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Putting the ‘character’ in 140 characters: my first ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted my first #ScotEdChat on Twitter. It is the third chat so far having accidentally started the ball rolling a few weeks ago. The first chat happened on 5th November hosted by @MrsPert1, the second on 12th hosted by @athole. Next week the host will be @DrewBurrett. Having started with basically zero followers, the @ScotEdChat account has 625 followers as of this second. Not bad for three weeks worth of fun.

The theme of the chat last night was a meaty issue that I have been fascinated by for a few years now: Character, Values and Citizenship. Initially I was a bit worried about the idea of hosting a chat on a theme that I have a personal interest in – however I was reassured by various people that it would be of interest to others too and to just get on with it.

If you don’t know me, I work as a consultant for the charity Character Scotland and I recently curated a major international conference for them on the theme of ‘Character, Culture and Values’. I am now delivering a Pathway Project, which includes a call for evidence to practitioners, designed to build on the successes of this event. I have a range of other potential projects lined up in these areas for 2016 involving Character Scotland and other organisations. Hopefully you will see more developments on that front soon. Please get in touch if you want to know more: gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. That’s me.

Here are the questions I proposed for last night’s ScotEdChat:


It was a steep learning curve. I felt like I imagine the wee dude on the skateboard must have felt seconds after the photo above was taken. I have never hosted an online chat before and participated in only a couple, all the while wondering how on earth the host is supposed to keep up. So there I was with all my tweets scheduled (I used Hootsuite for scheduling and Canva to produce the images), and Tweetdeck open so I could follow the thread as it happened in real time and prompt as necessary.

It was another successful (I think!) and interesting chat that raised lots of issues and questions. You can view the summary on Storify here.

You will notice that I have proposed that the conversation carries on using the #SlowChat format unti Wed 25th November. There are a few reasons for this. When I was lucky enough to have a loose and completely voluntary ScotEdChat ‘team’ in place, we had some conversation about the format of the chats. Concerns were raised from the off that the one hour format can be too fast and frenetic. We agreed that a week-long SlowChat could be more effective and therefore worth a shot. However, you need a following to do that. So we’ve had three fast chats partly to establish a critical mass of followers. I think we have now done that pretty effectively. So you might see more ‘slow chats’ happening as #ScotEdChat continues to evolve.

The other reason why I think #SlowChat could work better for an online conversation about character, values and citizenship (among other topics) is that there is a danger that the dialogue only reaches a superficial level. There were sparks of engagement with deep questions and critique last night that I think we could build on in a #SlowChat format, such as:

  • What is meant by character, values and citizenship, and who decides what they mean?
  • If we can agree that the purposes of education extend beyond a utilitarian and economic model of individual ‘cashable’ capacities towards something that is about character, values and citizenship – what exactly are those purposes and to what extent are we fulfilling them at the moment?
  • What is the role of character, values and citizenship in a liberal democracy and just society?
  • Are ‘character, values and citizenship’ the right words to use? Does it matter what words we use? What are the dangers here?
  • What are the key influences on character, values and citizenship and what is the role of formal schooling in this regard?
  • What is the role of parenting, early years provision, communities, informal education and collaboration with 3rd sector organisations in this regard?
  • How could teachers address these issues safely in and out of the classroom? Constructivist approach? Psychological interventions? Enquiry? Critical pedagogy? Socratic dialogue? Aristotelian virtue ethics? Indoctrination? Experiential learning? Collaborative learning? Outdoor education?
  • A great question raised last night: is it easier to address the issue of character in Catholic schools? Why? And what does that mean?
  • What type of citizenship and what type of citizen? Responsible, global, local, social, digital, active…?
  • To what extent is it possible to discuss character, values and citizenship in an online environment? Is it useful to do so or is it just pain silly?

(I am aware that several dissertations could be written on any one of these topics…)

Sue Palmer from Upstart Scotland emailed me after the chat with this wonderful quote from Neil Postman, comparing ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood, in a 1995 interview on PBS

I share the fears of both Orwell and Huxley regarding an exploration of the slippery issues of character, values and citizenship. I have had the thought in mind for a while now that the way forward with regard to this exists in the ‘spaces between’ various tensions.

As a musician, Claude Debussy’s comment appeals to me:

Music is to be found in the spaces between the notes

The spaces I am referring to might fall between tensions such as knowledge and skills; knowledge and character; progressivism and traditionalism; liberalism and conservatism; evidence-based and research-informed; economic, social and human capital; freedom and conformity; rights and responsibilities; globalism and localism; all of which could be false binary distinctions by the way.

So where do we go from here? As educators we often fall into the trap of trying to find the right answer when really we should be looking for the right questions, or indeed looking for the spaces between all of these.

Nobody can really comment with authority on any issue of remote importance within 140 characters of text, particularly and ironically, when the subject itself is character without the ‘s’. Having said ALL of that – and thank you for reading to the end – the other option of doing nothing about it, to me, is no option at all.

So why not tweet or blog as part of the first #ScotEdChat #SlowChat on this wonderfully bewildering theme. If you need a reason to do so, this image shared last night by @KatyKingUK during #ScotEdChat is as good as any.


Google Classroom…the new IT silver bullet?

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.36.43 am

Year 11 google classroom header

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

How does it work?

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

The pros:

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

The cons:

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

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

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

Why blue sky?

At some point while thinking about our approach to education we asked children 1 question: What would you like to find out from scientists?

What did we do at school? 😉

We had of course some responses in our heads (it was not THAT bad, you know), but we got to the point where adding some additional “but why’s” made us realise, that we just don’t get it really :) – and also, that we CAN (and do) live with that. It left us wondering how at some point we just accepted the level of our lack of understanding and moved on skipping yet another “but why?”.

Who to ask though? How many “but why’s” of an average kid can an average person handle?:) Some of us are parents and – believe us – we know what we are talking about here: the constant inflow of ‘Why’s?”, ‘When’s?”, ‘How many’s?”, ‘Which’s?”, ‘For’s?” and  ‘How’s?”…

Because it is so, okay?” :) We read somewhere that an average 4 year-old asks 437 questions a day. Scary?

We haven’t read anywhere though how many questions an average adult asks a day, yet we’re pretty sure it would probably be MUCH less than 437. Even scarier? Do grown ups already know the responses to questions they do not ask? (which was definitely not the case in our little experience with kids’ questions) – or is it that we just do not notice the “question-opportunity” anymore :) – or not give ourselves time to wonder. Why is the sky blue?  Do you know? If not, what would it change for you if you knew? What would be different if you gave yourself some time to think about it?

And this is how we knew we would engage our actions in appreciating the ability to wonder why, or simply – the CURIOSITY – as one of the most important competences for life.

We’re WhyBlueSky
Check out our all open source LESSON PLANS that respond to REAL QUESTIONS of real children! :)


For Your Eyes Only

Driving to the Early Years ( EY ) conference this morning I couldn’t help being inspired by the colours of Autumn here in Argyll, around the shores of Loch Fyne. Ironically, Sheena Easton was singing ‘For Your Eyes Only’. This was certainly not a sight for my eyes only but one that would be shared with every driver and passenger lucky to drive this road at this time. Similarly the Early Years conference was not ‘For Your Eyes Only’ but for everyone who was there to share in the fantastic work our Early Years practitioners do on a day-to-day basis.
Our Government quite rightly wishes to close the attainment gap of our poorest, most vulnerable children, however testing them is not going to achieve this. Investing in Early Years will help. We all witnessed the positive steps our practitioners were taking to address the development of the child.
One example:
We offer a hand to parents and ask ‘How can we help you help your child?’
Parents reported back and said they were not confident with their own literacy skills. What do we do? Put in place a vehicle to support parents. Yes, and it was fully endorsed by parents.
Just one example of exemplary work happening in Argyll.
There were many more fantastic examples of how families are being engaged in the development of their youngsters. Investing in quality practitioners and quality practice will pay dividends in the long run. Dylan William quoted the financial gain to a country per child for this intervention in Early Years. I’m not going to quote the amount as he rapped my knuckles on Twitter before for getting the amount wrong but let me tell you it is a six figure sum.
So as our Executive Director asked today in his closing address, ‘why are the Scottish Government not paying heed to this research.’
In Argyll and Bute we are getting it right. Not quite there yet, but at least we’re on the right track.
If the Scottish Government take us down the other track of high stakes testing they’re missing a trick and it’s our most vulnerable children that will suffer. Ms Sturgeon and Ms Constance want to get this right as we all do, but for me they’re listening to the wrong people and not reading the research.
Today was such an inspiring day. The Developmental Milestones tool kit for me is leading the way in Scottish Education.
Why don’t we all jump on this train, because if we get this right from EY’s we will have a more prosperous, innovative, entrepreneurial nation.
I’m already on the train. Come join me.
Sheena will be singing for ‘For all our eyes’.
Thank you Argyll and Bute Early Year’s team.

The Complete Guide to DATEs – Subject Specific CPD
DATE background

The Complete Guide to DATEs

Developing approaches to Teaching English
Developing approaches to Teaching &Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

Master The Art Of Confidence With These 5 Tips
October 23, 2015
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We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have a crisis of confidence once in a while, but when our lack of confidence influences our decisions or judgements or prevents us from achieving our own personal goals, it’s “Houston, we have a problem!”

Here are 5 Techniques to improve your confidence.


Technique 1: Fake it until you make it! 

It sounds like nonsense, but it actually has some scientific weight to it. Interviews with 100 professional staff in large corporations in Melbourne, New York and Toronto revealed that there is a strong correlation between confidence and career success.

Technique 2:  Learn a magic trick! 

A study conducted by Rebecca Godfrey, Dr Sarah Woods, and Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire, involved assessing the effect of teaching secondary school children some seemingly impossible illusions, including how to magically restore a rope that has been cut in half, and read another person’s mind.

Their Initial findings suggest that some children with low self-esteem may benefit from learning and performing tricks because “Learning magic requires self-discipline, an understanding of how other people think, and an ability to entertain,” noted psychologist Professor Wiseman.

It is no surprise that adults take comedy improvisation workshops as a way of boosting their own inner confidence.

If it works for the kids, then it may work for you!  You might even become the next Dynamo!

Technique 3: Did your mother ever tell you to sit up straight?  

Sitting up straight is not only good for your posture but it gives you more confidence in your own thoughts, according to a recent study!

It turns out that our posture effects how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.

In other words, sitting up straight allows you to experience a positive outlook.

Technique 4: Find your own personal awesomeness!

The small things matter!  Keeping a journal for two weeks and recording all the small positive wins you have achieved helps you to cultivate an attitude of awesomeness, which in turn helps to improve your confidence.

Communication expert Alexa Fischer breaks down how to start.

Technique 5: Read 10 pages of a personal development book a day!

Findings from the Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) project carried out in ten European countries revealed that self-motivated participation in learning boosts self-confidence and well-being, and expands social networks.

The additional benefits are that you are adding to your own personal growth and are creating an abundance of new areas of knowledge, skill and expertise.  All of which can be drawn upon to enhance your confidence.

Bennie Kara, Assistant Headteacher, agrees that confidence is a skill that can be developed.  On episode  40 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show.  Bennie and host Kelly Long discuss strategies for improving your confidence:




Until next time ~ Keep inspiring! 

Remember, sharing is caring so Tweet away!



Story Source: Episode 40 inspiration4teachers.com and sciencedaily.com
Differentiated CPD – It’s The Future! I’ve Tasted It!
Garlic Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engineering the Learning Set: A Socialised-learning Capacity

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Understanding the Learner

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

Assessing an Individuals Socialised-learning Capacity

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

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

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

Assessing an Individuals Academic Self-concept

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

Constructing the Learning Set

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

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

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

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


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

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

#LOVEOFLEARNING : Where has all the active learning gone? The demise of some great pedagogy?
October 14, 2015

Sage on the stage or guide on the side? A false dichotomy

There is no “correct way” to teach. This is a rather obvious statement, which has been reiterated by professors of education, school leaders, psychologists and OFSTED. The problem with this is that rather than protect the profession against “fads” of pedagogy, this stance can in actual fact encourage them. If there is no correct way (which there isn’t) then the tides of opinion effect the teaching climate even more. What used to be seen as effective teaching has been criticised to the point where we are in danger of replacing one “fad” with another. It seems that “active learning” (which was never a panacea anyway) has been replaced with more “traditional” practices such as write and listen. If learning is complex we should not forget those active strategies which not so long a go were seen as so effective. Here I argue that active strategies can create a love of learning with students. This is not saying that other methods can’t either. As with most things in teaching “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it”

Over the past few years there has been somewhat of a backlash to “active learning”. Trends come and go in teaching and this one had its day… or has it?

Rightly so OFSTED over the past few years responded to the criticism that it was judging lessons and teaching against a “style”. For a while probably from 2005 -11 this perceived style was characterised by whizzy activities, performing arts, teachers as facilitators and measuring progress every twenty minutes, with a “plenary” that involved going back to the learning objectives that students had copied down at the start of the lesson.  Whether or not this is actually what OFSTED was looking for is down up for debate, (I suspect the truth is that it was a communication breakdown between the inspection regime and school leaders) but nevertheless many schools designed lesson judgement criteria around this perceived “Outstanding Lesson” format.  People made money out of courses on OFSTED active learning strategies etc.

However, over the past few years this “style” has been rightly criticised. Michael Wilshaw has publicly come out stating that it might be totally appropriate that students sit and listen… and that passivity should not be criticized as a matter of course. At the same time there has been a rise of what I call the “anti-fad” brigade which rightly attacks fads in teaching that promised “outstanding lessons” and “rapid and sustained progress”. This is good, but there is a danger that the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

At Debden Park High School we have a tradition of “active learning” strategies. When specialisms mattered we used our Performing Arts status to spread effective teaching. It bound the school together. It helped us win the battle against special measures by engaging often very disengaged students.  Far from a “style” of teaching active strategies enhanced effective teaching.

Much of what is seen on Twitter, and #PedagooFriday is exactly the kind of strategies that engage students. Yes students can be engaged through silent reading, yes they can demonstrate a “love of learning” through essay writing, but let’s not forget some of the innovative and interesting techniques (there I said it techniques) that can be highly useful to teachers and students. Here are some of the strategies that have been spotted in the past 5 days, they engage and create interest as part of a “varied diet” of effective teaching.

Speed dating

Yes this was a staple of the “active learning” repertoire. But how effective if used properly! Seen in a science lesson where students “dated” around some very challenging questions and used the power of peer collaboration to learn.


Class debate.

Two sides debating the effectiveness of Gustav stresemann’s leadership in Germany.  The teacher was the “guide on the side” but what a way for students to demonstrate their hard earned knowledge. Not only this they extended their understanding by debating, listening and reconsidering their views based upon the presentation of evidence and argument.


Character mind –map

How about a twist to Mind mapping? Here students carousel around characters writing down in depth analysis of them. Memorable. This also encouraged a level of dialogue between students which would have been unlikely in a tradition mindmap. In addition the teacher could (and did) circulate around monitoring student responses and extending them via questioning.



Teacher in Role

A great way to engage students in the subject matter. The “character” can question students and give them “knowledge” about the topic studied. Moreover, who forgets a loon enter the classroom dressed up? Look at the levels of engagement in this classroom when Charlie Chaplin starts dancing:

chaplin from Pedagogy Prowess on Vimeo

These strategies were seen in classrooms in the past 5 days, and they were very effective. Could other things have been as effective? Probably, but these did create a huge amount of engagement and may just work with your class.


Learning Journeys
October 8, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 16.10.39

‘Expecting a child to learn only from a textbook is like asking them to look at a travel brochure and calling it a holiday’ – author unknown.

Learning outside the classroom. Everyone knows it works. It’s memorable, engaging, motivating; everything education should be. The pinnacle of this experience is the school trip. Think about your memories from primary school. If they’re anything like mine, almost all have faded but school trip memories remain a highlight.

As a teacher I love to take my class on trips for those same reasons. Finding the best trip and making the most of it however can sometimes be a challenge. Take my experience as an example:

Several months ago I found a venue that seemed a perfect fit for our topic. However I’d never been before; the website had some good information but still left me with questions and the venue was well over an hour away from my home. I felt anxious about taking 30 children around a venue I wasn’t familiar with and unsure how to get the most out of our visit. My familiarisation visit could only be taken once the trip was booked.

This got me thinking. What if there was a website that could help with this? Surely I couldn’t be the only teacher that wants the school trip process to be more teacher-friendly? I searched the web and found nothing so, rather than giving up entirely, I decided to create one myself! That’s how www.learningjourneys.co.uk was born. It’s a forum for teachers to share advice and tips so that they can feel prepared and get the most out of their day. The questions we ask teachers to consider when writing their ‘reviews’ include:

  • How well did the trip support your objectives?
  • Were there any particular parts of the venue that were more or less useful for this?
  • What were the adverse weather facilities like?
  • Do you have any advice/comments about the facilities e.g. lunch arrangements?
  • What was the quality of the staff led guided session like?
  • Is there anything you wish you’d known before your trip?
  • Do you have any good ideas for relevant pre/post visit activities?

Here’s an example review from www.learningjourneys.co.uk :


Just like Pedagoo, we are all about the positives and sharing advice to get the most out of your day rather than being a typical review of the venue. Together we can create a resource that saves teacher time and helps teachers and pupils to enjoy and learn from their visits even more. You might even find a venue you’d never considered before!

This October, we’re asking you to submit a review of the best venue you’ve ever taken a class to on www.learningjourneys.co.uk . You’ll even be in with a chance of winning a £25 Amazon voucher with each review you submit! Follow us on Twitter at @LearnJourn and use the hashtag #besteverschooltrip to share your reviews with others. We look forward to reading them!

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