 28 years old struggle with English in a general sense (e.g. reading, spelling and breaking down of text).

A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education, and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (published 2 July 2014) stated:

‘Many students have problems in maths and English all the way through the progressing to adult life. “40% of pupils do not get GCSE grades A* to C in English and maths by age 16. Worse still, 90% of those who don’t reach this basic standard by 16, don’t achieve it by age 19” (dept. of education, 2018).

Another interesting study made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), states that older generations tend to perform better in maths and English based tasks than younger learners.

I researched into these claims by the government by conducting my own experiment with a few of my level 1 professional cookery students. I asked a few GCSE standard maths and English questions and the average score out of 13 was 7-8, which works out to be 57% of the mark. I then asked the same questions to adult learners, all of whom were over the age of 40. The average score for the older learners was 11-12 out of 13, which is 88% of the mark.’

After compiling data whereby I had asked students GCSE standard questions in both Maths and English, I then used their knowledge of Professional cookery to help them progress and challenge them in these areas. In order to do this I took the GCSE questions and “re-worded” them with terminology based around catering and hospitality. I also gave students visual aids to help them around the kitchen classroom. This process was much the same with maths; my aim was to get students to think of maths in the hospitality industry as opposed to working from a textbook. My hope was that this approach would help learners:

  • See the relevance of maths and English skills within professional cookery;
  • encourage a subconscious style of learning, helping students learn through experience and by what they saw and heard in the kitchens.
  • encourage reluctant students to learn important maths and English skills, without these needing to be explicitly taught.
  • Help close the maths and English skills gap I noticed between younger learners, and adult learners.

Following this period of embedded and contextualised maths and English work, I then asked students the GCSE standard questions again and cross referenced their answers with the previous ones to see if there were any improvements, big or small. With each group of learners there were slight improvements, with most learners scoring at least one point more than they had during the first test. The graph below shows the differences in learners’ scores, before and after they had accessed contextualised English and maths work:

 Whilst the gains in learners’ test results initially seem quite small, perhaps more telling was their improved spelling of contextualised vocabulary. One example I did of this was when I asked the students how to spell ‘Tagliatelle’. Initially, only 1 student out of 15 got it correct. I then posted around the two kitchens a glossary of types of pasta where Tagliatelle was on this. A couple of days later I asked the class to spell Tagliatelle again. The number of students who spelt it correctly grew from 1 to 3. Not a huge leap but then an additional 4 students were only 1 or 2 letters off the correct spelling, a huge improvement in such a short period of time!

If I was to sum up my research it would be that vocational courses can have an impact on a students’ maths and English skills in both a positive and a negative way. The positives are clearly seen in my research, if teachers keep pushing maths and English in their lessons then students will progress. The negative however is that I noticed a lot of my students didn’t realise how important Maths and English is to vocational courses and professions. The mentality is for most was once they have finished maths and English at GCSE then they don’t need to think about it again. This is where students can slip on their skills in Maths and English over the two to three years they are in vocational courses at colleges. This potential for slippage adds to employers’ concerns that college leavers do not always have the maths and English skills they require for the working world. I believe that by constantly reminding students on vocational courses how important Maths and English is in the working world, alongside constantly embedding and contextualising maths and English work (to the point where students may not realise that’s what they are doing) vocational teachers can make a massive impact upon students’ motivation, engagement and success in maths and English, during their time at college and in the future.                   

I also think it’s vital for tutors to keep up to date on their own Maths and English, so we can help students and so we can improve our own confidence to teach these essential skills.