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Cross Schools In-Service Day

Two in-service days to break up the October to Christmas term! A welcome relief from the busyness and non stop work with all secondary pupils. For many of us – one of the most useful and helpful in-service days of the year! Every year Scottish Borders Council allocates one in-service day to be used as a cross schools subject day when all teachers from each discrete subject get together.

It is always a really helpful day for all teachers. In the past few years the Art and Design days activities have ranged from visiting artists and designers to visits from representatives from the SQA. This year, with a non existent budget and a prescribed focus on “verification and moderation” I decided to tap into the existing skills of the teachers we have within the region and use the time for a variety of cross marking and information sharing activities.

The day started with information from the SQA on standards for National 3 to Higher for both the course assessment and unit passes. I shared some of my National 5 written paper marking experience which we used to practice mark some papers using the Understanding Standards website. The afternoon consisted of both National 5 and Higher design and expressive folio marking. Each school brought a number of examples from last year, with the marks. They were pinned up and the marks put next to them, hidden underneath a sheet of paper. We used the SQA marking scheme to mark the units and then discussed the marks the units got drawing on the experience of a number of our teachers who mark both National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher.

It was a really beneficial day and great for cross marking, standardization, moderation and confidence that what we are all doing is going along the right lines! Long may it continue!

How we could reform assessment and certification
Image by non-partizanImage by non-partizan

[Originally published on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 5th November 2015]

In my recent post ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘, I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

Whilst there may be many teachers who would wish for a return to the simpler assessment arrangements of the Intermediate 1 & 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications of the ‘Higher Still’ era, which have been replaced by the CfE courses, I feel that one of the major shortcomings of CfE is its failure in doing anything to fundamentally change the nature or the purpose of assessment.

The new system, as with all of its predecessors, places almost the entire value of the certified qualifications on the terminal summative assessment of the course – the exam. Though some courses have significant elements of coursework, and many include an extended project or research task, still the majority of what our students, schools and staff are judged upon happens in a narrow time frame of a few hours at the end of almost an entire year of study. The results of these high stakes assessments supersede those for the individual unit assessments completed during the courses studied, rendering them effectively worthless.

In addition to this, there is the issue of the complexity involved in marking and recording the results of the unit assessments (which I outlined in ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘) which makes it difficult for students to understand whether they have passed units or not and increases the administrative burden on teachers.

In order to overcome these issues I propose the following changes to the methods of assessment and certification.

Unit Assessment via online e-Assessment

The SQA currently makes use of its own system for online e-Assessment, SQA Solar, for a range of courses across Nationals, Higher, HNC etc. Centres and candidates have unique, secure logins ensuring security of the assessment, and the system allows assessments to be scheduled at a time when the student is ready to be assessed.

This system could be expanded to incorporate all unit assessments in all subjects at all levels, and could be set up so that students performance could be recorded against the many individual criteria necessary to achieve a pass in a given unit. Any reassessment required could automatically be tailored to the specific areas not achieved at the first attempt. Given a sufficiently large bank of assessment items, or a sufficiently adaptable format, allowing numerical data to change for calculation-based questions (as it does on Heriot-Watt University’s Scholar VLE), it might be possible for students to make multiple attempts at assessments until the required standard is reached.

As the system is fully automated, this would free up teachers’ time for teaching and supporting their students learning, rather than using it for the bureaucratic administration of data. It would also reduce the ‘data chase’ required to ensure that SQA data is kept up to date on school MIS systems for transfer to SQA systems.

‘Points’ allocation and certification for internally assessed components –

Most courses have individual unit assessments which must be passed by students in order for them to achieve a grade in the final examination. Although these unit passes are included on students’ certificates, there is no explicit value placed upon them in comparison to the exam grade achieved. By allocating all components of all courses a number of points at the relevant SCQF level, students could potentially build up points across a number of courses whilst being able to choose whether or not to sit the final examination. This would reduce the ‘high stakes’ nature of the final examination, and allow for students, departments and schools to be judged and compared over the full range of their performance.

Points allocation for units could be based on the ‘size’ of the units, whilst exam grades could be allocated points determined by the band of pass. In my own subject, Physics, for example –

N5 – points awarded at SCQF level 5

3 x units, each with 10 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands – A1 = 30 points, A2 = 25 points, B3 = 20 points, etc

Higher – points awarded at SCQF level 6

2 x full unit, each with 10 points + 2 x half unit, each with 5 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands as for N5

Revision and separate certification of assessed course ‘Added Value’ units and ‘Assignments’ – 

Many courses have an internally assessed ‘Added Value’ unit, which at N4 has to meet every one of a significant number of individual criteria. Teachers are allowed to provide feedback to students in order to modify their submissions so that these criteria can be met.

The equivalent component of most N5 courses is an externally assessed ‘Assignment’, a formal report which is completed ‘under close supervision’ after a period of research which may include practical experimental work. Though guidance is given to students from their teachers, no feedback may be given on the report produced which is sent to the SQA to be assessed. The final mark for the assignment, given out of 20, forms a small proportion of the final score and hence the final grade.

These arrangements make it much more demanding for an N4 student, who may find the task much more challenging than most N5 students. A poorly completed N4 AVU would not meet all of the critera, resulting in the student not meeting the requirements of the unit, and subsequently not receiving an overall award for the course. A poorly completed N5 Assignment carries no such penalty, and would simply give the student a lower final score – without denying the student an overall pass.

Revisions should be made to the assessment of AVU tasks to make them fairer on the students. Perhaps an AVU could be consider to have been passed if a significant proportion of the criteria for the task, say 10 out of 15, were met by the student.

In addition to the significant differences in the assessments of these equivalent tasks across SCQF levels, AVU and assignment tasks are often very similar in related subject areas. This results in significant duplication of effort and repeated assessment of skills across a number of a student’s subjects.

By assessing these tasks on a skills basis, rather than within subjects, a single AVU or assignment could be completed by a student studying more than one science, or social subject. Students could choose which subject or subjects their assignments could cover, potentially allowing more meaningful, challenging, inter-disciplinary work to be undertaken. Though this might make the assessment of students’ reports more complicated, it might offer an opportunity to make the assessment criteria more flexible, as they are for the Baccalaureate qualifications undertaken by some students in S6. If nothing else, a reduction in the number of these tasks would significantly reduce the workload on students and reduce the SQA who have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient markers for these tasks since their introduction.

I recognise that these proposals would require significant change to our current systems of assessment and certification, and that the Scottish teaching profession has experienced unprecedented change throughout the development and delivery of Curriculum fro Excellence. I further accept that one of the main reasons for avoiding radical change in the exam system has been concern that parents, employers, colleges and universities, might not fully understand the significance of new qualifications. In reality, it could be argued that these groups don’t fully understand the significance of the current qualifications system, and haven’t done so for a long time, if they ever have at all.

On a superficial level, it is easily understood that a student with an ‘A’ grade in a qualification is in some way ‘better qualified’ than another with a ‘C’ grade in the same subject, and that a student with five Higher passes is ‘better qualified’ than another with three Highers and two National 5s. But unless one has recently studied a course, or taught it, there is little chance of understanding what knowledge and skills are really involved gaining such a qualification, let alone how that qualification compares with other subjects or other levels.

It is often argued that we need these qualifications to allow universities to choose between applicants for places on their undergraduate courses. Without wishing to belittle this assertion, it does bear comparison to the ‘Sorting Hat’ in the Harry Potter novels – e.g. ‘AAAAB’ at Higher being the minimum requirement for a Law degree (Slytherin?). Increasingly, however, universities apply their own assessment requirements (BMAT, UKCAT exams), conduct entrance interviews, or consider applicants on the broader indicators of their personal statements, reducing their reliance on the crude measurement of ‘ability’ given by exam results alone.

In many ways the awarding of badges by organisations such as the Boy’s Brigade or Scouts to indicate the achievements of their members is a much more understandable form of accreditation. Indeed many professional and vocational qualifications are already ‘badgified’ in this way using industry standards, against which ‘badges’ are referenced and accredited. Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox we browser, support such a system for teachers to award ‘Open Badges‘ to their students using ‘open standards’ – where the criteria for which the badge is awarded are embedded as meta-data and awarded digitally. These badges can be electronically attached to a student’s digital profile via their blog, Google or other online account, and shared with prospective employers, colleges and universities.

Some work has already been undertaken by the SQA to develop this approach to accreditation, outlined in this press release from 2013, with small scale projects being adopted by some FE colleges, including Borders College, for accrediting both the work of students and staff CPD.

Open badges may not solve all of the short comings of our current system, indeed other, better systems may be in use elsewhere, or currently under development. Such a system, if combined with students’ unique Glow account could potentially stay with them throughout their schooling and beyond, perhaps even following them beyond further and higher education and into employment. The development of such a ‘Scottish Learner’s Account’, integrating assessment, certification and the accreditation of skills could form the foundation of a truly radical approach to these issues upon which students at all stages could build throughout the ‘Lifelong Learning’ that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the future of education.

Why we need to reform assessment

[Originally posted on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 31st OCtober 2015]

Following on from my post back in May ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, I have given the issues of assessment and certification some further consideration, which I discussed in my presentation at this year’s Teachmeet SLF ‘Breakout’ event held at CitizenM, Glasgow back in September. This post is an attempt to summarise and explain the issues which cause me, and many other people in education, huge concern and why I believe assessment must be reformed.

As I outlined in ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, the system of assessment and certification has remained largely unchanged after the significant changes brought to the Scottish education system by Curriculum for Excellence. Course content may have been reworked in most subjects, with many now including an extended research and presentation task (assignment) which contributes a proportion of the final exam score, but the framework of unit tests and final exam remains at the heart of how students are assessed.

In many ways what has been put into place for the new CfE National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with the unit tests becoming more high-stakes than the NABs they replace – candidates receive only two opportunities to ‘pass’ these tests unless under ‘exceptional circumstances’, but cannot receive a grade for the final exam unless all course units have been passed.

In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts –

  • 2.1 Knowledge & Understanding (KU) – which is broken down in to individual Key Areas described in the SQA arrangements documentation. To ‘pass’ this component students must respond correctly to at least half of the questions – i.e. if there are 14 questions, 7 must be answered correctly. If a student doesn’t meet this requirement they can be reassessed, but they need only to attempt questions from Key Areas that they did not ‘pass’ in their first attempt. If they do not succeed at a second attempt, they have not met the minimum standard and cannot progress unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ which would allow a third attempt.
  • 2.2 Problem Solving (PS) – which is further broken down into four skills – Predicting, Selecting, Processing and Analysing. In these tasks student must correctly respond to at least half of each type of question in order to ‘pass’ that problems solving skill – i.e. if there are 6 processing questions, 3 must be answered correctly. Students who don’t meet this requirement for each of the problem solving skills do not need to be reassessed, as other unit assessments will allow opportunities to demonstrate the same skills. Each skill need only be ‘passed’ on one occasion across each of the three unit assessments.

It should also be noted at this point that different marking instructions are applied to these assessments than those for the final exam. A standard calculation question in  the final exam would be marked out of three, broken down into a mark each for: the correct formula; the correct substitution of the values given in the question; the final answer with the correct unit. A student making an error or omission would still be given credit for what is done correctly. In the unit assessments students’ responses are either totally correct or just wrong. This means that any minor error leads to the student being penalised for the whole question.

Teachers giving these assessments must record each students performance in terms of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ not just for each unit, but for KU and each of the four PS skills for each unit. This applies to courses at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. The collating and recording of students’ progress through these assessments is both complex and time consuming. However, more is required both of students and teachers.

In all courses except N3, students achieving passes in KU across each unit, and across each of the four PS skills must also complete two further tasks before they can sit the final exam –

  • Outcome 1 – practical experimental report. This tasks is broadly similar to the LO3 task in the old Higher course where students perform an experiment and write up a detailed report meeting criteria set by SQA. This task is broken down into a number of individual outcomes, each of which can be achieved in any number of different activities. Students need only achieve each individual outcome once across the whole course – these must also be recorded by the teacher.
  • Research task – The detailed requirements vary between courses, but in general this is an extended research task which is conducted by all students.
    • At N4, the ‘Added Value Unit’ (AVU), which is internally assessed, contains a number of individual criteria all of which must be met in order for the student to ‘pass’ the task and achieve a course award. Students may receive feedback from teachers to ensure all the criteria are met.
    • At N5, students conduct an ‘Assignment’. This research task, which may or may not include experimental work, requires them to collate information as they progress through the task. At the end of the ‘research phase’ of the task, students are required to compile a report, including items demonstrating a variety of information processing and presentations skills ‘under a strict degree of supervision’. The student can not be given any feedback on their report, which is sent to SQA for external assessment. The assignment report is given a mark out of 20 which counts towards the final grade.
    • At Higher, students complete the ‘Researching Physics’ half unit within the course. This is assessed internally by teachers against criteria set by SQA and must include evidence of both research and practical work conducted by the students. The Researching Physics unit can be used as the basis for the students’ remaining assessment task – the ‘Assignment’. As for the N5 assignment, students must compile a report ‘under a degree of strict supervision’ demonstrating a number of information processing and presentation skills, and no feedback can be given. The completed report is sent to the SQA for external assessment with the mark out of 20 counting towards the final grade.
    • At Advanced Higher the arrangements are similar to those for Higher, though pupils conduct extended practical work as part of their ‘Investigation’. This is assessed both internally as a half unit, and externally through their investigation report which is compiled by the student through out the task. Students are allowed to be given feedback at all stages throughout this task.

Only when a student has successfully completed all of the internally assessed components of their course are they allowed to sit the final examination. At the end of all of this detailed and highly involved assessment the final grade awarded to the student will depend mostly on their performance in during the two to two-and-a-half hours spent in the examination hall, with no recognition at all of the tasks that have been successfully completed on the way.

Bearing in mind that students may be following as many as seven N5 courses, in which various other combinations of assessment tasks and arrangements may be in place, there is no doubt that the new CfE courses have significantly increased the burden of assessment on both students and teachers. This is clearly unsustainable and an alternative must be found.

In my next post, I will detail my proposals for reforming the process of assessment to reduce some of this burden and the certification of courses to allow greater recognition of the achievements students assessments throughout their courses.

Google Classroom…the new IT silver bullet?

The goal: going paperless. Why? Not only is it better for the environment but it prevents me from *misplacing* those pieces of paper without names that were handed to me in the corridor period 9 on a Friday and aids easy tracking of progress.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.36.43 am

Year 11 google classroom header

I have been using Google Classroom with my Year 11 class since the 16th of June and introduced it to my Year 10 and A Level groups at the start of this school year. I had previously been using Edmodo which had been working well, however, with Google Drive being such an integral part of my teaching life it seemed stupid not to give Google Classroom a go.

How does it work?

For those of you familiar with Edmodo it is similar in many ways – you provide your class with a code to access the classroom page. This is all done through the google sign in details. You can post announcements (which can include links to websites, images or document attachments) and create assignments that are submitted via the student’s google drive.

The pros:

  • It allows for easy marking and editing of pieces of work that are submitted as google docs (tip: it is essential that students submit the documents as a Google Doc rather than a Microsoft Word document if you would like to edit or comment on it). The comments are seen down the side of the page and the student can then resolve them as they act on the piece of work.
  • It is easy to add missed worksheets or PowerPoints onto the page from my own Google Drive.
  • I can see the comments I have made on work previously submitted by a student and the mark that was given – this is lost when marking work on paper as the comment is returned with the students so it is difficult to verify whether the student has acted upon the feedback given.
  • Google drive is already an integral part of many workplaces.
  • It is easy to use and follows a similar format to Google Drive

The cons:

  • If your students do not already use Google Doc/Google Drive to store and complete work it can be quite an adjustment for them to get used to completing work in this format rather than in Microsoft Word.
  • Using Google Classroom is reliant on being connected to the internet – if you do not have access to a good internet connection either at school or at home it may not be for you.
  • For the marking and commenting process to be time efficient you should be comfortable typing and reading work from a screen.

For me, Google Classroom has made my marking both more efficient and effective and has worked in seamlessly with the way I already use Google Drive. Whilst it may not be an educational ‘silver bullet’ it may just save you some time (which we all need some more of) and seems to be one of the best ‘virtual classroom’ spaces available at the moment.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about how Google Classroom works or how I have implemented it with my classes!

Differentiated CPD – It’s The Future! I’ve Tasted It!
Garlic Bread

Have you ever been forced to sit through a whole day training session on an area of teaching you consider to be one of your strengths? Has a trainer visited your school to say that you should be teaching in a style that really wouldn’t work for you? Did you go to the same Teachmeet as me last year where an ‘Educational Consultant’ stood up and spent ten minutes telling a room full of qualified teachers what the difference is between formative and summative assessment? (She gave me her business card if anyone’s interested.) How about a death by Powerpoint experience? An evangelist with an annoying amount of enthusiasm for an idea that’s a tiny bit rubbish? If you are like me, the answer will be yes to all of these questions.

It’s funny how we are all busy differentiating our lessons for the benefit of the children we teach. But what about our learning? How can we make sure that we are getting the CPD we need to be the best we can be? The answer is something like Pedagoo Hampshire.

A menu selection of 40 mini seminars, each delivered by different speakers who ranged from primary, secondary and further education teachers from across the south east of England, was available to choose from before arrival. After a talk by @graham_irisc which set the tone superbly, it was off to the starter course – Telescopic Education by @chrischivers2 and Collaboration by @hayleymc2222. Hayley bought to the table a plethora of suggestions on who to follow in the Twitter world as well as some wise words on how to organise a Teachmeet – something I would recommend to anyone looking to develop their own, as well as their school’s teaching and learning philosophy and delivery. I love the fact that Hayley organised one in her NQT year – amazing! It was nice to get a mention on one of Hayley’s slides (they say everyone is famous for 5 minutes don’t they?) but I didn’t let this go to my head. Instead, I concentrated on the importance of learning from each other. Next, Chris Chivers stimulated a discussion between a group of primary teachers on the barriers faced when trying to implement a bottom-up teaching model to secure progress. Admittedly, the group digressed into a sharing of ideas on curriculum enrichment and CPD opportunities and what the barriers to these are instead. The message was loud and clear – lots of teachers feel scared to digress from the core subjects – a terrible shame in my opinion, and that of my peers in the group.

The sorbet course to cleanse the pallet came in the guise of @basnettj on giving pupils feedback and @lizbpattison on how differentiation might just be counter-productive. There were some great discussions generated around the importance of involving students in feedback. I raised the question of peer feedback in mixed ability groups and whether this can work for the higher attainer – I haven’t yet found my answer. Then my clever (sorry I mean able/gifted/talented *delete as applicable) friend Liz stepped up with some fascinating thoughts on the effectiveness of differentiation on the growth mindset we are all looking to expand. What did I take away from her talk? Well, it reinforced my view that differentiation is brilliant when done properly but can be disastrous when done badly – as it was for Liz during her school days when she was labelled ‘middle ability.’ (You wouldn’t know it to hear her now!) Unfortunately for Liz, but fortunately for us, she still can’t let it go, which means I am very much looking forward to hearing about the research she continues to do into the subject.

The main course was a corned beef and pickle sandwich (me) paired with a fillet steak and triple cooked chips (@graham_irisc). Graham invited a discussion on what is important to focus on – is it inspection? Is it budgets? Is it the standard of biscuits in the staffroom? No, the room came to the conclusion it was teaching & learning. Although, in my opinion, biscuits definitely feed into this. (Pardon the very accidental pun) Then it was my turn to evangelise on the benefits of empowering middle leaders along with some tips on how these vital members of staff can empower themselves to deliver brilliant learning experiences for their pupils. Thank you to everyone who turned up – I hadn’t slept for a week wondering if I still would have delivered my presentation to an empty room! I think I would have – it would have been a terrible waste to have not given it an airing.

And then, just when the full-up sleepy feeling started to take over, there was @natalielovemath to wake us up from our slumber with a very inspiring talk on using objects bought from Poundland to enrich Maths lessons. I don’t teach Maths anymore and this session only served to make me sad about this fact. Although, the idea of pasta graphs, children writing on disposable table cloths and sticking numbers on fly-swatters have been enthusiastically received by the Maths teachers at my school! Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any more surreal (in a brilliant and inspiring way!) @haslemeremuseum extracted woolen brains from a poor Egyptian rag doll. Learning through objects is very under-rated and can be the key to unlock the door of learners who struggle to take an interest.

Before departing, the classy port and cheese board came in the form of @lcll_director who pressed home the need for using days like this to actually make changes in our practice. “All of these brilliant ideas are no good just stored in our heads,” murmured the rag doll from session 4.

So there we have it – a day of differentiated CPD just for me. Imagine if groups of schools got together to do this at the start of every school year – giving teachers a choice of CPD suited just to them through the sharing of strengths and passions of their peers. Would that be better than a whole-school INSET day which doesn’t differentiate for the needs of every learner; in this case, teachers? I think so. How about you?

Cross-curricular success


“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” ~ Kofi Annan

Too often curriculum content is not liberating! Instead it can stifle creativity, limit progress and in some cases it is simply out of date!

Placing children at the centre of our curriculum models and asking BIG philosophical questions of them helps to liberate the learner. It provides them with the opportunity to autonomously seek knowledge, articulate, understand and then model it through their own journey of learning. Philosophical learning is not just for the high achievers. Debra Kidd, Education Consultant and former teacher, developed a cross-curricular model that placed the child at the centre of the learning, and discovered that it significantly added value to learners with low attainment levels in English.

On episode 34 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Debra discusses how to develop cross-curricular assessment models that helps children with philosophical learning. She reveals her lessons learnt and ideas for curriculum and assessment improvements.

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share it with your community! If you’d like to share your ideas or contribute to the discussion on curriculum models, please connect via @Inspiration4T

PedaWooWoo – professional development

Pedagooers, here’s a spicy little mix of podcast workshops bursting with tried and tested pedagogical concepts that will add value to your professional toolkit this year!

Unlocking creativity in the classroom




In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • The problems associated with creating activities that challenge learners to think creatively
  • Ideas on developing problem solving activities in the classroom
  • How to improve what we already know and unlock the creativity that exists within our classrooms

Enhancing your teaching toolkit to boost learning



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • What is Mind Mapping and its power to aid learning
  • How to create a basic Mind Map
  • Using Mind Maps to enhance learning, improve revision and exam technique, improve feedback, assessment and classroom planning


Developing cross curricular lessons; snatching inspiration from other subjects



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • A practical model for cross curricular lesson planning
  • Ideas on developing differentiated cross curricular learning pathways
  • Overcoming the challenges of cross curricular lesson integration
  • Extending cross curricular learning beyond the classroom


FedEx your Professional Development



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • How autonomy based motivation models can drive professional learning sessions
  • How to launch your own FedEx professional development model
  • How to maximise the feedback delivery of your school’s professional development FedEx day to add value to the whole school

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share it with your community!

A Deeper Approach to Planning Learning Experiences

Engineering effective learning experiences: Motivated by a recent chat with the ever stimulating Carl Gombrich (@carlgomb) I wanted to take an earlier article where I discussed a form of Curriculum which synthesises Challenge Based and Collaborative Group Learning a little further.

In this article I wish to outline and extend an approach I and a number of colleagues apply when designing long term (curriculum) and short term sequences of learning experiences. The approach, presented here as steps and in diagrammatic form, acts as a learning driven planning framework which provides a foundation for a range of pedagogies, especially those aligned with a Group, Cooperative or Collaborative Group Learning Process, to be applied.

Step 1, the opening move: Before any other step the concept/theme/topic to be explored should be chosen, an aligned Driving Question designed and the time available (in and out of ‘class’) for the learning experience established.

The concept being explored is Justice. This concept will be explored through the Driving Question: How could you make your world more Just? 6 weeks are available for this concept to be explored.

Step 2, establish the Core: Decide what subject/domain specific Knowledge, Understanding and Skills you wish learners to develop. Due to longer term planning such decisions about KUS should be shaped by where the learning is coming from and where it is going to; what has been learnt, what needs to be developed. The chosen K & U act as a Case Study to be investigated and to be used to model later Collaborative and/or Individual activity. It should be these three aspects which will be assessed and progress within them recorded and measured thus providing the learning experience with an academic core.

In this sequence of learning experiences (a unit of work) learners will have an opportunity to develop knowledge about The Holocaust. They will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of The Holocaust in particular the Political Social Economic factors that contributed to The Holocaust and the role People Ideas and Events played within its development. Through this Case Study Learners will be provided with opportunities to develop the skill of Historical Interpretation through Collaborative Enquiry and teacher led Master Classes and enhance the skill of Research & Record through application supported by targeted Master Classes. The development of knowledge will be assessed through a factual test (at the start and end of the sequence to measure K development), understanding assessed through a piece of extended writing about the causes of The Holocaust using agreed criteria (I can statements) and the skill of Research & Record will be assessed through the accurate application of the R&R criteria during preparation for the final artefact; a collaboratively written 5 minute speech.

Step 3, once the subject Core of KUS has been chosen: Decide what Personalised Learning Choices students can make to shape their own learning experiences. The nature of these choices should be informed, but not limited, by the Core. The semi permeable PLC’s can also offer opportunities to connect subject areas. Learners may be given opportunities to find, establish, explore connections between subject areas in terms of KUS relevant to the guiding topic/concept/theme or the Core. Master Classes may be planned to provide personalised support for KUS development.

Learners will have the opportunity to choose an injustice present in their world which they find interesting, they have a passion for, applying R&R to explore the causes of, the nature of and possible solutions to this injustice. Opportunities to explore the injustice along the lines of differing perspectives, for example connecting to Theology, Law, Philosophy, Sociology, Media, Politics, Biology to explore more deeply their chosen injustice. Master Classes will be provided in class and online to support learners to enhance their R&R skills and to attend to emerging deficits in knowledge related to their chosen injustice.

Step 4, rest it all on 6 pillars: These pillars have been chosen as they represent what I believe to be fundamental facets of an affective-effective learning process. Others may feel this selection does not align with their own philosophical, theoretical or ideological beliefs. Many hardcore Constructivists would switch out most of these pillars while Behaviourists would choose a wholly different complement of pillars (perhaps bells and electric shocks).

  • Pillar 1: Metacognition. What opportunities will be provided for learners to reflect upon and act upon their own and others approaches to learning?
  • Pillar 2: Feedback. What opportunities will be provided for self, peer and expert feedback and feedforward? How will feedback be acted upon?
  • Pillar 3: Collaboration. What opportunities will learners have to apply and develop the skills of and processes of collaborative group learning?
  • Pillar 4: Enquiry: What opportunities will be provided to investigate and explore challenges and problems? What opportunities will be provided for learners to construct their own questions and investigations?
  • Pillar 5: Authentic Challenge: What opportunities will be provided for personalisation, in terms of choice and support? How will the learning experience be made authentic? Can the assessment of learning be made authentic?
  • Pillar 6: Pragmatic Rehearsal: What opportunities will be provided for learners to practice exam specific skills?

Pillar 1: Regular opportunities will be provided within learning sessions for students to reflect upon there own learning (WWW & EBI approach). At least two opportunities will be given for the Learning Set to reflect upon their group learning processes. This will in part be stimulated by peer and teacher feedback.

Pillar 2: Peer and teacher feedback will be provided with Warm and Cold forms. Follow Up Time will be built into Learning Sessions enabling learners to act upon the feedback, planning the next steps in their own or the Learning Sets learning. Feedback will be verbal and written, provided for in and out of class learning and following on from each assessment. The assessment of understanding will be followed by feedback and a planned opportunity for learners to respond to feedback. Feedback will also guide which Master Classes should be attended during the injustice investigation.

Pillar 3: The Learning Set will provide for ongoing collaboration, in particular through discussion. Collaborative processes will be activated during The Holocaust interpretations activity following on from The Holocaust Master Class. In particular collaboration will be undertaken through the planning of and undertaking of the injustice investigation (planning for and sharing research) and through the co-authoring of the final 5 minute script for the presentation script.

Pillar 4: The collaborative investigation will require question construction, both driving and research in nature. R&R will facilitate collaborative and individual enquiry into the chosen injustice.

Pillar 5: Authenticity through Learning Set choice of investigation. They will own this investigation, its topic and the questions designed to enact the enquiry. Learners will be encouraged to choose a topic they are passionate about or directly effects them. The final assessed speech will be delivered to a real audience made up of experts, staff, peers and parents.

Pillar 6: GCSE criteria will be applied to the extended paragraph on the causes of The Holocaust giving students a flavour of GCSE expectations.

An additional step could be implemented at this stage to add further sophistication to this planning process. A promotion of Learner Attributes or, as seems very popular with the establishment right now, Character through learning experiences may lead to planning for how each attribute is covertly-overtly developed. Similar to the pillar approach above one may consider how each and every or selected attributes are developed. For example how will I provide opportunities for learners to develop the attribute internationalism through this sequence of learning experiences? How will I recognise it when that attribute is developed? How can I measure the development of that attribute? (My next article ‘Facilitating and Measuring the development of Learner Attributes’ will address each of these questions).

In summary, within much ‘lesson planning’ the process seems to stop at Step 2. Such shallow planning for teaching rather than learning, if I may be so bold, is a hallmark of many classroom. The approach outlined here takes planning, informed by learning, deeper, creating a truer framework for learning and a guide for curriculum as well as ‘lesson’ planning.

I have provided the table below as a structure to guide the planning of sequences, a table which perhaps could replace the somewhat pointless lesson planning proforma many teachers endure while knowing it serves little purpose.

learning experience planning framework

Encouraging and developing questioning skills
Learners writing their questions on the board.Learners writing their questions on the board.

Whilst looking online for new approaches to encourage learner questioning, I found the Right Question Institute. They suggest that questioning is not a skill that learners are routinely encouraged to undertake, and is one that is often not explicitly taught. A strategy that they have developed to address this is the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), which encourages learners to formulate and articulate their own questions.

In this post I will briefly outline the steps involved in the QFT, full details of which can be downloaded from the Right Question Institute (it is free to sign up). I will then describe my first attempt at using this approach in class, which produced some good questions, along with a few amusing ones!

Summary of the QFT

1. The question focus – this can be anything that is used to stimulate learners’ questions, for example an image, a video, or an article.

2. Produce questions – based on the question focus, learners are instructed to:

  • Ask as many questions as they can
  • Don’t stop to answer, judge, or discuss
  • Write down every question exactly as stated
  • Change any statements into questions

Once questions have been generated, learners could write them up on flipchart paper, on the board, on Post-It notes etc.

3. Improve questions – Learners are encouraged to improve the questions. This could include, for example, a discussion around closed versus open questions, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

4. Prioritize questions

Learners review the question list and choose the three questions that in their opinion are most important.

5. Reflect

Have learners reflect on the original question focus, what has been learned so far, and discuss how this relates to the topic at hand.

The QFT involves a shift in practice, where learners ask questions instead of the teacher. Three key thinking abilities are encouraged with this approach:

  • Divergent thinking, which may be broader, go off on a tangent, incorporate other topics, or make links beyond the classroom.
  • Convergent thinking, which allows learners to focus and prioritize.
  • Metacognitive skills, encouraging learners to think about thinking, how to ask questions, which questions are important and why.

The learner-generated questions can be used for a variety of purposes, including to:

  • Guide lesson planning
  • Increase engagement and ownership
  • Demonstrate inquiry in the classroom
  • Stimulate a fun introduction to a topic
  • Be a driving question for project-based learning
  • Make the classroom more democratic, and give learners more of a voice
  • Encourage study skills, rather than simply ‘delivering’ content

Using the QFT

I recently tried out the QFT with some of my Year 13s – they are Thai students who receive the majority of their lessons in English. This term we are taking an in-depth look at evolution. I begin this topic with a peer-teaching assignment based around the evidence for evolution. Learners work in small groups, with each group focusing on a particular strand of the evidence for evolution: fossil evidence, morphological evidence, molecular evidence and so on. I decided to try out the QFT as an engagement activity at the start of this assignment.

The question focus was simply a pair of images: photos of a platypus, and of a ‘crocoduck’ – a Photoshopped image of a duck with a crocodile’s head. The aim was for students to formulate questions based on their thoughts about these two images, and how they may relate to questions around the evidence for evolution.

There were some good questions that came up, for example:

  • If these two have the same ancestor, why do they evolve to adapt to environment differently?
  • Can crocodiles fertilize with ducks?
  • Are these two animals related to one another?
  • Is there a crocoduck in real-life, and will it be carnivore or herbivore?
  • How can (the crocoduck) balance its body.
  • Does the platypus live in water?
  • Does the crocoduck fly?

There were also a few amusing questions:

  • What software was used to Photoshop the picture (of the crocoduck)
  • What the hell do they eat?
  • Is this the creation of an evil organization?
  • Has science gone too far? Illuminati confirmed!

On reflection, this was a fun and engaging activity, which did produce some good questions. Due to time constraints I was unable to spend much time with the students in terms of refining and improving their questions. However, when asked to prioritize the questions that they considered most interesting or useful, they chose the questions I would have also chosen, such as the first one in the top list above.

Another thought that has occurred to me since doing this activity is to repeat it towards the end of the course, possibly with a different artifact as the question focus. Hopefully the questions asked will be somewhat more sophisticated and the students will gain an appreciation of just how much they have learned.

I would definitely use this approach again, although I would use this particular example slightly differently, such as an engagement device prior to an assignment based around natural selection, adaptation, and environmental selective pressure, given the questions it elicited. In general though I found the QFT to be engaging for learners and very useful for generating questions.

How can we differentiate in a way that gives pupils ownership of their learning pathways?

I’m a big believer in pupil ownership of learning. After all, it’s not my brain that’s doing the work; it’s not my skills that are developing; and it’s not my exam result on a piece of paper at the end of the year. As teachers, I see our role as facilitators: enabling pupils to achieve their potential in a way that develops the skills to do it time and time again. For pupils to do this, they need to develop the independence and resilience that comes from making their own decisions about how they learn; what pace they learn at and how to approach success and failure.

I’ve been trying to achieve this with a group of Higher Biology students. These pupils are in a slightly unusual position of studying a two year Higher beginning in S4. Although this gives a lot of time for teaching the course and developing understanding, I find they often lack the independence and study skills that you might expect from older pupils taking a Higher course. To try and encourage them to make their own decisions about learning, I’ve been using SOLO taxonomy stations as a way of structuring- and differentiating- revision or flipped classroom lessons.

The idea is to use a simple quiz- usually multiple choice questions- alongside a SOLO taxonomy framework to help pupils self-assess their current levels of understanding. Once they decided which level they are working at, they set about on the task designed for that level, sometimes physically moving between tables designated for each station. The pictures below show the SOLO taxonomy framework and the recommended next steps. So for example, a pupil who is pre-structural or uni-structural may need to catch up on notes or work on keywords. At the multi-structural level, pupils are ready to try Knowledge and Understanding type questions that help them revise the facts; whilst those moving to relational are ready for more challenging questions that link the topic together, such as an essay. Finally, pupils who are working at the extended abstract level are challenged to apply and link up their knowledge, either to problem solving or new topics not yet studied.

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I’ve had a lot of success with these lessons. Firstly, it gives a quick and visual way to assess individual confidence and understanding of a topic around the room, by the level at which pupils choose to work. Although I generally encourage collaborative working, it’s good to see that pupils tend to work at the level they feel confident at, rather than just following their neighbour. Secondly, it gives me the chance to provide support to ALL pupils at appropriate level. Because everyone is working at their own pace, everyone is able to at least start the task independently- even if they may require help over small challenges- which means I’m not stuck trying to help one or two of the pupils who are struggling most. This means that all pupils, including the most able, get some of my time, and get the support and push they need. Thirdly, over the course of a lesson, pupils make progress that is obvious to me and them. The tasks are designed so that around two levels can be completed in a lesson (and sometimes I use timed targets to encourage some of the lazier pupils to achieve this!), so pupils can clearly see how they have improved by moving up the levels over the course of the lesson. And from there, they know what they need to do next to achieve a deep understanding of the topic. If they get the self-assessment stage wrong, and their understanding was better or worse than they thought, they quickly realise the task is too easy or too hard and adjust their working level appropriately.

I was observed a while back delivering this style of lesson to a Higher class. Whilst the feedback was very positive, the observer posed one key question: if this were a large class of challenging S2 pupils, instead of my eleven delightful Higher pupils, could this still work?

I was intrigued. Could it? Could my S2 class, who find self-assessment and working independently a real challenge, cope with making decisions about their learning in this way? Would they engage with the challenge, or would they simply use this as a way to avoid anything difficult? Inspired by a wonderful resource I found on the TES website, I used the idea of Nando’s takeaway menu as a lesson framework for a revision lesson on space and forces, with pupils selecting a starter, main course and dessert task:


Just like with the SOLO stations, pupils took a quiz prior to choosing their tasks, and used the result to inform their decisions about what to do next. Pupils choose their three tasks based on its heat level: from extra mild through to extra hot. There was a nice twist here, as I have been working with this class on higher order thinking skills, and as the heat increased, the thinking skills required became gradually HOTter… get it?!

So… was it a success? Well yes, hugely in my opinion- and that of the colleague observing my lesson. Pupil engagement was massively improved compared to other lessons with that class. Pupils had a clear understanding of what they needed to do and seemed to be genuinely enjoying undertaking the tasks set. Misconceptions were being quashed left right and centre, as I found I had more time to spend talking about the topic with individual pupils. Pupils were tackling tasks involving applying, evaluating and creating with confidence, and pupils were also clearly proud of what they were achieving at each stage. And best of all, pupils could explain clearly not only why they had chosen each task, but what thinking skills they were practicing by doing it- developing metacognition around their own learning that I’d just not realised they were capable of.

Next week I’m leading a learning conversation about this at the BOCSH conference, Talking About Learning 2015 at Inveralmond High School. I’d like to talk about the opportunities but also the challenges I’ve found using these strategies, and how others are achieving these aims. My questions will be:

1. How can we help pupils to identify current understanding, to inform their targets and next steps?

I’ve found SOLO taxonomy to be an excellent framework for helping pupils to identify the current level at which they are working. However, it is limited by how well pupils understand what is required at each level. Do they comprehend the increase in understanding required to progress? What other strategies do people use to help pupils self-assess?

2. How can we ensure pupils challenge themselves, but have the chance to succeed?

Even if pupils understand what is required at each level, are they making good decisions about what task is the most likely to help them progress? Interestingly, boys often select tasks from a level above where I would have put them; whilst girls often work below where I think they are capable. Is this due to confidence? Are they too scared to fail at the more difficult tasks? Pupils often state that they are ‘making sure they get it’ before they move. This seems like a good thing, but maybe it’s a barrier to their progression. I often encourage pupils to revise ‘outside of the comfort zone’: to revise the topics or skills that they really don’t want to- because they’re hard! How can we encourage pupils to work outside of their comfort zone, without them losing confidence in what they’ve already achieved?

3. Perhaps most importantly, how can we help pupils identify the progress they have made, and understand how they got there?

Through these lessons, pupils can see what progress they have made in their understanding, and I often ask pupils to reflect at the end of the lesson what progress they have made, and what kind of studying has helped them achieve that progress: be it revising content, applying knowledge or creating links. Is this valuable? Does it help pupils to see where they’ve come? And what strategies do others have to achieve this?

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