Category Archives: Research

Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

Searching for 1% improvements to teaching and learning!

My throat strained under the excessive screaming and my arms pumped with wild hysteria as I cheered the GB cycling team on to gold at the 2012 Olympic games, but what impressed me the most was the behind the scenes dedication and determination to achieving excellence. 

We have since discovered the secrets to the GB cycling team’s tally of gold medals. It began with a commitment to embed marginal gains theory into every aspect of the GB team’s performance. In short, marginal gains were Sir David Brailsford’s ambition to focus on the small changes in cycling performance that would lead to greater overall excellence and therefore winning.

But can the same concept apply to teaching and the pedagogical approaches we use for learning?

If you categorise every aspect of teaching and learning, you would swiftly have a list of points as long as the hippodrome cycling track! So where to begin? Developing a list of pedagogical approaches most meaningful to learning and determining how your teaching practice fares against each outcome is a daunting prospect and one difficult to quantify. I have deliberated this challenge and developed a model based on marginal gains theory. We can use this model to enhance our pedagogical approaches that lead to transformational learning.

• Evidence – The list of pedagogical approaches fundamental to learning is endless, but which of them are scientifically proven to work? Without strong evidence that these pedagogical approaches support learning to the highest possible standard, you could be trying to change and improve the wrong approaches to learning. I recently investigated which revision strategies actual work to aid learning. I quickly discovered that of the ten most used strategies only two of them actually work, so why not focus on developing, improving and refining the revision strategies scientifically proven to work? So I did and produced a short video and series of resources to help my students.

• Model effective practice – If you are looking to improve an area of your teaching, chances are you need to know what to get better at for the benefit of learning and what you are working towards. So ask yourself, does the wheel really need re-inventing? Or do you need to make slight modifications to the wheel to improve its overall performance? Look towards and connect with other teachers, not necessarily in your own school, that are demonstrating excellent teaching and learning. Share best practices and embed what works into your pedagogical approaches to learning.

• Focus – Follow One Course Until Success, but you can’t achieve that without clarity of vision; which pedagogical approach do you want to improve and therefore achieve? As teachers we do not work in a silo, we have a team to work with on a daily basis, so re-enforce the purpose of the pedagogical approach for learning with your students. If they don’t buy into the learning then the impact will be significantly less. Sir Chris Hoy understood with complete clarity his role within the GB team, to win; and those of his support staff, to help him win! On a daily basis you lead and work with a team of students, so build and foster relationships and above all clarify how you will work together to achieve their success.

• Reflect – Did it work, did it not? The latter is often a better scenario because it forces us to identify and clarify alongside our vision what went wrong, what can be improved and with frequent nudges you can make a greater shift over time. I’m ten years down the teaching line and I am still adapting, pivoting and refining. I can’t control every element, but I can try my hardest to be the best at what I am, and that is an inspirer of minds, a provocateur for learning.

• Refine to excellence – Develop your suite of scientifically proven pedagogical approaches that work. Make changes that improve and drive learning and then repeat the process.

Using John Hattie’s top 11, of 138 influences on student achievement, could provide the basis for selecting which pedagogical approach is going to have the greatest impact on overall teaching and learning. Applying each approach against my process model, should provide you with the basis of a system to achieve your own gold medal level of teaching and learning excellence. A great example of marginal gains in action is discussed on episode 21 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, with Educating Essex start Headteacher Vic Goddard.


Episode take-aways:

• Strategies that lead to willing parent engagement and participation

• Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

• Allowing young people to fail in order to progress

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

Visible Learning in Midlothian

What is Visible Learning?

John Hattie has spent 15 years researching what really makes a difference in learning. His research has used over 800 meta-analyses, over 50,000 studies and information about the learning of more than 240 million pupils. The findings from this research are summarised in his book Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (2009).  John Hattie continues to add to his evidence base; every time research is published he incorporates it into his analysis.

Hattie examined six factors and assessed their respective contributions to achievement: the child; the home; the school; the teacher; the curriculum and the approaches to teaching. Teachers have the single largest effect size – “what teachers do matters” (Hattie, 2009).  The things that teachers do that makes the biggest difference are about making learning visible and explicit to pupils.  The key message from Hattie’s research is that ‘when teachers see learning through the eyes of the student and students see themselves as their own teachers we gain the biggest effects’.  Hattie’s second book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising impact on learning (2011) is written for teachers and explains how to apply the principles of visible learning in the classroom.  He summarises the most successful interventions and provides a step by step guide to implementing visible learning, visible teaching in the classroom.

Hattie uses effect size to create a continuum of influences on learning.  This allows us to see which factors have the greatest impact on learning. The most up to date list of influences contains 150 factors.  We know that most of what we do in the classroom has a positive effect on learning but using effect size allows us to identify to what extent this improves learning.  A typical effect size, the average progress we can expect in a year, is 0.40 – this has remained constant despite new research being added. Hattie argues that if this is the average progress we can expect in a year then we need to raise the bar and seek greater impact. We can use this evidence to reflect on existing practice and inform developments – are we using our time and resources in the right way? It’s the start of a conversation about learning and impact not the end. If we think about just implementing the top 10 things on the list then we miss the message about knowing your impact and being evaluative.

If we want to make best use of Hattie’s research we need to evaluate where we are now and identify what we can do to improve this, using his evidence base to guide us.  Each of the influences listed needs to be understood in context and in his books Hattie explains what each of these need to look like in order to achieve the highest effect.  If we take homework as an example; the average effect size is 0.29, the effect size of homework in primary schools is 0.01 and 0.59 in secondary schools.  This does not mean we should stop homework in primary schools but perhaps leads us to think about what makes it effective (i.e. short, consolidates learning and is marked) and what we can change to improve the impact it has in our context.

Hattie’s research raises many questions for us to consider, including

  • Are we focussing on the right things?
  • What is already working?
  • To what extent does data / evidence drive improvement?
  • What is the quality of the feedback our pupils receive?
  • Do we ensure that our pupils have high expectations?
  • Do all teachers evaluate the impact of their teaching? If so, how?

Visible Learning in Midlothian

In May 2014 a conversation about Visible Learning started with Education leaders across Midlothian. Many had read some of John Hattie’s books, had seen the list of effects but had got a bit stuck with how to use this – the challenge was in translating this into practice. Having attended the Visible Learning Foundation Day I was able to introduce leaders to the Visible Learning approach. The approach consists of 5 strands – Visible Learners (or Assessment Capable Learners), Effective Feedback, Know Thy Impact, Inspired and Passionate Teachers and the Visible Learning School. The 5 strands offer the ‘how’ and immediately made sense to school leaders who could see how the evidence and research then translates into leadership, school improvement, career long professional learning and learning and teaching. The image below highlights some key messages about the Visible Learning approach;


The Educational Psychology Service (EPS) is driving the delivery of Visible Learning in Midlothian and this reflects our aim of supporting the learning of all children and young people and future proofing the service. This approach has enabled us to make best use of our knowledge of how children learn, how organisations and systems work and our understanding of change. We have had a key role in supporting the process of self-evaluation and translating knowledge into action.

During this academic session (2014-15) we have had a number of strands of activity which have worked together to build our capacity to deliver Visible Learning:

  • The core NQT programme has had Hattie’s research at the heart of it.  The focus was the translation of knowledge into action and evaluating the impact of their teaching. This has been positively evaluated by NQTs, Head Teachers and supporters as having an impact on the practice of NQTs and therefore learners.
  • In October we held a leadership conference at which Craig Parkinson (Lead Consultant, Visible Learning, Osiris), Craig Biddick (Tobermory High School) and Laura Kearney (Hodgehill Primary School, Birmingham) offered an overview of the visible learning approach and workshops in which they shared examples of the approach in action.
  • Leaders from across Midlothian engaged in a series of workshops which supported leaders to translate their learning and Hattie’s evidence base into action to have a positive impact on the outcomes for learners. There is no single way to implement visible learning therefore the focus was on helping leaders to answer the questions:
  1. ‘Where do I start?’
  2. ‘What does visible learning look like in my school?’
  3. ‘How do I know we are having a significant impact on all our learners?’

Our approach to CLPL was designed to work with the developing quality improvement framework and self-improving school systems.

  • The EPS has co-facilitated with two teachers a series of practitioner enquiry workshops with a Visible Learning theme.
  • One of the questions we needed to explore was ‘how do we engage all practitioners in Visible Learning?’ We have tapped into the skills, knowledge and experience our teachers to helps us identify the challenges and potential barriers and most importantly how we overcome these.

So what impact is this having?

Our focus this session has primarily been on raising awareness of Hattie’s research and what it means for us in Midlothian, in doing this we have build a strong foundation for delivery. There is clear evidence that the language of Visible Learning is being used when teachers talk about their classrooms. There has also been a shift in language from talking about teaching to a focus on learning and learners. The approach has also helped teachers to think more clearly about their impact and become more evaluative in their approaches. Having an authority approach to this has also had a positive effect on the culture of professional learning and dialogue – we are sharing practice more and breaking down barriers between classrooms and schools. The evidence gathering that schools are engaging in at the beginning of the process allows them to review progress and impact for example; schools are identifying a shift in the language of learning and therefore learners’ ability to talk about their learning.

What is working for Midlothian?

Reflecting on our progress this year we have identified the following features that are making a difference for us:

  • Focus on the learner and learner voice
  • Sharing practice and professional dialogue
  • Gentle pressure relentlessly applied
  • Repeating and modelling key messages
  • EPS research spotlights (making research more accessible)
  • Making connections explicit
  • There is no working group – our plans are messy and change constantly according to need and impact
  • Use of evidence to review progress and impact
  • External input mixed with internal CLPL and support
  • Leadership

These features are not unique to the Visible Learning approach but are considered to be key to achieving better outcomes for children and young people in Midlothian through a Visible Learning approach. We were lucky enough to share our work at the national Visible Learning conference in London last month and meet John Hattie himself. This really highlighted the strength of our community approach to Visible Learning, no school is working in isolation and the strength of sharing practice and professional dialogue is quite unique.   We are also unique in the role that the EPS has taken in leading Visible Learning.

What next?

We have lots of CLPL planned for next session and our main focus will be on closing the gap and ensuring that all schools have started to gather evidence to inform their Visible Learning approach. A teacher conference in August is an important feature of this. We have a solid foundation, a good understanding of the challenges we may face and how we can overcome them and a growing coalition of engaged and inspired teachers who will increase the pace of change over the coming session. Our aim is to develop, in Michael Barber’s words ‘an irreversible delivery culture’ and the EPS will continue to sustain capacity and work with others to build momentum to ensure this (Deliverology 101).

New Professional Reading Group venture

Last September I started out on a course called Developing as a Leader (DAAL). It is a pilot course being run by Scottish Borders Council, West Lothian Council and Moray House. It is exploring Teacher Leadership within schools and how we can begin to enact change within our own department and schools. The course has involved reading, discussion time at Moray House, reflecting writing and assessment.

As we are nearing the end of the course we are in the final stages of writing our learning plans and one of the priorities I gave myself was to establish a professional reading group within school. In the past 9 months I have had to read a wide variety of material – of varying shades of “accessibility”!! Some excellent and some as dry as the Sahara desert!

I took the plunge and sent out the invitational email to all staff to judge the level of interest. Within just a few minutes I already had 4 replies! Imagine my surprise!! By the time I sent the second email, with details of the first meeting date and time and the article we were going to look at I had 22 responses!! I was totally overwhelmed by the positive response and humbled by the fact that so many staff wanted to come and participate in the group with me. (we have a staff of around 56 in total)

We had our first meeting on Thursday lunchtime. Although not all the teachers who had initially replied were able to come (other commitments) about 17 came along. We read and discussed the first half of chapter 7 “Enacting Change” in Fullan and Hargreaves book “Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School, 2012”. This was a piece I had to read earlier in the year and many of the 10 steps really spoke to me. We had around 40 mins of (largely!!) focused discussion and left with some points for future action. I stressed that the group wasn’t mine – it was everyone’s and all were welcome to bring along literature or topics to look into.

I have already set the date for the second meeting and really hope that this can be the start of some small, but positive changes within the school!

Spaced Revision | Improving Revision with Effective Techniques.

As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all thhighlight-in-bookse tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.

In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.

A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.


Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.

The Spaced Revision Technique

From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.

Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).


Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.

Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.

That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.

Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.

Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 13.08.14

The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).

Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.


  • You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
  • Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.

Careers advice for Primary and Secondary school pupils

My wife and I both work in the education sector (my wife is a teacher and I am an administrator) and we both feel that, in our experience, the provision of careers advice for secondary school pupils is not particularly good, or more specifically that the way in which it is delivered is inconsistent. We also feel that children could benefit from being educated about different jobs and careers from an earlier age (a contentious view, I know!).

We are interested to see what the experiences and opinions of other teachers are, so that we can learn from them and improve the way in which we provide careers advice, and maybe even develop a more effective methodology and approach that we could then share with others.

I am therefore researching the various approaches and resources that are used to advise Primary and Secondary school pupils about the potential career options that are available to them. I am also interested to find out what your experience is of the level of involvement that parents have in the careers advisory process. I have put together a short survey of twenty questions and I would be extremely grateful if you could complete this: I would also be incredibly grateful if you could circulate the survey amongst your colleagues and to any friends who are teachers.

We thought Pedagoo would be a good way of reaching out to fellow teachers, and we would gladly share our findings with the community, if we thought it would interest you.

Thank you so much!

Engagement in Deep Learning

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 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.


My problem with ability

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


I was motivated to attend the Research in Education in partnership with National Teacher Enquiry Network Conference in York on 3th May (#NTENRED) after some chatter on Twitter. Looking at the speakers who were lined up to deliver workshops, they were mainly educators who inspire me on Twitter. I was not disappointed. I left excited and fired up with ideas and thoughts on how I could make changes to my own practice and other ideas that I could take forward into other areas of personal and professional interest.

The Keynote speaker was John Tomsett (@johntomsett) who is the Headteacher of Huntingdon School, who was hosting the event. The other educators whose workshops I attended were Kenny Pieper (@kennypieper), David Weston (@informed_edu), Keven Bartle (@kevenbartle), Jonathon Haslam , David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) and Andrew Old(@oldandrewuk).

I have tried to collate my ideas from all of the sessions under headings to distil and condense my learning.

The first session I attended was delivered by Kenny Pieper, entitled “An eight word manifesto – Scotland’s attempt to change everything by changing everything”. Kenny delivered a witty and entertaining session as David Cameron (@realdcameron) tweeted “whatta a man..worked in everything from Edwin Morgan to Partick Thistle to his breakfast”.

Kenny started with a brief outline of the implementation process of CfE and where we are now in terms of the final stages of the ‘all through curriculum’. His main point, which I agreed with, is that CfE was written as a vision statement with poorly defined terminology and no particular rationale as to why the 8 words – successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens – of the four capacities are in the order they are.

Another idea was that the curricular change needs a new name as “Curriculum for Excellence” is a misnomer as the terms are undefined. “What is excellence?” was the question posed by Kenny and answered thus “excellence is being consistently good”. As a profession we have to reinvigorate our “tradition of pride in what we do”, to take the lead and not wait for permission because what we are being asked to do is lead societal change and this takes time and effort.

This linked to the question: What is education for? This was asked by Andrew Old but unfortunately not answered. However, if there is not agreement on the purpose of education and clarity of the definition then how can we discuss and argue points of practice if we don’t have a shared understanding.

Andrew talked about how in education we use “weasel words” which allow for differing definitions which can also vary in differing contexts. Some “weasel words” given by Andrew were ‘engagement’, ‘understanding’, ‘skills’ and ‘child centred’. To this list I would also add ‘professional’. The notion of teachers being professional and having autonomy over their working practices leads me to think about how can we facilitate professional learning of teachers.

The concept of teachers learning from and with other teachers is an interesting area for me as I am currently undertaking a Master level research on Supporting Teacher Learning through Strathclyde University. I believe that teachers need to be “fluid in classroom management skills, pedagogy (know what to use/when and why!) and be reflective practitioners (adaptive to making changes)” as discussed by David Weston.

A powerful tool that could support teacher learning is Lesson Study. I have heard about this practice but do not yet fully understand it or whether it can be used in my own situation but would like to consider its use in working with student and probationer teachers. However there is a caveat in working with ITE students and early career teachers in connection with Lesson Study, which is: Do early career teachers have enough tacit knowledge to truly engage in lesson study? Will early career teachers be able to articulate why one strategy will work with one pupil better than another? Perhaps not but worth researching I think.

Feedback (why doesn’t feedback stick?) delivered by David Fawcett was an opportunity for me to engage in some professional learning and I was lucky enough to find a seat in the well-attended session. I have been working on improving my feedback to pupils for the last two sessions after reading John Hattie’s book ‘Visible Learning’. David used four statements to show that what most teachers think is feedback is really advice on how to move forward only, and does not take into account prior learning. For feedback to be effective it must link learning (feedback) with next steps (feed forward).

The next question posed was when is feedback most effective? As with so many strategies in teaching and learning it depends on circumstances of the learning environment, of the learner and of the relationship between teacher and pupil – know your own class is really the best advice for teachers. Dylan Wiliam was quoted as saying “feedback should cause thinking” (2011) and if it does not and time is not given to make improvements then it will not contribute to improve outcomes for pupils. I am still thinking about this and how I can continue to evolve my practice to improve the quality of feedback I give and how this supports pupil outcomes. I have been using reading and research to improve feedback so was interested in the concept of ‘knowledge transfer’ that was a focus for a workshop delivered by David Weston.

During the workshop a question that came to mind early in the session was prompted by data on effective “knowledge transfer”. The least effective modes are one-off courses or events or asking teachers to read related documents. If this is the case then why do we as a profession persist in using these models? Do we lack creativity to do this other ways? I don’t think so. Is it the case that reality gets in the way of a good idea and the precious commodity of time is not devoted to ‘knowledge transfer’? We spent more time considering the ethos needed to support learning, such as motivation to learn, resilience in learning and making connections, and less time considering the impact on pupil outcomes, trying to make the strategies fit. The time is given to improving practice in the hope that this improves pupil outcomes rather than what practice should I adopt in order to improve pupil outcomes.

Which leads into David’s second key idea around CPD and research. A question from the floor asked “When should you reflect on the CPD, immediately after the session (happy sheets as David named them) or after some time lag to allow ideas to embed?” The answer given was before you go. The questions you should ask yourself before you undertake any CPD are: What is the improvement I want to see/be? Who will benefit from this CPD? Is it my practice or pupil outcomes – should/could it be both? Is this CPD going to make a difference to pupil outcomes? To make CPD effective these are the questions you should know the answer to before you undertake any CPD. Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010)  mandates teachers to be more autonomous in directing CPD that is appropriate for them in their current situation which can improve pupil outcomes.

In discussions around CPD undertaken by teachers in Keven Bartle’s session, the following resonated with me: “SLT decide INSET opportunities, but who has least often been teaching and whose knowledge is most recent? So maybe it is time for teachers to use CPD to seize their own agenda and be proud of their knowledge and abilities to set clear goals for their own CPD and professional learning and become enquiry practitioners.

At Huntingdon School, John Tomsett has set up a position of “Director of Research”. In my view this would also link very well into the aspirations of the Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010) which recommends that teachers become enquiry practitioners. This “Director of Research” could become the key person in a school who links the needs of staff, identified by the PRD process, with the opportunities to be involved in research with Universities or other partners to create rich data to inform practice and sustainable improvement. As John states it is the SLT’s job to “get conditions for professional growth right”, allowing staff to be reflective and support enquiry learning of practitioners. John went on to discuss the work of the Education Endowment Foundation and their recent blog post in which “James Richardson discusses whether ‘Randomised Controlled Trial results can be expected to have the same impact in your school’” and the idea that what works can be a localized phenomenon and “‘What works’ is really shorthand for ‘what has worked in the past and gives us the best indication of what is likely to work in your school, with your particular cohort of pupils.’”. I need to consider this more and the impact of this on the enquiry practitioner model and transference of results from research into a school or classroom.

This idea of a ‘Director of Research’ would allow the SLT to have an overview and links to the idea of Masters study as outlined in Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010) where academic rigour is the norm and all teachers have an open Masters account which they can add to throughout their career to build into a Masters profession. The Masters profession aspiration is worth considering in terms of whether we mean, Masters level in terms of academic rigour or Masters level (Masterliness) in terms of practice. However, one possible advantage could be that as a Masters profession we could, as Kenny put it, “attract the smartest people in the room” into the profession.

Another interesting idea from John’s keynote address was the notion of learning observations which “remove the culture of fear and judgement from learning observations”. The key question which excited me was staff being asked “How can I best observe you?” By allowing staff professional autonomy to make decisions around how to engage in a learning observation as a means to facilitate professional dialogue and impact on outcomes for pupils is a fundamental aspect of an improving school. However, when learning observations become merely a quality assurance measure which is done to staff to allow SLT to tick a box as part of their self-evaluation procedures, we lose a powerful tool and opportunity to engage with each other to improve life chance of the pupils in our communities.

My first teacher conference has left me wanting more. The quality of speakers, the atmosphere of like-minded professionals and the conversations with interesting people from around the country has really opened my eyes and mind. Bring on the next Pedagoo event!