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Closing the mindset gap!


While there is no overall magic bullet, I believe that by creating a growth mindset culture within our schools; we can do much to improve children’s attainment and mental health.

Let’s focus on the issue of closing the attainment gap. The link between attainment and poverty is well documented in education research, including the Joseph Rowntree report on closing the gap. However, working to support parents and teachers to embed a growth mindset culture transcends social class. It does so by raising the bar of expectation, in a way that is realistic, based on credible feedback that is supportive, friendly and person centred. Having increased confidence, resilience, appetite for learning and understanding by working hard and practising different strategies can bridge the deficit when there may be little aspiration or value attached to education in the family home.So, how do we make it practical? Growth mindset has the potential to act as a way of supporting vulnerable learners by working on their resilience and using a growth mindset to increase appetite and engagement with learning and allowing those who have reached a good command of a subject to achieve mastery while enabling everyone to improve. Teachers can fulfil this role as well by thinking about the language they use in class and how they differentiate work for pupils – thinking through their own judgements that are applied to student potential (such as avoiding the use of ‘sets’ at too early a stage; using mixed ability groupings to encourage learning, peer learning opportunities, etc).

Mindset activities within the school should be included within school plans but not necessarily as a separate area for improvement. Think what can growth mindset can do within the context of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. Standing back and looking at all activities that happen within the school can create the opportunity to think about teaching and engagement strategies that help learners to seek help, understand their intelligence is not fixed and that everyone can improve in their education.

We need to pay attention to transition points, to language, to the curriculum and in ensuring that everyone across the school community is working hard to promote growth mindset consistently and based on a plan that is right for your particular school and community.

So, what are you going to do today to make mindset real within your school for your pupils, fellow staff and parents? Comment below if you are using mindset to help attainment in your school.

John Paul

Bringing Children’s Rights into the Classroom [Scotland only]

Are you looking for a way to incorporate Getting it Right for Every Child into your classroom?

Child Rights Launchpad by Unicef UK aims to help you do this. Launchpad is a ready-to-use, Scotland specific resource that promotes learning about rights and supports the Curriculum for Excellence. It covers all 42 articles of the UNCRC directly relating to children and, best of all, this award-winning resource is completely FREE to use!

Don’t just take our word for how good it is, the resource is currently being used by teachers all over Scotland and they’ve been quick to praise Launchpad:

“We have introduced all our S1 pupils to Launchpad and it has definitely increased the pupils’ knowledge of Child Rights.  One great aspect of the resource is its focus on personalisation and choice.  I have also found it a helpful reference as a teacher and have used it to look up information on specific rights which I have then used in my lessons.”

Mrs. Hoyle, Teacher at Douglas Academy, East Dumbarton

See what other teachers (and children) had to say about Launchpad in this short video:


What to expect?

Launchpad is designed at three different levels, broadly aimed at the following age bands:

  • Level 1: three to seven-year-olds;
  • Level 2: eight to 12-year-olds; and
  • Level 3: 13 to 18-year-olds.

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 09.27.40

Example of the site’s content.

At each level the ‘missions’ follow the same format. The exploration begins with an introduction to the right, before considering it in a Scottish context. The focus then switches to an international setting, exploring how the right is enjoyed in one or more countries around the world, followed by a related activity. Finally, the ‘mission’ is finished with an interactive quiz and a star for the ‘Super You’ character. After six missions each child or young person receives a certificate.

Detailed Guidance for Adults is available on the website- this will provide you with all the information you need about the resource. It’ll also help you to plan how you use Launchpad in your lessons.

Creating your free account is incredibly easy, simply follow this link, We’re confident that you’ll be glad you did – just remember to encourage your colleagues to create their accounts too!


ICT and Languages Conference 2016 #ililc6


It was not without a little trepidation that I headed to Dorking from Glasgow for my first #ililc event hosted by @joedale and @helenmyers at Ashcombe School Language College, sponsored by Sanako making it a free event for the first time, hence why I made the effort. Would my two tablets and smartphone connect, download the necessary apps and not show me up as still being at entry-level with regard to the wonders of the tablet-world? Would everyone be appsmashing over coffee as I remembered I’d forgotten to charge my gadgets? But no, I needn’t have worried, MFL teachers really are the best. Being a subject with communication and openness at its heart, MFL teachers are a chatty lot and so happy to share experiences.

Knowing Joe Dale’s inimitable style, we were all poised to keep up with his full-on whistle-stop tour of apps and websites as he set up a todaysmeet for us to post live comments on, as well as opening up a ‘top tech takeaway padlet, with Chrome ‘talk and comment’, ultratext and Speakpipe add-ons.I could have gone home happy after that first half-hour but there were four sessions with three presentations to choose from in each so, focussing on cross-platform sessions as we are not an ipad school, off I headed to Session 1 ‘Apps r us’ with Amanda Salt.

I would love to be in one of Amanda’s classes, her enthusiasm is infectious and the range of apps and websites she uses brings learning alive in so many ways. Far too many to list but a couple of key ideas I’ve taken away and have already used are

  • quizletlive which has engaged bottom set S3s (Y9), tested Higher Spanish (Y11) on the preterite describing a past holiday, and focused Higher French on the passé composé, (quizizz  and quizalize are similar)
  • creating a Department ‘brand’ to tag everything you create and share/upload

Some of the apps were ipad-only but looked great. I’m also the process of creating a loooooong list of website to request be unblocked by the authority firewall, sigh.

Session 2 was with Serena Dawson creating a storybook on the lines of a russian doll with layers, inserting audio Speakpipe again and sharing student work on Googledrive. I also loved the simplicity but attractiveness of pic collage  but have yet to access it in school. Serena gave the first mention to qr codes and how she sticks them in jotters for parents to access their children’s recordings.

Teaching in a school on the south coast in a community hosting a large number of refugee families, she also spoke with passion about inclusive education and making the MFL curriculum more relevant to current events by using websites such as 1jour1actu, which I do use with my Higher classes. The site has great cartoon video clips explaining all manner of questions sent in by French children. As I write this, today’s question/clip is ‘Why do we do tests at school?‘.

Session 3 was hosted by one of Ashcombe’s teachers, Anna Sichla, with different uses for apps/websites previously mentioned, in additions to  Zondle to make games, Kahoot  for more quizzes, using Vocaroo to generate a url to in turn generate a QR code. Anna is a big fan of youtubing and explained how to use Powtoon , although I think that’s one step too far for me just now. I’d love to use Chatterkid app but sadly it’s ipad only.

With my mind whirling I headed to Session 4 with Aurélie Charles on using Google apps for education. Very much a hands-on session with a helpful interactive ticklist of tasks to work through as she explained different aspects, allowing us to work at our own pace.

Short walk to the hotel and feet up for half an hour before heading back for the evening’s pizza and ‘show and tell’. Us MFL teachers are totally committed to our job! Amongst other presentations,

  • Charlie showcased the website for a school exchange he’s launching on Monday (before heading off to run the London Marathon!)
  • Alison described a very effective transition day, themed around arriving at an airport then taking a plane, with departments across the school contributing a linked activity. It sounded wonderful!
  • Jonathan described how his school has signed up to Global Learning through Global Dimension . Also how, post Y9 options, he keeps  pupils engaged by them making primary MFL language games.
  • Rachel shared ideas for making learning relevant by describing a module on ‘a new school for the Jungle’, the migrant camp in Calais.
  • Joe couldn’t resist playing with msqrd , another video/audio tool to take the focus of speaking for pupils, but serving an educational purpose.
  • David explained how he has built up a popular Duolingo club, celebrating the success of pupils at assemblies.
  • Maxime, and NQT, shared images of a practical homework he set which surprised him by how engaged pupils became, the task being to cook a French dish and photograph/record it.  Some of the pupils had gone to great lengths to produce the food and images.

At 9pm I headed back to my hotel, shattered, but of course I had to start trying out some of my new ideas…

Sunday morning’s first session was with Annalise Adam on QR codes. Inspiring isn’t the word! She showed very clearly how to use QR code generators such as Kaywa or qr-code-generator to link to websites. She gave a practical demonstration of how she created a simple listening exercise by recording German weather phrases on Vocaroo , generating QR codes and posting them around the room for us to scan, identify the weather and note down. Pupils could then use Padlet  to post key phrases as a plenary. So simple but so effective and engaging! Annalise also uses QR codes to bring worksheets to life.

Putting learning into practice.

  • The #ililc6 weekend totally re-energised me. I emailed my Headteacher before I got on the plane home, evangelising the wonders of ICT (when the internet isn’t buffering, the sun isn’t shining on my interactive whiteboard and the websites aren’t blocked) and offering to run a school Teachmeet.
  • Once I got home, I created a departmental poster of QR codes linking to activity websites such as Linguascope, reference sites we use such as Word Reference  and exam support via SQA . Copied, laminated and distrubuted Monday at coffee!
  • This week’s DM was dedicated to a handful of ideas and I intend for us to focus on one idea per month so staff don’t feel overwhelmed but they’re used to me getting carried away with ideas. Some staff have already tried out some of the new ideas and love them, as do their pupils.
  • Having been inspired Serena and Annalise, I created a powerpoint for my Higher French class on the death of Prince and also of David Bowie earlier this year, using QR codes to link to French tv news reports and a 1jour1actu cartoon clip on Bowie. P2 Monday morning was maybe a bit early for my poor Highers to appreciate my even more energetic enthusiasm for my new ‘toys’, but they too used to be getting over-excited now and then.
  • Quizlet live has been a big success and colleagues are similarly enthused.
  • We subscribe to textivate  and when I created an activity this week, I remembered to give it the dept tag ‘invacad’ so it’s easy to find again.

I really can’t emphasise how much I appreciated this weekend, it has easily been the best cpd-event I’ve ever attended and has had an immediate impact on my teaching practice and a knock-on effect on my colleagues. I’m fairly new to Twitter and have been using our Department account @invacadmfl to share the #ililc6 love. Thank you @JoeDale!


Interpersonal Small Group Mediation

The purpose of this guide is to support teachers/tutors in resolving conflicts within Learning Sets through Interpersonal Small Group Mediation strategies. 

As I have expressed in a number of articles on my site collaborativegrouplearning.com, Learning Sets are dynamic group structures designed to engineer and facilitate both effective socialised-learning and social relationships. The three principles of:

1: 6 in number;

2: Heterogeneous in character (diversely mixed);  

3: Sustained overtime;

have the potential to either enable high functioning learning and social relationships or low functioning learning and social relationships. To enable the desired outcome of the Learning Set relationships must be nurtured by all 7 members of the Learning Set; the 6 students and the 1 tutor

As with any group, problems and issues concerning relationships can emerge and if unresolved can evolve into corrosively negative group relations. The key therefore is to enable the successful resolution of substantive, communication and relational problems as they emerge. Vigilance, swift action and mediation on the part of the tutor can enable the group to locate the causes, course and consequences of the problem or issue and with this foster healthier Learning Set relationship.  

A Learning Set’s success is in direct correlation with the strength of the Learning Set’s relationship.

The long term goal is to enable students to better negotiate their own solutions to substantive, communication and relational problems. Students need to recognise that the relationship of the group is the responsibility of every member. Through modelling and interventions such as Learning Set Mediation, students can come to be ever more self-regulating, aware of how to negotiate their way through the complexities of learning and social relationships. Within this process the Learning Set’s tutor plays a key role.

Learning Set Mediation involves:

  • Voluntary participation (all members of the Learning Set agree to it
  • Face-to-face discussions between the parties in conflict facilitated through the tutor as mediator
  • An unbiased mediator who helps those involved to understand each other’s point of view and come to an agreement
  • Equal opportunities for all participants to speak and explain their perspective
  • All relevant information being shared openly by all participants 
  • A shared agreement between the parties
  • Revisiting the agreement to ensure application and resolution  

The Role of the Learning Set Mediator:

As mediator the teacher of tutor’s role is to enable the process of mediation to be undertaken.

The key to effective mediation is the tutors fulfillment of organisational and communication duties. Good communication during the act of mediation is crucial. Good communication involves the mediator putting aside their own views and feelings in order to help the parties listen to and understand each other. To these ends the tutor must place themselves physically within the group acting as a conduit of communication for mediation (discussion-resolution). 

A mediator needs a range of skills, including:

  • Active listening skills;
  • Questioning and clarifying skills (reflective listening, normalizing, reframing) to grasp both the facts and the areas of controversy;
  • Emotional intelligence to understand the underlying emotions;
  • Summarising skills to set out the main points of controversy, and underlying emotions, and also to help the participants to reframe issues in less emotive language; and 
  • Empathy to help each party to stand in each other’s shoes and understand each other’s point of view.

As a mediator the tutor must not take sides, or be seen to be acting unfairly. Acknowledge points made by all parties, and spend equal time with each person or on their issues, enabling them to speak and actively listening. 

The task is complex but is essentially all about being fair, listening to all and enabling all to speak. It is about not reaching a personal judgement but helping the group find an agreement enabling them all to move forward. Enabling, through questioning, to get to the root cause of the problem or issue by helping the group to:

  1. track back from consequences (the present situation);
  2. through the course (he said-she said);
  3. to the cause (where did it begin and why?).

Mediation can be time consuming and will require a number of daily-weekly-monthly sessions, all depending on the nature and complexity of the problem or issue. 

The time spent however can reap rewards for all involved in the long run and for the tutor cement their role as an informed and important member of the Learning Set.

The Mediation Process:

1: Preparation

  • Select a place to conduct the mediation. This should be a neutral and private space, free of interruptions, where the group can sit together in a circle with the mediator sat as part of this circle.
  • Each session should last not more than 20 minutes.
  • When sat in the circle members should be distraction free; nothing in their hands to fiddle with.  
  • Once in the space and sat the mediator needs to introduce themselves, set out the mediator’s role (to be impartial and help to communicate and reach their solution) and lay out the ‘ground rules’ for the mediation process. These should include the basic rules of communication (once voice at a time, eye contact with the speaker, no interruptions, use of a person’s name when referring to them) and confidentiality. 

2: Reconstructing and Understanding the Conflict

Through questioning, active listening, revoicing and management of the group:

  • Enable each member in turn to identify the present situation (the consequence, problem and/or issue)
  • Enable each member in turn to identify their feelings and emotions concerning the present situation (repeat these emotions back to enable all to recognise them)
  • Enable each member in turn to identify how the present situation has come to be (the course of actions towards the present problem and/or issue)
  • Enable each member in turn to identify what they believe the starting point or cause is of the present situation (the cause of the problem and/or issue)

3: Defining Points of Agreement and Dispute

During this stage, the tutor’s role is to help all to move towards a position where they start to understand each other’s point of view, and can then begin to resolve the shared problem.

  • Enable the group to move from a focus on the past to one on the future. 
  • Enable the group to see areas of agreement, commonality and shared feelings.

4: Creating Options for Resolution

  • Enable the group to develop options for resolution.
  • Help the group select the most likely to succeed option (relevant, achievable, suits all parties). 
  • When relevant offer tools to aid the successful application of the preferred option (Communication Cards, Learning Set Role Cards, Learning Set Report)
  • When relevant help the group to develop evaluation criteria, which should ideally be objective and in order of importance, for the successful application of the agreed option.

5: Moving Forward 

  • Enable the group to agree to the proposed resolution.
  • When relevant set the group or individuals SMART targets to enable the successful application of the resolution. 
  • Agree a follow up meeting to discuss how things are moving forward. 

A Potential Mediation Script:

1: Preparation

“Thank you for making the time to be here today  and thank you for joining the circle.”

“This is not about blaming anyone but a chance for us all to understand what the situation is, what has happened and how it is effecting you all.” 

“My role in this process is to be impartial, listening to what you all say and helping you all through effective communication reach a solution to the present situation so that we can all move forward.”

“Before we begin there are some ground rules to cover. For this to work well we must apply the basic rules of communication which are once voice at a time, eye contact with the speaker, no interruptions and the use of a person’s name when referring to them. Everyone will have many chances to speak and I would like to remind you all that everything you say here today is confidential. However if you say something that makes me really concerned about your safety and wellbeing I will have to report it to…”

2: Reconstructing and Understanding the Conflict

“Let’s take it in turn to share our thoughts and feelings about the situation. (name) will start first and we will move around the group in a clockwise direction listening to what everyone has to say”. 

“….what is the problem/issue/situation as you see it?” “How does this affect you?”

“….what has been happening to get to this point, can you think of any situations or examples of things that have happened?” “What has been your involvement?”

“I think I understand what you are saying, is it right to say that…”

“What started all this off?”

“What do you feel has caused this situation/to get out of control?”

3: Defining Points of Agreement and Dispute

“The past is just that, what can we do together to move forward? …what do you feel we could do?”

“I hear what you are saying, what do you…feel?”

“What I noticed when you were talking this through is that you agreed about…”

“Can we use what you agree about as starting point for a possible solution?”

4: Creating Options for Resolution

“Do you believe…that this is an effective resolution? How would you make it better? Who agrees/disagrees? What’s your opinion…?”

“I agree/disagree that the option you are suggesting will be the most effective at resolving the situation because…What are your thoughts…?” 

“What resources could I offer you to help you all move forward? Perhaps….would be of use.”

“I think that those evaluation criteria will work really well because…”

“I feel that some of those evaluation criteria could be enhanced a little, for example…”

5: Moving Forward 

“Do we all agree to the proposed resolution? Why do you…agree to the resolution? Why do you…disagree to the resolution?” 

“What would be the best SMART targets that you feel you could all follow to ensure that…”

“We will meet again…in order to see how things are moving forward, is this ok with everybody?” 

Developed with help from:

http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/mediation-skills.html#ixzz427eU7BsP (accessed 06/03/16)

Thorsborne. M., & Vinegrad. D. ( 2011) Restorative Justice Pocketbook, Teachers Pocketboks. Hampshire.

Ongoing research into situated group dynamics.

‘An Education for Education’ in response to, ‘What is the purpose of education?’

In response to the UK Governments announced consultation regarding the purpose and quality of education in England inquiry I was asked to offer my thoughts on the purpose of education by the EducationPolicyNetwork (@edupolicynet).

‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ (Freire, 2000, p.34)

Learning is a lifelong process of both passive and active engagement with the empirical and ontological world. It is a transformative process leading to a permanent capacity change, a process which, if actively engaged with and directed towards premeditated goals throughout ones life, can be called Education (personal enlightenment). From the cradle to the grave we learn with, from and because of others and the more we come to take control of these interactions the more effectively we come to learn about ourselves, others and the world in all its forms and strata. An individuals capacity for a lifetime of learning (Education) is shaped by countless variables, encounters, mechanisms and structures, yet one system plays a significant role in liberating an individual from dependance to independence, an education. 

In many cases formal education seeks to primarily induct an individual into the empirical and ontological reality of a given community and culture. Thus education systems provide a curriculum which imbues an individual with domain and non domain specific knowledge, embed that knowledge as understanding and foster the development of culturally prized skills. In the prevalent system this is important as mastering these grants access to later levels of education and is the currency of socio-economic mobility. Along the way a learner develops social skills, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and in some cases attributes. But if we consider the work of Freire, Bernstein, Marx and to an extent Critical Realist philosophy, an education is more than a process of at best enculturation and at worst indoctrination. An education is an opportunity to liberate learners, furnishing them with the knowledge, understanding and skills, attributes and aptitudes to both master their learning lifelong and lifewide, enabling an individual to direct their personal Education.

Traditional transmission and ‘banking’ (Freire, 2000) approaches to education, and in turn teaching, which focus on the triumvirate of predefined knowledge, understanding and skills is no longer an appropriate preparation of todays adolescents for their place in our Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009). Top down and grass roots change have and will continue to undoubtedly occur within the how of learning, teaching and education. Yet the how without the why lacks true value. It is the question of why, and the purpose of an education, which still requires satisfactory address. An address not shaped by political and personal bias, but shaped by the hopes and ambitions we collectively have for humankind as it strides forward into an unknown future.

It is not for me to determine the why of education, but as someone actively involved in both my own Education and within the engineering and facilitating of the education of others I have come to recognise the following. My applied philosophy of Education is one which recognises that it is the duty of an education to enable learners to know enough about themselves, others and the world to find out more and to build a cognitive and social network of understanding. To enable learners to develop and practice a range of skills which they can hone, develop further and synthesise with others throughout their lives. To question, to be self motivated, self regulated and to be aware of how they, others and the world works. Education is about capacity building, facilitating an individuals ability to recognise, enable and enhance their own Agency. If an education is focused upon these goals then gender, race, background, socio-economic status should not hold an individual back. If an education provides the means to develop a lifelong-lifewide learning capacity through socialised-learning contexts where thought has been applied to how group interactions can be managed for the benefit of learners and learning then differences such as gender and race can became facilitators of learning rather than potential shackles on liberation.

To enable the above, systems of education, and associated pedagogies, must actively foster a learning orientation (Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117). Such an education would provide the route towards empowering all learners with the cognitive and social tools enabling them to positively interact with an undetermined future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009). In addition to recognising the purpose of education expressed above, systems of education must also preach and practice the tenets of effective learning. Without experiencing a culture of effective learning how would an individual come to recognise and master their own effective lifelong-lifewide learning?

It is my fundamental belief that the most effective learning results from an active process of engagement with learning (Ireson, 2008, p.6) in order to achieve premeditated goals (Resnich, 1987). Illeris (2007) suggests that this active process is stimulated by the interactions between three dimensions of learning, content, incentive and environment, a theory supported by Claxton (1999), Watkins et al. (2002) and Ireson (2008). When such an interaction process is placed within a social context, such as the classroom or wider societal contexts, a further tri-directional relationship is activated between rules, tools and community, all of which shapes the activation, direction and nature of learning (Engestrom, 1987, 2009). At the heart of this active learning process is an acceptance of the enabling role of social factors, a central truth of constructivist, social-constructivist and particularly social-constructionist philosophies championed by Piaget (1923), Vygotsky (1978) and Burr (1999).

Learning, facilitated as a social process within education contexts such as schools, is explored throughout the literature relating to effective learning (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Watkins, 2005), cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) and collaborative group learning (Gratton, 2015). The literature, drawn from diverse academic fields, highlights the varying cognitive, social, psychological and societal benefits of socialised learning, in particular learning which is collaborative in nature. Ding and Flynn (2000) highlight the relationship between an individual’s engagement with collaborative learning processes and the development of some of their more general cognitive skills, in particular, ‘intersubjectivity, planning, communication and inhibition.’ (p.3). Panitz (2011) furthers this, citing 67 benefits of collaboration including, improved learning and achievement, improved skills, improved engagement and responsibility and improved relationships. Bruffee (1993) believes that collaborative learning processes encourage learner autonomy through a development of ‘the craft of interdependence.’ (p.1). The development of this attribute promotes a shift from cognitive self-interest to mutual interest, the development of positive learning and social relationships between students and an increased openness to being influenced by and influencing others (Johnson and Johnson, 2008, p.12). Evidence also suggests that due to the way in which collaboration requires the use of dialogue, in problem solving and social mediation (Vygotsky, 1978; Mercer, 2002), verbal task regulation is stimulated (Biemiller et al., 1998, p.204), effective learning encouraged (Alexander, 2006, p.9; Kutnick, 2010, p.192) and personal identities developed (Bakhtin, 1981; Renshaw, 2004, p.1), helping to form socially adept individuals. From this it could be concluded that a learner may become increasingly more able to control their Education due to an education structured to engineer and facilitate socialised-learning as described above.

Applying the discussion above to an education raises numerous implications for pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. These aspects are widely researched, discussed and at times vilified, collectively generating much white noise within the ether of educational debate. I have written about and will continue to reflect upon how these aspects of an education may be reorientated to enable learning for the purposes of a lifelong-lifewide Education but other than promoting here a Collaborative Group Learning Pedagogy, a Connected and Collaborative Curriculum and Authentic Assessment I will say no more on these areas.

It is commonly accepted that Europe has socio-economically and culturally shifted from being “workshop of the world” to predominantly a “knowledge economy and society”. The post modern knowledge society and rapidly changing world we find ourselves part of requires much more from todays learners, their teachers and existing systems of formal education. An education must recognise this change and orientate itself towards educating todays adolescents with a capacity to engage with our rapidly changing world, directing their own Education throughout their evolving lives. Ultimately education should seek to build an individuals capacity to both actively and positively engage with and shape the world around them, enabling them to create their own reality; the defining element of ones liberation as a human.

Rob Gratton works as an Assistant Principal in a North London Academy with responsibility for Research, Pedagogy and Curriculum Design and continues to teach within the Humanities. In addition he works for UCL Institute of Education as Subject Tutor on the Teach First programme and is course lead on the Assessment for Learning Masters module. This work is furthered through a number of design and teaching roles which presently include working for the States of Jersey and the Government of Macedonia in the development of their ITT programme for Secondary practitioners. Facilitating this work within education is Rob’s ongoing Doctoral studies in the fields of socialised and collaborative group learning. Rob’s work in education is accessible at www.collaborativegrouplearning.com and @CGL_edu.

Creativity in teaching: Creative Pedagogy

In a previous article (ICT enhanced teaching and learning or ‘digital pedagogy‘) I shared my current work, commissioned by UCL IOE on behalf of the Government of Macedonia, concerning ICT, pedagogy and more broadly creativity within education. This article outlines my thoughts relating to creativity in teaching and creative teaching or ‘creative pedagogy’.

Why do we need creativity in teaching and education? 

The post modern knowledge society we find ourselves part of requires much more from todays learners and their teachers. Traditional approaches to the teaching of the triumvirate of knowledge, understanding and skills is no longer an appropriate preparation of adolescent learners for their place in our Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009 for a discussion of how education systems need to respond to global economic and social change).

Creative pedagogies which actively foster a learning orientation (Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117), offer a route to empowering students with the cognitive and social tools that would enable them to positively interact with an unknown future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009).

What is the relationship between creative pedagogy and effective learning?

If the most effective learning results from an active process of engagement with learning (Ireson, 2008, p.6) in order to achieve premeditated goals (Resnich, 1987) then what can activate this process? Illeris (2007) suggests that this active process is stimulated by the interactions between three dimensions of learning, content, incentive and environment, a theory supported by Claxton (1999), Watkins et al. (2002) and Ireson (2008). When such an interaction process is placed within a social context, such as the classroom, a further tri-directional relationship is activated between rules, tools and community, all of which shapes the activation, direction and nature of learning (Engestrom, 1987, 2009).

At the heart of this paradigm is an acceptance of the enabling role of social factors, a central tenet of constructivist, social- constructivist and particularly social-constructionist philosophies championed by Piaget (1923), Vygotsky (1978) and Burr (1999). Learning as a social process is explored throughout the literature relating to effective learning (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Watkins, 2005), cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) and collaborative learning (Gratton, 2015). A valid interpretation therefore is that if we are to engineer effective learning processes and opportunities we must consider and exploit the social nature of learning and to do so requires creativity.

What is creativity and creative teaching?

Of the various creative attempts by teachers to socialise classroom learning and to facilitate effective learning, such as Dialogic Teaching and Learning (Lefstein, 2010), Think>Pair>Share (Lyman, 1981), AfL (see Black et al., 2004) and Collaborative Group Learning (Gratton2015), the most beneficial methodologies seem to be those seeking to engineer and facilitate cooperation-collaboration between learners. Whatever the methodology one thing unifies them all, creative teachers and creative teaching practices.

The most effective methodologies are created and delivered by the most creative of teachers working in creative educational environments. A creative pedagogy is recognised within a teachers ability to develop something novel and adapt to new situations in order to enable effective learning. Unusual solutions alongside originality are visible parts of creativity (Hackbert, 2010; Lemons, 2005). Lin (2011) describes creative teaching from three different perspectives: creative teaching, teaching for creativity and creative learning; referring to them as creative pedagogy. We are particularly interested in Lin’s (2011) conception of creative teaching in particular. Creative teaching, focuses on teaching and teacher’s actions (Lin, 2011, see also Sawyer, 2004, 2006). Lin (2011) draws on Craft (2005) referring to creative teaching as a creative, innovative and imaginative approach to teaching. These ideas are extended by Sawyer (2004, 2006) who emphasises a creative teacher’s ability to use improvisational elements within their lessons. The creative teacher lives in the moment, acting spontaneously, courageously and confidently taking the ideas that have arisen from the student learners and change the lesson to finish it in another and arguable better way (Sawyer, 2004, 2006). This definition of creative pedagogy reflects both a creative teaching practice and the widely  recognised tenets of effective learning facilitation. It also highlights a crucial aspect of creative teaching, the capacity to be creative within ones teaching.

Creativity is a multi-dimensional and complex phenomenon (Toivanen et al., 2013). Conceptions of creativity sit within four dimensions: the creative person, product, process or environment (Lemons, 2005; McCammon et al., 2010). We are interested in the creative person, specifically a teaching professional, their creative product in the form of creative teaching methodology (Aleinikov, 1989) and the environment which enables creativity to occur (Lemons, 2005). Creativity is described, within the research literature, as a process and an inseparable part of its surrounding culture (Toivanen et al., 2013).

How do we enable creative pedagogy? 

Case studies such as High Tech High (San Diego), UCL Academy (London) and Ørestad Gymnasium (Copenhagen) reflect the existence of the four dimensions of creativity outlined above, in particular the creative environment or context. It has been recognised (Kim, 2010, 2011) that to enable creativity within teachers, education systems need to empower all to develop characteristics and attributes associated with creative practice; self-motivation, confidence, curiosity and flexibility. Flexibility within teachers and within school systems is the most important of these enabling states. Without flexibility, trust and the promotion of teacher agency, measured risks can’t be taken; with risk central to creativity (Cleeland, 2012). We can expect a certain degree of creativity from our teachers but to enable teachers to be highly creative in their approaches to enacting effective learning then the capacity to do so needs to be nurtured and supported.  Enabling teaching professionals, through training and support, to have a growth mindset (Dweck, 2012), to develop their own agency for enhanced professional practices (Priestly et al., 2012) and empowering them to form and use collaborative networks in order to enable a sustained application of a creative pedagogy are vital.

The type of society dictates the type of pedagogy. Our society requires a creativity, creative people and a creative pedagogy. As such it is up to those that shape education, in all its facets, to enable a creative pedagogy to be realised.

Presently I am undertaking some design and teaching work for UCL IOE on behalf of the Government of Macedonia. I am fortunate to be part of a small team developing a training program for the Macedonian Secondary Teachers ITT course and as part of this group I am leading on ICT enhanced teaching and learning and Creative teaching.

Developing the Young Workforce – Career Management Skills: One Primary School’s Approach

The labour market is constantly changing. Many of the children in our classrooms will move into jobs that do not yet exist. A 21st Century Teacher’s job cannot only consist of turning on the tap of knowledge in the hope that our learners will be equipped for the future.

In 2014 the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce was published. Later that year the Scottish Government outlined the Developing the Young Workforce Strategy, an agenda focused on increasing youth employment. Between May and September 2015 we have seen the 3-18 Career Education materials published on the Education Scotland website.

It’s great to see the power of work going on in the Secondary sector; however, the grass roots of the Early Years and Primary are crucial if we aim to develop the skills for work of our workforce of the future.

Earlier in 2015 Lochardil Primary School, Inverness, developed a Career Management Education programme for P6 and P7 pupils. The multi-agency project which was led by Highland Council’s then Literacy and Assessment Development Officer, the P6 and P7 teachers in the school, the Employer Liaison Manager at Barnardo’s Works and Skills Development Scotland. The project aimed to:

  • increase pupil, parent and staff awareness of the world of work
  • develop an understanding of skill development within the world of work
  • allow learners to reflect on their own horizons
  • make connections between education and the world of work.

CME2The Primary 6 and 7 pupils developed their research skills through using Skills Developmental Scotland’s My World of Work tool, identifying core skills which are fundamental across different industries. They learned how to create surveys to find information which was pertinent to the project, enhancing their skills in data literacy. They developed their communication skills through writing to businesses and presenting to businesses and their families about their learning in career education. They learned from local businesses within the hospitality, finance, construction and consumer market industries.

The project enabled the learners to make connections between the skills developed in school and the skills which are crucial to the world of work. They learned, from Skills Development Scotland, about the tools which they can use to make informed choices. Families learned from Skills Development Scotland and from the children through informative and interactive presentations.

The project engaged P6 and P7 pupils in the world of work, highlighting the importance of Skills for learning, life and work. To find out more about the project, including learning resources to help you develop Career Education with your children, check out the links below:

Developing the Young Workforce – Lochardil Primary School
Developing the Young Workforce – Lochardil Primary School (includes appendices)

A new narrative for Curriculum for Excellence?
December 17, 2015

Tuesday saw the publication of the OECD report Improving Schools in Scotland (see https://tinyurl.com/j3vce6g). The report, originally set up to provide an external evaluation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), offered a broad and mainly complimentary commentary on the health of Scotland’s school system. It also offered a critique, including a range of insightful and helpful recommendations for improving the curriculum. These covered issues such as the need to build capacity for practitioner engagement with curricular issues, advice about simplification of curriculum guidance, and the need to make better use of the expertise residing in Scotland’s research community. An intriguing recommendation referred to creating a ‘new narrative for CfE’ (see pp.19-22).

This raises some interesting questions. For example, what is wrong with the existing narrative? The review was clear that the building blocks of effective curricular practice have been provided by CfE and parallel policies such as those associated with Teaching Scotland’s Future. However, and I would concur with these, it identified some issues affecting the translation of curricular aims into practice. These include the complexity of guidance; as I have argued elsewhere, a problem with CfE has been a proliferation of guidance that is often vague and poorly rooted in research, and which has often served to merely reinterpret earlier documentation for practitioners. Another issue lies in the tension between the Four Capacities (effectively key competencies) and the more specific outcomes. The OECD quite rightly asks ‘How clearly aligned can be a curriculum that is both about four capacities on the one hand, and about extensive Experiences and Outcomes on the other?’. As Walter Humes and I have argued, this creates multiple starting points for curriculum development (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03054980903518951). What the OECD termed the ‘elasticity’ (p.21), emerging from the above issues (particularly the lack of clarity around purposes and methods) means that pretty much anything can be made to fit. This in effect means that, for many schools, CfE has been an audit process (against the Es & Os) followed by a rebranding exercise, rather than genuinely transformational change. Our research suggests, for example, that many secondary schools have adapted existing practices, retaining many familiar features of the old curriculum such as short timetabled lessons and traditional subjects, rather than opening up the innovation made possible by the new curriculum (e.g. see http://hdl.handle.net/1893/11356).

Thus there is a compelling case here for suggesting that the existing narrative of CfE is over complex, lacks coherence in places and has not therefore instigated the sorts of reform envisaged by the architects of the curriculum. This then raises a further question: ‘what might a new narrative look like?’. I offer here some thoughts on this subject. I would largely concur with the OECD that the building blocks are in place. These include a reasonably clear statement of purposes (the Capacities), good practices in relation to formative assessment and interactive pedagogy such as cooperative learning, and the development of teacher professional learning and leadership in recent years. What has been missing from the narrative, in my view, is a clear sense of process. This is commonplace in modern outcomes-based curricula, where it is assumed that the methods are not important as long as the outcomes are achieved, but it is unhelpful when the expectation is for practitioners to engage with policy in developing practice. Thus my narrative for CfE would start from a clear definition of educational purposes, and then clearly set out a process for engagement. This process led approach is very much about a school-based approach to curriculum development, as advocated by the OECD.

First, let me examine the notion that the curriculum should be driven by clearly articulated purposes. The Four Capacities go some of the way towards this, but require substantial sense-making by teachers. They need to be framed against deeper purposes of education, or in other words should address the question ‘what are schools for?’. This will inevitably include preparation for the world of work, but education should also develop the capacity for critical, engaged citizenship (for an excellent overview, see http://democraticdialogue.com/DDpdfs/WhatKindOfCitizenAERJ.pdf). Educational purposes need to be accompanied by educational principles. CfE has a stab at these, but the rather vague existing principles could usefully also include dimensions such as ‘interactive’ and ‘dialogical’ – ideas that are currently contained in a rather fragmented fashion in the Es & Os. Second, a process-led approach should involve consideration of fitness-for-purpose, or in other words which practices are best suited to developing the desired attributes set out within the principles and purposes of the curriculum. These relate to the types of knowledge required to become educated, as well as the pedagogical and assessment practices which might best develop the desired attributes. Third, and finally, a clear narrative for CfE should include suitable processes for undertaking innovation. The GTCS already advocates professional enquiry and, in my view, this approach offers considerable potential to develop the curriculum. However, there are many types of professional enquiry; some are very light on process and do not connect well with educational purposes. Thus a clear narrative for CfE should also incorporate a clear and detailed set of processes for translating curricular aims into curricular practices. Our recent work with schools in East Lothian provides a template for this, and early empirical research suggests that this is both effective and successful in developing CfE (for full details of this initiative, see http://hdl.handle.net/1893/22518).

A couple of final points. First, let’s stop calling it Curriculum for Excellence, as suggested by the OECD; The Scottish Curriculum sounds pretty good to me. Second, developing a new narrative for CfE does not necessarily mean rewriting the curriculum. It does, however, mean developing clarity about how one proceeds from the principles and purposes of the curriculum to meaningful classroom practice. And it may mean replacing some of the more unhelpful existing guidance with new forms of guidance – and possibly dropping the Es and Os altogether. This will require both clarity of purpose and a proactive approach from those with the expertise and influence to redevelop CfE; as the OECD stated, ‘this is a prime opportunity boldly to enter a new phase, building upon the achievement to date’ (p.16).

Cross-posted from mrpriestley.wordpress.com


As one of our digital leaders at school, responsible for raising our digital prowess and use of technology to enhance learning (rather than just a bolt on), I am often asked what are my most recommended apps/tools to use in the classroom. I am by no means an expert – in fact, quite late to the technological game when it comes to it being integrated into the classroom. I have learnt a great deal from experts in the field, such as Mr P ICT and Rob Smith (founder of Literacy Shed). As an avid fan of all things technological, I spend my CPD time learning from them and gleaning whatever I can from the trail they, and others, have carved out. So, with all that in mind, I apologise now if anything I share might be ‘old news’ for you.

My favourite at the moment is ‘Blendspace’, which does exactly as it says on the tin – blend the ‘digital’ space with that of your classroom. I have found this tool invaluable with any children I teach (KS1 – KS2). It allows me to create a digital pinboard, for the children to access online content that I have chosen and selected beforehand. I have used QR codes for a while (another post to come) to allow children to quickly access a website, without having to enter in the inordinately long address. When I have needed them to access multiple websites, I have given them multiple QR codes, which in its essence, is fine. Except there is something better. Blendspace.

You can access this website (soon to be an app also, I hear) through your TES account. If you don’t have one of those….you’d be the first teacher I’ve met who doesn’t. Go get one! It’s free and is a whole remarkable resource all of its own. I don’t have time to unpack the genius of this place here and now. Alternatively, you can just sign up for Blendspace.

Blendspace allows me to compile any digital content that I want in one central place for the children to access. I can upload directly from TES, Google, Youtube, images….etc.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I delivered a few weeks back to Year 6 on Charles Darwin. I wanted them to research, using the questions they had generated. By ‘googling’ Charles Darwin, they would have spent too much time sifting through to find relevant KS2 appropriate information. Here, I provided it for them.


Here you can see that I found a PDF, links to websites and a video, through the search function on the right. I then just clicked and dragged into the available boxes on the left. Here, all the research resources they need are in one location. Now, for them to access this ‘digital lesson’ I have done one of two things. Either:

1 – Used the link above as a hyperlink on our class blog. I tend to do this if I want them to access this outside of school.

2 – Clicked on the green ‘share’ button at the top and then copied and pasted the QR code onto a document. I usually display this on the board, or print off for tables. All our children have access to ipads and so can scan the QR code, which will take them to what you can see above.

Saying that – it isn’t the longer address and they could type it into the address bar. Not my first choice, but not a problem either.

Once created, I named my lesson and it became forever in my library of lessons. Others can access it too, if they search for ‘Charles Darwin’. On that note, if you click on ‘blendspace’ at the top, it will take you back to your dashboard – your homepage, if you will. From here, you can search for lessons that already exist, that others have made. Super useful.

You could differentiate the ‘lesson’ by creating a different pinboard for each group. I have also used it in a carousel activity, when I needed multiple stations, each with different research. My students have also used this to create ‘lessons’ on a topic they researched for Home Learning, to make the websites/resources they used available to all. After we have finished, the QR codes are added to the display board, for anyone to continue to research in their own time. A number do.

I was using this before we purchased iPads. Whilst I believe they do make it smoother, they are not essential to using this excellent tool.

I used this weekly in some capacity or another, in a range of lessons throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, it has just been set up as a station for those who are ready for challenge/early morning work, with websites to SPAG revision, phonics games etc. We have even used it to upload the children’s actual work, be it writing, calculations or art work, so that it can be seen by others (parents, children, teacher) all in one place – a gallery of learning.

If you are already using it, I would love to hear about other ways you have used it, whatever your setting. If you haven’t, please let me know if you started using it and what you thought of it. My staff were really excited to discover this and have found it invaluable already. I hope it is for you too.  Happy blending!

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.

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