Monday, 16 March 2015

2, 2 minute talks

... Continuing from my previous post about university interviews, here are the 2 short talks that I prepared and gave.

The first talk was regarding homework in primary schools:

"Homework has been the topic of controversy for many years; not only within the UK but around the world with some teachers and groups such as the Parents Outloud charity calling for schools to abolish it all together; following in the footsteps of some areas of Europe such as Denmark which has piloted homework-free schools.
John Hattie (Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne) described homework as “low hanging fruit” in a recent BBC interview, continuing with the surprising finding that homework in primary schools in fact has no impact on children's achievement. Despite this, he does not call for homework to be abolished, but rather for teachers and schools to rethink the value of the tasks and work that they are setting.

I am involved in many discussion groups on the social network 'twitter', where professionals from the early years, primary and secondary sectors can share ideas and discuss relevant issues. During these talks I have found that many Primary Teachers share the feelings of Professor Hattie that homework can be beneficial to children if it is used to reinforce the learning that takes place in the classroom, however it is vital that homework is planned with the same rigour as lessons and involves stimulating activities, rather than just tedious or 'boring' tasks.

On reading many of the Homework Policies for (my town's) Schools, I found that homework is promoted as a valuable link between home and at school, allowing parents to become involved in the learning and development of their children. Many parents wish to be helpful and engage with their child's education and well planned homework can allow them to do this. Unfortunately it can also be said that homework is a major cause of friction and stress within many households, which raises the concern of children being discouraged from learning as they begin to associate work with being source of conflict with parents rather than a positive learning experience.

Completing homework can provide children with many valuable skills such as time management and responsibility and abolishing homework would be damaging as it prepares them for high school and later life where increasing amounts of self led learning is essential.
Despite this it is also important to remember that children need appropriate amounts of 'downtime' and that there must be a degree of separation between home life and school. Especially for children with difficult home lives or for those who find school particularly challenging.

When setting homework, teachers should take into consideration that extra curricular activities such as sport or drama clubs allow children to continue their learning in different ways. If vast amounts of homework is set then children who engage in these extra activities are left with less and less time to relax and recharge before beginning the next day. Professor Hattie pointed out in his study that 10 – 20 minutes of homework is just as valuable as 1 – 2 hours. This again comes back to the quality of the homework being set.

In conclusion, In the hands of passionate, skilled teachers; I feel that homework can be a valuable tool to extend learning and to enrich knowledge that is learned in the classroom. However it is vital that homework is planned and only given when it will benefit the children's learning rather than being set simply because a policy says so."

My second talk was about outdoor learning:

"As the interest in learning and playing outdoors continues to grow both in the UK and internationally, I have decided to speak to you today about some of the benefits of outdoor education and learning through nature.

Outdoor education defines any learning that takes place outside of the school walls, whether it be in a playground or further afield in a forest or on a beach. In Scotland we are lucky enough to have access to a huge variety of natural environments and it is essential that children are provided with opportunities to explore the wonder and magic of their natural surroundings throughout their education.

The curriculum for excellence states that in order for children to develop into Confident Individuals, they must be provided with opportunities to be active. There is a frightening prediction in The Foresight Report (2007) which concluded that half of the UK population could be obese by 2050 and with the temptations of technology such as television, ipads and video games, it is easy to see this becoming a reality.
By taking children out of the classroom and engaging them in outdoor learning, teachers are able to promote the benefits of an active lifestyle and the enjoyment that goes alongside exercise.

Outdoor education allows for many different learning styles, from visual to kinaesthetic and provides children with relevance and depth to the curriculum as they are able to apply their learning within real life contexts. Learning in this way promotes self esteem and confidence, it can also be used to teach team work and problem solving as well as improving attitudes towards the environment.

From my own first hand experience working within a pre school which promotes outdoor education and forest school experiences, I have witnessed the positive impact of outdoor education, including increased motivation and enthusiasm for learning, that continues even on returning into the classroom environment.

Of course, there are many factors which must be given careful consideration when taking learning outside. Risk assessments must be rigorously completed and accessibility for all students, including those with additional special needs must be taken into account. However, with careful planning and preparation, teachers are able to overcome these challenges in order to provide valuable experiences for the children.

I believe that taking education out of the classroom gives them access to a wealth of benefits and by allowing children to explore and investigate of our natural world, together we can ensure that learning is powerful, exciting and rewarding."

Keep in mind, I had a 2 minute limit for each, and there is so much more I could have said about either topic!

Interviews exams and exciting times ahead!

This is not my usual type of post; but I felt like adding a little update as to what I've been up to lately.

At the moment, I am doing an Access course at college, designed to prepare mature students who have been out of education for some time for higher education and allow them to gain the grades required for university. I am doing this because I am making the move from working with pre-schoolers (which I have done and loved for so long... but feel it's time to take on a new challenge) into training to become a primary teacher.

As part of the application process to university, as well as submitting my personal statement and predicted subject grades to UCAS; primary Ed applicants are also required to attend interviews. These usually take the form of group interviews, sometimes involving a group task and a short presentation/ talk, followed by discussion. 
I think that these group interviews are a great idea as they quickly identify the individuals who have confidence, are able to take on the views of others, are able to make their thoughts and opinions clear and can work in a team. This being said: group interviews are stressful and intimidating!

I was lucky enough to be invited to 2 interviews (and also offered one place with no interview!). My first interview had set a task of listening to a BBC4 interview with Professor John Hattie about the benefits of homework within primary education (which can be found here), and then to present a short, 2 minute response. This is such a massive topic with so many different opinions and arguments to consider - 2 minutes was never going to be enough to discuss everything that I wanted to discuss, however I approached this task using research and feedback that I had gathered from other professionals hoping to give an informed and well thought out answer.

Read my talk re: homework in primary schools in the following post

I came away from this interview (which had been with 9 other applicants and 2 interviewers) feeling positive and enthusiastic. I had given it my all and felt that I had done everything within my power to secure a place. As optimistic as I felt, I didn't dare get my hopes up too high as the course has an extremely high number of applicants and a very small number of people accepted. This was also my top choice of university as the course is extremely good and the university is based in my home town so would require no commute or upheaval of moving!

My second interview had a totally different feel as it began with a presentation designed to sell the university to us, rather than being all about selling ourselves to the university. This time, the interview itself took place in a much smaller group of only 3 others. Within this interview we had been asked to prepare a short, 2 minute talk on any relevant topic of our choice. As I am very passionate about taking learning outdoors, this is what I chose. I was last to give my talk, and very disappointed to find that the girl before me had also chosen outdoor learning as a topic. But as it happened, my talk complimented hers and I had expanded on different points to those that she had discussed - disaster averted! 

Read my talk re: outdoor learning in the following post

I came away from this interview feeling positive, yet less inspired. I didn't have the same buzz as when I had finished the first. Despite this, I was pleased with my own performance and hoped to be offered a place on the course.


The wait for a response felt like an eternity! Though I have not been sat twiddling my thumbs as last week it was time for Pre-Lims. Psychology, maths, sociology and enlgish exams all within one week! It wasn't easy but I survived (...just!)

Now for the good news! I have been offered a place at each of the universities that I applied to! Most importantly - my top choice university
Now all I need  to do is buckle down and get a good grade in my final Maths exam (not an easy task - I've never been much of a numbers person) and I'll be on my way! 

Wish me luck!