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Oranges are not the Only Fruit…
Image by flickr.com/photos/wgyuriImage by flickr.com/photos/wgyuri

Orange BatteryLike a number of Heads of School that I know, my personal experience of school as a student scarred (and maybe even scared) me. We all draw on our personal histories: demonic Physics teachers, psychotic Woodwork teachers and – of course – vindictive, sadistic PE teachers. Whilst these histories get added to and increasingly fictionalised over time (come on, it can’t have been THAT bad?), some scars remain. For me, one major scar was Science. Well, not Science per se but how we were lead by the nose through the world of Science.

It was akin to what I imagine it is like becoming a Freemason, or a Rosicrucian, or maybe working for Google. A series of initiations into hallowed mysteries that, one by one, will be revealed to you if you are deemed worthy. Mix together the potions, write out the magical incantation (underline the title, Winnard!) and write down the conclusions. No, not your conclusions, these conclusions. do it again until you get the experiment right! Then we will reveal more unto you and ye shall be bathed in our scientific magnificence… Ok, maybe that’s getting a little carried away.

Yesterday we had our school Science Fair. an anarchic, messy and very enjoyable gathering of young people sharing ideas they’ve explored. Lots of gunk and goo and whizz bang pop. They all shared what they had done (method) and what they found out (conclusions). Some tried to extract power from the acid in oranges, some explored refraction and some explored the effects of sleep deprivation. So far so good. Where things got ‘brain sticky’ was when we got to “So what?” and “Why is this important?”. I asked a few of the students what they thought they could now do with what they’d learnt. What could they apply their new knowledge to?

Clearly I was off script. ‘Er’ and ‘Um’ became the stock response, along with “Because we had to do it for the Science Fair”. And  so (very much unlike me) I shut up, congratulated them all and moved on.

I then found myself going back to something I’d read recently in a book (big papery thing with writing). Ian Gilbert’s new(ish) volumeIndependent Thinking punched me in the brain around page 102:

“If all you do is concentrate on the learning… at the end all you will have is the learning. Nothing has changed. What was once learned elsewhere has been learned again here. Like a rapidly multiplying virus, you have simply infected more people with ‘stuff’ which, under the microscope, is a carbon-copy replica of the same stuff in the heads of thousands of children up and down the country and which will be extracted during a ‘routine examination’ and sent away to the exam board for analysis like sputum in a phial”.

How different – and how much more meaningful – would that Science Fair have been if it had encouraged innovation and making? I’m a big fan of making. I think making is a good thing and we do too little of it in schools. We learn about making, we watch people make stuff (field trips) and we sometimes write about what we would make if we could. But actually building, moulding, constructing andmaking stuff? Not so much. there was so much energy in those young people and clearly a lot of excitement about exploring the natural world. What was missing was change. Nothing had changed.

So what’s stopping us (apart from excuses)? What’s stopping us from developing young people as innovators, problem solvers and makers of solutions. Am I missing something? Yes there are extraneous forces at work and yes that sucks, but if change doesnt come from innovative teachers in classrooms where will it come from?

What is it that Buddha is supposed to have said? “To know but not to do is not to know”. Let’s make sure we inspire a generation of active do-ers and not just passive knowers.

Model UN and CfE
February 13, 2014
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image

For some time now, I’ve been dreading my first blog post. Folks like Kenny Pieper and Fearghal Kelly have been doing this stuff for years – and what would I be able to add to their rich and varied posts? Classroom practice for me comes down to personalities and aspirations. As a teacher, you’re expected to take the lead, plan the lessons, define the learning outcomes, assess progress and so on. You dominate the classroom, whether you want to or not. But this can be stifling for both the practitioner and the students – where are the opportunities for learning to be driven by student needs and wants rather than by the curriculum’s artificial clock? At the same time, you need to create an atmosphere of higher expectations – where hard work, initiative and ideas are rewarded rather than simply getting the answers right. As a control freak, how do I give up some control, but keep aspirations high? Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Model UN as a standalone activity which may be of interest to many others. We’ve started on a small scale, meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes, having attended an open afternoon at nearby Inveralmond CHS at the end of October. The group is open to any S3 and S4 students, as I have S5 and S6 students attending an Amnesty International group on Wednesday lunchtimes. But I had high hopes that Model UN could match Duke of Edinburgh as an extra-curricular development opportunity for students. And so we became Chile for a day! We attended this week’s Model UN conference at Inveralmond CHS (called MUNICH14 – nice one Andy Pender) with apprehension and no little excitement for the seven students involved. They were blown away – and so was I. The committee sessions required only a little influence from any of the teachers from more than 15 schools from all over central and eastern Scotland, and the afternoon General Assembly sessions were even more impressive: at one point, as pieces of paper shuffled between the different delegations, the whole operation – amendments, proposals, resolutions – was managed with firmness and humour by a few seniors from ICHS. The teachers sat near the back of the hall – largely spectators at their own game. Motivation and enthusiasm were palpable from all the national delegations as desperate attempts were made to form or break alliances: but at the same time, fruit and sweets were exchanged as unmistakable bribes to influence and schmooze different groups. I’m sure a few Twitter names and Facebook walls were shared too. For ‘Team Chile’, friendships were formed, confidence and fun replaced fear and embarrassment: the team are now desperate to follow up on this experience by attending a weekend conference at George Watson’s next month. And we’ll need to meet more than one lunchtime a week before then to improve our participation against school delegations from all over the world. If classroom engagement represents students fitting in with teacher expectations about what a learning experience is about, then this was closer to student empowerment. Pupils taking the lead? Tick. Raising aspirations? Tick. Teacher happy to lose control? Tick. CfE writ large? Tick.

Ofsted Prep: How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning
Habits

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student’s queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a “Do Now”

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.

 

2) Positive framing (Catching them when they’re good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. “I can see James has started jotting down some ideas…I can see Megan has put one point for improvement”. Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people’s names for being slow to start, “Ryan, you’ve been in here 5 minutes and you still haven’t got out a pen…Janet, why are you walking around?”. This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don’t pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.


Source: goddividedbyzero.blogspot.com 

In combination with Doug Lemov’s “No opt out”, it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers “I don’t know”, you can respond with “I know you don’t know, I just want to know what you think”. Every student has something in their head. If they’re still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a “Think-Pair-Share”. A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren’t even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this “pacman screens”, I’ve heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it “45″-efficiency in routines is important!


Source: itnews.com.au

By having routines for handing out folders, getting students’ attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you’re making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It’s one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply “did not get it”. The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in “performing for observations” or “pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery” which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

Mind The Gap: Is your lesson worth behaving for?
January 24, 2014
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Mind the Gap! by flickr.com/photos/buhsnarfMind the Gap! by flickr.com/photos/buhsnarf

In a collegiate professional discussion last week around the findings outlined in one of the TLRP publications, I was reminded once again of the idea of the pratice-values gap. This concept is perhaps best described by the following quote from the paper we were discussing:

The current performance-orientated climate in schools in England seems to make it difficult for teachers to practise what they value.
Learning how to learn – in classrooms, schools and networks

This is not a new concept to me…but it’s stuck with me all week in a way which told me something was up, but I wasn’t entirely sure what. And then I sat down to plan my S1 Science lesson for Friday and it hit me…things needed to change.

I have this S1 class for one period per week last thing on a Friday morning. They’re lovely really, but as the year as gone on a fair number of them have been struggling to behave in the way I’d like and things have been becoming a little fractious. As we often tend to do, I’ve been blaming them mainly…until this week.

Last week we’d finished a topic which I’d taught following the departmental plan, using the departmental resources. The resources aren’t perfect, and I’ve been trying to improve them as I go…and things seemed fine. However, I’ve not been looking forward to my lesson with them and judging by the behaviour of some, and the frustration on the faces of others, nor have they. When I looked at the resources for the next topic this week it dawned on me…my practice-values gap had become too great. Sometime ago now I began to experiment with involving students in planning their learning and assessment…whilst I found it to be a fantastic approach I haven’t been able to develop this practice as much as I would’ve liked to due to leaving the classroom for 18 months, changing schools, long-term absence and mainly teaching qualification courses in my new school. However, I realised this week that I could be doing what I think is right with my S1 class now and so I decided to go for it.

I planned a stimulus and planning lesson which involved discussing big questions eliciting previous knowledge and encouraging them to come up with their own burning questions which will then form part of our planning for the topic – which they’ll help plan out and name.


I did this with them this morning, and the results? Astounding. They were all so fired up and engaged…even the students who have struggled to stay in the room for the last couple of months! The questions they came up with are fascinating, and I’m looking forward to working out how to incorporate these into the curriculum over the coming weeks:

    What if all humans die?
    How many animals/species live on the planet?
    Does bigfoot/yeti/nessie exist?
    What will happen to the planet in the future?
    Will we be able to live on another planet?
    Where is the densest forest?
    How does natural selection work?
    How did we come from apes?
    Is there life on other planets?
    What is the worst pollution?
    What is continental drift?
    If the water level keeps rising what will happen to Venice?
    How does Chernobyl harm the world?
    What if the world’s biggest super volcano erupted?
    Could the water levels rise so much it would flood the whole world?
    What happens if we don’t look after the world?
    What is the worst thing that could happen to the planet?

As delighted as I was with the success of the lesson, another thought went through my head. It’s a challenging question which we’ve picked up from our friends at Cramlington Learning Village…it’s “Is your lesson worth behaving for?” The difference in the students between the previous weeks and today has really made me doubt whether they have been up to now…but I’m going to to do my best to make sure they are from now on. Both for their sake, and my own.

Cross-posted from Fearghal’s Blog

Little boys lost
January 23, 2014
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Boys by flickr.com/photos/mtsofanBoys by flickr.com/photos/mtsofan

How can we help white working class boys? By Jonathan Ovenden

Only 26 per cent of white working class boys on free school meals achieve five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, when compared to the national average of 63 per cent.

I know that there is much, much more to this figure than what happens in the classroom – family background, the aspirations of parents, deprivation – but those challenges do not stop us wanting things to change.

And things can indeed change. When I was a boy at school, girls achievement was often well below boys, and yet we all know how much the expectations and achievements of girls have changed in the intervening years.

Likewise, some progress is being made with the lowest achievers today too. In December, the DfE reported that the attainment gap between lower and higher achievers had been narrowed by three per cent in maths at primary level; demonstrating that the hard work is paying off.

However, there is always room to do more, and our experience with schools is showing that certain types of technology can help, particularly with boys.

At the coal face
David Godfrey, is a principal of two schools in Northumberland, both with over 50 per cent of children on FSM. The former coal mining region is predominantly white working class and many families are third generation unemployed. He is no stranger to raising the achievement and aspirations of lower achieving boys and has given us some tips for readers of this blog to consider:

1. Reward success frequently
It doesn’t take long for a child who is finding learning a challenge to start developing a belief in failure, negative self-image and a sense of helplessness – all things that can be detrimental to their long-term success in school and beyond. As David puts it, “Boys are motivated by competition, but when they do not win, they can feel like failures.”

Online learning programmes can help as they provide regular feedback for small victories when children are studying independently, meaning boys get the sensation that they are ‘winning’. Small successes lead to confidence which in turn breeds further success.

2. Personalise learning
If the right tools are chosen, they can help tailor learning to the individual so the teacher does not have to spend hours doing so. “Personalised learning is an expectation of schools but in reality, is difficult to achieve,” explains David. “The right e-learning technology, however, can help teachers diagnose issues and then present learning materials that are relevant to that child’s exact needs.”

3. Make the content – and the delivery – relevant to boys
“Technology is a fantastic enabler. It pushes many of the buttons that motivate boys and develops many of the skills we need to encourage in lower ability learners,” says David. It also encourages independent learning, something that many hard to reach pupils struggle with. Deliver a lesson on ‘bossy’ verbs via an iPad and a student suddenly wants to learn.

Think about what topics interest boys too. Girls seem to be able to adapt to most types of content, but boys less so and so it is key that the material appeals to their likes and dislikes.

4. Home help
The advantage of using online learning materials to help raise achievement is that parents can get involved too. “Parents hold the key to a child’s achievement, so anything that offers the ability to share results or activities with parents is ideal,” says David.

By choosing online learning technologies that are suited to this hard-to-reach group, you can have an impact on their achievement that will reap rewards beyond improved results. Happier pupils, more engaged parents and even more empowered teaching staff to name but a few.

Jonathan Ovenden is a director at vision2learn who will at Bett 2014 (stand F346), if you wish to discuss these issues further.

Using pupil feedback to improve teaching
input

At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. Sometimes I manage to do this, othertimes, there’s simply not enough time. I’ve even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it’s not just the students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of a major unit however, it’s difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test doesn’t catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was ineffective but it won’t tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.

Laura Mcinerney once asked the daring question, “Should teachers publish the test scores of their classes” . I wondered what would happen if I published the pupil feedback of all my classes. It has certainly forced me to reflect more honestly and openly about my own practice.

You can find the original pupil survey here: http://goo.gl/W2mRPk . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. “Mr Lau was great”.

What could Mr Lau have done differently / better:

    - let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
    - Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one lesson
    - Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get the work done better.
    - he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
    - Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
    - come round to every one
    - Maybe explain in more detail.
    - Explane more clearly
    - put more computing lessons on the time table.

Analysis and Response: Students have raised the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I could demonstrate these learning habits more by helping students less, offering more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers. Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I will try to observe more experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as an issue, so I think a Vocab list for each unit would be helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on the time table” brightening up my day.

What would you like Mr Lau to do more of:

    - Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
    - more of prasing people
    - Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
    - more work on your own
    - come round to more people
    - explained things and use more visual things like pictures

Analysis and Response: Firstly, Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective way of coding:

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/classes/cs121/supp/williams_prpgm.pdf

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?PairProgrammingBenefits

http://www.summa-tech.com/blog/2013/05/16/pair-programming-benefits-part-1-the-good/

The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops. However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next term.

What would you like Mr Lau to do less of:

    - Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got wrong.
    - work sheets
    - stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
    - Keep on showing us the board
    - To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and try the code on the interactive smartboard.
    - canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun lessons
    - I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have a learning objective on the table
    - stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
    - speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical work time.
    - dont explan to fings at wons

Analysis and Response: Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham’s work on helping students remember and learn.

Any other comments

    -stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
    - computer science is fun
    - Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
    -Nice.
    print(“Thanks Mr Lau again”)
    I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me a detention soryy

    - It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have your own work rated.
    - my mum is impressed
    - Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like that.
    - I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to doing more work this term and learning different things.
    - I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
    - PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance like in your old school.


Analysis and Response:
Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That’s a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment!

How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.

As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes.

After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process.

The Critique Gallery
Critique Gallery - Student Guidance

This is my first blog post for the Pedagoo team, as I mentioned in my #Nurture1314 post I’d really like to get into blogging so I’m starting as I mean to go on.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend David Didau’s Whole School Literacy course – having just been appointed Literacy Co-ordinator it was a perfect place to start! Didau’s course gave me so many different ideas that I could try out in my lessons and also feed back to the staff at my school from a literacy perspective. What struck me most was that these ideas weren’t just for literacy, these were fantastic teaching and learning ideas that ALSO supported my students’ literacy. After the course I decided to work on several ideas that I was introduced to during the course, one of those was ‘The Critique Gallery’.

I’m sure most will agree that peer assessment is a regular feature in our lessons, it helps develop our students’ confidence in knowing what is right and what is wrong and determining what they need to do to improve; I think subconsciously it helps them to absorb the lesson objectives better too. Didau’s ideas confirmed my growing suspicions that peer assessment in my lessons was becoming a bit dry and unexciting; it’s highly likely that if I’m getting bored of doing something then my students will be too – I’m a technology teacher, I like to mix things up often! The Critique Gallery was a perfect ‘refresh’ to peer assessment and has had an excellent impact on the quality of student to student feedback.

How does it work?

The Critique Gallery is like a giant peer assessment. It is a longer exercise than a typical peer to peer assessment, students move around the classroom taking time to read through their peer’s work and provide constructive feedback (I usually devote about 15 minutes of the lesson to do it properly). Clear boundaries and expectations need to be set out by the teacher (more on that shortly…), especially when laying the foundations of this new activity, after all the feedback needs to be constructive so that our students can improve. Students use lesson objectives/success criteria (just like they would a normal peer assessment) to give feedback on other student’s work; they give this feedback a number of different times as they move around the room.

What’s so good about Critique Gallery?

Firstly it encourages ALL students to engage, they are up and out of their seats moving around the room; sometimes something as simple as moving around/a slight change of scenery can improve a student’s productivity or engagement. Students have the opportunity to see more than just their partner’s work, if like me you have seating plans then your students are sat next to the same faces day in day out…therefore seeing the SAME quality of work day in day out, for some this is great but for others not. The Critique Gallery allows students to see all levels and abilities and make judgments for themselves about the feedback they want to give. It helps quiet the inevitable “Miss, I don’t know what to write…” especially if done as a mini review during the lesson. This activity also frees you up to wander around the classroom to support students that you know will struggle with this activity, it allows you to carefully question them as to what is good about the work and what needs to be developed further, in turn improving the quality of feedback that they give to other students.

How do I make this happen?

I think it’s great when students have a record of the feedback that they have received all in one place instead of scrawled over their work, I’m OCD – I’m sure my students don’t care!! When doing a critique style activity direction needs to be given to students to ensure that the feedback they are giving is productive and useful i.e. NOT “write neater” or “finish it” (don’t get dispirited though, you’ll always end up with one, I know I do!). Full credit to David Didau here as I use his pointers for students when doing the critique, I go through these points with my students each time we do a critique activity just to remind them of my expectations and then we’re ready to get started.

My final thought on this…I was astounded to hear that 80% of feedback given to students is student to student feedback – as teachers we HAVE to ensure that we model excellent feedback so that our students are doing it right.

Nurturing a Love of Learning #PedagooWonderland
DSC_7623

Once again it gives me great pleasure to write about the brilliant Pedagoo event #Pedagoowonderland held at Joseph Swan Academy on Saturday 7th December. For me it can only be described as an incredible Saturday in so many ways, but mainly because of my wonderful year 11 students!

I can’t actually believe it is a full six months since our last event, #Pedagoosunshine which was a resounding success. With this in mind we really didn’t want to rest on our laurels and were determined to build upon Sunshine and make it bigger and better. So we took all of the lessons that we learned from Sunshine and #Pedagoowonderland was born. Our primary aim in the true spirit of Pedagoo was to create a high quality professional learning event in a relaxed atmosphere where educators could collaborate, share, develop and grow. We wanted to inspire both ourselves and others and as always, learn exciting new ideas to take back to our schools and academies. We wanted it to be fun, social and the kind of event that people talk about for a long time afterwards and I hope I am not mistaken in saying that this is what transpired. I was truly humbled by the messages of thanks and congratulations across the weekend, yet for me it was the generosity of spirit and commitment of every single workshop presenter that made it so special.

One of the best educational books I have ever had the pleasure of reading is Sir John Jones ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ and in this he explores the fact that teachers are powerful script makers inside a child’s head. What we say to them makes all of the difference. This book made me cry (if you read a bit further, you will see this is a common theme!) It made me want to be a better teacher and actually a better person. I knew therefore when planning Wonderland that for me it was about making a difference, to each other, to our staff back at school and most importantly our young people. The central theme of the day had to be about, not just nurturing learning, but nurturing a love of learning and I think that this is what we saw on Saturday 7th December at Joseph Swan. In ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ Sir John talks about going the extra mile for the students and he says it should be for the love of it, because you care. How many extra miles did you see on Saturday? I know that I saw a lot; I know that I saw many ‘magic weavers’ on Saturday and I’m not just talking about the workshop presenters, but they were present everywhere. This is what I aspire to be- a magic weaver.

I’d like to share with you my experience of my own session, particularly for those who didn’t attend. The session was led by 7 students from my year 11j2 class. Every day that I teach them, they make me proud, but on Saturday they were simply outstanding, in the true sense of the word. I was blown away by their enthusiasm, right from the minute that I asked who wanted to be involved and most importantly questioned them about why they wanted to be involved. Their response ‘Well Miss we get to tell a load of teachers how they should be teaching us, why would we not want to be involved?’ Maybe the lure of hoodies and pizza also provided an initial appeal but I have to say they took charge of it all, right from the very beginning!

I feel that before I tell you where they ended up on Saturday, I should describe our very first meeting. I vividly remember almost skipping to their first English lesson, thinking great, they are a set 2 class, they’re going to love English (how naïve, for a teacher of 15 years!) One of the first questions I asked them was ‘Who loves English?’ and guess what… not a single person put their hand up. The second question I asked was ‘well who likes English?’- two students raised their hands. I remember being gutted and in full on panic mode arrogantly told them- ‘Well I can guarantee that by the end of year 11, all of you will like it, some of you will love it and a few of you may even want to become English teachers’ After the lesson, with clarity of thought, I may have sworn a little and thought, how am I going to pull that one off and why did I say it??? But I did and I knew I couldn’t let them down. I suppose looking back that was the day that I really began to consciously develop as a teacher. I had been in my last school 15 years and needed a new challenge (anyone that knows me, knows how much I love a challenge!) and here it was. I can honestly hand on heart say that I have learned so, so much from them- they have made me a better teacher without a shadow of a doubt. They are open and honest with me; they tell me when something’s not working or it is rubbish or they’d rather do it a different way. They keep me on my toes!

So we come to Pedagoo and their role. We met initially on a rainy Wednesday afternoon and I simply asked them 3 questions- what would your dream teacher look like in your eyes (and not physically!!!) what strategies have we used in class that have made you love learning and how have your attitudes to learning changed since Key Stage 3? I couldn’t shut them up! They had loads of ideas, discussions and Little Miss Bossy (Emma) took control of how it would be structured. After the initial planning stage, I met with them a few more times and have to say was surprised at their nervousness. However, I needn’t have worried, as on Saturday they were amazing. They absolutely took control over the session and absolutely ‘taught the teacher’ They dished out ‘Bank of Hutch’ money to the teachers they thought gave them a deserving answer, they questioned the teachers present and implored them to improve their vocabulary in ‘Pass the Paragraph’ They very strictly awarded and deducted points in ‘Hutch’s Hotspots’ They were passionate, confident, articulate and just amazing! I was so very, very proud of them (and again I had a tear in my eye) They may think I’ve taught them well, but I know they’ve taught me more than they will ever know. This post is therefore dedicated to my wonderful students- Emma (Little Miss Bossy), Logan (Mr Hungry) Levi, (Little Miss Sunshine) Amy (Little Miss Neat) Lidia (Little Miss Perfect) Billie (Little Miss Splendid) and Ursene (Mr Forgetful) who showed me not only who I am and what I do, but what I might become.

Here’s some feedback for you guys:
‘Thanks for such a wonderful session- what an amazing set of pupils’
‘An inspirational set of students. Thanks for your advice’
‘One word- fantastic! – forget the perfect teacher, you guys are the perfect students’
‘What an incredible bunch of students…’

Jane Hutchison (Assistant Head Teacher- Teaching for Learning)
Joseph Swan Academy

#PedagooWonderland

0530 on a Saturday morning is difficult, cold and after another long night of the ashes, very miserable. However, I was off to a Pedagoo event, packed with exciting speakers, thoughtful teachers, inspiring individuals and I was pretty confident that my chosen Saturday CPD event was going to be brilliant. It was…

The first thing that blew me away (after registering with the very welcoming pupils of the school) was the amazing building. It was bright, clean, tidy and very much the type of modern building I come to expect when I go ‘somewhere nice’. Just as our children know when they are being shortchanged as regards use of windows XP on old PC’s, they know it when they walk into a dingy building which is in desperate need of a paint job. Michael Gove said that the building and environment of a school makes no difference. I drive past these buildings at Fettes and Stewart’s Melville on the way to my school every day. Clearly, environment makes a difference.

The other thing about the building I loved was the use of images of Joseph Swan children working, often with ideas about how they work, or slogans/quotations about respect, reading etc behind them. That is something I will try and create in the next couple of weeks if energies allow as it looks so good and inspires.

Whilst having my complimentary tea and danish pastry (which would contravene the bring your own tea and biscuits policy of many councils) I set about reading my welcome pack. I loved the Happy Mondays leaflet which contained loads of great, ready to use, ideas for enhancing and reinforcing learning in the classroom. The Happy Mondays reference is because the teachers at Joseph Swan receive and e-mail every Monday, with a new idea or resource in it from their SMT. I love that idea!

MY first session of the day was in the Reading Room (and what an amazing space that is…) with David Hodgson. David talked about how we learn and how we can use techniques in the classroom to help children learn and remember how they learned things. As a primary teacher I get asked lots of questions from the children and my most frequent answer to them is good question. I don’t believe in throwing the knowledge confetti about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced the children will remember it whilst they walk back to their desks and secondly I (or A.N.Other teacher) will not always be there for them when they have a question or want to learn something. The things we did in his session were all practical examples of an NLP approach, and I was so impressed I bought his book for my Kindle this morning. He used this pupil feelings graphic in his session too which I find a useful tool to have by my desk in the class room. Something David said which rang a bell was that we should ensure our children ‘Have a get out clause for children when they don’t learn’. This is vital, so often our children get way more stressed than we ever do about a wrong answer. We need them to take risks, get it wrong, change it and get it wrong again, smiling all the time! That is a successful learner right there.

The next session was with Rachel Orr who is HT at Holy Trinity Rosehill Her workshop was about developing writing through Primary Learning and specifically using Pie Corbett’s talk for writing work. I had worked on a Pie Corbett workshop for writing day before (January 2007??) and it was amazing. I’ve bought a few of his books and love his approach to writing. There is a lot of material on the internet too to supplement his written work. I also liked the punctuation sounds and actions which children are to use when they are talking and can then reinforce the assessment process in class. Rachel has used Pie’s work in two differing schools now and shared with us examples of the successes her young writers had, and these examples cal be seen on her school blogs. Rachel gave us a disk with loads of fantastic resources on, many her own work (the learning keys are a great idea!).

During lunch I met some great folk including @spiceweasel77 who is doing some brilliantly exciting things with his class!

After lunch it was on to Hywel Roberts session. Hywel spoke passionately and humourously about creating contexts in the curriculum, allowing the children to view the learning they are given through their own filters and engaging children in their learning. I made loads of notes during Hywel’s session and later tweeted many of them. Here’s the quotations I tweeted:

‘It’s our job to get the World thinking.’

‘We need to dig learning holes for our children to fall into.’

‘we are the people who make sense of the curriculum we are given. ‘

‘Have a what’s great 2 mins at the start of staff meetings’

‘we need to induct our kids into learning’

‘all of these things are just doing the job we’ve been asked to do. That we’re paid for. ‘

I’ve got Hywel’s book and it’s a great read. I need to do more of this in my classes. It’s great stuff. I was incredibly impressed with Hywel and the way he works in schools.

Finally, my last session was about using enquiry based learning in maths. Stephanie Thirtle took this session, she is a maths teacher at Joseph Swan. (I’d love The Girl to have her as a maths teacher, lessons would be so interesting!)
We did some enquiry based openers which really got us thinking and she talked about the approach of letting the children work things out for themselves, rather than an I teach then you do model. I love the work things out idea and think the way she’s bringing it to maths in a high school works really well. Much of the rationale for enquiry based learning was on her presentation and clearly showed examples of enquiry based learning which we could use as one-off lessons or develop for a maths topic. Such things investigating square numbers, straight line graphs using algebra, and one which P7 will be seeing soon – 12 Days of Christmas maths.
Her room displays were wonderful and I snapped many of them on my phone and you can see them here. I particularly liked that ways she put maths into context making it real for the children.
That chimed so well with the session from Hywel previously.

I came away with my head full of wonderful ideas and a bag full of goodies!
So, what next…well before Christmas I will make some posters of children and their ideas about learning to go up in school and I will also make some musical posters for the music room.

After Christmas I will take loads more of these ideas and run with them. It’ll be different, fun and learning will happen.

A TERM WITH YEAR 9 – HOW CAN I SHOW MY STUDENTS HISTORY MATTERS?

Why is history in the curriculum?

I’m not being rude but it doesn’t actually help you in your daily life.”

To punish people.”

So if anyone asks you a question you could answer instead of saying I don’t know.”

(Quotations from students in Richard Harris and Tony Haydn, ‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter’, pp. 45-46)

Not all student responses looked like this, but these individuals’ words exemplify a problem: although 70% of those questioned claimed history was useful, fewer than a third were able to articulate why.*

It is possible that the absence of a clear and developed understanding of why they are learning about the past, and about the discipline of history, is impacting negatively on pupil effort and attainment in history, and on take-up rates post-14.”

(Ibid., p. 48)

A few months ago, noting that motivation correlates with attainment and GCSE choices, I argued that demonstrating the relevance of history to students is important if they are to immerse themselves in learning and recognise the subject’s importance.  In that post, I mentioned having spent a year working on this problem with a Year 9 class.  This post describes and evaluates my actions and their reactions during our first term together, as I tried to persuade them that history matters.

Who better to explore this with than Year 9 (thirteen/fourteen year olds)?  In most schools this is their last year of compulsory history, so it is critical in cementing their understanding of the past.  Most students are pretty confident at the beginning of Year 9 whether or not they will choose to study history in their GCSEs; the majority conclude they will not (nationally, a third of students study History GCSE, figures replicated in my former school).  History is a hard sell: a large proportion of students see the subject as difficult and irrelevant to both everyday life and their future careers.  Moreover, Year 9 is the dip: equidistant from the bright-eyed enthusiasm of entry into a school in Year 7 and maximum pressure from school, parents and usually, students themselves, in Year 11.  Proving history matters is a challenging task in this context, but a vital one.

What did my class think of history?

I was teaching a mixed ability class; most of the students were new to me – if we can overlook a disastrous cover lesson I’d had with a third of the group the previous summer.  The head of year was characteristically upbeat, noting that “You’ve got a very bright class here” and saying less about their fairly unenviable behavioural reputation.  She did mention that a couple of parents had never heard anything good about their children and if I managed to ring home positively early, it would be worth my while.

At the end of our first lesson together, I asked students to answer: ‘How do you feel about history?  The picture below shows my summary of reasons why students said they didn’t like the subject:

Relevance2

Above all, they expressed the idea that it was ‘not useful’ or ‘irrelevant to my life’ and ‘boring,’ a word which came up more than any other.  Only four students had anything positive to say about the subject… it seemed pretty clear to me that embarking on the (pretty dry) prescribed course was unlikely to achieve anything.

There is sufficient evidence of school or departmental effect in the data to suggest that teachers can have an influence on pupils’ understanding of the purpose of school history.”

(Ibid., p. 47)

My goal was to teach students to love history and to recognise its profound importance to their lives…  but I believed this was something they had to realise for themselves.  So I began by asking:

What questions matter to you?

I began with the still on the right from from the Italian Job and asked students what questions they would wish to ask about this picture – they came up with a good range: What had happened?  Was the driver drunk?  And so on.

Italian Job

I then developed an idea from Teaching as a Subversive Activity and asked students to imagine that they were redesigning the school curriculum from scratch, without reference to tests or syllabuses.  What questions would they want answered in such a curriculum?  I was nervous at this point as to how well they would respond to the idea; results varied, this is a representative sample:

  • If you were in a fight with one of your friends and you seriously hurt them, and no one saw you, would you take them to hospital or leave and pretend nothing every happened?
  • How did music emerge as a global phenomenon?
  • Why is there school? Why do we need education?
  • Can you explain global warming?
  • Is there something you can’t live without?
  • What do you aspire to be in the future?
  • Would you give your life for people you care about?

I closed by returning to the list of questions about the bus and asked what did almost all of the questions refer to?  The idea I was trying to convey was that we have to look to the past for answers to every question except one (what happens next?) we can predict an answer to this based on all the other answers.

How can history help us answer the questions that matter to us?

I wanted students to see how a historical question can help answer a philosophical or ‘life’ question, so I began with an easy example: one student had asked ‘Is Arsenal rubbish?’ so I invited students to break this down into smaller questions (for example, how many goals did they score last season?)  They then extended this to formulate historical questions which helped answered some of their other (more interesting) questions.  I also offered them some of my own historical questions (ensuring there was at least one historical question linked with each philosophical question); examples which linked with the questions I listed above included:

  • Why did the Victorians let children not go to school?
  • What did Roman people think you couldn’t live without?
  • What did the Ancient Greeks think was the meaning of life?

Finally, students voted on the question which they most wanted to research.

I wrote to a friend after this lesson: “I’ve been reading their books and from the last lesson some of them did write stuff like – now I realise the past can help us understand other questions… so I think it can work.”  And as another friend said to me at the same time, my having promised to prove that history mattered and let them choose their question “You have to honour that!”  I was unsure where things were going, but it looked like the right direction.  So I prepared to help my students answer their question through history.

‘Are you a leader or a follower?’

This was my students’ chosen question, and it was a gift to a history teacher.  I designed a lesson which explored this question from a range of angles: looking at why so many people voted for the Nazis, what made leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi successful and, by my students’ request, how fashion trends spread.  I also asked a wonderful Year 13 Psychology student to visit the class and explain Stanley Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ electric shock experiments.  Students spent a lesson examining these different examples of leadership & following and at the end, I asked them whether they were leaders or followers based on what they’d learned.

Over the next two lessons, students created presentations on different aspects of what we had learned: how we had got this far, what history suggested made a leader and a follower, what we had decided about ourselves and the skills we had developed.  They then presented what they had done to the head of year (and I had it filmed as well).

Other ways of demonstrating relevance

Although the hardest bit of the ‘selling’ process was over, I devoted the rest of the term to continuing this push.  We looked at propaganda as a tool during World War I – and applied this knowledge to modern advertising.  We worked on essay-writing and persuasion – as a tool for history and for life.  And we studied the origins of the London riots (one of the highlights of this was Zelal popping into a police station, on her own initiative, to enquire into the racial disparities in arrest statistics).  At every point, I devoted time to the ‘so what’ question – underscoring the importance of what we were doing.

In the spring term I pushed the class to create far better work – which matched their interest in the subject, rewriting essays and seeing some great essays from some of my students.  In the summer I focused on sharing what we’d learned and organised a trip to a local primary school to teach them what we had been learning, in which every student had a role presenting, teaching or supporting Year 6 students.  Again, every topic we studied or skill we refined, I set time aside to consider why it mattered.

The results

Avowed beliefs: In January asked students to write postcards addressed to my Year 9s next year which summarised why history matters (as I explained, to save me the time of those new students misbehaving before they recognised why the subject mattered).  The noteworthy factor is that no one refused, no one said ‘I don’t know what to say.’  No one wrote nothing – so all of them had gained some impression that history was useful.*

Choosing History GCSE: When it came to their choices, seventeen students chose to study history and seven didn’t – a rate which was three times the school average.  I asked them to explain to me as best they could why they had chosen history; my summaries are below (some students made more than one relevant question):

CIMG6153

(Two students were absent on the day I asked this question, both of whom had chosen history).

And as to why they hadn’t…

CIMG6154

Academic results: I received some absolutely brilliant pieces of work – the highlight being the student who moved from apparently being on level 3 to level 7.  That said, a handful of students made no progress on paper- primarily because a cunning combination of absence, time in the school’s behaviour unit and avoidance of homework meant I barely saw any of their written work; that said, I should have done more to chase those individuals.

‘Prosocial behaviour’: This one’s harder to evidence, but students displayed better attitudes to learning and school more generally.  Firstly, I ceased calling for help from my head of department/form tutors/the head of year/school behaviour unit, because off-task behaviour was sufficiently limited, and relationships were good enough, that I could address this unaided.  This was a novel situation with me for an entire Year 9 class – every previous year we reached a point in the summer where one or two students had adopted such a consistently negative attitude (and had long since chosen not to study GCSE History) that they were removed entirely from history lessons.  More tentatively, I would argue that there was a power in students having a subject which they enjoyed, succeeded in, had a teacher to say something positive about them in parents’ evenings…  I don’t know what it counted for in their wider lives, but I do know that one parent claimed she dropped the phone when I rang to say her daughter was doing well (first positive call home ever).  The same student (who was a bit of a terror), came up to me near the end of my time at the school and said: ‘I don’t want you to leave.’  And then wandered off.  What does that count for in the great scheme of things?  I’m not sure: but I’d like to hope it was worth something

Evaluation

Focusing on persuading students history matters meant I spent a lot of time thinking about the purposes of my lessons and considering how best to communicate this with my students.  It led me to work in a more democratic way – a managed democracy, certainly, but one in which I gave my students genuine choices and was open with them about the rationale for what was on offer and the decisions I made.  The more I did this and they responded, the more I was happy to be open and honest about the problems I was facing or things I didn’t know how to do.  Clarity about purposes and honesty with them improved our relationships and meant that they better understood why they were doing what they were doing and so chose to buy into it.

My plans evolved as I worked.  Although there were some things I had in mind early on (like visiting a primary school) much was unplanned; there were many points at which I wasn’t clear about much beyond the next step.  I acted by instinct and – for the most part – it worked – but it was pretty terrifying at times and it’s not something I would recommend lightly.

Were I doing this again, I would insist on a higher standard of work and behaviour from the start.  At the time I though I was doing pretty well – I judge myself now against a school with higher non-negotiables.  The time to chase every child and every piece of work myself, together with another four Key Stage 3 classes, Year 10s, Year 11s, A-level coursework and the UCAS system simply wasn’t there (especially in a system which demanded assessment and data entry six times a year).  I’m in awe of those who can honestly do this and maintain their sanity.  I did throw my teddies out of the pram on one occasion and make the whole class rewrite an essay – and I got some very high quality writing from some students.  However…  I now feel that I could have done more than I did.

Did they learn enough?  Possibly not.  They learned a lot – but among other things I dropped some topics to provide enough time to do others well.  I told myself then that I’d done more of a favour by getting them to study history so they would keep learning.  I look at these things differently now and appreciate this better – more knowledge and understanding provides the secure basis for later success.  Could I have pushed them further?  When I visited the school again in October, many of them were struggling with their GCSEs.  Why?

I had a massive amount of latitude.  I was in an ‘Outstanding’ school, subject to only one lesson observation a year.  I don’t think anyone really knew what I was doing…  How acceptable is this?  Had I had to follow the curriculum to the letter, I’m sure I would have been faced by some fairly mutinous students all year.  And yet most schools do not provide this space for teachers.  What would I recommend to teachers who don’t have this latitude?  I think spending five minutes at the end of a lesson to discuss why the lesson just studied matters – how it links with our lives or the present day.  But there’s a broader question here: if teachers (and schools) don’t have freedom to innovate and experiment, how can they meet the needs of their students?  Equally, once they do have that freedom, what’s to keep their choices at least somewhere related to their straight and narrow.

Intervention in Year 9 is too late!  This worked, but it’s not the best way to do it.  If you are trying to convert students from a negative impression of the subject, it’s hard work doing this in a year.  It can be done, but this is not the most productive approach.  We need to work harder in Year 7 to ensure students love and appreciate history.

Nor does an approach like this substitute for effective behaviour management, on the part of the school and the teacher.  One of my struggles was getting all my students to try as hard as I’d have liked them to do on their written work – or indeed, any task needing sustained application.  Equally, classroom management alone is sufficient neither to ensure students’ best efforts nor to ensure students pursue your subject with genuine interest.

Much of what I did doesn’t diverge far from what we might teach anyway.  Everything I taught was on the syllabus, except the London Riots (and even that was just a tweak of the syllabus: we studied the crisis in Syria this year in Year 8, of which more anon).  What this approach does is reverses the agenda, or the direction I’m pursuing – beginning with students and moving to history, rather than treating history as thing to press onto students.  The best case is having seen an example like the one above, students recognise the links between what matters to them and what they learn and then formulate them independently: one of my students in Year 7 did this spontaneously last week for almost the first time ever.

Conclusion – would I do it again?

Curriculum time is precious at Key Stage 3, but investment in these inputs can make all the difference between desultory compliance on the part of pupils, and wholehearted and enthusiastic commitment to wanting to do history, to do well in it, and to do it for as long as possible.

(Ibid., p. 48)

Aspects of what I’ve described above still make me uncomfortable.  There are many things which I would change: for a start, I would demand far better written work from the beginning.  I would be less sanguine about playing fast and loose with the curriculum.  One particular thought-experiment I haven’t considered enough if how I would react as a head of department if one of my teachers did this without talking to me about it first (as I did).

On the other hand, I believe the fundamental approach is sound.  I went from having four students who had something positive to say about history at the start of the year, to having seventeen choose to keep studying the subject.  Moreover, irrespective of their choices, students experienced things of enduring value: persuasive essay writing, identifying and analysing propaganda and teaching primary school students.   This experience has shaped a unit themed around historical relevance with which I begin the Year 7 curriculum (and similar units for Years 8 and 9).  With each class, the approach I take is different (I may come back to this in future) but with all of the, the result should look something like this – three photos of Year 7 work from last half term:

CIMG6089 CIMG6079

CIMG6074

Notes

* It’s not entirely clear from Harris and Haydn’s published report how bad the picture is.  70% of their respondents said history was useful.  Of 1,500 comments about its usefulness, 658 were tautological ‘It’s on the curriculum because people need to learn it.’  Over 250 appeared to offer statements which demonstrated an understanding of the rationale as expressed by the National Curriculum.  Over 200 responses related to employment – although many (around 50) were phrased as though history would only be useful if you wished to be a history teacher/work in a museum.  The best guess possible from the article is that around 400 students, from a sample of 1,500 who commented, were able to articulate ‘valid’ purposes of school history.

* More tricksy psychology: asking people to persuade others of something makes them more likely to believe it themselves.  I knew by this stage I wasn’t going to be at the school next year, but I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise for my students.

Further reading

There doesn’t seem to be much written about this – please point me towards exciting things I’ve missed.

Richard Harris and Tony Haydn,‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter,’ Teaching History, 132, September 2008 (paywall) although you can download the full report here.

Ben Walsh has an E-CPD unit at the History Association website on exactly this question – again, behind a paywall.

I write lots more at improvingteaching.co.uk and I’m on twitter as @HFletcherwood