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Geography Revision Goodie Bags

I wanted to give my students a little something to remind them of their exam dates and to also equip them with various bits of stationary and revision aid resources.

I noticed on Twitter that a variety of different teachers across the country had received packs as part of their teacher wellbeing. I then started to notice others appearing for students in particular subjects. I first saw the idea from @Laura_Oleary who gave her students a brown bag with a number of different revision guides in.

I knew I didn’t have time to organise larger bags so decided to get coloured sweet bags for my students. In each pack there was; a black/coloured pen, a pencil, a highlighter, cue cards, chocolate bar, lollipop and a laminated mat to identify the important diagrams for the physical paper.

All ready to go!

In Geography students are required to answer three sections in the Physical paper and three in the Human paper. To remind the students about this I identified the date of their exam as well as the sections they needed to answer. The students were delighted to receive their packs, especially the boys with many of them asking if I had more cue cards to help with their revision. Another positive has been comments from parents who have said how happy their child was to receive something that had come from the teacher and would help them with their learning.

Thank you to all those fantastic teachers who are already doing this in their subject and sharing this with their students and others.

How can we differentiate in a way that gives pupils ownership of their learning pathways?
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I’m a big believer in pupil ownership of learning. After all, it’s not my brain that’s doing the work; it’s not my skills that are developing; and it’s not my exam result on a piece of paper at the end of the year. As teachers, I see our role as facilitators: enabling pupils to achieve their potential in a way that develops the skills to do it time and time again. For pupils to do this, they need to develop the independence and resilience that comes from making their own decisions about how they learn; what pace they learn at and how to approach success and failure.

I’ve been trying to achieve this with a group of Higher Biology students. These pupils are in a slightly unusual position of studying a two year Higher beginning in S4. Although this gives a lot of time for teaching the course and developing understanding, I find they often lack the independence and study skills that you might expect from older pupils taking a Higher course. To try and encourage them to make their own decisions about learning, I’ve been using SOLO taxonomy stations as a way of structuring- and differentiating- revision or flipped classroom lessons.

The idea is to use a simple quiz- usually multiple choice questions- alongside a SOLO taxonomy framework to help pupils self-assess their current levels of understanding. Once they decided which level they are working at, they set about on the task designed for that level, sometimes physically moving between tables designated for each station. The pictures below show the SOLO taxonomy framework and the recommended next steps. So for example, a pupil who is pre-structural or uni-structural may need to catch up on notes or work on keywords. At the multi-structural level, pupils are ready to try Knowledge and Understanding type questions that help them revise the facts; whilst those moving to relational are ready for more challenging questions that link the topic together, such as an essay. Finally, pupils who are working at the extended abstract level are challenged to apply and link up their knowledge, either to problem solving or new topics not yet studied.

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I’ve had a lot of success with these lessons. Firstly, it gives a quick and visual way to assess individual confidence and understanding of a topic around the room, by the level at which pupils choose to work. Although I generally encourage collaborative working, it’s good to see that pupils tend to work at the level they feel confident at, rather than just following their neighbour. Secondly, it gives me the chance to provide support to ALL pupils at appropriate level. Because everyone is working at their own pace, everyone is able to at least start the task independently- even if they may require help over small challenges- which means I’m not stuck trying to help one or two of the pupils who are struggling most. This means that all pupils, including the most able, get some of my time, and get the support and push they need. Thirdly, over the course of a lesson, pupils make progress that is obvious to me and them. The tasks are designed so that around two levels can be completed in a lesson (and sometimes I use timed targets to encourage some of the lazier pupils to achieve this!), so pupils can clearly see how they have improved by moving up the levels over the course of the lesson. And from there, they know what they need to do next to achieve a deep understanding of the topic. If they get the self-assessment stage wrong, and their understanding was better or worse than they thought, they quickly realise the task is too easy or too hard and adjust their working level appropriately.

I was observed a while back delivering this style of lesson to a Higher class. Whilst the feedback was very positive, the observer posed one key question: if this were a large class of challenging S2 pupils, instead of my eleven delightful Higher pupils, could this still work?

I was intrigued. Could it? Could my S2 class, who find self-assessment and working independently a real challenge, cope with making decisions about their learning in this way? Would they engage with the challenge, or would they simply use this as a way to avoid anything difficult? Inspired by a wonderful resource I found on the TES website, I used the idea of Nando’s takeaway menu as a lesson framework for a revision lesson on space and forces, with pupils selecting a starter, main course and dessert task:

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Just like with the SOLO stations, pupils took a quiz prior to choosing their tasks, and used the result to inform their decisions about what to do next. Pupils choose their three tasks based on its heat level: from extra mild through to extra hot. There was a nice twist here, as I have been working with this class on higher order thinking skills, and as the heat increased, the thinking skills required became gradually HOTter… get it?!

So… was it a success? Well yes, hugely in my opinion- and that of the colleague observing my lesson. Pupil engagement was massively improved compared to other lessons with that class. Pupils had a clear understanding of what they needed to do and seemed to be genuinely enjoying undertaking the tasks set. Misconceptions were being quashed left right and centre, as I found I had more time to spend talking about the topic with individual pupils. Pupils were tackling tasks involving applying, evaluating and creating with confidence, and pupils were also clearly proud of what they were achieving at each stage. And best of all, pupils could explain clearly not only why they had chosen each task, but what thinking skills they were practicing by doing it- developing metacognition around their own learning that I’d just not realised they were capable of.

Next week I’m leading a learning conversation about this at the BOCSH conference, Talking About Learning 2015 at Inveralmond High School. I’d like to talk about the opportunities but also the challenges I’ve found using these strategies, and how others are achieving these aims. My questions will be:

1. How can we help pupils to identify current understanding, to inform their targets and next steps?

I’ve found SOLO taxonomy to be an excellent framework for helping pupils to identify the current level at which they are working. However, it is limited by how well pupils understand what is required at each level. Do they comprehend the increase in understanding required to progress? What other strategies do people use to help pupils self-assess?

2. How can we ensure pupils challenge themselves, but have the chance to succeed?

Even if pupils understand what is required at each level, are they making good decisions about what task is the most likely to help them progress? Interestingly, boys often select tasks from a level above where I would have put them; whilst girls often work below where I think they are capable. Is this due to confidence? Are they too scared to fail at the more difficult tasks? Pupils often state that they are ‘making sure they get it’ before they move. This seems like a good thing, but maybe it’s a barrier to their progression. I often encourage pupils to revise ‘outside of the comfort zone’: to revise the topics or skills that they really don’t want to- because they’re hard! How can we encourage pupils to work outside of their comfort zone, without them losing confidence in what they’ve already achieved?

3. Perhaps most importantly, how can we help pupils identify the progress they have made, and understand how they got there?

Through these lessons, pupils can see what progress they have made in their understanding, and I often ask pupils to reflect at the end of the lesson what progress they have made, and what kind of studying has helped them achieve that progress: be it revising content, applying knowledge or creating links. Is this valuable? Does it help pupils to see where they’ve come? And what strategies do others have to achieve this?

Using ideas around metacognition to tackle examination questions
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I’ve seen the term ‘metacognition’ banded around on Twitter recently and it’s definitely something I want to read up on. I also watched a video on John Tomsett’s blog (@JohnTomsett) of friend and ex-colleague Lisa Kirby teaching a maths class about simultaneous equations. She used a technique I often use which I sort of thought was intuitive but it seems it has a fancy name: metacognition! According to the TEAL website, metacognition can include doing the following:

“Teach learners how to ask questions during reading and model “think-alouds.” Ask learners questions during read-alouds and teach them to monitor their reading by constantly asking themselves if they understand what the text is about. Teach them to take notes or highlight important details, asking themselves, “Why is this a key phrase to highlight?” and “Why am I not highlighting this?””

It’s something I always do with GCSE and A-level questions, especially towards the start of the course, to get students used to how to approach questions. Rather than assume that they have an intrinsic understanding of what to do, I model my own thinking. I’ve made my Year 9s a booklet of past GCSE questions to prepare them for their end of year exam and the first question was horrible! Not in terms of subject knowledge but it’s got pages of graphs and diagrams to work through. The question was Question 9 from the June 2013 BL1HP (AQA) about feeding relationships and pyramids of biomass.

I gave the booklet out to one of my Y9 classes yesterday and was very quickly met by puzzled faces and lots of questions like “what do I do on this page” (referring to a page with no questions, just graphs and text). Today, I took a different approach with another Y9 class and modeled my thought processes with them. MUCH different results!

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I used the Visulaiser to project the image of the question on to the board. I started with the basics – making sure I had a pen and highlighter to hand. I tried to talk aloud every thought process which came into my head which is a little bit weird as lots of things we do without being aware of them (as experienced adults). I read each part of the information carefully, highlighting key words, but more importantly talking about why I thought they were important and what background knowledge I could link to them.

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We looked at the graph showing the population of animal and plant plankton over a year. I talked aloud about things I noticed, like the y-axis scales being different on the left and right, and patterns I noticed in the trends. I talked aloud about the summer being warmer with greater light intensity. I modeled reading figures from the graph and why I chose to do a rough reading rather than a precise one.

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When I’d verbally analysed the data we moved on to look at the questions. I read the questions aloud and talked about the command terms and bullet pointing and looking at how many marks the question was worth.

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To look at this 5 mark question took about 15 minutes. I explained to them that this would happen much more quickly in real life as they’d become faster with practise. I was so impressed with how attentive they were; even the ones who like to race ahead and get on with their work were patient and could see the value in what we were doing. They were really positive when we’d finished the question giving unprompted comments such as:

“I would never have thought to do that”

“I never would have been able to do that”

Cleaning your work
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Hi all!

This is my first ever blog about teaching! Please apologise for my ramblings – if anything is unclear then don’t hesitate to tweet me @MrRDenham . Or even better, if you have a go at this, then tweet me some pictures to the above handle.

Context of the class:  Students have come a long way in recent times. It is the first time we have seriously considered entering a set 3 class into higher tier – normally only sets 1 and 2 get this chance. School has had the mantra of ‘safety in numbers’ when it comes to getting a C. Thankfully, this all changed now we are measured on progress. A change I am really glad of. Now the whole school has to focus on all students. Not just the ‘C’ grade ones. Students in this class range from an E to a B (got high hopes for one girl even getting an A) so differentiation is key.

Cleaning Your Work! The idea came to me when driving home… I felt that I was banging the same old drum with my year 10 class when it came to successfully analysing thoughts and feelings within a text: look at a text; show good examples; they attempt it; we mark it; I mark it; repeat! This was becoming very monotonous for me and the students – some were not excelling. I needed to attack this at a new angle.

The task:

The task involves students reading a text and then answering a question on it – developing sustained responses. We were answering a ‘thoughts and feelings’ style question. Using the washing up instructions provided by me, students had to ‘clean their clothes’ and create great examples of text analysis. They were tasked with creating 5 clean clothes. Along with this they had to purposefully create 2 dirty clothes – these were rubbish examples. I recommended they took out a step from the ‘washing instructions’ to help them achieve this. I feel that the latter part was the most successful for lower ability students as they were now able to recognise what a bad answer looks like. They were having to think how to make a bad piece of work, rather than concentrating on creating excellent examples and stressing themselves out with keeping up with the rest.

How to wash

How to wash

During the washing process, I also provided washing up ‘tablets’ to enable students to break away from just saying ‘suggests’ all the time. Like when we wash clothes, we lose a tablet to the process, thus eliminating a ‘suggest’ word. This helped them to increase their vocabulary and enabled them to stop their work sounding repetitive (C – E grade students were struggling to get out of this habit).

Then it was…walla – peg, or throw out (I used my working board to stick a bin bag on – always find that it’s good to have a blank display for you to use in class) your work as you go along.

Bin bag used to get rid of dirty clothes

Bin bag used to get rid of dirty clothes

These are two 'clean' examples pegged out to dry

These are two ‘clean’ examples pegged out to dry

To finish we stuck our work into our books: 1 clean, 1 dirty. They had to then reflect and state why the clean work is ‘clean’ and the dirty ‘dirty’, once again reinforcing their exploration in the lesson (it took us two x 50 min lessons to achieve this).

Reflection

Reflection

Note: During the final lesson of the week we did a ‘mock’ exam to help consolidate their learning further – a number of students requested the tablets to help them. If you have read down to here… then I thank you for your time. Hopefully this blog isn’t as bad as I fear! ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND FOLKS – I’M OFF TO MARK THEIR (AMAZING) WORK!

The power of the red pen!
red pen

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As a teacher I value pupil voice and understand the importance of quality feedback which needs to be more of a conversation than a statement. In practice though it can be difficult to achieve this without it becoming unmanageable. One change to my teaching practice this week has really made a difference to the quality of the feedback between myself and my class. The red pen!

End of the red pen as a teacher’s weapon

Under guidance from GwE our school dropped our use of the red pen this year and switched to green. I have never really appreciated the negative connotations of the red pen and believe that if you switch colour any negative connotations pupils do have towards one colour pen will simply be switched to the new colour. As a result of our switching we had a stock of red pens going spare in the store cupboard.

Reintroduction of the red pen for pupil voice

Red is naturally a prominent colour that stands out and it stands to reason that as a teacher you want to hear the learners voices as loudly and clearly as possible. Giving learners ownership of the red pens in order to make comments on their own work has really made the thoughts of the learners obvious within their exercise books and highlighted any changes they make to their work as part of the editing process following completion of draft pieces of work.

The result of red pen revival

Since using the red pen learners have really thought about what the good points of their work are and also been keen to show that they know how to improve. As a teacher this saves me from making suggestions for improvements that they can make for themselves and instead focus on the more subtle ways that they can raise the quality of their work. It is such a simple and effective idea that I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it earlier.

Viva la red pen!

Cross-posted from Enjoying Education

Creative Thinking @ PedagooPrimary
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On Saturday morning I joined a room full of enthusiastic primary teachers for the long awaited #PedagooPrimary, a chance for primary teachers to get together and share thoughts, ideas and strategies… and chat, laugh and generally be enthusiastic about education.

This was my third teachmeet experience, last year I attended #PedagooGlasgow and pedagoo@PL which were incredibly uplifting, inspiring events, this time, I thought I’d be brave and lead a learning conversation.  That’s part of the brilliance of Pedagoo, it is about teachers sharing things they do, things they enjoy, things that have had an impact in their setting.  It is a very inclusive community that makes you feel like you have something to contribute.

My conversation was focused on ‘Creative Thinking’

If we aim to develop a passion for lifelong learning then children’s first experiences of education need to inspire curiosity, introduce interesting problems and encourage creativity. I also think it’s essential that we as teachers get the chance to be inspired, solve problems and be creative as much as possible, it is difficult to pass on a passion for learning if we are uninspired.  It is however, unrealistic to think that we can be producing fabulously creative and inspiring opportunities all day everyday, and at times it is easy to feel caught in the flow of routines and demands that exist in every school.  My conversation aimed to encourage others to find one little thing everyday that makes you think creatively and makes you and your pupils smile.

I shared a number of experiences and projects that we have developed at my school @grandtullyps . Grandtully is ‘A Wee School With Big Ideas’ and I see my role as supporting the pupils (P1-7) to develop their ‘Big ideas’ so they become a reality and a lot of the time in order to do that I need to stand back.  This is not easy! as a self confessed ‘ideas’ person with a strong inclination to control it’s really, really hard not to dominate but to let them explore, create and learn from their mistakes.  However, once you start you’ll never go back.  The process of working together with the pupils, listening, watching and providing well thought through guidance (that’s essential!) has allowed us to develop some really creative (and extremely enjoyable) learning experiences.

Macro Fun

A friend of mine purchased a little clip on macro lens for her iPhone so I had to have one too…. and then I realised its school potential!  After we had spent some time exploring the classroom carpet (uurrrghhh) pupil’s shoes and eyeballs…. we ventured outdoors but something odd happened… we had shrunk.  Younger pupils (P1-3) linked this to ‘In the Garden’ the Oxford Reading Tree story and then wrote their own magic key adventure, while older pupils (P5-7) developed their ‘exciting sentence’ writing using their images as a stimulus.  (If you search for iPhone Macro lens on Amazon you should be able to pick one up for about £5-£6)

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Ten Pieces Project

We were keen to take part in the BBC Ten Pieces project this year.  Pupils listened to and watched a short film introducing 10 pieces of classical music, we then developed creative responses to each piece.  Pupils came up with a whole range of ideas for how we could respond, we then linked them to experiences and outcomes which became our planning for the term.  Holst’s ‘Mars’ inspired a science topic on Space, we visited Dundee Science Museum, watched the Eclipse (good timing!) and pupils wanted to write some space themed stories too. P1-3 pupils looked through a range of picture books before deciding on a Lauren Child style collage approach, while P5-7 listened to podcasts of NASA astronauts before creating characters for their own suspense filled graphic novel.

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Finding an audience for our work is very important, so we shared our books at our community showcase.

For our response to Stravinsky’s Firebird we were lucky enough to work with Clydebuilt Puppet Theatre https://www.clydebuiltpuppet.co.uk.  Each pupil wanted to create their own bird and then P5-7 created a ‘Mega Bird’  they had to work together as a team to fly it.  Check out the flying skills via BBC Ten Pieces site. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02p4n7r  P5-7 also created a bit of a storm in response to Britten. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02p6ktt .

It’s hard not to smile standing in a field, listening to Stravinsky, watching pupils flying a giant bird.

Happy Creating.

@ciaracreative @grandtullyps

 

 

Pedagoo Primary: Supporting ITE students and NQTs
May 13, 2015
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One of the learning conversations in round 2 of Pedagoo Primary was entitled: Developing Partnerships to Support ITE students/NQTs: could we do it better? This conversation was led by Caroline Breyley, HT in a small school in Shetland and Associate Tutor for the University for the Highlands & Islands and Rebekah Hutton, an NQT teaching in Fife.

Listen to the learning conversation led by Caroline and Rebekah below:

Pedagoo Primary: Using blogs and social media in the classroom
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Mary Jalland is a P1 teacher at Westquarter Primary School in Falkirk.

Ellie is the class mascot for P1 at Westquarter PS

Ellie is the class mascot for P1 at Westquarter PS

This learning conversation at Pedagoo Primary was all about how the use of a class blog and social media on a daily basis can enrich the children’s learning and build relationships with parents and the community.

The conversation ended with some comments about internet safety beyond the classroom. Listen to the discussion below.

Visit the class blog or tweet Ellie and the class.

You can find Blue Ellie getting all scientific on twitter too.

A Professional Development: #Pedagooprimary
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Yesterday I travelled some eighty or so miles to Edinburgh to take part in a professional development event for teachers, organised by teachers. Yesterday was Saturday and almost forty teachers had signed up and travelled from as far as Shetland off the north Coast of Scotland to take part. It’s worth noting that there were other similar events happening elsewhere in Scotland yesterday but perhaps the uniqueness of this one was that it was organised and attended by teachers working in schools and because it’s what they wanted to do. No-one had told us we needed to attend, we weren’t being directed by others. We were there because, we wanted to learn, we wanted to collaborate and we wanted to contribute to the learning ‘conversations’. We weren’t sponsored, there were no keynotes and nobody was trying to sell us anything. The agenda was loose and various people had volunteered to lead conversations and to share experiences and practices. No-one was being paid to be there and there were no travelling expenses being met. In short, we were there because we wanted to be.

As we arrived at the venue, the buzz and excitement built as we met up with people we either knew already, virtual friends from Twitter, or met new ones for the first time. Our master of ceremonies was Aileen Kelly who had helped put the whole event together under the Pedgoo umbrella. Pedagoo have organised many such Teachmeets in the past, but it was felt these were heavily Secondary focused and attended, so it was decided to try and promote and develop a more Primary focused event to encourage more primary teachers to get involved.

The event had been loosely organised around a series of learning ‘conversations’. Each of these lasted half an hour and was led by someone who was willing to share and discuss some element of their successful practice in school. The first series of conversations featured outdoor learning, using superheroes to develop mindsets in early years, connecting learning through technology, 1+2 primary language teaching and making sense of practitioner enquiry. The biggest frustration was not being able to sit in on all of these. I was leading the discussion on practitioner enquiry and was able to share my own thoughts and experiences, whilst hopefully helping others to make sense of, and understand this better themselves, as an approach to professional and school development. I would have so liked to have been part of the other conversations as well, especially after hearing the positive reactions of other participants who had took part in these, but will have to content myself to hearing some parts of these as they become available on the pedagoo.org website soon.

The second round of conversations featured our superheroes to develop mindsets again, developing partnerships to support ITE students and NQTs, a look at the new-look GLOW digital network for schools, and one which looked at how we could encourage children to talk more to develop their learning in the early years. Again, a rich range of learning conversations and I took part in the one looking at the development of talk with Aileen Kelly, @aileendunbar. This work had arisen out of Aileen’s work in her school and her successful study for a Masters degree at Stirling University. She was able to explain how her work was underpinned by the work of Vygotsky and Barnes, as well as others, who recognised the importance of dialogue to learning, but also how often schools can stifle this in the learners. I have been looking at the work of Rupert Wegeriff and others to promote more dialogical approaches in classrooms, and Aileen’s work linked closely to this. Aileen said perhaps we should move away from asking so many questions and instead use carefully thought about comments to stimulate talk in our learners.

The final round of conversations looked at how we could better support pupils with English as an additional language in our schools and classrooms, developing creative thinking in learners, inspiring literacy at early level, using Blogs and social media in the classroom and how we might use Twitter in the classroom and as a professional development tool. I took part in the discussion on developing creativity with Ciara Gibson @ciaracreative who teaches a P1 to P7 class. We were all blown away with the level of creativity Ciara had been able to develop in all her children and the simple techniques she had used to facilitate this. Key was often the ability to step back and observe the learning develop and not wanting to control too much by the teacher. If only we could develop this confidence in all our teachers, and headteachers? She demonstrated some wonderful creative work produced by her pupils from the use of a simple macro-lense on an iPad, bought for £5 off Amazon, to take photos and stimulate writing.

Like any well structured learning experience, we had started the whole day with an introduction to the learning ahead and shared some recent successes with everyone. We finished with an opportunity to consider one thing we would take away from the day, and to identify what our next steps might be in attending further Pedagoo events and Teachmeets, and how we might share our thoughts and experiences. For myself, I am determined to attend more events like this and to contribute whenever I can, I may even try to organise one in the Borders where I work. I took so much from the day, and hopefully contributed as well. But perhaps the most important thing was the buzz, the excitement and the positivity generated by committed and professional educationalists when they came together for a common purpose, and an agenda they were in control of. I feel we all left invigorated by the experience, with lots to think about and with practical ideas to consider for how we might develop and improve our own practice. What a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon?

So,thank you to the Pedagoo team for coming up with the concept and the idea, and a big thank you to the main organisers, Lynne Jones @MissJ0nes, Aileen Kelly @aileendunbar, David Gilmour @dgilmour, and Robert Drummond @robertd1981.

As Arnie might say, ‘I’ll be back!’

Cross-posted from School Leadership – A Scottish Perspective

Pedagoo Primary: Learning Superheroes
Some of the 'learning superhero' artefacts shared by Lynsey and Alison.Some of the 'learning superhero' artefacts shared by Lynsey and Alison.

Lynsey Binnie and Alison Adams teach at Lasswade Primary School in Midlothian.  They led a learning conversation at #PedagooPrimary entitled: Using ‘Learning Superheroes’ to develop growth mindsets in the Early Years.

They shared their work on developing growth mindsets in the Early Years through the use of ‘Learning Superheroes’. They drew upon relevant theory and research to discuss how this impacts upon what children perceive a ‘good learner’ to be.

Listen to the audio from Lynsey and Alison’s first conversation of the morning: