Archive for the ‘Curricular development’ Category

Following on from my workshop at Pedagoo Glasgow, this is a brief outline from my session.

Click here to view the Prezi.

The presentation element of my workshop had three sections, each of which is explored below:


If you work in the public sector, then your work should be public

  • This may be slightly controversial because, yes, it does apply to people writing ‘How to Pass’ guides as well, but if you work in the public education system, and your professional knowledge has essentially been funded by taxpayers, then whatever material you can produce to help students should be available to everyone, everywhere, for free.

If you help others, you help yourself, which helps the pupils

  • By opening up and helping others, we become more likely to be helped by them which, consequently, makes us better teachers who are better able to help our students (and, going back to the start, puts us in a position to be of more help to other colleagues). In all honesty, I believe that a focus on openness and collaboration could have more of an impact on teaching than lesson observations, taxonomies and learning intentions ever could.



  • OK – everyone is busy, and most people agree that the last twelve months have been some of the most draining ever experienced in a classroom. As budgets are squeezed teachers are pushed closer and closer to minimum time, and that’s not even including all the ‘extra’ activities that some teachers are expected to ‘volunteer’ for. Surely, then, setting aside time for sharing materials with others is out of the question? Well – unsurprisingly – I’d argue not; in fact, I’d strongly suggest that time spent on getting into the habit of sharing should be seen more as an investment than anything else.


  • There is an entirely legitimate argument to be made by some that they simply don’t have the skills to, for example, share all of their materials on a personal website, but there are two counterpoints to be made here: firstly, you don’t have to set up your own site to share your work (more on this later); secondly, in 2014, our pupils are perfectly entitled to expect an education system capable of engaging with them on their own technological terms – us teachers expect a whole host of support material to be available at the click of a button from the SQA, Education Scotland etc. and it simply won’t do any more to deny the same treatment to our students. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the development of these 21st Century skills can go a long way in relation to the new Professional Update process.


  • It is perfectly natural for people to worry about the quality of their work and, as a consequence, be reluctant to put themselves out there for potential criticism, but it is clearly hypocritical of us as a profession to hide behind this excuse whilst expecting precisely the opposite from our students. Every day we tell them to be brave enough to make mistakes, that only through failure will they ever progress – why should it be any different for us?


  • In reality, the fact that this workshop even took place (and that events such as PedagooGlasgow are still well outside of the mainstream of CPD) is evidence of the cultural change that is still required within education, where too often valuable material is hidden away in store cupboards, pen drives or personal servers. As the world becomes ever more connected and accessible, it becomes increasingly important that the culture within the teaching profession keeps pace.


Social media

  • More than anything else, Twitter has had a massive influence on me as a teacher, allowing me to connect with a range of colleagues holding both similar and competing views to my own. The first piece of advice I was given on my way to becoming a teacher was: “Get on Twitter and join the conversation” – four years on I cannot endorse this suggestion strongly enough.


  • There are various options for Virtual Learning Environments around now and, aside from Glow (which I don’t use), Edmodo is probably one of the most popular – this service allows you to share resources with your pupils and specific colleagues, thus encouraging a more open and collaborative culture.

Online communities

  • I expect that I’m largely preaching to the converted here, but I really cannot overemphasise the potential value of joining groups such as ! The other community-style service that I mentioned during the workshop was – an open, online resource (created by me) for sharing assessment, exemplification and teaching resources for the New Qualifications under Curriculum for Excellence.

Personal / class / department websites

  • This is the area that I believe that the most potential as it allows us to easily share whatever we feel like for free. I few months ago I decided to share all of my Nat5 Course Materials on this site and, since March, a quite incredible amount of people have viewed and downloaded the resources that I have made available (so many, in fact, that the site became one of the top Google results for search terms such as ‘National 5 English’). Based on the comments and emails I received, a huge number of these individuals were students, which just goes to show how much value our pupils could find in teachers developing a more open culture amongst ourselves.

I posted the above tweet earlier this evening, but 140-character posts really aren’t an adequate medium for exploring this particular topic, so here we go…

It has recently become clear that, in many departments, schools and local authorities, there is an expectation (even a policy) that all pupils sitting National 5 will also have completed the National 4 Added Value Unit (N4 AVU) as a safety-net in case they fail the actual National 5 exam. As I have already made clear, I do not believe that this is the best way to progress with the new qualifications, and I feel this way for a number of reasons (many of which may well be specific to my subject – English – but maybe not).

First and foremost, completing the N4 AVU means adding ANOTHER assessment to the workload of teachers already grappling with a National 5 course which, far from freeing teachers from the evils of over-assessment, places a significantly greater burden on teachers than ever before. To make matters worse, this particular assessment would be for a course that the pupils are not even intending to complete, making it – in my view – the very definition of wasted time (time which, incidentally, would surely be put to better use preparing students for the exam to make sure that they don’t fail it).

Of course, the justification for the ‘AVU safety-net’ approach is the fear that pupils will complete S4 with no English qualifications should they fail the National 5 exam, but wasn’t it always clear that this would be the case if there was no automatic drop-down from Nat5 to Nat4? Furthermore, is this really anything new? OK, under the Standard Grade system is was practically impossible not to get some sort of English qualification at the end of S4, but what about the schools who had abandoned Standard Grade in favour of Intermediate 2 in S4? Were they expected to spend time ‘banking’ Intermediate 1 NAB passes just in case some of their S4 failed the Intermediate 2 exam. The situation seems quite clear to me – if a pupil fails National 5 then they resit the following year.

I will of course concede that, as ever, there are shades of grey, and in this case those mid-tones are represented by the pupils likely to leave high school after S4, thus eliminating the possibility of a resit. In these cases, it may be justifiable to cover the bases by banking N4 units and the AVU, but how many pupils are really going to be in this category? Surely the majority of S4 leavers are unlikely to be National 5 pupils, and that blanket policies (which hugely increase assessment workloads and paperwork requirements) should not be made on the basis of a small number of students seems, to me, entirely self-evident.

At the end of the day, however, there is also something of a philosophical issue with a blanket requirement for S4 National 5 pupils to complete the N4 AVU, and that is that many – maybe even most – people will attempt to solve the associated problems by doing the AVU when the timetable change takes place in their school. Why is this an issue? Well, surely the AVU is designed to be an end of course assessment for the National 4? By essentially annexing the N4 AVU into the N5 course I believe that we raise questions about the validity of what we are doing – assessments should either be formative – and used to help inform progress – or summative, and an AVU in the form likely under the ‘safety-net’ approach is, in my opinion, neither.

So where does this leave us? Well, it seems clear that it is more important than ever not just to submit pupils for the correct level of study; this, however, may require a consequent culture change where we move purposefully away from the persistent – and damaging – notion that pupils must race through as many qualifications, at as high a level as they can, as quickly as possible (something which looks great for schools, but may not serve individual pupils anywhere near as well).

Post updated 11/03/14

So today I sat down to really plan in detail what a New Higher course for next year might look like, and here is where I am so far:

Critical Essay
Poetry War Photographer – Carol Ann Duffy (studied at N5)
A Last Marriage – Virginia Hamilton Adair
Refugee Mother and Child – Chinua Achebe
Prose Spiritual Damage – Fergal Keane (studied at N5) [non-fiction text]
A Letter That Never Reached Russia – Vladimir Nabokov
TBC Text
Scottish Set Text
Drama The Slab Boys – John Byrne


Other options for poetry critical essay texts were/are:

TBC text will be a choice of the following:

  • Neighbours – Zoe Wicomb
  • I Only Came to Use the Phone – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Spring in Fialta – Vladimir Nabokov

Having focused on drama for the Scottish Set Text, I think it’s definitely the way to go for the Higher. The long term plan (for some of the National 5 texts to double up as higher texts) also looks like it has come together well, as the above list provides a range of options allowing pupils to choose from three different categories of critical essays questions, which will hopefully ensure that they get the best possible mark in this section of the exam.

I have now started making the units for the texts above, managing to get the paper format for ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ and ‘A Last Marriage’ ready (I’ll put them both online soon); I’m also planning to turn each of these into an online ActiveTextbook like the ones I previously produced for ‘War Photographer‘ and ‘Spiritual Damage‘ and hope to have this done in time for the new course starting in June.

In an attempt to make life easier for National 5 English teachers I have uploaded some critical essays to the National Moderation site. Teachers can now go on, read the essays and explain the mark they would give it, the idea being that this should help to make us more confident in the assessment of critical essays (since the SQA have declined to provide the necessary exemplification because, apparently, ‘to do so would not be credible’).

If you want to have a look the essays can be accessed here.

I have decided to make all of my National 5 resources available through the Free Resources page on this website – please feel free to use anything that you think might be useful.