Tag Archives: Curriculum


As one of our digital leaders at school, responsible for raising our digital prowess and use of technology to enhance learning (rather than just a bolt on), I am often asked what are my most recommended apps/tools to use in the classroom. I am by no means an expert – in fact, quite late to the technological game when it comes to it being integrated into the classroom. I have learnt a great deal from experts in the field, such as Mr P ICT and Rob Smith (founder of Literacy Shed). As an avid fan of all things technological, I spend my CPD time learning from them and gleaning whatever I can from the trail they, and others, have carved out. So, with all that in mind, I apologise now if anything I share might be ‘old news’ for you.

My favourite at the moment is ‘Blendspace’, which does exactly as it says on the tin – blend the ‘digital’ space with that of your classroom. I have found this tool invaluable with any children I teach (KS1 – KS2). It allows me to create a digital pinboard, for the children to access online content that I have chosen and selected beforehand. I have used QR codes for a while (another post to come) to allow children to quickly access a website, without having to enter in the inordinately long address. When I have needed them to access multiple websites, I have given them multiple QR codes, which in its essence, is fine. Except there is something better. Blendspace.

You can access this website (soon to be an app also, I hear) through your TES account. If you don’t have one of those….you’d be the first teacher I’ve met who doesn’t. Go get one! It’s free and is a whole remarkable resource all of its own. I don’t have time to unpack the genius of this place here and now. Alternatively, you can just sign up for Blendspace.

Blendspace allows me to compile any digital content that I want in one central place for the children to access. I can upload directly from TES, Google, Youtube, images….etc.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I delivered a few weeks back to Year 6 on Charles Darwin. I wanted them to research, using the questions they had generated. By ‘googling’ Charles Darwin, they would have spent too much time sifting through to find relevant KS2 appropriate information. Here, I provided it for them.


Here you can see that I found a PDF, links to websites and a video, through the search function on the right. I then just clicked and dragged into the available boxes on the left. Here, all the research resources they need are in one location. Now, for them to access this ‘digital lesson’ I have done one of two things. Either:

1 – Used the link above as a hyperlink on our class blog. I tend to do this if I want them to access this outside of school.

2 – Clicked on the green ‘share’ button at the top and then copied and pasted the QR code onto a document. I usually display this on the board, or print off for tables. All our children have access to ipads and so can scan the QR code, which will take them to what you can see above.

Saying that – it isn’t the longer address and they could type it into the address bar. Not my first choice, but not a problem either.

Once created, I named my lesson and it became forever in my library of lessons. Others can access it too, if they search for ‘Charles Darwin’. On that note, if you click on ‘blendspace’ at the top, it will take you back to your dashboard – your homepage, if you will. From here, you can search for lessons that already exist, that others have made. Super useful.

You could differentiate the ‘lesson’ by creating a different pinboard for each group. I have also used it in a carousel activity, when I needed multiple stations, each with different research. My students have also used this to create ‘lessons’ on a topic they researched for Home Learning, to make the websites/resources they used available to all. After we have finished, the QR codes are added to the display board, for anyone to continue to research in their own time. A number do.

I was using this before we purchased iPads. Whilst I believe they do make it smoother, they are not essential to using this excellent tool.

I used this weekly in some capacity or another, in a range of lessons throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, it has just been set up as a station for those who are ready for challenge/early morning work, with websites to SPAG revision, phonics games etc. We have even used it to upload the children’s actual work, be it writing, calculations or art work, so that it can be seen by others (parents, children, teacher) all in one place – a gallery of learning.

If you are already using it, I would love to hear about other ways you have used it, whatever your setting. If you haven’t, please let me know if you started using it and what you thought of it. My staff were really excited to discover this and have found it invaluable already. I hope it is for you too.  Happy blending!

Flipping the classroom

Recently I came across the whole idea of flipping the classroom. Like everything else in education although this idea has been around for a little while it is only now that I am hearing about it. I am pretty sure though that I am not alone in this! So time to share what I have found out about flipping the classroom.

A nice couple of videos will it explain it a lot better than I could ever do:




When I first came across this idea it was a bit of an EUREKA! moment. It seems to make perfect sense. Time for me to be with the kids in my higher group during class time on those difficult end of exercise questions that I would normally set for homework. However as ever the little warning bells start to ring and I started asking myself where is the evidence of it working. So started another search.

For the academic amongst you I came across this thesis: http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi/Strayer%20Jeremy.pdf?osu1189523914 I’ll be honest I have not looked at all 244 pages but in general results/enjoyment/independence all seem to have improved. One of a few less intense studies I came across can be found at http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/the-flipped-class-good-stuff-happens-715.php Now this is more the type of article that makes sense to me.

Ultimately, in teaching, there is no one size fits all.
You, as a teacher, must do
what is best for YOUR set of students.
So do I have the nerve to flip my classroom? Well not this year or next as I am away from the classroom out in secondment. I would love to give it a try though. I am attempting to incorporate some of the ideas into my role as an “Online Study Support” development officer but thats not really flipping more adapting. I would be really interested to know if anyone has attempted the flip or any further thoughts on this

In Praise

In Praise of #PedagooFriday, pedagoo.org, Teachers Tweeting and TeachMeeting

My “remote Hebridean classroom”
Having tentatively posted a few 140-character descriptions of learning experiences (from my remote Hebridean secondary English classroom) on #pedagoofriday since its inception (courtesy of the innovative and media-sociable Kenny Pieper), when I was asked by Fearghal Kelly if I would like to write a blog post about one of my #pedagoofriday posts for pedagoo.org I went into a bit of a panic. What could I write that would be of any interest to other English teachers? Why would anyone who is already so multi-media literate and so far ahead of me in their use of ICT in their classrooms be interested?

But then it occurred to me: It’s just sharing; it’s not about ICT or being innovative, it’s just about being a reflective teacher and learner and giving a little while getting so much more back from other teachers and learners in the online education community.

This blog-post was originally to be on an S2 series of lessons regarding building effective persuasive arguments, in preparation for a class debate leading to a piece of discursive writing. I had posted on #pedagoofriday brief details about using a short film entitled ‘Dangle’, available from the fantastic new ‘Screen Shorts’ on Glow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzRD59r2j2A – apologies but this has to be a You Tube link as Glow won’t allow a direct link – not getting into that discussion!), to get pupils thinking about the use of metaphor in making an effective strong point in speech and/or writing. The film speaks for itself and the pupils enjoyed and did brilliantly with it. Their responses to the first question of what the film was about ranged from: ‘You should never pull a piece of string when you don’t know what’s at the other end’ (liked this, even if it missed the point a little!) to ‘We should not interfere with what God has created’ (this IS the Western Isles after all) to ‘We shouldn’t abuse the earth’s resources’ – fantastic! A lively, sometimes surprising and very switched on (!) discussion ensued and, at the end of the lesson, pupils were asked to bring other examples of the persuasive use of metaphor in advertising to the next lesson. We went on to look at the power of iconic images, emotional and sensory responses to images used to persuade, rhetoric, the power of language, etc…
However, what I actually feel more inclined to write about is the impact being on Twitter, sharing in #pedagoofriday and witnessing participation in Teachmeets has had on me personally; as well as its potential for encouraging engagement and discussion, reviewing (and revising) practice and inspiring all teachers. In April this year, I reluctantly joined Twitter when Bill Boyd (@literacyadviser) convinced a group of Western Isles teachers at a CPD session in Stornoway to try it and see its usefulness as a CPD resource. Many thanks, Bill – it’s been a revelation.

A year earlier – as PT of a department of ten, at a time of change (with little clear guidance) in the Scottish curriculum and during a state of flux with the school’s SMT – I felt that English Department Meetings had become a source of dread and anxiety, not just for me but for everyone in the department: they had become admin-heavy and tedious, with a sense of being over-burdened / inadequate in the face of so many changes – we all hated DMs. It was hard to get through all the admin, find time and energy to develop new CfE courses, while at the same time encourage innovation, motivation and enthusiasm! We had also experienced a significant change of staff (nearly 50%) whereby several longish serving staff had retired or moved on and been replaced by an exciting array of NQTs, probationers and other younger staff. I had noticed that the best DMs were those when we discussed texts and other learning resources and activities, as well as sharing feedback on CPD regarding learning and teaching – when we gave ourselves time for professional reflection. Although some staff were stoically anti email / anything electronic, I decided to shift as much of the admin to email and sold this approach on the basis that it would free DM time for more positive and enjoyable discussions. I try now to limit emails to one weekly list of reminders and deadlines, and one brief daily bulletin of news, notifications, etc. I changed the focus of the DM agenda to Learning and Teaching first and foremost, leaving Administrative Issues as a lesser element of the meetings. Occasionally we do still have to have a meeting that is almost all admin, but, by and large, we now spend DMs discussing what we find more enjoyable and stimulating: sharing practice about the learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Twice per term-ish, the DM is in the form of 2 minute micro-presentations from all staff on something they are doing, are looking at, would like to try, new texts and text forms (‘Inanimate Alice’, Samorost’, ‘Machinarium’, graphic novels, blogging, wikis, etc), and also on ‘bog-standard’ English classroom practice. Here is a sample of one such DM Agenda from May this year to show the range:

1 New Creative Digital Media (Skills for Work – SCQF Level 4) course – AJ.
2 S3 Magazine Project – NM.
3 Scholastic Book Club, Reading Week and Readathon – MMD.
4 Issues involved in having 3 supported pupils (with severe and complex needs) in a mainstream Standard Grade S3 class – ES.
5 Experiences of a probationer teacher – LC.
6 Twitter and blogging – CG.
7 Online journal – ‘Crazy Guy on a Bike’ – DM.
8 S5/6 Literacy for Life (development of new Skills for Work) course – JF.
9 S1 Creative Writing project – KK.
10 Discursive Writing Focus S1 to S3 – LS.

These DMs have enabled newer teachers to showcase their innovative ideas and approaches. But they have also given a voice to older staff, some of whom were feeling sidelined, tired of innovation, under-valued – and, in some cases, downright offended by CfE – a sense that the good stuff still matters and their expertise is still very valid and very important. They have a forum at these practice-sharing DMs to describe activities that are more ‘traditional’, but are still relevant and are the bedrock of learning and teaching; for some previously cynical staff, they have discovered that they now have a role in leading innovation. I’ve been really impressed with the sharing that takes place at these sessions – we all get so much from them. In a way, DMs have become like a close-range teachmeet / #pedagoofriday type exercise. The practice-sharing model is so important.

As well as this, two years ago I set up an English / Literacy network group consisting of English Secondary plus Primary 7 teachers across the authority. It was mainly aimed at improving transitions – in the Western Isles as well as P7 to S1 transition, we have a number of P1 to S2 schools where pupils transfer to us at the end of S2, so we also have S2 to S3 transitions – focusing on sharing standards of assessment and moderation of reading and writing. As well as face to face meetings, because of our location and the remoteness of some of our schools and isolation of some of the teachers, the group has a Glow meet page and a Glow wiki for discussion, moderation and sharing of resources. (I can’t share a link here because it is an authority wiki and membership is by invitation – however, if you are a Glow user and would like to see the wiki, email me a request to lsutherland1a@gnes.net.) This network group was used by the authority as a model to set up CfE network groups – numeracy, health and wellbeing, expressive arts, etc – and we meet once or twice per term. The main focus of the Literacy Network group meetings has become sharing practice, sharing resources and discussion of English and Literacy in our classrooms and across the curriculum. We are fortunate to have had Bill Boyd commissioned by the authority as the group’s Literacy Adviser. This means he participates – in person or online – in all the network meetings and now manages the group’s wiki. Like DMs, these network group meetings have become like Teachmeets or #pedagoofriday sessions and all participants say they enjoy and value them. Again, the practice-sharing model is key.

Where I feel the real value of Twitter, #pedagoofriday, websites like pedagoo.org (and other blog sites) and the sharing of Teachmeets lies is in their power to draw staff from across all sectors and subject areas together in a supportive e-community where we can share practice across the curriculum. It is CPD at its best.

Curriculum for Excellence Abroad

I studied for my BEd Primary at Edinburgh University and have just completed my probation year.

I have recently started a new job in a school in the UAE. At the moment, the school works with the English National Curriculum. Yesterday we had a curriculum training day and the more we went on the more I realised how dated it is! From the perspective of this school there is no scope or opportunity for child centred learning, instead they have child led – group work, active learning etc – these are not the same things!

I have spoken to my head about this and told her to just have a look at the new CfE and let me know what she thinks. My idea is to really push certain elements of CfE in the school and if I get the go ahead I would like to share how it is perceived by foreign teachers with those teachers in Scotland.

CfE: a student’s perspective

“A student’s experience of the curriculum for excellence: friend or foe? Discuss…”

In order to adequately answer this question, I rallied up an army of exhausted yet enthusiastic fourth year students and probationers to answer me one question:

How do you feel about the Curriculum for Excellence?

No restrictions were placed upon the survey, no limitations or specification was given within the question; just an open canvas available for praise or reproach at will.

Soon into the two week time period, themes began to manifest themselves within the views of the group – as shown in the tagxedo above – and it is those themes that form the undertones of this article.

“We like the Curriculum for Excellence, but… “

Generally, all we know is the Curriculum for Excellence. Unlike some who may feel like square products of a 5-14 curriculum being pushed through a round hole, we have no comparison.  We enter schools full of E’s O’s and singing the 4 capacities from the roof tops, but many feel they are met with disgruntled sighs. It was felt that many schools could still be running their 5-14 curriculum with a mere “CfE” sticker stuck on top and equally many teachers could have already been running a “CfE” compliant classroom for the past ten years. Is the Curriculum for Excellence just a facade or is it making a real difference inside classrooms, on the front line?

Many felt that possibilities and opportunities open to a teacher were vastly more accessible under the new curriculum – “the Curriculum for Excellence rewards innovators– and experimentation and creativity within the classroom was met with praise rather than scepticism; as one student commented when I utter the words ‘I would like to take the class outside for this lesson’ I am no longer greeted by shock or derision”.

The flexibility offered with the new curriculum also resounded as a huge positive, alongside cross curricular benefits and the encouragement of ‘pupil-led’ learning styles. Many also felt the curriculum allowed them to further meet the needs of individual learners within their classrooms and supported the ‘real-word’ emphasis encouraged within the curriculum.

Support and enthusiasm was clearly shown for the Curriculum for Excellence; however most appreciate that there is still a way to go and improvements to be made. Interestingly, these comments also followed a common trend and I have taken the liberty of summing up these views for you:

Excusing the tongue in cheek, this – I felt – was an interesting representation of the themes that appeared during the short survey.

Uncertainty appears to surround the Curriculum for Excellence – many students, probationers and experienced teachers alike have expressed concerns alongside their praises – and all these concerns seem to fall into categories mentioned above.

There is no doubt that The Curriculum for Excellence has clear positive attributes and many have experienced a considerable ‘positive overhaul of classroom teaching’ since its introduction. From a personal viewpoint, I support the changes the Curriculum for Excellence intends for the Scottish education system – and although perhaps it isn’t perfect just yet – if we were able to successfully achieve, recognise and fulfil the genuine potential behind the new Curriculum, we could once again become ‘one to watch’ within international education. We are not there yet, but it’s one step in the right direction.

“Curriculum for Excellence is handing back power to classroom teachers, let’s use it before they take it off us again.”


Many thanks to all the Moray House students and post graduates for their time and efforts within this survey, much appreciated. Particular shout outs to: Shona Tait, Fiona Jenkins, Leith Whale, Ellen Henretty, Barry Fraser, Charles Thornton, Suzie Kerr and Anita Ann LeTissier.

(FYI – Tagxedos creatable here: http://www.tagxedo.com/)

Call Me: 07708912031
Tweet Me: @evedickson


Evolving Literacies in the New Curriculum

Originally posted on the Scottish Book Trust teachers blog

Like many teachers in Scotland at the moment, I am trying to evolve my classroom practice to encompass the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence. Below is a little of what I have discovered in developing and delivering a new unit for S2 on vibrations and waves – sound, light and radiations beyond the visible.

Firstly, I set out to write an exemplar teacher’s guide covering from first principles, the route through and some resources supporting the course. I started with the experiences and outcomes within the curriculum suborganiser and then looked across to the other curricular areas to see what I could pull in to enrich the experience. Needless to say, it was a much bigger task than I anticipated.

Secondly, my second year classes are no walk in the park. One particular day, twenty minutes into a period, having failed even so much as to get the learning intentions shared, I finally blew: I don’t have time to recount the details here but I had the class write me an essay on why I should even bother trying to teach them. What came out of that exercise were several examples of passionate, articulate and intelligent writing.

One example worth quoting from had:
“… I was doing well in first year and now I’m doing worse than I was last year because people in this class have wasted my opportunities for my dream job as a chemist.”

These responses brought me up sharply as I realised that the children already had developed literacy skills, enough to express the frustrations some of them were experiencing.

I saw my task as being to provide them a context within which they could develop these, possibly to a higher order. Two things emerged.

Listening and hearing – active engagement in traditionally passive learning
I thought of Pauk’s Cornell method and set a variant of it in context in the new unit. I was intending on using video extracts to support the learning, including one small 7-minute piece from Julian Treasure on sound health. I had the children make messy, contemporaneous notes on the key things that struck them as the video played. I made my own at the same time, then used these to challenge the children on the content of the video they had just seen. I was impressed by the quality of some of the notes – some hadn’t bothered – and the ability of those who had the key points noted down, to answer even the most difficult questions on the content. This was a rich seam for assessment of developing skills, providing evidence and opportunity. A good example* was from a girl, normally not a big hitter in the summative tests, who enthusiastically used the powerful weapon of good notes to outclass the others in her responses. The point was well made. Many students now take notes as I am talking to them.

Using new media and HHD
The other thing that impressed me in the class response to the new unit was how the childrens’ literacy overlaps and includes digital media fluency. I had another enthusiastic response from several pupils who, when asked if they had anything to share for (optional) homework, produced mobile phones with recordings of sounds they had made, answers to questions and even a video* submitted by email.

It is clear to me that the boundaries are being reset on literacy. Our task as teachers is to make sure we ourselves are sufficiently competent in the new literacies in order to challenge and develop children within them.

Getting to know the E’s and O’s

I know, I know. The experiences and outcomes have been around for ages now. Surely we’re long past getting to know them? In my experience however, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us seem to have taken something from them first time through, but now that we’re approaching the blunt end of assessment and reporting we’re beginning to wonder if we got them right.

Through our work with Myra Young, we’re being encouraged to take another look at the experiences and outcomes – this time starting with the purpose. This can often lead to a quite different approach to planning. Rather than looking at the experiences and outcomes and jumping straight to the activities we’d carry out, we think first about what the purposes of the outcomes are in terms of learning, how this could be evidenced and what the success criteria are.

On our inservice days next week at my new school, we’re lucky enough to be receiving CPD from teachers at Cramlington Learning Village with a view to planning our lessons using the accelerated learning cycle. But first I’m going to suggest that we need to ensure we understand the curriculum before jumping into detailed collaborative planning of lessons based on the learning cycle.

This can be illustrated with one of our science experiences and outcomes. Whilst in the past this might have led to us planning a series of lessons covering all the various organs of the systems we feel we need to ‘cover’, a fresh look at the purpose of the learning outlined in the curriculum brings a different emphasis and therefore quite different lessons.

We often complain the experiences and outcomes are vague and complex (which they are…but do we really want a version of the National Curriculum instead?) but if they are how can we expect to be fully familiar with them already? As difficult as it is to accept from the perspective of development work (which is going to get worse when the new NQs start arriving), the reality is that our understanding of the curriculum is going to evolve over time and I’m doing my best to try to keep my mind open to that…

Cross-posted on Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts

Motivated Reasoning

When you are confronted by something new, how do you react? Are you curious? Do you try to understand what the new thing is on its own terms, or do you try to evaluate it using the frames of reference you are comfortable with? Your answer to this question, and approach to this scenario, may help explain your attitude to Curriculum for Excellence.

I Don't Believe In Global WarmingThe serendipitous nature of my RSS reader (NetNewsWire) landed me on a recent New York Times opinion piece about why 45% of Republicans in America believe that President Obama was not born in the USA. It’s an interesting, albeit brief, explanation by Professor David P. Redlawsk, professor of political science and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.

It turns out the reason many Republicans do not trust the evidence is because their existing beliefs, those they have spent so long cultivating, are sufficient to reject any new evidence, no matter how compelling. This is “motivated reasoning”. As Prof Redlawsk writes:

We are all somewhat impervious to new information, preferring the beliefs in which we are already invested. We often ignore new contradictory information, actively argue against it or discount its source, all in an effort to maintain existing evaluations. Reasoning away contradictions this way is psychologically easier than revising our feelings. In this sense, our emotions color how we perceive “facts.”

I think it was the phrase “existing evaluations” that gave me my Eureka moment, because what I realised was that the above paragraph could just as easily be applied to many of the critics of Curriculum for Excellence. We have spent so long teaching in a specific way, of assessing in a specific way, and learning in a specific way, that we are effectively ‘hard-wired’ and predisposed to reject anything new that is presented to us. In fact, I suspect this also goes some way to explaining why so much INSET time is perceived as being wasted. We are unable to accept new information at face value because we are comparing it to, and with, what we already know.

Perhaps the problem lies in the reliance we have on our feelings. Again, to quote Prof. Redlawsk,

It’s not the evidence that matters. Feelings come first, and evidence is used mostly in service of those feelings…

If we feel unsure — and with a new Curriculum, who isn’t — we will allow our feelings to overrule any evidence presented to us. No wonder CfE is proving such a hard sell. As well as changing what and how we teach, we are up against good old irrational fear! It doesn’t really matter what evidence is produced to show the benefits of CfE as many are still in the dark about what is involved… And we’re all, at an instinctual level, afraid of the dark.

What is the answer? Well, one thing the Education Futures: Scotland blog is intended to do, is throw light on good practice. Teachers need to share what works, and, just as importantly, what didn’t. In a sense, we need to do what parents do for their children who need to sleep with the light on: reassure, be patient, offer support and show them there is nothing under the bed. (Actually, I did have a sudden mental image of looking under the bed and seeing an HMIe Inspector there, but that’s maybe just me!)

It is not easy to do, but it is possible and the alternatives are too awful to contemplate. For me, the fundamental difference between Curriculum for Excellence and what has gone before is that CfE is trying to bridge the gap between testing and learning. Instead of comparing CfE to what you already know, try to look at what it is intended to be. If you don’t like the Principles and Practice documents, ask yourself if this is because you are comparing them to what you already know, rather than looking at what they are meant to do. And finally, remember that CfE is not really designed for us. We were taught in a different time and when society had different needs, and where it was easy to write learners off because they would still be able to pick up a job. At its heart, CfE is designed to help prepare our learners for the world they will enter on leaving formal education, not the world we entered.

We are wary of change, but change happens. By recognising that motivated reasoning is real — though irrational — but can be addressed, we are just a few steps closer to shedding some light on the future for our learners.

Cross-posted at http://nwinton.wordpress.com