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SOLO taxonomy resources
July 29, 2014

The SOLO learning grid works in the similar way to my previous learning grids in that you roll a dice to generate a question. Each box within the grid has one of the SOLO symbols and a corresponding question. The boxes are differentiated from less complex uni-structural identify questions to more deeper extended abstract questions such as apply or compare. Pupils take it in turns to roll the dice to generate their own question or questions for their partner. This can be used as a revision tool at the end of a unit or topic. Questions can then be peer marked and extension feedback questions added using the questions in the grid. The grid could be linked to the roll a plenary or starter grids.


The SOLO dice involves using a number of blank squares (can be purchased from amazon), some of which have a key word on and the other half have the SOLO labels on them. Roll two dice to get a key word and a solo level. Pupils can then generate their own questions with the results or create questions for others to answer.


The solo chatterbox is another way to create questions. On the outside of the template are four SOLO levels with a command word e.g. multi-structural and describe. Pupils spell out the command word by moving the chatterbox with their fingers which will then land on a question related to that level. This provides good differentiation as pupils can choose which question to answer. This could be used as a starter or plenary activity.


Engagement in Deep Learning
ScreenHunter_107 Jul. 20 08.40

If we truly want to connect with students in ways that will activate them to be self-driven lifelong learners, then we must be authentic, deeply engaged learners ourselves. 

Deep learning is infectious and if the conditions are fertile, it will flourish.

Invitation from @fkelly

This post is a reflection on engagement in response to a recent Twitter invitation from Fearghal Kelly. As I am still a novice in the Twittersphere, with only a few months of tweeting under my belt, the invitation in the form of a Twitter notification from an animated squiggle with glasses was indeed a surprise! I approached this quite cautiously by doing some googling and was relieved and then flattered to learn more about Fearghal and the innovative pedagoo.org community of teachers that he has established in Scotland.

Let me share some of my own thoughts on engagement in deep learning with you.

Tweeting in the context of engagement

As part of my sabbatical research early this year , I focused on deep engagement in learning and I explored the ‘tweets’ that young children from the Manaiakalani Cluster of schools in Auckland, New Zealand were sharing with links to their personal blogs. I was particularly moved by a ‘tweet’ on Anzac Day, a public holiday in New Zealand, that linked to a blog post from a nine year old girl.

 This was evidence of learning happening beyond the classroom. I went on to count 228 tweets via @clusterNZ with links to personal blogs shared by learners across the Manaikalani Cluster of schools during the two week holiday period at the end of the first term of school. A global audience provides comments and feedback to these learners who are motivated to continue their learning beyond school hours. The presence of positive motivation towards a learning task markedly increases the likelihood of students engaging in deep learning (Groff 2010).

Personal Learning

I decided that if young children could willingly share their learning via tweets and blogs, then I needed to take the plunge and do the same. I googled how to tweet and create a blog and I have continued tweeting @jennyljackson and blogging ever since. 

Without realising this at the time, I was moving out of my comfort zone into the ‘unknown’. I was also reconnecting and engaging as a learner. I  was pushing my boundaries beyond the surface and digging deeply within and stirring my dormant authentic self.

The reality is..

In the busyness of our day to day lives, rushing to and from work, going to meetings,caring for our families, a little bit of our authentic ‘learner’ self gets lost along the way. No matter how emphatically we articulate our dedication to being model lifelong learners, we inadvertently lose some of the passion, motivation and powerful love for learning that drew us into our teaching vocation in the first place.

The incessant demands for accountability in our workplace can mean that we engage at a surface level, in survival mode with our teaching and learning. This doesn’t mean that we are doing poor jobs but it does mean that we have the power and potential to greatly improve the learning environments that we are working in.

Instead of frantically searching for the latest programmes, trends and ideas to engage learners, I believe we need to start by looking inside ourselves.

But how?

Last term, I gave our staff a sabbatical from staff meetings. I wanted to give them back some time to play, explore, learn and let their creative , innovative juices flow. I shared the Eduardo Briceno video that linked to Carol Dweck’s  ‘growth mindset’  research and gave our staff the precious gift of time. 

Although I had shared my personal learning with them, I had no expectations about their own learning during the ten week term. Yet, within the first three weeks of the term, staff and students began to explore blogging. Although some staff members already had class blogs, the proliferation of new blogs generated a collaborative community of bloggers,supported by our school Facebook page and website. Suddenly, the rich learning experience that were normally privy to teachers and learners became tangible to families beyond the school walls. 

It wasn’t the blogs alone that engaged the families but the passion, enthusiasm and self-motivation that oozed from the very creators of the blogs. 

What next?

This term, we have ‘ditched’ the word ‘meeting’ from our calendar.We believe that if we are to truly engage our students in deep learning, we need to be experiencing this kind of learning ourselves. We agreed to replace the word meeting with the term ‘taonga’. A taonga in Maori culture is a treasure. We believe our love for learning is indeed a treasure. You have to dig deeply to find a treasure.That means we have to continually dig deeply within ourselves to reconnect with our passion and love for learning as educators. Engagement in deep learning is infectious and if the conditions are fertile, it will flourish.This is indeed the message from my  video.

ScreenHunter_80 Jul. 01 20.11

For the past few months, I have been reviewing chapter by chapter the inspiring book Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future by David Price. Price continually refers to the merits of going ‘open’ and the fact that businesses and institutions are more innovative and successful when they create informal, social networking environments for employees.

One of our teachers has innovatively created a blog for staff development. Lorraine Frances-Rees explains, “Why don’t we do all the reading and understanding before the meeting and then do the important stuff together – the conversation, the creation, the collaboration? Without permission and time to explore, I wouldn’t have had the impetus to do this. In fact I already had the meeting prepared with a PowerPoint guide. But I had the space to think about how I want us to learn and what I would need to do myself to make this happen. So I created a Blog.”

As a result, the ‘taonga time’ is more focused and purposeful and the time together is reduced by half.

When we create collaborative cultures of educators deeply connected to their own passion for learning, then we are well on the way to engaging our students in deep learning for success.

 If we truly want to connect with students in ways that will activate them to be self-driven lifelong learners, then we must be authentic, deeply engaged learners ourselves. Deep learning is infectious and if the conditions are fertile, it will flourish.


July 23, 2014


What is #cashforgrades?
Idea 23, Dangerous Taxation from the 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons by Ross Morrison McGill (AKA: @TeacherToolkit). It’s a fake cash reward system to encourage engagement, provide friendly competition, reward the things you appreciate and have a bit of fun.
How did it work?
The system is quite simple, when a student turns up, gets on and achieves well they are awarded fake money, Monopoly for example, which is counted up and added to the running total. Periodically students who score highly, either specific amounts or top number of students, are rewarded. In order to generate excitement we played for big money. This was especially good fun since some students thought they were actually going to get real money in class in the first session; the sighs of disappointment when they realised the money was fake made it even more entertaining for the class.
Our System was as follows:
Attendance = £10,000
RAPP Point (Merit/House): £25,000
High Quality Exam Style Answer in Class: £25,000
Target Grade in Test: £50,000
Each Grade Above: +£25,000
Each Grade Below: -£25,000
Quality Post Test DIRT: +£25,000
Lazy Post Test DIRT: -£25,000
No Book: -£25,000
No Pen: -£10,000
Late: -£10,000
Red Card: -£50,000 (Not used, but there for completeness.)
As well as the normal systems I also used a variety of additional award opportunities, such as voting for worthwhile contributions, gallery peer feedback with each group having a wedge of cash to give out, competitions and challenges.
The first concern that I had was keeping track of the scores every lesson; this was quickly solved by appointing a “banker” to keep track of the scores. This worked well and students had to take responsibility for themselves; banking their cash at the end of activities. It also resulted in students reminding me about the challenge which is great.
The second concern was that competition can sometimes create the wrong climate in a classroom; to avoid this I made sure we focused on friendly competition and encouraging others. A rising tide to lift all ships rather than a sink or swim attitude.
Student Feedback…
To find out what the students thought about the system after a term we did a quick PMI; an Edward De Bono thinking skills technique for categorization. P = positive, the good stuff. M = minus, the bad stuff. I = interesting, well you can guess what that’s for. Not the most quantitative scientific research, but a great qualitative method for checking their perceptions.
Encourages people to get more involved in the lesson.
It makes the lesson more fun because you get rewards.
Makes people try harder to get cash.
Helps people to remember their book and pen.
Makes you want to speak up in lesson.
Thrive for awards.
Not everyone is rewarded.
Interesting to see what other people are getting rewarded for so you can aim to do the same.
After putting the list of names on a spreadsheet this method took almost no effort but did create positivity and a sense of competitive fun. The class were really happy with this and want to use it next year and other classes who have heard about this have asked if they can have #cashforgrades too. I’ll definitely be running this with all of my GCSE classes who want to play next year.
Millionaires Club:
To add to this for next academic year I’ll be introducing the millionaires club with a certificate and special privileges. This will be over the course of the full year since I have my classes for one hour per week. If you have more lessons you could reset the totals each term with special privileges until the end of the term. You could even make a special event when someone joins ‘The Club’.

Tools to help Quiet and Shy Learners join in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My problem with ability
Image by flickr.com/photos/susivinhImage by flickr.com/photos/susivinh

I’ve always had a big problem with grouping students by ability. The Sutton Trust EEF Toolkit shows that ability grouping, setting or streaming has a negative impact on student attainment.

Ability grouping slows progress down

Ability grouping slows progress down

One of the first blogs I read and favourited when I began exploring the online educational world was Kenny Pieper’s Setting by ability: why? which used Ed Baines’ chapter on ability grouping in Bad Education: debunking myths in education to argue that setting and streaming was “self-defeating in the extreme.” Since then I’ve had a look at the research myself; there’s a list of some of the articles at the bottom of this blog. My favourite was Jo Boaler, Dylan Wiliam and Margaret Brown’s study Students’ experiences of ability grouping —disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure. Susan Hallam concluded her study: “ability grouping…does not raise standards, and in some cases can lower them. It can also have detrimental effects on pupils’ personal and social development.”

It’s fair to say, the case for setting and streaming is full of holes and there is plentiful research out there to show that it doesn’t achieve what it tries to achieve. As the Sutton Trust Toolkit says: “ability grouping appears to benefit higher attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners.” In other words, it exacerbates the Matthew Effect and ensures that the gap between the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor widens.

Ability has no bearing on your accomplishments; effort does

Ability has no bearing on your accomplishments; effort does

My big problem with any discussion around grouping is with the weasel word “ability.” As Fearghal Kelly says it has all the connotations of a fixed mindset. When you talk about a “mixed ability” group what are you really saying? That some of them are more “able” than others? This language implies that those “low ability” students you have are actually less able to improve. The word itself reinforces the widening of the gap. In actual fact, as we all know, students who end up labelled “low ability” have complex needs, some cognitive, some behavioural, some social, and some attitudinal which have led to them performing poorly. This poor performance – their prior attainment – gains them the label of “low ability,” but it does not necessarily follow that low attainment corresponds to lack of ability.

I want to root the word “ability” out of my own and my school’s vocabulary. If we are truly to become a growth mindset school we must avoid the bear-trap of labelling students with fixed terms like “middle ability” throughout schooling when we actually mean “achieved between 25 and 40 marks on their English reading paper in Year 6 which was then translated using a threshold into an arbitrary level 4.” This has nothing to do with the individual’s ability. It is all about performance.

Ability is not fixed. As teachers we can work with young people to overcome their cognitive, behavioural, social and attitudinal issues and improve their ability to access the curriculum. We certainly won’t solve all of those issues outright, but we can ameliorate them – and we must. But labelling a young person as “low ability” is not going to motivate them or us to try.

No matches. Mission accomplished.

No matches. Mission accomplished.

I wrote to parents this week explaining our grouping and curriculum approaches in school, and I didn’t use the word ability once. “Students are taught in groups with the full range of prior attainment,” I wrote to explain those subjects that mix – the majority of our curriculum is taught this way. Some still set, of course – that’s the Head of Faculty’s decision. Our challenge now is to raise attainment for all and to ensure that every student continues to increase their ability to learn, grow and achieve.

Research articles:

Cross-posted from Teaching: Leading Learning

A New Approach for those in Danger of Failure?

As a teacher, how does this grab you as a challenge? You are to be part of a team working with 30 pupils from the south side of Glasgow? They are identified as being at risk of disengagement, but with the potential to become successful apprentices and good citizens. You must remain true to the principles of Curriculum for Excellence. What might be different for you is that your organisation is ready to wipe the slate with your experience in the classroom. You are going to look at the pedagogies of what works and use them in your practice every day – with only three other colleagues.

“Three?” I hear you ask. Correct. The curriculum will be delivered by four teachers – Science, IT, Maths and English, but also by partner organisations, made up of the private businesses who are not only investing in the venture, but who are guaranteeing apprenticeships to those young people who complete the course and FE colleges which are guaranteeing places for the NJC leavers.

This is the plan for Newlands Junior College, the brainchild of Jim McColl, Scottish entrepreneur. His vision is to take young people who are heading for failure and give them a real prospect of success.

Scotland’s schools are very good. I don’t think that’s in question here. But there is – and always has been – a group of young people who just don’t get a good deal. They are not academically driven, have perhaps a challenging background or a family whose experience of education is entirely negative, but who nonetheless have some kind of talent or ability. They are not heading for university, but exist in a system which is designed to make them feel that the only achievement that really counts is getting in to university. Yet business is crying out for people with good practical skills and the right attitude to work.

These are exactly the people that McColl’s Newlands Junior College appears to be designed to cater for. If only they could be prevented from disengaging, as they often do.

The college has started to engage staff.  They will be working in a very special environment, with the best technology and with unrivalled opportunities to develop their pedagogical skills.

Iain White, Principal of the College and former Head Teacher of Govan High, which serves one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, makes no secret of the formula “This will be an organisation built on relationships – there will be no room for messing around, but we intend to be like a family, where – like every family – we will have our moments, but we are all here for the same reason. We will all be motivated towards what we want to achieve together. That togetherness will be based on mutual respect and a mutual understanding of what we are here for.”

And for the young people who, through the selection process, get a place, that achievement will be quite something. With resources available to equip every pupil with a handheld computer, cutting edge IT provision and links with future employers who will not only provide curriculum input, but mentoring relationships and guidance, the prospects for these otherwise potentially-failing pupils are suddenly looking dramatically brighter.

Of course schools try very hard to prevent young people dropping out. But Newlands will have some crucial advantages. It will be able to guarantee the outcomes (apprenticeships and college places for every successful leaver) . Also, it is not school. Whatever Hollywood tells us about inspirational teachers and innovative and ground-breaking approaches to learning, sometimes the problem is simply that school is the wrong place for disenchanted teenagers. Newlands Junior College, based in real place of work, with its top quality adult environment is clearly not a school. So many things are different from the quality of design to the close involvement of students in everything including the preparation of meals. At Newlands, they not only know what works, but (more importantly) for these students they know what doesn’t.

An education for the 21st century has to very different from the classroom of the past. It has to be suited to each individual in a way that is unique and inspiring. It has to connect to adult life and the real world in ways that every student can understand. Every day, every student has to feel valued and believe in the possibility of success.

I look forward to schools and indeed, colleges, of all descriptions providing a wide and varied menu of education, utilising top technology, demanding top professionals and producing top quality graduates upon whom employers can rely, as they have had an input to their education and training. The destinations are guaranteed – not as some kind of social responsibility policy – but as a real engagement between young people, their parents, teachers, employers and trainers. I look forward to more initiatives like this and not only that, but I look forward to them being supported as complementary to the current school system.

Newlands Junior College is still looking for a Science teacher and a Maths teacher, so if you think you might enjoy this kind of opportunity, check out the website and application form here.

Star Jar!
July 4, 2014

After seeing all of the Friday celebrations on #PedagooFriday I was inspired to have a special celebration for my students and decided to have a ‘Jar of Gratitude’, catchy isn’t it.  So after a quick name change and a little thinking about the practicalities it works like this…

Star Jar – During lessons throughout the Summer term each time I was pleased or impressed with a learner or group of learners I made a note and placed it into a large jar to be shared at the end of the term.  The main reason for doing this was as a celebration at the end of the term, but it also has a positive effect on reinforcing the behaviours/attitudes/efforts of learners.

For the first few lessons I shared the notes going into the jar just to raise the student awareness of what was happening; after  that I went for an air mystery and just popped the note in to be shared at the end.

It’s simple to set up as it just needs a jar and a label, not rocket science stuff but it is worth thinking about the types of thing you want to put in.  I’m a fan of Dweck’s Mindsets so I wanted to make sure most of the statements I used were about work or attitudes of learners and was careful to make sure praise wasn’t about the person, but about what they had done, the skills they had used and the effort they had made.

I also wanted to make sure I did focus on things other than scores and results; so was willing to include some things that weren’t directly learning focused but made the classroom atmosphere a positive one; attitudes and behaviours.

Some examples (names changed to protect the innocent):

1 NAME was promoted to our set for his hard work.

2 NAME mastered 6 mark question technique. So proud.

3 I liked the high quality of peer assessment on 6 mark questions.

4 Sensitive and thoughtful contributions in ‘Myth or Truth’ session.

5 Powerful contributions to discussions.

6 Impressive questions on Muslim lifestyle issues, including Food Laws (Subway) and Clothing (Burkha).

7 Really enjoyed our mixed up classes ‘making connections’ session.

The trial was for one class for one term, at the end of the term I passed the notes around the class and the learners took turns reading them aloud to the class.

To gather some student voice on this I decided to do a PMI (Positive, Minus, Interesting), this is an old Edward De Bono thinking skills categorisation technique.  Three columns, good stuff goes in Positive, bad stuff goes in Minus, other stuff goes in Interesting.  Student comments are below:


Makes people feel good about themselves.

It is cute and motivates you.

Gives you something to work for.

Positive vibes before exam.

Boosts confidence.

Reminds you of all of the hard work you have done before exams.


Not everyone gets mentioned which could make people feel upset or not good enough.

Could make you feel overconfident.


Reminds us of the things we have done throughout the year.

It is unique as no other teacher does it.

Reflection: This was popular with the learners and in future I will be adding more names to the comments as this was important to the class.  Sadly I can’t use this for all year 11 classes next year as they want it to be their special thing.

Other uses: I used this for one of my KS4 GCSE groups, but it could work for form classes or even as a leadership member as something to share your appreciation with your staff at the end of the year.

Let Battle Commence
July 3, 2014
Playing the game

My year 10s and I recently waved goodbye to their Core science exams for this year. After much celebration and relief we began to knuckle down to the year 11 topics which we were due to commence in the remaining days before they were to leave for work experience and, finally, the summer.

I was down to teach topic 1 of the Edexcel C2 syllabus during this period. For those who are not acquainted with this syllabus, the topic covers the ideas of atomic structure, electronic configuration and atom diagrams. It is my personal belief, which I’m sure others share also, that chemistry is much easier once the fundamental principles of atomic theory and organisation of the periodic table are second nature to the students. As such, I spent a fair bit of time covering this topic to ensure it was concreted into my students minds.

Teaching the periodic table and helping students understand it’s layout is so paramount to their understanding. However, teaching it can become a very monotonous and laborious task. Therefore,  I decided to tackle this in a more game like approach. I had gone over the ideas of the nucleus and it’s structure, and wanted students to apply this to the periodic table and generally familiarise themselves with it. So, we decided to play ‘Periodic Table Battle Ships’.

I simply printed off several copies of the Periodic table, two identical images placed one above another on a piece of A4 paper. Each student had one of these copies for themselves. These were to be turned into our battleship boards.

How To Play:

  • Students can place 3 ships: one 5 elements long, one 4 elements long and the final 3 elements long.
  • Ships can be placed vertically or horizontally on the top copy of the table
  • Students then take it in turns to ask questions about the elements to find where their opponents ships are placed.
  • I asked my class to ask questions based on the elements instead of saying “Is it on Sodium?” for example. I asked them to use atomic number, or atomic mass to identify elements. Sometimes, students took it a step further and asked based on the number of neutrons.

Exposing them to the table in this way gave them the chance to identify trends and patterns for themselves as they looked and posed questions.

There are many ways you could change this task. They could pose questions based on properties, first ionisation energy (for A-level), reactivity with certain substances, states at different temperatures. However and whatever you want your students to get from this task, it can be adapted.


Open Classrooms Week
Image by flickr.com/photos/editorImage by flickr.com/photos/editor

Open Classrooms Week was an idea brought to our school by @kerrypulleyn. We first tried it out in March and have since done it again in the last couple of weeks.

The idea behind Open Classrooms Week is simple. Staff are encouraged to visit one another’s lessons and to share ideas and good practice around teaching and learning. It is effective because it gets people talking about teaching and learning and celebrating the great work that goes on in each other’s classrooms. It helps create a bit more sunshine in the classroom.

I first blogged about Open Classrooms here back in March on my own blog. We had already held a couple of Teachmeets at school including one that took place on a training day. This had already helped us build up the collaborative culture necessary for Open Classrooms to work. It is also building naturally on our desire, as a school, to encourage more opportunities for staff to visit one another and see each other teach. I’ve blogged previously about how we hope to change lesson observations at our school here.

Open Classrooms week was first launched to the whole staff in briefing. This was important so that staff knew why it was happening. This was not a drop-in or a walk through and the activity held no risk for staff. Staff did not have to be involved either. It was entirely voluntary and staff could sign up on a sheet in the staff room if they felt they wanted to be involved. A week was set aside for staff to be involved and when staff had free lessons they could go and see somebody else teach. When staff had their door open, other staff were welcome to see what was going on. If staff felt it was not the right time for somebody to come in they could simply close their doors. Some staff even made reversible signs to indicate whether their doors were open or closed!

When staff had been to visit a lesson they were encouraged to write up a leaf for our Teaching and Learning tree in the staff room. Here, they had to write something positive or encouraging about what they had seen. This was great because it shone a light on the bright spots around teaching and learning and allowed staff to celebrate the great teaching and learning that was going on.

A week later, staff shared their experiences at Teaching and Learning briefing and a power point of photos taken during the week was shown with a background track. This was a great Teaching and Learning briefing allowing staff to really focus and reflect on the great practice going on in school. Taking the time out to reflect and celebrate our practice is hugely important and beneficial.

If you have not tried Open Classrooms in your school, I’d thoroughly recommend it. So cast open those doors and let’s learn from one another! Here’s to our next one in September.

Education, Scotland? #PedagooGlasgow

At last Saturday’s pedagoo event in Glasgow one of the things that emerged with great clarity was the continuing, urgent need for a much stronger connection between policy makers and practitioners – the former being mostly absent from an event to which almost 100 possibly quite exhausted but nonetheless inspired education folk willingly travelled on a warm Saturday in June.

Are there any of our colleagues in Scotland who haven’t yet experienced that this kind of grassroots CPD is miles ahead of the formal, imposed variety normally on offer in schools? Driven by the learner; attended voluntarily by folks keen to engage with colleagues and the profession; frequently punctuated by laughter and poetry and concluded with the drinking of beer: what more could any sane educator possibly want from CPD? The prevalence of jeans, t-shirts, sunglasses, trainers and packed lunches practically renders it a summer festival and the antithesis of the customarily imposed, irrelevant, ‘learning’ asked of us so often in our workplace by people who don’t teach and which, quite rightly, our wonderful host Kenny Pieper laments loudly, indignantly, and unapologetically. So, just when I was certain that our good friend The Real David Cameron would rise and invoke that great poet Rogers Nelson (The Artist Generally Known As Prince) with an ironic twist on a comforting, inspiring leadership mantra like, for example,
“You just leave it all up to me | I’m gonna show you what it’s all about”,
he simply reminds us again that this is an event driven not by those writing the rulebook but by those prepared to tug at its pages and remove one or two of them when (not if) necessary.

Grappling with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is still a massive undertaking that preoccupies teachers, school leaders and academics alike, as was evident from the sessions by the two Marks, Healy and Priestley. The former shared with us what looks like an interesting 3-day course undertaken by the senior phase cohort in his school (to replace PSE) on the theme of Power and Truth considered from the points of view of many disciplines and including lectures, seminars, alumni visits and local partners’ input: all laudable aims and values belonging to CfE’s aspirations. But it was in the latter’s session – which included an impressive 20-minute exegesis on current curriculum theory and CfE’s place within it – that it became apparent again how wide the chasm is between the people who make the policy and the people whose professional lives it affects. We are still grappling with an assessment-heavy, outcome-driven curriculum that may have its roots in great intentions, but those charged with bringing it to life are not necessarily empowered to be able to do so in the most appropriate way for their learners in their contexts. Hence the discussion that emerged about why practitioners are not afforded a place at decision-making tables – and what can be done to change that.

This brings me to Kenny’s request to consider where we might be with this a year from now. So here’s my thinking. A year from now, can we have policymakers accepting invitations to Pedagoo Wild West (#pedagoowildwest) here in the western Highlands – an embryonic notion, at this stage – where the setting would deliberately symbolise the stepping out of the central belt zone and into a landscape that may be unfamiliar and a little bit different, but fertile and promising nonetheless? If we do that, can policymakers witness and participate in what drivers of change, learning and innovation look like when we all get together, shed the suits, lose the lanyards, heave the hierarchies, jilt the job titles and just get on with developing education in Scotland? Keep June 2015 free.