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Grouping Pupils

Seating Plans are something that can take seemingly endless amounts of time and effort, particularly if you are going to include data for observers. I have often found that I have over-thought seating plans and they haven’t really worked, so I decided to take the thought out of it and develop a seating plan generator.

The first thing I decided to do was rank my classes based upon recent assessments, and use that to create groups of even ability. I split my classes into bands of 8, and put one from each band in each group. I realised that there was a systematic way that I could do this, and have a selection of different groups that still follow these criteria. I developed a set of group cards(see group cards 8 below) that I could assign to the pupils, that would allow me to group the pupils in 4 different ways, where if all groups were used, no pupils would work in the same group twice. I developed a spreadsheet(see blank groups 8) that showed the seating plans in these groups in a mode friendly for observers and a separate mode friendly for pupils when they change groups.

Group cards 8

Blank Groups 8

I have since developed it further to include an element of competition between groups. I used a points system to assign points to each group, each lesson. This led to more responsible behaviour, as a sense of “not letting the team down” set in. After complaints of unfairness, I added a random name generator to the spreadsheet, which allowed me to ask a targeted question to a random member of a particular band. I reward the winning group with school reward points at the end of each lesson, and enter each groups points on my spreadsheet. The winning group over a topic get more reward points, before switching to the next set of groups. My spreadsheet also totals up each individual’s points that they have earned in their different groups and gives an overall winner once all 4 groups have been gone through. This overall winner is rewarded even more and celebrated as a consistently good team member within any of their groups.

I have also developed sets of 7 groups and sets of 5 groups for smaller classes. For these, I was able to do more groups, and it gives you the opportunity to move on to the next group if the seating plan is not working.

This is something that has worked for me, feel free to try it, amend it and give me feedback.

Tools to help Quiet and Shy Learners join in

I have always felt nervous when speaking in front of groups.

At School, at University, and now even in Lecturer Meetings I have always been a bit worried and unsure when the focus shifts to me and I worry whether or not what I have to say is interesting and/ or correct.

It is unusual that I am a Lecturer now but I love my subject and I love learning so the fact that I am now in a position to help students like me get through their nerves transcends any anxiety I may have. Using educational technology in class has helped me to remove any barriers to learning that my quiet and shy teenage students may encounter when we engage in activities to assess their understanding of a lesson.

Twitter – We use hashtags to discuss topics at the start of every lecture as a starter or plenary to get the learners involved, analysing and debating the topic at hand. Learners are encouraged to tweet in on a tag we make that morning and I curate them as they appear on the screen using Twitterfall or Tweetbeam - by doing this it allows me a chance to ask follow up questions to the contributor once the discussion has begun (alleviating the worry of speaking first in class). We also often have cross college discussions with other students, guest tweeters hosting debates, and industry experts who can guide the learners through a topic to help them build confidence in their digital literacy, critical thinking, and communication skills.

Facebook – Learners can ask questions they may be too embarrassed about asking their Lecturers in front of their classmates on Facebook. We have found that when the students can see key information about the course, share interesting links/ videos and engage with links and materials from the Lecturer they are more likely to expand and consolidate learning outside of the class whilst building up rapport with their peers. Learners reluctant to talk in class can add comments or private message their peers once they have been rounded up in to a group and can use it to gather research, manage projects, and keep one another informed of deadlines whilst print-screening said evidence for their assessments.

Socrative – Learners can join in a gamified quiz on the screen by responding to open-ended or closed questions via their device or computer. This also provides a chance to receive feedback from the Lecturer about right/ wrong answers on screen whilst a report detailing each students individual performance can be analysed afterwards to see if they need further help on a particular topic. Socrative can be a useful starter activity to help you gather evidence of their development at different stages throughout a topic leading up to and including the exam/ final assessment itself. Teams of learners can even go up against each other in the ‘space race’ feature which help galvanize the students in teams as they compete to get the most correct answers quickest/ propel their rocket to the finishing line.

Once the learners gain more confidence you can try these…..

Vine – Create 6 second looping clips on their devices to communicate key information. For example, I ask my students to state an objective for their future self in 90 minutes time that they have to meet in that lesson. At the end of the lesson the learner watches the clip back to review whether it has been met or not.

Instagram - Photographing their work to evidence their process and annotate the pictures with text to encourage reflection and evaluation at each stage of the project. The video feature offers a chance to document mini-vlogs on their work as well in teams or individually.

Podcasts – If the learner is reluctant to appear on camera they can capture evidence of their learning as a discussion using SoundCloud or AudioBoo. You can challenge them to produce something succinct and specific to your criteria within clear parameters (3 mins/use 5 key words each) independently.

Vlogs – Using handycams, webcams, or their device the learners can respond to questions in short clips or, if they are more creative, as News Reports or in comedy sketches to demonstrate their knowledge.

Providing differentiation (learners always have a a vlog/ podcast/ written option where possible) like this gives my less traditionally able learners a real chance of performing and creating evidence of their knowledge.

Sometimes home-life, health, being awkward around the person they fancy in class, or any number of the other external variables that can effect a learners confidence in the classroom can stop them from participating in class.

By opening up and varying the streams of communication between us and our learners we can provide them with more chances to show how much they have learned while simultaneously providing us with more fun and valid conduits for measuring evidence of their progress.


July 11, 2014

I am trying my hand at ‘blogging’ following recruitment by Barry at a recent series of NCSP workshops. I am not sure how blogging really works (shocking I know) and this must make me something of a Luddite around these parts. With that in mind, the theme of my presentation for the NCSP was differentiation strategies and with this focus ever growing, why not start there?

The inspiration behind looking into differentiation was my department now being comprised of myself and 2 NQTs. My school also has a large number of new, very young teachers and a huge focus is placed on effective differentiation in each lesson we plan.

When producing the presentation and from talking to a number of staff, I often found that newer staff forgot to differentiate for the top. Each class we teach of course has a top student in there. Someone who performs even slightly better than the rest of the class. Another current focus being how to maximise A*-A grades at GCSE.

Some good teaching strategies which I have used are:

  • Market Place
  • Silent Debate
  • Putting a figure/character on trial
  • Mystery
  • Mapping from Memory
  • Radio Transcripts
  • Video Transcript
  • Peer Help
  • Diamond 9 Ranking


  • Best suited to top set/MAT but can be adapted
  • You will need: sugar paper or A3 paper, varieties of text blocks, colours
  • Concept: split into groups. Eg) WWI causes – could be split into countries such as France, Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Russia.
  • Summarise role using only a limit of words, eg 10 words but as many pictures & diagrams as you wish. Eg) Eiffel Tower = France
  • Pupils must summarise and then split groups. 1 stays at the ‘market place’ whilst others information collect.
  • Feedback & peer teach = all have peer taught & all have answers
  • Homework – give info (if necessary) and relate to examination style question
  • DIFFERENTIATION: 1) Groupings by topic, with harder topics to more able groups 2) Groupings with specific MAT or G&T leaders to assist others 3)Differentiating the word limit depending on group ability 4)Controlling who is the one who ‘stays’ at the market stall 5) Giving pictures for less able to help or cut out


  • Very much suited to end of topic & encourages reading, writing, questioning and ‘thinking on your feet’. Very effective for revision
  • Focus on core questions. Have plenty of space, connected sugar paper and board markers (surprising the impact these have!)
  • Key is no talking at all & circulation.

Differentiating: 1) Focus of the question 2) can split into smaller questions and put G&T to work

before peer assessing…G&T answers hardest first before returning 3)include ‘buzz terms’ for less able groupings 4) Have higher work at hand? 5) Can use for exam skills



  • Suits higher ability groups and controversial issues in topics. Eg) History – The murder of Thomas Becket – Henry II on trial
  • Put pupils into groups – assign lawyer tasks, witness tasks, defendant, etc. Good research/homework prep – links well to SMSC
  • Differentiation: select groups, lawyer & defendant for G&T – they will be working on questioning. Total G&T groups have to think on feet?


Focus to a key question

Differentiation via literacy level in statements, pairings in groups, or giving focus questions like sheet 3

Key is reason behind judgements/justification – higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.


  • Focus on team skills/group work/ communication & good for literacy aspect of speaking & listening
  • Re-create a picture. Split into groups and be numbered. Take turns coming to view and then returning to explain. If it was your turn to view the picture…you MUST explain to others in group who will draw. A lot a captain’s round if necessary
  • Differentiate via groupings or via carousel labelling and questioning. Also, can remove labels for higher so they hypothesise.


  • Pupils write a transcript that has to fit a certain time introduction for radio. This could be 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds, etc. The trick is it extends pupils writing without knowing it.
  • Differentiation can be via how long it is as it has to be exactly a particular length (decided by the teacher)
  • Time via mobile phone/watch/stopwatch – pair up and get pupils to read, write, amend (peer assistance) and also use timings for numeracy.
  • Works very well for Years 7 and 8.


Pupils watch a clip and have to produce a transcript to accompany. Bloom’s Taxonomy to ‘hypothesise’. Works on observation skills. Very good starter technique. Works well for G&T and more able.

Can differentiate with key words for some or via paired exercise if you use your seating plan as a support/push mechanism

Remember: switch the sound off!

Video Feedback

0:12 – 8:12


  • Time and effort into seating of a class –
  • 1) Seat with support mechanisms
  • 2) Seat via ability groupings to help give differentiated work
  • 3) Have home and away seating (if necessary) to suit the task
  • 4) Don’t be afraid to switch seating plans until it works
  • For G&T consider them not actually doing the main learning but acting as correctors and target setters from the start


  • Focus is on judging, justifying & reaching conclusions = higher order thinking
  • Standard is to focus into diamond of 9 on a 1-2-3-2-1 basis with 1 ‘kicked out of the big brother house’
  • For G&T, MAT or those wanting push, consider allowing manipulation of the diamond into a shape that suits their answer best. (Make sure this not a vertical or horizontal line).
  • Works well in paired work for seating plan differentiation
  • Can also ask G&T to circulate to question logic and probe further
  • Cards can be differentiated via literacy for foundation pupils/literacy issues.

Just a few ideas and probably nothing new but I hope it helps! I will look into other differentiation methods next ;)

Sentence Pong

I recently blogged about Moosing about, a table cloth I used with my Year 7 SEN Class. The ideas and stories generated from this were fantastic and it really helped them with their paragraphing however they all started pretty much the same way- The, Then, I and She/He.

So I decided my class needed to do some more work on making their sentences interesting and the thought processes/ editing that takes place.

This is where Sentences Pong comes in, I have used ‘sentence roll a dice’ exercises and I have a few laminated boards in my classroom with mixed success. So I decided to cut up the boards and put them into yoghurt pots and then students could throw a ping ping ball into the pot which would generate a sentence opener/starter.

This is how it worked

Before the lesson

  • I cut up sentence criteria for example use alliteration, a metaphor, simile, indicate a location, personification ( If you Google sentence roll a dice activities some fantastic ones pop up)
  • I put them into the yoghurt pots

Start of the lesson

  • Went through the terms with the students to refresh/ recap what the terms mean and why they are used
  • Explained the classroom rules and that if there was silly behaviour with the ball then they would not participate

Sentence Pong

  • Students ( I only have 8 in one SEN class and 6 in the other) throw the ball and aim for a pot
  • Once landed in pot, the group stopped and came around the table
  • As a group they then came up with a sentence, I then wrote this down

As the game went on, they decided they didn’t want to do it one at a time and instead wanted to write a few sentences together, they worked collaboratively and generated some fantastic creative writing.

I have now typed up the writing that was on the table, so next lesson they can D.I.R.T and write their own paragraph using the techniques used during the group lesson (they will have the sentence openers/starters grid with them).

I really enjoyed this lesson and so did my class as for once on Friday P5 they were not rushing for the door to leave :)


Why sharing should be at the heart of how we teach
Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 21.09.24

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

Click here to view the Prezi.

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


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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


Social media

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


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

Online communities

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

Personal / class / department websites

  • This is the area that I believe that the most potential as it allows us to easily share whatever we feel like for free. I few months ago I decided to share all of my Nat5 Course Materials on this site and, since March, a quite incredible amount of people have viewed and downloaded the resources that I have made available (so many, in fact, that the site became one of the top Google results for search terms such as ‘National 5 English’). Based on the comments and emails I received, a huge number of these individuals were students, which just goes to show how much value our pupils could find in teachers developing a more open culture amongst ourselves.
Letters for Leaders
June 18, 2014

There’s still something special about receiving a letter; I mean a real letter too, not bills or junk mail as we get plenty of those. I think it’s a wonderful tradition that still has real value in this world of technological marvels and instant communication. It’s because of this I like to run my ‘Letters for Leaders’ project from time to time. Students write a letter to influential public figure about an issue that matters to them and we wait for responses, simple.
I’ll admit there is a little more to the process but the benefits are worth the effort. Once the students have crafted their letters they develop their editing skills, working through multiple drafts and really focus on the method of letter writing. Let’s be honest writing to a real world leader has a bit more gravitas when asking for multiple re-drafts than pretending to write to someone. It makes it real, it makes it matter.

The Process:
1) Get them angry/passionate. Use a powerful stimulus to get them involved, I like to use Amnesty International (@AmnestyOnline) as they campaign heavily for human rights issues which are both important and relevant to my subject area. Scientists could be getting students excited about cloning or genetic engineering, IT teachers about internet safety or privacy, PE teachers about drugs issues or technology in sport.
2) Decide who would be good to write to about the issue. There are a lot of opportunities to interact with influential figures for the price of a stamp. Your local MP is obliged to write back, there are the leaders of the other parties, The Queen, The Pope, Sports Managers, basically anyone with a lot of influence who might write back to your students.
3) Draft a letter. Students write their first attempt at a persuasive letter.
4) Edit. Talking through with the students give them advice on developing their letter.
5) Re-draft.
6) Repeat 4 & 5 until both the students and you agree it is an excellent piece of writing.
7) Post to the leader. Wait. (Remember to have it posted back C/O your school.)
The Response:
As I mentioned your local MP is obliged to respond and generally will with a high quality letter. We’ve also had success with a number of others including the Prime Minister and the head of another political party. Sadly we’ve had no luck with President Obama as yet. The students are always hugely excited upon receiving their replies and it’s a special experience for them. Make sure you get a copy of the letter, and then give the originals to the students; it’s their letter after all.

Other Opportunities:
1) You can use this as a literacy learning experience by analysing the letter.
2) Sticking copies up on a wall display next to pictures of those who write back makes for an excellent celebration of the project for students.
3) Use it as a stretch activity to challenge your hardest working students.
4) You could even use it as a #unhomework or #takeawayhomework task.

Moosing about!!

This is by FAR.. the BEST 80p I have ever spent!! and this lesson had me hanging off the edge of my seat…. but also in fits of laughter!! and turned out to be one of the highlights of my Y7 (SEN/LA) class.

I was reading numerious tweets about #poundlandpedagoo and decided that I wanted to go on a hunt and track down all the bits and bobs I had seen. So off I went and got the post it notes and eggs etc and then I found this… an 80p party table cloth (from Wilko).

So… how I used it! I simply put across the table and gave each student a multi link and advised them that today we were going on a journey… where we went was completely up to them….

This is how I set it up…..

  • Students placed their counter on a location
  • Then roll the dice and move across the squares in any direction
  • They then need to describe the journey, surroundings, use 5 sense, adverbs, adjectives and to try and create a vivid image and engage their audience (me and class mates)
  • Students were peer assessed throughout, as class mates could hit the buzzer if vocabulary could be improved, sentence could be improved or if they had any questions.
  • On some of the squares I had placed prompt cards- if they moved to one of these they had to include this in their story
  • I also had a buzzer that sounded like a klaxon, when I pressed it ALL students had to include what ever I said into their story (a text message- used laminated Iphone post it notes, seeing something or simile/ alliteration etc.)
  • All the sentences (mainly in green) are the fabulous sentences, vocabulary that my class generated. They then copied these into their books (some drew little pictures) so they could be used when they start to write up their story next lesson.

The students really enjoyed the lesson, they stretched each other, engaged each other and I was able to listen and be transported into their stories.

This could be easily adapted, as students could create their own table cloth.


Moose Moose


Moose  Moose


Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders  board

Revision and reviewing does not have to be boring… it can simply be a game!

My Year 8 class (SEN/LA boys) have been working extremely hard to not only recap the poetic techniques they learnt last year but also locate them in the poem and construct PEE paragraphs. Their assessment is to compare two poems (Hard Frost and Winter)  the class started the comparison by completing an interactive Venn Diagram and this brought up gaps in their knowledge and ability to lengthen their responses.

I could have made a work sheet got them to complete a table but I wanted to do something different, where I could sit and listen to their answers…. SO I came up with this.

Its really simple (buy and outdoor snakes and ladders game- this one is from Amazon) put questions on as many squares as you like and then play Snakes and Ladders.

I chose to use the questioning stems from the thinking dice and then the students generated 10 questions of their own relating to the 2 poems (these tended to be questions that they still had about the poems).

Students then played the game, answering the questions they landed on. The rest of the class listened to the answer and told them whether they were right/wrong or needed to add more to their answer. If a question arose that they could not answer, we then paused the game and had a class discussion ( some of the questions became the starters for the following lesson to check).

My class played the game for a whole hour, and were thoroughly engaged, answered the questions in FANTASTIC detail and really stretched and encouraged each other. It was a delight to witness.


Snakes and Ladders Snakes and Ladders  board

A Takeaway Homework approach for Drama

Context – the many faces of Drama homework

I work in a school where lower school classes are timetabled two one hour lessons of Drama per fortnight. Our Drama department policy is to set one piece of written homework per half term which covers the topic explored in lessons.

I have found that the type and amount of homework in lower school Drama varies from school to school and ranges from written homework once a week in exercise books, the odd piece of research, practical rehearsal style homework to none at all. There is usually some correlation between this an factors such as how much curriculum time is given to lower school Drama, other pressures on the Drama department to directions from senior management. One discussion that we have had numerous times in department meetings is; if we can get away with not setting Drama homework, why bother at all?

It is my view, in the context of the school that I work in, that we need to be setting some kind of homework for Drama at KS3, not only to stay in line with the other creative arts subjects in our school but also to ensure that Drama is viewed as a credible serious subject by students, parents and dare I say, SLT! I know that homework cannot do this alone, but I think it helps. I also believe that it is important for those opting for Drama at GCSE to have had prior experience of writing about Drama and that KS3 Drama should prepare them for this.

The problem with homework

Rehearsal style homework at key stage three doesn’t work for us. We lack the space at lunchtimes and after school as we have a lot of GCSE, A Level and extra curricular commitment. So over the past 10 years we have strived to set meaningful homework which develops their knowledge and understanding of the topic they are studying. These have included writing in role and researching a topic.

More recently, we have started to adapt our homework tasks so that they are more useful to those opting for GCSE Drama such as annotating script extracts with stage directions or evaluating a still image.  All of these with varying degrees of success in terms of quality and submission rate. We have plenty of students who, without fail, produce high quality homework no matter what they are set. On the flip side, we also get those students who hand in scrappy bits of paper with two sentances written, copied and pasted pages form Wikipedia or none at all. Having to set homework detentions and following up missing homework and missed detentions was talking its toll on us Drama teachers as well as the students.

Takeaway Homework and Unhomework

Having got a Kindle for Christmas and with my New Year’s Resolution to read more, I found myself reading  #100Ideas For Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons  by Ross Morrison Mcgill (@teachertoolkit) during January.  The links and mentions of Twitter in the book started my Twitter journey and online discovery of examples of #takeawayhmwk in practice. During February half term, I read #Unhomework by Mark Creasy (@EP3577) and I knew then that I wanted to completely overhaul our homework policy.

Designing takeaway menus that meet our needs

I knew that to jump from our very structured and undifferentiated homework to the complete and utter freedom of #unhomework, in the way that Mark discusses in his book, was too much of a leap for my department! Takeaway homework seemed like the best stepping stone to this ultimate goal.

I wrote a list of all the homeworks we set and arranged them into three categories; those that we set at the beginning of a topic tended to be research homeworks; those set in the middle of the topic tended to be development homeworks and those set at the end were evaluation style homeworks. As this gave me three categories, I decided to design three menus! My thought behind this was that I would design menus that could be accessed by years 7, 8 and 9 and for all schemes of work without the need to write a menu for each individual topic. Students would be guided to the appropriate menu by the teacher.

For this to work, I knew that I needed my department to be on board with the changes and when ‘homework’ appeared on the department meeting agenda, it sparked much discussion even before the meeting! I was relieved when everyone (including my good friend and colleague who was anti-homework!) showed enthusiasm for this new venture and began giving ideas for homework tasks and helping me redraft my first attempt.

The trial

The first year group to use one of the menus was year 8. The topic was Shakespeare and previously, they had been given a quiz style homework to find out facts about Shakespeare. This was actually one of our rare homeworks that had differentiation built in, with more able having more questions. This however, felt forced and still did not really give any choice to the student over what facts they found out.

The takeaway homework that was set for them was from the Ed’s Diner research menu with a choice of seven tasks to choose from and varying in difficulty. The first class I introduced this to looked utterly bemused by their assignment with comments such as “so what am I supposed to write in my homework diary?” and “so we can do anything?”. It took a little more explaining before the penny dropped and as they headed out of the door, they were discussing with each other what they were going to do!

I realised at this point, that the shift from traditional homework setting to takeaway homework would take a couple of months as each class becomes used to the style. But my hope is that next year, it is seen as the norm and the only instruction needed from me will be “your topic is Shakespeare, pick from Ed’s Diner, due in two weeks!”.

The outcome

I was pleased with the quality of homework that came back from year 8; there was a variety of tasks undertaken and it seemed to have sparked a real interest in Shakespeare from the students. There were, of course some students who did not hand anything in – mainly those who lack organisation and are notorious for not completing homework. However, we had a much greater rate of submission and quality overall.

I am currently experimenting with ways to celebrate their creativity effort in work that they complete. One strategy that I have already found effective was to get the students to peg their homework up on a washing line as they came in. They were able to show off what they had done and admire the work of others. It did also have the effect of shaming the one or two who had not really produced anything worthy and hopefully, it will encourage them to produce better homework next time. The plenary of that lesson was to find out a new fact about Shakespeare from someone else’s homework which they then shared before they left the lesson.

The future

Year 7 will be next to try out the takeaway homework menu on their topic; Greek Theatre in the summer term. As a department, we will evaluate the success of takeaway homework so far and also how we mark it, opportunities for peer and self assessment and how reward students for their efforts.


IMG_4525 IMG_4514 IMG_4453

Think Club #P4C

One of my true passions in terms of pedagogical techniques is Philosophy for Children (P4C).  It’s an excellent structure to explore complex ideas and manage classroom debate effectively.  I enjoy it so much we even have a Think Club at school where our students meet to debate the matters of the day during their lunch.  It is because of this I’d like to share a very basic overview of the method and some suggestions on how to deal with a few of the issues you may come across when first attempting P4C.

How to:

Setting up: It’s easiest to do this if the learners are organised in a circle.  This way everyone can see each other; meaning that they can always see the person talking and they are arranged in a way which suggests equality.

Stimulus: The learners should then be shown something to get them thinking.  Traditionally there was a series of stories written by Lipman, the designer of the technique.  Realistically you can use anything you like, whether it be a story, news article, poem, chunk of a core text, picture, media clips or songs.  The key is to ask yourself the magic question… “Will it get them thinking?”

First Thoughts: After they’ve been stimulated ask for their first thoughts.  You can give them some time to reflect in silence, think-pair-share or whatever you deem necessary to get them ready to share with the whole class, but this should be a relatively quick gut instinct reflection on the stimulus to start the process off.

Generate Questions: Either as a class or in small groups give the learners time to come up with philosophical questions to discuss.  Make sure you explain that you don’t want anything that has a simple answer, you’re looking for something difficult to debate as a class; something to challenge everyone involved, including you, to think hard.

Vote: The class chooses which question to discuss.  I like to use the Omni-Vote method where you can vote for as many questions as you like. If they pick a relatively dull looking question try and push them into a complex related theme to discuss. “How much should that cost?” for example could become “How do we give things value? Why are some things more valuable than others? Can money be a bad thing?”

Discussion: They…talk about the question.  How they do it matters.

1)      Clarify the importance of turn taking.  I like to use an object to pass around the room like the Conch from Lord of the Flies.  My current ones are two hand puppets, Francis the Friar and Shaka the Shark.

2)      Learners should build on each other’s ideas.  Sentence starters such as “I agree/disagree with…because…” or “I can support/develop that point…” This stops it just being a room full of people taking their turn to give an unrelated opinion.

3)      Don’t make it personal; argue with the points not the people.  The purpose is for learners to build and develop on each other’s ideas, not to be in conflict.  That also makes it acceptable to change your viewpoint, that’s part of learning and reflecting.

Final Thoughts: Each learner should have a chance to share their thoughts following the discussion.  This could be as simple as circle time or it could be as a class blog, or an essay.  That depends on you and the group you’re working with.

Trouble Shooting: 

I’m not talking about the Star Trek come in peace shoot to kill tactic, but ways to resolve some common issues.

I don’t have a lot of time OR I want to try it in small chunks:

Try using Thunks by @ThatIanGilbert.  He’s often putting quick thunks on Twitter and has two books of thunks worth picking up.  Definitely worth a follow if you’re on.

It’s all gone quiet, too quiet:

Look really pleased, it hopefully means they’re having to think hard.  You’ve a couple of options at this point.

1)  Give them time to think about the issue in silence before restarting.

2)  Think-Pair-Share then get each pair to contribute to restart debate.

3)  Breakaway groups; collapse the circle and get them to explore the issue in groups before reporting back.

4)  Ask someone to summarise the ideas so far.

5)  Ask a related relevant question to get them going.

6)   Devils advocate; put forward a opposing viewpoint if consensus is spoiling the fun.

7)   Move onto another question; you’ll know if the debate has really reached a conclusion.

Where is the evidence?:

I know it’s depressing but sometimes it’s important. I’ve mentioned a possible solution here… http://www.pedagoo.org/evidence-made-easyish/

I really want to use technology:

You can stick the stimulus on Twitter in advance to whet appetites.  You can also use a # to link the discussion on a feed.  If you’re really keen you can use visibletweets.com to display the discussion on a projector or IWB.

 What if they go off track:

Give them a little time to see if they pull it back themselves.  If not, you can nudge them gently back with subtle questions and directions.  Alternatively tell them they’ve meandered into the realm of nonsense and re-iterate the question.  Your level of subtlety is a personal choice.

It takes ages to get to the discussion:

Yeah, it does.  With practice the process will go more smoothly and efficiently, be patient, it takes time.

Next Steps:

This is an excessively simplistic version of the approach so if you give it a try and enjoy it I really recommend visiting the www.sapere.org.uk website for more detailed information and course dates.  You could also ask someone you know who uses the technique if you can visit their classroom and watch a P4C debate; observing each other is a great form of CPD.