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In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts –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

The Complete Guide to DATEs – Subject Specific CPD
DATE background

The Complete Guide to DATEs

Developing approaches to Teaching English
Developing approaches to Teaching &Education

Embedding CPD which allows for the development of subject specific knowledge and subject specific pedagogy. Skip straight to The Concept to avoid my preamble!

About me
I’ve been an English teacCPD modelher for 15 years and Curriculum Leader for 6 years. In January 2015 I was given the opportunity to join the Senior Leadership Team and among other things I have responsibility for NQT, ITT, Strands 2 and 3 CPD (targeted and opt-in), the Teacher Guide and Literacy

CPD menu
Over the last 12 months our school’s CPD has radically changed and developed, building our structure from Shaun Allison’s Perfect Teacher-Led CPD book and including approaches through blogs that have influenced our thinking and ideas from our Academy partner school. CPD is no longer exclusively a top down model but a model where staff are empowered to share, explore and collaborate through a wide range of avenues.

Part of my SLT remit is to increase CPD opportunities for staff in ways appropriate to roles, career stages and interests. There is a pleasing appetite for personal development and engagement in the opt-in programmes (such as 15 Minute Forums, EduBook Club, the Teaching & Learning library) is continually increasing. Directed CPD such as the Inspiring Leader Meeting (where TLR holders – all those who are not Curriculum Leaders – and aspiring TLR holders are trained on things you are expected to know when you have a TLR but no one ever shows you) is going from strength to strength.

As much as the whole school CPD offerings have been going well, at the start of this term I found myself increasingly considering the need for subject specific CPD. This was partly through reading a variety of materials online/in books and partly as a result of staff changes in my own department:

• Reading blogs which highlighted the need for subject specific CPD and the benefits it brings, for example, this from Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist http://tinyurl.com/nbraaow, many things from @ShaunAllison https://classteaching.wordpress.com/, interesting articles from Joe Kirby, Kev Bartle, Chris Chivers and David Didau on CPD.
• Revisiting The Sutton trust’s Report on ‘What Makes Great Teaching?’ made me consider the importance of a teacher’s subject knowledge to improved outcomes for students, particularly the depth of knowledge needed.
• Evaluating our approach to CPD over the last year and reflecting on how we can take the things we think have worked and translate these in a more bespoke way to different subject areas.
• We’ve had a major change to the make-up of our department. I have a superb team but much of the knowledge and skills that develops from teaching over a number of years has left us – we have NQTs, NQT+1s and overseas trained teachers (experienced but unfamiliar with our texts at KS3 and KS4) making up a significant proportion.
• My super KS3 co-ordinator, Rachel Kilburn, undertook a SWOT-style audit which flagged up implications for KS3/4 teaching as we progress through the year. She found some aspects could be addressed though 1-2-1 help and others from the innovative ‘thinking moments’ cards she developed to aid self-reflection but common threads cropped up which would require an alternative department approach to boost the impact in lessons.
• We have significant changes to English with the new GCSEs. I’ve co-ordinated and organised this from a long and medium term position but was concerned how confident (or apprehensive!) were we with the new poems and texts.
• Other than continuing to create pre-made lessons (which are great but I have always had reservations about how much someone can really take a pre-planned lesson and understand the thinking that has gone on behind it), I pondered how we could use our individual expertise to help others with the various parts of English teaching many admitted fearing.

The Concept
Introduce DATEs to our weekly English Department meetings – developing approaches to teaching English.

Our Approach
• We made the DATEs high status – they are always the first agenda item regardless of anything else that may be deemed urgent or important in that meeting. DATEs can be scheduled to last different periods of time depending on what is needed.
• After Rachel Kilburn established which aspects of English teaching held the most ‘fear factor’ she calendared DATEs for the year ahead, looking at where things would be best placed for maximum effect. She then approached English staff who she knew had specific skills/knowledge in each area to deliver. New staff have also been encouraged to look at where they would like to contribute. Topics such as how to analyse quotations, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g able students in English lessons, scoring highly on Q4 H Tier, tackling pre-19th Century poems with reluctant learners are all on the schedule.
• I used the AQA enhanced results analysis facility from this summer to determine which question areas we must work on and built in DATEs for these, whether that’s rethinking how we teach it or ensuring staff whose students achieved better than others have the forum to explain how they teach it.
• Where we had spaces to add extra DATEs, we looked at previous highly rated 15 Minute Forums which new staff haven’t been able to see to rework them in an a English specific way.
• We will take other opportunities to have DATEs as/when they will benefit teachers and enhance their knowledge/skills/understanding in a manner that will improve not add to workload.

Types of DATE
• First DATE – the launch session
• Hot DATE – one that covers up-to-date ideas, popular methods receiving twitter/blog time
• Speed DATE – maximum three minutes when something only requires a short, snappy burst
• Cheap DATE – where cost effective extra resources might help the teaching of a complex skill (Poundland Pedagogy/@WallaceIsabella style)
• Dream DATE – talking about a poem or section of a novel: what every English teacher loves to do!
• Double DATE – two in one meeting
• Bad DATE – things to avoid (for example I ran a VAK one last week)
• UnDATEable – the particularly difficult areas to teach that we might try to avoid (grammar for me…) but by looking at them from a different point of view we can see they are worth a go
• Blind DATE – surprise session
• DATE night – a series of sessions in one go

Next Steps

These sessions are proving really popular in the department. Staff are enjoying the opportunity to have the time to really think and talk about the subject in a way that builds confidence, enthusiasm and excitement in lesson planning and delivery. I appreciate there is potential for some limitation – where depth of subject knowledge is needed for great teaching this won’t be resolved in one CPD session. However, it is a start to promoting and developing areas that we’ve perhaps neglected up to this point or just assumed everyone knew on account of the fact they’d been employed to teach English. Also, whilst I have always worked on the mantra of start meetings on time, regardless of who is missing, there has been a noticeable improvement in the promptness of attendance – teachers don’t want to miss any of the DATE!

Over the next half term I’ll be rolling out the concept whole school under the name developing approaches to teaching & education. I’ve already met with the maths department who expressed a strong interest and have already started to map out their sessions. I’ll meet other CLs in pairs to explore how DATEs can be enhance their curriculum area CPD. For me it’s crucial that CLs don’t have anything added on to an already challenging workload without something being taken away so I’ll work alongside them to see how this can work.

Later in the year we’ll have a calendared school DATE night in one of our Monday whole school CPD slots, almost like a mini-TeachMeet but with the focus on departments. We’ll start with a whole staff 15 Minute Forum (we still have some teachers who’ve never attended one so this will give a flavour of what they’re like and hopefully encourage some to come to future ones), progress to department based DATEs and will have a few blind DATEs thrown in for staff who like a bit of spontaneity so they can drop in elsewhere and see what they can pick up!

Engineering the Learning Set: A Socialised-learning Capacity

From the start I have been adamant that my doctoral research was of a nature that could have a true practical application rather than merely concerning itself with theory and principle. My research has resulted in an emergent understanding of the ‘Reality’ of learning as, with and because of a group, which has led to a redefined approach towards the initial construction of the group which seeks to enhance the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom.

I have written about the theory, principles, practice and outcomes of constructing or ‘engineering’ such a group in a number of previous articles and will seek to avoid unnecessary repetition:

As such the focus of this article is upon the application of an eighth applied criteria when initially constructing the group; a socialised-learning capacity.


One of the most fundamental aspects of Collaborative Group Learning is the construction of the initial group; the Learning Set. When applied to an educational context a student would be placed into an ‘appropriate’ group of 6 (the Learning Set) based on the following criteria to ensure Principal 3 (heterogeneity) of Learning Set construction is achieved:

academic profile
any additional learning needs
reading age
socio-economic background
socio-cultural background
prior educational establishment e.g. Primary or Middle School

Ensuring that the Learning Set represents a balanced mix of the above criteria has been a successful means of enhancing the heterogeneity of knowledge, understanding and skill potential of the Learning Set as a whole, with that ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. But what has been illuminated through my empirical research is that more was needed in terms of recognising and understanding the ‘parts’ and considering each individual in more depth before constructing the Learning Set.

As such I have devised and implemented an eighth criteria to the construction of a Learning Set;
8. a socialised-learning capacity.

Understanding the Learner

To gain a greater understanding about each learner before determining which individuals should be placed together to create an effective collaborative learning group I designed and applied (to a cohort of 180 11 year old students) a questionnaire comprising open and closed questions of a quantitative and qualitative nature.
These questions were designed to gather general information about the individual which could prove useful pre-knowledge (for example their language ability and their access to the internet at home), gain information relating to criteria 3, 6 and 7 of the heterogeneity principle, and questions which sought to elicit information about the individuals beliefs concerning learning and education and to determine the learners academic self-concept (the Myself As a Learner questionnaire was incorporated into the wider questionnaire to achieve this). In total the questionnaire comprised 51 questions in 3 sections (Tell me about you, Your views about yourself, Learning) and took between 25 and 45 minutes to complete.

Assessing an Individuals Socialised-learning Capacity

To ascertain an individuals ‘potential’ socialised-learning capacity a ‘crude’ point score system was applied to responses relating to the following questions:

Do you like learning the best…(mostly on your own, mostly with others, I don’t know)
Do you like helping others to learn? (Yes-No)
Even if this means you don’t get all your work done? (Yes-No)
Do you get frustrated when other people ask you for help? (Yes-No)
When learning in a group which role do you think you are most likely to take? (options provided)
I find it easy to work with others (MAL scale)
What are you motivated to learn the most by? (options provided)
I can make friends easy (MAL scale)
Which subjects do you believe you are good at? (number of selected subjects used to determine overall subject confidence)

A higher point value was assigned to a response which aligned with a belief which indicated a positive capacity for socialised-learning and a lower point value for a negative capacity for socialised-learning. A total of 23 points were available, with 23 indicating a highly positive capacity for socialised-learning. Once applied a point score was assigned to each individual, with point scores relating to this cohort ranging from 23 down to 5, and 3 coloured bands applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-11, Amber 12-16, Green 17-23). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of socialised-learning capacities.

Assessing an Individuals Academic Self-concept

By incorporating the well established Myself As a Learner suite of 23 multiple choice questions within this questionnaire it was possible to apply the MAL point scoring system and identify each individuals academic self-concept as a numerical score ranging from 53 (low self-concept) too 98 (high self-concept). As with the socialised-learning capacity point score 3 coloured bands were applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-69, Amber 70-79, Green 80-98). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of academic self-concept.

Constructing the Learning Set

Combining the two point scores, socialised-learning capacity and academic self-concept, and producing a third data set banded again into 3 colours (Red 0-79, Amber 80-99, Green 100-120) a new ‘total’ score was created for the mean of group allocation. By ‘reading’ both the point score and banded colours of each of the three categories, as well as considering the 7 criteria outlined above individuals could now be ‘matched’ to others in order to create a balanced and mixed group of learners.

1         2                       3      4     5       6      7
Girl     Islam                        12    71     83     2
Girl     No religion               15   62      77     2
Girl     No religion               16   96     112    2
Boy     Islam                       17    83     100   2
Boy    Judaism            Y     20    71     91     2
Boy    Christianity               21    89    110    2

The above highlights how the Learning Set (column 7) was constructed considering:

  1. gender
  2. identified socio-cultural background
  3. level of English language proficiency (EAL)
  4. socialised-learning capacity
  5. academic self-concept
  6. combined capacity and concept.


This new approach was applied in the construction of a new cohort of Learning Sets in the summer of 2015. These individuals have been learning with, as and because of their Learning Sets for 6 academic weeks. So far observations of interactions and the nature of the socialised-learning being undertaken indicates that this more considered and detailed approach to group construction may have achieved its aim of enhancing the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom. I will continue to observe the effects of this approach to grouping and will share my reflections in future articles.

If you want to know more about the approach undertaken or any aspect of Collaborative Group Learning feel free to contact me at rgratton.cgl@gmail.com


This is posted later than I planned but the rugby took precedent on Saturday night (What a game!) then life during the week happened.

I had my first experience of #pedagoo last weekend at #PedagooWorcs. Nervous and excited were just some of the great, albeit conflicting, feelings I felt before the ‘event’. I was originally asked to present by @DuncanSKing and although not having been to a Pedagoo event and only been to one TeachMeet I said, ‘Yes’.

I did my research before hand. I spoke, and am thankful, to Mark Anderson and Lee Parkinson for their time to discuss their thoughts on whether my topic and style was okay.

I planned my talk on the new Computing Curriculum and whether it was fit for purpose. What I meant by this statement was:

*Is there more to the Computer Curriculum than coding?

*Are we doing enough to prepare the children for the future?

*Is the rounded/balanced enough to be relevant in today’s world, and more importantly the future?

I set up (Well got my DLs to set up!) the iPads on the Friday. Now with the talk planned I arrived at Saturday’s event where I met @SBHSMissTaylor and @MurphieGirl and checked the room where I was to later present. At this point I discovered that the iPads had been used Friday afternoon and now needed setting up again; ah well the best laid plans! Once ready I joined my fellow #PedagooWorcs compatriots for a drink.

We were given a keynote talk from @DrMattoLeary where we encouraged to take all the positives from the day’s work event and similar TeachMeet events and to also take the power reclaiming and redefining your own CPD/PPD. I enjoyed the rest of the morning’s sessions and learned from other primary and senior school teachers.

The day passed quickly and then it was my turn. Well, what could have gone wrong went wrong! First the projector screen would not display the whole presentation screen and then Reflector would not show or sync with the iPads. Once ‘fixed’ and my blushing calmed down the session moved along quickly. I feel this is such an important of the day; I was very pleased to be able to share my thoughts and ideas and I feel all there were receptive and engaged. It was great!

I, personally feel, digital literacy must be given higher esteem in all our teaching.  There is the clamour for the teaching of coding and 85% of all our children’s jobs have not been created but not all will ‘code’ but all WILL have to use social media, email, video conferencing, computers  These ‘sharing’ skills are the ones that need to be looked at too.

Much was gained and I look forward to taking the idea forward and presenting and sharing again. If you have never been to a TeachMeet or Pedagoo event I wholeheartedly recommend them. As I said, ‘Been there, done that, loved it!


Shaping our Global Future

Young people worry about the future: including their own personal, family and economic futures. So why don’t we evolve a curriculum that amounts to a structured conversation with them about these futures? If we could do this, we might shape a dialogue that allowed them more ownership of the lives they might lead and the people they might become. We might help yah people to imagine themselves and feel excited about the future and the challenges it presents.

But, we also need to make them more aware of the legacy being created for future generations in the early twenty first century. My book, Shaping our Global Future, A Guide for Young People seeks to inform young people about the world their children and grandchildren will inhabit. So the book focuses on seven global wonders and seven future challenges.

The book is part of the Postcards from Scotland series, commissioned by the Centre for Confridence and Wellbeing. It takes is available from the centre here. All money’s derived from this project go to the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, a registered charity.

I hope that young people read it and reflect. I hope that teachers read it and use it in classrooms. Mostly, I hope that it helps young people, educators and parents to have a structured conversation about our human future and the world we are building.

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

An iPad is ‘just’ another tool for learning

There has always been plenty of attention given to the Apple iPad, especially when it is mentioned in the same breath as education. But what we must always remember is it is just another tool for learning, like a dictionary, or a calculator.  We must always remember that if we can achieve better outcomes using something else, then use it!

We must not lose site of the end product, force ourselves to use the technology because you feel that you must; when actually the technology is slowing the process and is detrimental to the outcome.  Technology is great for engaging children, but if they don’t see a point in using it, the outcome will usually suffer.

We introduced 1:1 iPads in my classroom just after February half term with the idea being that we wanted them to be unnoticeable in the classroom. The children could choose when and how they used them to enhance their learning and outcomes. After the initial set up period and ensuring the workflow was understood by the children we set off on our journey. So what have we done so far?

Cricket:  Finding my own next steps

During our cricket sessions we use our iPads to review our performances. I allow the children to film a modelled example of a shot I perform and then use it to compare to their own performances.

If they need to check a certain part of the shot, the children can then watch it back to see were they need to improve.  They also filmed each other and reviewed their shots during the lesson, each time referring back to the example I’d given them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.35.50

Here you can see one of the children have used Pic Collage to make a note of their next steps at the end of the week.  A great starting point for the next lesson – pick up from where they left off completely independently.  I really have seen the benefits of having 1:1 iPads for this as they have a record of their own performance.   I plan to use it for assessment purposes to track progress throughout PE sessions. The children have also uploaded them to Edmodo to share with parents. 

Blogging using Edmodo on the iPads

I’ve tried blogging before with children for years and now it finally makes sense when they have their own device. The freedom to write when they want to has enabled the children to write their blogs on the go, whenever they have a spare minute.

I chose to use Edmodo as a start to blogging with my current class. It gives them an instant audience, something we all crave as bloggers – someone to actually read what you’ve written!  The children have started to write comments and feedback for each other and improve their blogs. I’ve asked them to write at least one a week to keep the interest up.

One interesting thing is watching the children typing on the iPads.  Most use their thumbs or single finger in portrait mode. Very few actually type like you traditionally would on a keyboard using the iPads landscape view.  Something to watch and think about? Touch typing lessons on the iPads? It’s not as if they’re slow at typing, far from it, but is it something to develop?

Children Creating Maths Calculation Video Guides

We’ve been using video as part of our flipped classroom but I’ve always produced the videos for the children. I’ll certainly keep doing this as I’ve found it incredibly useful as it allows children to find their next steps and to know which challenge they are attempting each day.

The children have been using Edmodo recently to save and collect work and information and then store it in their online ‘backpack,’ Edmodo’s version of the cloud.

They have found this incredibly useful as they are not losing documents and can post work simply from their backpack without searching for it.  It also allows you to link your Google Drive account, which I have found incredibly useful. Easily share work from my library/backpack with the children.

So why ask the children to start creating their own videos and how did we do it? 

I asked the children if they could prove to me that they could use the four written methods of calculation for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Their response was – it’s in our books. True, but I wonder if they can verbalise their calculations and show a real understanding, using the correct mathematical language?  

Through discussion we also decided that it could be useful to create a video when we got stuck. Basically, “this is the bit where I got stuck, help me!”  I liked that idea and set the children to work.

I use Vittle FREE A LOT when creating my short maths video guides. I find limiting my explanations to a minute enables me to get to the point. Its simplicity also stops me from spending ages ‘beautifying’ the presentation.

I simply speak alongside my screen drawings and then upload them to Edmodo to share with the children.  There is plenty of information on my past posts about how we use videos to help us learn.

How do you create the video in one go? You make it look so easy! 

This was a common comment during the sessions – they’re right, I have mastered the skill.  

This got me thinking during the session – this could be a great assessment tool as well! Can the children subtract competently using a written method? Their explanation would tell me – I’ve only watched a handful so far, but from what I’ve seen has been priceless.  I am watching 30 children calculating in real time, I’m not waiting to mark an end product and then trying to work out where they’ve gone wrong.  I can actually see and hear them!

In the future I can see children beginning to use this to build up a portfolio of evidence to support assessment without levels. Pictures of writing with annotations analysing what was good using explain everything; mathematical videos modelling understanding of a skill and a collection of videos and pictures created by me and other children in the class or school.

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