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Reluctance vs. Positive Wizards

Every remarkable leader throughout our history had a powerful message behind their choice of words, “We must fight them on the beaches…” ~ Winston Churchill, “I have a dream” ~ Martin Luther King and “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” ~ Steve Jobs

It was those motivational speeches that rallied the troops, empowered the marginalised and inspired a generation…

We use powerful phrases all the time in education to teach our subjects, convey models of behaviour and to ignite the passion for learning. But have you ever heard of rallying your positive wizards to overcome reluctance?

As educators we regularly encounter reluctance in our classrooms or when attempting to launch new initiatives. Often the wave of sighs and rolling eyes dents our own enthusiasm, makes us question the validity of our ideas or shakes our ability to inspire our learners. Reluctance in its most basic stubborn form, “I don’t want to”, requires a framework of skills and a suite of motivational phrases to overcome the negative force which refuses to engage. This is the precise moment that you need to channel all of your energies into identifying the positive wizards among your pupils, teaching staff and leaders. Positive wizards are those people willing to embrace new ideas, have a thirst for learning and who are willing to champion your cause.

Julia Skinner, former Headteacher and now founder of the 100 Word Challenge has used positive wizards to champion the most reluctant of learners and most stubborn of staff. And when the conversation is beyond the magical sway of her positive wizards her cunning plans have enticed and achieved resolution.

On episode 24 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show Julia and I discuss how to overcome reluctance and engage not only learners, but teachers, leaders and governors.

Episode take-aways:

  • Deciphering reluctance to engage
  • Identifying positive wizards and using them to your advantage
  • Building relationships and effective communication

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share with your community!




Overcoming technological fear

“The lizard brain, is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive.” – Seth Godin

WBWKY1FQ2IThat pre-historic unwanted lump is what throws our brain into panic mode when faced with a new challenge or something that we don’t yet understand.  We’re all guilty of it, “Ah, I don’t get this, so freak out!”, and that is the precise moment our brain shuts down and we escape to the dark recesses of our grey matter.

This is a frequent scenario when presented with the gauntlet of embedding technology into our teaching practice.  “But I don’t want to try something new all of the time!” I hear you say, and I would agree!  We must be selective, but when someone else has pioneered how to weave technology into the fabric of learning, overcome the challenges and found solutions, we all benefit!  Therefore, the idea of embedding technology into aspects of our teaching practice becomes less daunting and more attractive, especially when it enhances our teaching practice and advances our learners.

My latest guest on the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show has won awards for his innovative approach to using technology to enhance his students’ learning and the quality of his teaching.  Scott Hayden, Specialist Practitioner of Social Media and Educational Technology at Basingstoke College, UK, has forged differentiated approaches to evidence submission, shaped schemes of work and assignments around the social media platforms that his learners engage with, and has developed collaborative narrative across curriculum hubs using Twitter.

Episode take-aways:

  • Ideas for embedding technology into your teaching practice
  • The best technology, apps and programmes to use to engage learners
  • Enhancing your professional teaching practice, where to find support and ideas

What next?

If you enjoyed this article, please pay the knowledge forward and share with your community!


Pedagoo & TeachMeets

This week has seen my introduction to pedagoo and also presenting at teach meets. I was originally going to blog about how I think consistently good is outstanding, but I’ve had to rethink!

My school hosted a teach meet this week and I was asked several weeks ago if I would present. I had thought about presenting at a teach meet since I attended one earlier in the year and this was a great opportunity to do so. It was also lovely to be asked! (I made sure that I was doing a 2 minute nano presentation rather than a 5 minute one at the front of a lecture theatre). Although I found out closer to the teach meet that I had to present 11 times in 22 minutes! I was nervous prior to the event but afterwards it felt great to have been one of the few to present – I look forward to the next one! I didn’t really feel proud of what I had done until the following Saturday…

This Saturday I went to Pedagoo Wonderland at Joseph Swan Academy. I must admit, at this stage of the term I’m flagging considerably and I was very tempted to spend that Saturday wrapped up watching Soccer Saturday. However, I did find the energy to go with a friend who I trained with last year (lovely to catch up!) and not only am I glad that I went, I feel extremely grateful to all the effort put into the day by some very talented and enthusiastic people. I’m sorry I ever even considered not going!

At Joseph Swan they have a beautiful learning environment and they had gone to great lengths to put on a spectacle for us – sleighs, balloons, turkey sandwiches, Christmas cards and even Father Christmas himself made an appearance! I attended four workshops which were all very different but all equally brilliant. My workshops (which were personalised!) included a differentiation carousel, foldable fun, independent reindeers (or learners if you prefer) and enquiry based learning (specifically for maths).

I gained so many ideas from the day but I have to say that they weren’t the reason why I’m thrilled that I attended. At this winter wonderland were masses of people who had given up their Saturday to attend and some incredible individuals, teachers and students, who had put a huge amount of effort into creating such a fantastic afternoon of CPD. I thought as the afternoon went on that there is probably no other profession in the world where the professionals volunteer to train one another and do so at such a high level. The passion and commitment was brought to the day by NQTs all the way up to people who have been teaching for longer than I’ve been alive! I found the enthusiasm and passion again that brought me into teaching which had begun to fade away as I struggled through my NQT year. I feel re-invigorated again and I can’t wait for more teach meets and pedagoo wonderlands!

Many of us are worried about where the government is taking our Country’s education system. I think we should take comfort in how our profession, through teach meets, blogging, twitter and pedagoo, has shouldered the responsibility of developing each other in order to give children the best education we possibly can. We should all be very privileged to be part of such a passionate, talented and giving community.

Money Man’opoly’ – A board game for a broad gain…

This weeks blog reflects on a lesson I delivered a little earlier in the year as part of an enrichment session to level 3 learners.

At the beginning of the academic year, learners were given autonomy over the topics delivered and this week, the session was based on money management.

In preparing for the session, I considered simply investigating the income and expenditure of learners and helping them to plan how they could save income and prioritise and calculate their spending. However, would this approach really engage 16-20 year olds? Possibly not some of them anyway – despite the consensus that this was an area they wished to look at.

So what did I do?… Well I approached the session with the mindset of a child – by playing a game! My favourite board game, monopoly was surely the perfect way to subtly utilise money management skills?…

Of course, I couldn’t just use the traditional monopoly board and let them play, it would have no meaning like this. So I embarked on creating my own monopoly board with items that would resonate with the learners (see board).

I had to ensure that I had differentiated objectives and this could only be achieved by giving some structure to the game, so I made four characters with different likes, dislikes and incomes (which they received when passing go). This meant that learners could prioritise what they spent based on their characters. The characters with more disposable income were strategically given to the less able learners and vice versa with more able, meaning the learners were challenged according to needs. Of course it goes without saying that learners had to keep a record of all calculations on their task sheet. The aim of the game was to finish with more money (inclusive of the value of items bought).

Prior to the game, learners were asked to identify different money management skills using a post-it note approach and questions were posed to ascertain meaning. Although I encouraged learners to utilise these skills, I was hoping to let the use of them occur naturally based on the restrictions imposed (i.e. character likes/dislikes etc), with the intention that reflection would demonstrate an understanding of skills.

During the game, learners were questioned to check understanding such as “what was your last purchase and why?” This was accompanied by the chance and community chest cards which threw in ‘curve ball’ income/expenditure, which learners had to explain what they would do based on the information provided. To end the lesson, learners were asked to reflect on the money management skills that they had used in the session. Peer assessment was utilised to ensure that they were able to justify where each skill was used in the game.

In summary, the session was highly engaging, fun and certainly ‘enriched’ their studies. It may have had more of an impact in a longer session… All of the above was done in an hour! Quite a lot to cram in really. I will certainly be using the method again and am happy to share resources if anyone would like to try? Tweet me @danwilliams1984 for more info.

To text poll or not to text poll, that is the question?

Although I have come across online text polls in the past, I hadn’t used them myself until last week in one of my lessons and came to the conclusion that they are more time and effort than they are worth – let me explain why…

The group of learners I used this with were Entry Level 3 and in a nutshell the objective of the session was to identify and demonstrate skills, qualities and values required when assisting at a sport and active leisure event.

So after providing learners with their personalised targets for the session I asked them to place their mobile phones on their desks. Out of the 12 learners in attendance, only 10 had a phone…already the task was not going to plan!..so, I paired the learners without phones with somebody with one.

I then provided the text number and opening question…”what skills are needed when helping to lead a sports event?”… Learners were allowed open ended answers and the premise was that the answers that were text to the number would appear on the smart board…what I didn’t realise until the time was that learners who didn’t have phone credit, could not participate…another two learners out of the task and requiring a partner. Those that did have credit began to text their answers and they started to appear on the board – great!

However, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t clear who was texting what answers (thus making it difficult to target questions to the learner concerned and also ensuring that all learners answered). Moreover the answers that came through were not just skills, but also qualities and values… Not such a bad thing, but in order to differentiate between the three areas I had to write everything on the white board (almost defeating the purpose of this e learning tool) and ask learners to dissect the information into the relevant categories.

So after almost 20 minutes and the disengagement of those without a phone/credit, I came to the conclusion that I could have provided the learners with a much more effective learning environment had I used ‘post-its’ or any other traditional strategy which allows all to be involved, whilst allowing me to see who answers.

Despite believing that there is room for e-learning in the classroom, I do feel that we need to ensure that whatever is chosen as a strategy is effective and not just used because the school/college has an e-learning agenda.

On the other hand, perhaps I approached text polls in the wrong fashion, so if you have used them with success, please share your comments.

Analogies and metaphors to aid understanding…

Having been introduced to Hattie’s work on ‘effect sizes’ in the learning environment last year (http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm), I took it upon myself to investigate advanced organisers in my own practice. This is said to have an average effect size of 0.37, which in comparison to other methods is reasonably small. However, I opted to focus on the use of analogies and metaphors within my teaching practice, as personally I believe comprehension to be greater if a new subject is related to a familiar subject. Of course, many of us will naturally do this without a second thought, but I intended to consciously approach sessions with the intention of overtly using this method.

One example of this practice quite recently was when teaching the flow of blood around the cardiovascular system to a group of level 2 BTEC learners. I introduced the topic by asking the group to share their thoughts on the process of going to the gym – this involved eating food to give you fuel (collecting oxygen from lungs), travelling to the gym and going through the changing rooms (left side of the heart), working out and ‘burning’ the fuel (feeding the muscles with oxygen), travel back through the changing rooms (right side of heart) before travelling home (the lungs) to start the process again. Obviously when doing this, I did illustrate on the white board. I then made reference to the fact that the gym process is similar to the flow of blood…Following this, I gave the learners the opportunity to create their own analogies of the process. Working in groups they created some amazing ideas such as the process of topping up and using a mobile phone, travelling through the petrol station to name a few.

For the learners, this particular process taught alone can be very challenging, yet now they have their own analogies for the process, they are able to demonstrate a far greater understanding.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

What’s the purpose? What are our values?

I was delighted to discover Pedagoo. Scotland badly needs a dose of teacher activism. CfE is a golden opportunity to transform classroom practices in Scotland’s schools, but it is threatening to become a damp squib, as many teachers worry about the risks of innovation and play safe. Developing more active forms of pedagogy is a major part of CfE, and it is really good to see teachers seizing the initiative and helping each other to develop and share new practices.

However, I also worry slightly about the potential for narrowness – a reduction of education to pedagogical techniques. History shows us that great ideas can quickly become reduced to formulaic practices. AifL is a case in point. The early work of this programme was about process – teachers working together with key principles to produce new practices. A lot of the practices that emerged from AifL and its counterpart south of the border (e.g. sharing intentions, traffic lighting, show me boards) started life as techniques designed to achieve particular purposes. In phase two of AifL (the national roll out), they morphed into ‘required’ techniques to be utilised in every lesson. In the process they became disconnected from purpose.

So my view is that Pedagoo is a really worthwhile initiative – it is great that pedagogy is at the heart of new educational practices. But let us also keep in mind a number of associated issues:

  • First, pedagogy should always serve an educational purpose – a key criterion should always be fitness for purpose. Thus, for example while cooperative learning might be excellent for sense-making and developing social skills, it is perhaps less well suited for getting over new concepts. Here, didactic teaching may be better suited.
  • Too much of the modern discourse about learning – what my colleague Gert Biesta calls the ‘learnification of education’ – focuses on learning in a decontextualized way. We also need to ask ‘what are we learning?’ and ‘why are we learning it?’. Pedagogical techniques may be useful for developing skills, but knowledge – what the educational sociologist Michael Young calls ‘powerful knowledge’ – remains important. We need to be clear about what knowledge young people will need to become effective citizens in a complex world, and make sure that we teach it.
  • Let us not forget values here. Education is a value ridden enterprise. My view is that teacher activism should be firmly underpinned by a strong sense of values. My own preference (and this is of course contestable) is for values based upon social justice (e.g. closing the achievement gap in secondary school identified by the 2007 OECD report on Scottish education) and democracy. The adoption of such values will determine how we develop pedagogy – for example, a desire to enhance democratic participation by young people will inevitably involve pedagogy that encourages genuine decision-making by students. It will preclude classroom practices based upon authoritarian power by teachers.

It is my firm view that, by articulating clear values about education and by having a good sense of educational purpose, organisations like Pedagoo will be well placed to challenge predominant and narrow discourses based upon attainment, effectiveness and accountability – discourses that are currently proving to be so damaging to education in the UK and elsewhere.

So let’s keep the focus on pedagogy, but strengthen the message through clarity of value and purpose. Let’s have a debate about these issues. And let’s position Pedagoo as a Scottish equivalent of the influential US group, Rethinking Schools (http://www.rethinkingschools.org).

Blogging with Freire

Steve Wheeler agreed to sharing this fantastic post on Pedagoo.org under a Creative Commons License.

Well …. not exactly. Paulo Freire, that great Brazilian educational thinker died in 1997, just as the World Wide Web was emerging in the Western world. So Freire didn’t actually live to see the power and potential of social media, or the impact blogging would have on education. But what would he have said about blogs if he had been witness to the participatory web in all its present glory? Here is my interpretation of some of his ideas, drawn from his most celebrated book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, and presented in six key points as they might apply to the art of educational blogging.

1) Respond to reader comments with humility. Freire wrote: “…dialogue cannot exist without humility. Dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning… is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” (p. 71). This is not just a message for educational bloggers. It is a message for teachers everywhere. How can we stand there in a self proclaimed position of enlightenment, and view our students (or audience) as being in a state of ignorance? This is hubris of the first order. And yet that is what happens in many classrooms across the world every day, because that is often how teachers are trained. It is also acknowledged that many teachers teach in the same way they themselves were taught. In a blogging context, it is easy to be offended when an adverse comment is received on your blog. You may be tempted to respond aggressively, to ‘put the other person right’. Often though, good learning occurs when we consider the views of others. Even if we don’t agree with the views of other people, it is good to consider them, to evaluate their meaning and contemplate alternative perspectives. Dialogue is what blogging is really about.

2) Don’t be afraid to speak out. Freire counsels: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” It’s clear that there is a lot of inequality in the world, and some of this exists within the world of education. Schools are not perfect, and there is no education system in the world that has it completely correct. There is no better place for speaking out against injustice, or exposing inequalities than a popular blog site. It’s better than owning a newspaper. People will read what you have to say if you have something interesting to speak about. So use your blog to speak out on behalf of those who can’t speak out for themselves.

3) Use blogs to circumvent regulated learning. Students who blog quickly realise that they can explore knowledge for themselves. They can become independent learners. Freire was critical of the banking approach to education, where teachers regulate learning: “The teacher’s task is to organise a process which already occurs spontaneously, to ‘fill’ the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers constitutes true knowledge” (p. 57). When a learner starts to blog, they start to think for themselves. They have to consider an audience of more than one (teacher and essay writing) and they are required to be masters of their own journey. In another sense, blogging can subvert traditional education in another way. The dialogue that can ensue from blogging is often more valuable than the act of writing on the blog. Quadblogging and the 100 Word Challenge are just two of the school based blogging projects that are making a real difference for learners by providing them with a guaranteed audience every time they blog.

4) Read other people’s blogs and make comments. The act of seeking out alternative perspectives and views in itself will sharpen the reader’s thinking and cause them to question received knowledge. Freire says: “… it is indispensable to analyse the contents of newspaper editorials following any given event. ‘Why do different newspapers have such different interpretations of the same fact?’ This practice helps develop a sense of criticism, so that people will react to newspapers or new broadcasts not as passive objects of the ‘communiques’ directed at them, but rather as consciousnesses seeking to be free” (p. 103). Alongside newspapers and news broadcasts we can add blog commentaries. Blogs are places where people can express their opinions and offer their interpretations, and these are the new street corners where individuals have their conversations. Engaging with knowledge in this way will liberate the mind and help develop critical thought.

5) Use blogging to support thinking. Often, abstract thoughts remain abstract unless they are externalised in some concrete form. Traditionally, writing has been used as a means to crystallise thinking, because as Daniel Chandler says “In the act of writing, we are written.” Freire writes that “In all the stages of decoding, people exteriorise their view of the world” (p 87) which implies that in order to understand our personal reality, we need to first bring our thoughts out into the open. Blogs are public facing tools that enable their owners to externalise their thinking in a way that is open for scrutiny. In the act of public writing, we expose our ideas and begin to understand our own thoughts more clearly.

6) Use blogging as reflection. Reflection is an important part of learning, and is a skill that must be developed if it is to lead to successful outcomes. Reflection is also the key to personal liberation. Friere argues that: “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building” (p 47). Reflection means active participation in learning, and blogging is a very powerful tool to support this process.

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

TeachMeet : The Scottish Learning Fringe 2012

Every good festival has a fringe so I like to think there is a certain inevitability about this…

SLFringe Logo.png

After years of thinking that the inspiring Scottish Learning Festival was wasted by being held during the week when the majority of teachers couldn’t make it, we here at Pedagoo.org decided to do something about it. This year, the Scottish Learning Festival gets a Fringe! And, because we are all working teachers who can’t get to the Festival proper, we’re holding it on a Saturday.

TeachMeet : The Scottish Learning Fringe 2012

The day will be a mix of Round Table discussions and sharing which should be familiar to anyone who has ever been to a TeachMeet in the past… and a heady mix of enthusiasm, sharing and collaboration for anyone who hasn’t been to one. We have no secret agenda, we are not affiliated with any organisation, we are not doing this to score brownie points with our employers… but we are all teachers who are in the process of implementing the new Scottish Curriculum and who are willing to share what we have tried and explain what did or didn’t work. In short, we are you.

Who is the day for?

The day will be aimed at teachers who wish to learn more about the practical aspects of introducing the Scottish Curriculum. There will be a series of round table demonstrations/discussions led by practitioners who are trying some new things. What they do have in common is a willingness to share what they have tried: good, bad or ‘meh’!
This is a day for those who wish to learn and to share. It is possible that you will get some concrete answers on the day, but what is more likely is that you will be able to join in with a network of fellow teachers who are willing to kick ideas around, and work with you to help develop your own answers.

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Where and when will it be?

Having secured sponsorship for the venue thanks to the generosity of ELT Consultants the first SLFringe will take place in a yet to be decided venue in central Glasgow…watch this space!

What’s the catch?

There isn’t really one… The venue is being provided thanks to the incredible generosity of ELT Consultants… but after that, we’re on our own! You’ll either need to bring sandwiches and a flask (leather elbow patches are optional), cash to buy some of the excellent (and reasonable) food from the venue, or see if you can find someone to sponsor a tray of sandwiches or a jar of coffee! (Or cakes… we like cakes…)

The only possible catch is that places will be extremely limited. There will only be about 90 places available on the day… :(

What will the day look like?

We will finalise details nearer the time, but at the moment this is the current plan:

  • There will be 10 round table workshops led by teachers where they share something they’ve been doing in their classroom and then lead a discussion around this
  • Participants will sign up to three of these workshops
  • Lunch
  • We will work in groups to cross-pollinate and share key learning outcomes
  • We will retire to some suitable venue for a #BeerMeet/#TeachEat to round the day off

    Sounds amazing! How do I sign up?

    At this stage we are looking for teachers to volunteer to lead a workshop at TeachMeet Scottish Learning Fringe 2012. If you are interested in presenting, you can sign up to do so on the TeachMeet SLFringe Wiki.We will open up registration for attendance at a later date and will notify of this on here and on twitter as @pedagoo and using the hashtag #tmSLFringe12.

    Here’s the blurb from the TMWiki!

    Have you tried something in your classroom you’d like to share with colleagues from across the country? Here’s your chance to do so. By signing up you’ll be required to present something you’ve done in your classroom for approximately 20 minutes and then lead a discussion on this with your group of up to 10 participants for 20 minutes. You may be required to lead your workshop up to 3 times in the course of the morning. There will be no audio-visual equipment available for the workshops – the emphasis is therefore very much on the dialogue. We will also ask that you share your presentation and the outcomes of the discussions as a blog post on pedagoo.org.