Category Archives: Scottish Learning Fringe

Challenge and reward + making homework work #pedagooreview

The words challenge and reward are oft applied and sometimes over used in the attempt to sum up the experience of us teachers.  Despite them being well worn, they’re two words that continue to mean a lot to me and they sum up a lot of what I have to say in reviewing my teaching year.

It has been a year of immense challenge, not least in striving to meet the high expectation of delivering consistently engaging, relevant and meaningful learning experiences that I, my school and the Scottish curriculum sets for teachers.  There have been many moments of reward too – encouraging observations from students on their own learning or on their experience in my classroom, enthusiasm from other colleagues for the work we’re doing to develop our practice, seeing progress being made and knowing that my teaching has played some part in this being achieved.  This year I’ve had the particular privilege of witnessing a couple of students reach a turning point in their own self-perception – realising that they are people of real skill, with the ability to work on and apply these skills and the power to make themselves successful if they so choose.   These moments have confirmed for me that teaching is worthwhile.

There have been may strands to my teaching year: pushing to really embed co-operative learning in my classroom; connecting with more teachers in my own school and beyond to share and build on practice; not just believing in the growth mindset but teaching it to my kids; deepening my understanding of what assessment that really progresses learning looks like; learning John Hattie’s mantra of ‘know thy impact’ and continually trying to keep at the front of my teaching mind.  The question of ‘is what I’m doing progressing my students’ learning?’ is now ever present, as is questioning what to do differently when it’s not.   All these things have added challenge to my year but are things I’d recommend any teacher to try – with each there have been tangible rewards.

All of these strands have woven themselves together in a change I’m making to how I use homework with my classes.  The change was inspired by Neil Winton’s (@nwinton) session at the Pedagoo Teachmeet in Glasgow (to go for an overview) .  He shared with us the work he was doing to free up how students can show their learning.  It was pushed further by reading about Tait Coles’ work to develop Punk Learning (see  or follow @totallywired77 for more).  This was something I found out about thanks to the world of teachers on Twitter and was serendipitously picked up on at a similar time by a colleague of mine in science: a fact that we realized not by speaking to each other in school but again through the platform of Twitter.

All of this in itself sums up the way that my own professional development has changed (I hope irrevocably) this year thanks to Pedagoo and the general enthusiasm of teachers who love to teach.  The momentum created by these folks setting up their own structures through which to share pedagogical ideas and approaches (teachmeets, #pedagoofriday, blogging…), circumventing more traditional models of how to share teaching knowledge and expertise, has given me so many new perspectives to use in my own teaching and delivered them in such a way that I have the energy and brain space to put them into practice.

And what is my new bit of practice?  I’ve experimented with setting open questions or tasks for homework, linked to the key idea of recent learning and challenging students to respond to these in anyway they so choose.  So, after my S1 class had been developing their research skills, while learning about the growth mindset, they were set the task of creating a resource that would help other 12 year olds to learn about their learning (bearing in mind that a lot of the sources we’d been using in our own research were geared more towards adults).  My S3 class finished reading Frankenstein and then had two weeks to create a response to the question ‘what makes us human?’

From both classes they were responses worth waiting for.  Students came back with videos they’d made, going out and sharing their learning with other friends and family, with animations created on websites I’d never heard of, with pieces of creative and non-fiction writing that spoke with their own voice and with models and posters.  The minute the homework responses arrived I realised that first time round I hadn’t planned properly how to give the work the audience that it deserved.  It needed to be seen by more folk than just me.  It was also homework that I was genuinely excited to mark, not least because my students where sharing with me what they really thought and felt about what were learning, rather than simply parroting back set, pre-planned responses.  It was also homework which let my learners show how they liked to learn and show me where the limits of their learning were – taking ideas as far as they could in the medium that they felt most comfortable in rather than producing a limited response to an overly structured task.  It was fascinating.

This is not to say that it was all reward and no challenge.  As already mentioned, I realised instantly that I needed to do more to integrate homework like this into the wider class experience.  This is needed to recognise, celebrate and hopefully deepen the effort and learning that goes into students’ responses.  Also, although many students really engaged with their task and produced something that was authentic and interesting, I felt a few used the open structure to do the least they could rather than show the most that they could and some continued to find it hard to hand in anything at all.  So, I’m continuing to think about how do to things differently to broaden out the enthusiasm, care and deep learning that a lot of my students have already shown as I move forward with this. Having launched two individual approaches in English and science, in the new year I’ll be embarking on a more collaborative approach with my colleague.

I know that I’m not there yet with getting the best learning that I can from this approach but I’m excited to be part of it.  Also, through deciding to give this new idea, picked up in a 30min session, a bash I feel that I’ve inadvertently set myself off on a new path, exploring what my learners are learning and how my learners are learning.  Further, it’s challenging me to think carefully about how I lead their learning to make sure that they’re learning for themselves and have the enthusiasm, energy and opportunities to push themselves to their very limits, maybe even beyond (to use some more well worn words).

I have found the challenges of this year hard.  Pausing to think through my experiences though, has made clear to me that as challenge is what I want for my learners it’s what I need to embrace for myself too.  Further, I teach in the hope that the progress that comes from embracing perpetual challenge is reward enough.


An Unspoken Moment #pedagooreview

At about 8.30 am, on Saturday the 22nd of September I was standing in a hotel in Glasgow with Fearghal Kelly (@fkelly) Neil Winton (@nwinton) and Ian Stuart (@islayian). We chatted nervously as the reality of what we were doing here began to sink in. For a moment, perhaps, as time seemed to be passing, one might have thought we had bitten off more than we could chew. But soon that thought was dispelled. Educators began to arrive; first, one; a familiar face; then, two, three, two more.

The first ever SLFFringe event was Pedagoo’s biggest project to date and a huge success. I won’t recall every detail- look back on the blog for some real inspiration – but there was a moment later that day when Fearghal, Neil and I caught each other’s eyes. None of us spoke. We knew we had achieved something special. Bringing educators together to share was always the original point of Pedagoo. We were and are very proud of that. The positivity which pervaded the day sticks with me even now, feeling a shiver as I write about it. The #pedagooxmas party in Newcastle continued that. But that moment, when Fearghal, Neil and I shared that unspoken thought is my Pedagoo highlight of 2012.

Quadblog Fever at #TMSLFringe12

It’s good to see recognition from Henry Hepburn in today’s Times Ed for the contribution Sasha and Rachel made to #TMSLFringe12.

The biggest stars of the day, many agreed, were Sasha Hendrie and Rachel Heather, P5 pupils at Uphall Primary in West Lothian. They spent a whole morning demonstrating how blogging had opened up the world, particularly “quadblogging”, in which Uphall and schools from England, the US and New Zealand take turns to comment on each other’s work.


CfE : Using the E & Os

As I mentioned, I was delivering a workshop at the Pedagoo TMSLFringe last Saturday. Here is a variation on what I said — not least because it was different each time, and I received lots of great ideas and suggestions and questions from those kind enough to come and listen!

I took as my topic how I’m moving towards getting the learners to use the Curriculum Experiences and Outcomes for Literacy & English (and if you think that’s a mouthful, you should see the new URLs on the Education Website!). While the focus was based on my own classwork in English, many of the ideas I’ve been trying out have potential for other subject areas — not least because as you will see with my closing example, opening up the means of exemplifying what has been learned can lead to cross-curricular fertilisation that can be immensely rewarding.

Giving The Learners Ownership

As I said on the day, I take my starting point as being the need to give the learners ownership of their own learning. This means handing over the E&Os as soon as possible and is based on the following simple and obvious thought…

I sometimes feel that we as a profession have spent too long agonising over the E&Os — yet they do not exist for us. They are the property and right of the learner. Our role is to introduce, explain and exemplify them, and quite simply bring them to life for the learner. So, as I see it, the E&Os are simply the rules of the game…

As such, we need to teach the learners the rules so they can ‘play’ the game. (And yes, I am well aware of the potentially negative connotations of ‘playing the game’ — but no cynicism is intended or should be implied! 😉 )


What Do I Do?

In simple terms, I have changed the nature of the tasks I set… and this permeates my whole approach.

In a sense, I suppose I haven’t really changed the task as much as I could, but what I have done is consciously moved away from the old tasks I used to set — the ones that involved me teaching with a specific outcome in mind from the first lesson (usually an essay), and being disappointed when the learners didn’t just hand me back the notes I’d given them in the form of an essay. I now try to set tasks that have more of a potential for research and discovery, and that allow the learner to demonstrate his or her learning in the way s/he thinks most appropriate… It’s not as difficult as it sounds at this stage… the real fun comes later!

The key difference is this…

I genuinely have done everything I can to stop agonising about the assessment. My focus is on what is or can be learned… and even in this aspect, I am trying to stop myself from pointing the learners in specific directions. For me, this is where my skill and knowledge as a teacher come into play. My role is as a guide, or mentor, or critical friend, and absolutely not as a sage on the stage. This is not to say that I abandon the learners… quite the reverse… but it does mean I have to advise a direction for studying, and sometimes standing aside and letting the learner get it wrong, while being ready to help him or her reflect on why things didn’t work out. This is a challenging position to take, but I find it immensely rewarding. In short…

I cannot stress this enough… by all means, point learners in particular directions, encourage them by providing them with relevant resources, metaphorically hold their hands as they make the inevitable mistakes (or ‘Management Learning Points’ as an old boss of mine used to call them), but I also try to support them to draw on their existing skills and knowledge as they prepare to gather what they have learned into a format they can share…

If I ask for an essay, I’ll get an essay… and I’ll be really disappointed if it doesn’t do what I expect (see point above)… yet I cannot think when I last shared what I had learned by writing an essay. I am also struck by how limiting the essay as a format is for some things. I recall being told that I wasn’t allowed to include diagrams or pictures in an essay because — essentially — “it just wasn’t done”. Yet I am just as visually literate as I am with words, and more importantly, most of us are. It appears perverse to me to place artificial barriers on the sharing of learning, yet that is pretty much what we do all the time. As I said in my workshop, I keep coming back to The Barometer Problem. This is the possibly apocryphal story about Niels Bohr being asked to measure the height of a skyscraper using only a barometer. Rather than giving the expected ‘right’ answer, he gave several solutions all designed to illustrate his frustrations at his professors:

…teaching him how to think … rather than teaching him the structure of the subject.

If we ask closed questions, we get predictably dissatisfying closed answers. If we allow the learner to choose his or her own means of demonstrating what has been learned, we can be amazed and inspired… but this requires a great leap of faith but by shifting the focus from assessment to learning, we give ourselves and our learners something better…

We are given the freedom to learn, but for many there is an inevitable element of fear associated with this but we need to persevere. Remember, we too need to be ‘confident individuals’!

So to attempt to sum up my new approach, I am moving from…

I am much more receptive to receiving evidence of learning in formats that are non-traditional. Since adopting this approach, I have received presentations, essays, talks, songs (in response to WW1 poetry), posters, ‘graphic’ novels, and videos… and each of these have been looked at and reflected on against the E&Os… and you know what? They have come up pretty well. And this has given me the confidence to have faith in what I am teaching and also to use the E&Os with the learners to demonstrate evidence of good learning.

One More Thing

There is one other aspect of the work my classes are doing now that I want to share. I am emphasising one thing above all others…

I think it essential that pupils be proud of their work. They need to find something that they can take ownership of and that is evidence of something they have done well or better than they have before. This requires reflection and honesty on the part of the learner, and this is also where referring to the E&Os can be invaluable… when a learner sees something s/he has done referred to as an outcome it is a confirmation for him or her that their work has value and worth. Interestingly, pride can come form the simplest of things like correctly using paragraphs where previously there were none…

As I ask (challenge?) my classes, “What are you proud of in your work?”… and if the answer is nothing, “Then why are you bothering?”

Pulling it together

So… enough talking… what does this look like when it works? The best example generated by one of my learners so far came as the result of an open task that I set my S2 class. I simply asked the the question: What Is Beauty? Obviously, there was a little more to it than that, but you can see the whole preamble I gave the class on their blog (click HERE to find it).

A surprising number of the class gave me traditional essays. Some gave me presentations. And then one of the class handed me a DVD with the following presentation on it:

If you don’t want to watch the whole video, skip to 6:43 and see her conclusion. This is the section that the real David Cameron was talking about when he summed up the day last Saturday. I think it is one of the most moving and impressive pieces of homework I’ll ever be handed. But I am gradually realising that as I become more confident in finding evidence using the E&Os, and more importantly, as the learners do too, work like Eilidh’s is likely to be the norm rather than the truly exceptional.

There was much more said by me and those in my workshops on the day, but this post is already too long! Please use the comments to ask or suggest. Learning is a communal thing, so please add your voice here or on Pedagoo!

Cross posted at If You Don’t Like Change…

Through The Camera Eye — TMSLFringe 2012

Cross posted to “If You Don’t Like Change…

The first Pedagoo organised Scottish Learning Fringe TeachMeet has ended, but I for one hope that it will have a widespread impact. Judging by the immediate feedback, that’s not such a daft hope.

I was up at the crack of dawn last Saturday morning to travel down to Glasgow for the #TMSLFringe. This first attempt at a Pedagoo un-conference was something I had long been looking forward to… with equal measures of excitement (at meeting people and sharing ideas) and nervousness (what if no-one comes and it’s a disaster). As it turned out, I had no need to be nervous!

The venue was SocietyM and was — quite simply — magnificent. Idiosyncratic and welcoming, and more than one person there was heard to ask: what if a classroom was like this? What I wouldn’t give to take a class (or two) down there for a day and see what we could produce in a modern and funky environment. (If anyone fancies sponsoring me to do this, my email is!).

Having arrived a little before 9, I had a chance to catch up with Ian, Fearghal, and Kenny for a few minutes before the participants began to filter in. I think it fair to say that we were more than a little apprehensive with regards the day… what if no-one came? What if it was a disaster? What if…

Once people began arriving en masse, the venue came into its own. Lots of space, lots of interesting artefacts on the walls, lots of conversation starters…

I managed to snatch a quick chat with Joe Wilson who, for the day, was most definitely not from the SQA! As ever, I was struck by just how switched on and enthusiastic he is… and this set the tone for the rest of the day. Without exception, this was a day for the enthusiasts… as someone said to me later, Pedagoo is like a staffroom for the optimists… how true!

At pretty close to the scheduled 10am, Fearghal started us off by thanking ELT Consultants and Wesleyan who were responsible for finding and funding the venue. Then it was over to the Real David Cameron to set the scene. I wish I could remember all he said, but I was panicking at the reality of having to present about how I’m approaching the E&Os and apart from the memorable references to his leather jacket, will need to leave it to others to report his words. 😉

My three sessions appear to have been well received, and I’ll write up what I was saying next!

Lunch was fine, though the space age coffee machine managed to tax the abilities of many… put it down as a new Experience and Outcome!

The afternoon was given over to reflection on the day, and what we could do next. Our discussion was shaped by the following questions:

  • What have you learned today that you could use on Monday?
  • What have you learned today that you could use a year from now?
  • What can we (Pedagoo) to to support this?

There are plenty of other posts about this and rather than rehash them here, I suggest you go and read Claire’s “Learning How To Learn“, Ann’s “Workshop 9 — Thoughts“, Kenny’s “Workshop 8 — Feedback” or Ruth’s brilliant “Pedagoo — Inception” moment!

There are also write ups of the various sessions from the presenters to be read on the Pedagoo site itself… which leads me to my final point: if you like what you see on Pedagoo, join in! The real strength of the day was not the fact that it happened, it was the realisation that we are a community of educators who learn better together, who improve through speaking and sharing with others, and who care deeply and passionately that we need to do the best we can for those we are privileged to teach. A personal highlight came when, after 5 hours of the most extraordinary CPD imaginable, David Cameron drew us back together and charged us with continuing to spread the word and to continue building what we have begun…

Saturday was the first Pedagoo Fringe meeting… I think it fair to say, it won’t be the last. I hope to see you at the next one! 😉

David Cameron closes #TMSLFringe12

Still not convinced that emerging teacher agency, through Pedagoo and elsewhere, is key to Curriculum for Excellence?

Even you weren’t able to get along to the TeachMeet Scottish Learning Fringe event, grab a coffee and watch this inspirational closing talk from David Cameron @realdcameron.


tmSLFRINGE12 EDUtalk about it

David Noble and Myself would like to invite those attending Teachmeet Scottish Learning Fringe 2012 to use EDUtalk to share there thoughts and reflections of the day.

Many pedagooista may be reflecting here and on their own blogs, but audio can be a useful way to communicate, perhaps in addition to text:

  • For the listener it brings an extra dimension of information, the sound of the voice. It can be listened to when doing something else, the dishes or driving.
  • For the recorder it can be less time consuming to get ideas down by a quick recording than it would be to write them. It is also very easy to publish.

There are more details on the whys and hows on An invite to #EDUtalk at SLF 2012 on the EDUtalk site.

There is, of course, an open invitation to anyone interested in education to contribute to EDUtalk at any time.

A Landmark Moment – Be a Part of It

As we approach Teachmeet Scottish Learning Fringe 2012, perhaps the biggest day in Pedagoo’s reasonably short history, it is a good time to take stock and reflect on how far we’ve all come. More importantly, however, it is an even better time to consider the potential we have to grow and change. So this is not so much about what pedagoo is but what it could be.

Discussing the Scottish Curriculum with some teachers recently– and I call it that because I will not longer call it Curriculum for Excellence like it was some kind of other ‘thing’ – I am reminded of the old joke about the optimist and the pessimist. The pessimist says ‘Surely things can’t get any worse,’ and the optimist replies ‘Oh yes they can.’ You get the feeling that some people have made up their minds and will never be swayed.  It would be easy to shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Oh well. What can you do?’ Well, an awful lot in my opinion.

As classrooms teachers I always think that the only powerful thing we really have is the ability to teach as best we can. We model good learning for our students and we provide the best experiences possible for them every day we are in school. However, if we truly believe that change is possible, that a new way of doing things is possible then we must step up to the plate and walk the walk. It is no longer enough to dream of change and wish things weren’t like they are now.

I don’t think any of us at Pedagoo would describe ourselves as SuperTeachers. We are not special in that regard. What we do though is provide a platform to have the conversations which you may not be having, or are able to have, in your own staff rooms. We always wanted to provide a place for those voices which may not be heard otherwise. The blog extends that voice somewhat and we hope that it will continue to develop.

Dylan Wiliam states in his book, ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’:

‘Show me a teacher who doesn’t fail every day and I’ll show you a teacher with low expectations for his/her students.’

While there may be something about that which makes us uncomfortable, he’s right of course. Our job is to have a positive impact on the learning of our students.  Undoubtedly we do. But our expectations for their learning should always be just out of their reach. More importantly we all have to truly believe that. We have to believe that our students can always keep learning as much as we learn. We must speak up about the future we want and model good teaching and learning at every opportunity.

What are our expectations for, not of, ourselves? How much can we improve, develop, grow? How often do we, as educators, think of ourselves as learners too? Where I think Pedagoo is special is that it provides a place to have those debates. This Saturday is, I think, a landmark in Scottish education. Hyperbole you may say but I don’t think so. This is a group of educators who, off their own backs – or rather off the great Fearghal Kelly’s back mostly – are organising their own education event. Devoid of free pens and leaflets, corporate frippery, the big sell. We want teachers to talk about teaching and how we can make the new curriculum work for us.

If you’re there I can’t wait to say hello. If not, then please check in to Pedagoo over the next week or two for some Blog Posts which will fill you in on what happened. I’m generally ridiculously, irritatingly optimistic about what we can achieve in Scottish education if we begin to work together. And after next Saturday, I hope to be more so. Surely things can’t get any better. Oh yes they can.


TeachMeet:Scottish Learning Fringe Poster and Flyer

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There is now a Poster and Flyer for this September’s first Scottish Learning Fringe.
They are available to download as a ZIP file from THIS LINK.

We’d love it if you could print one out and put it up in your staffroom/base… or even better, pass it to the person responsible for CPD in your school!

Professional Development or Learning?

Douglas Blane asked some excellent questions of me today whilst discussing Pedagoo for a possible piece in the TESS. One in particular really got me thinking…it was something along the lines of “so, what’s the underlying idea behind Pedagoo?” It’s one of those questions which you feel you know the answer to but you struggle to articulate it succinctly. Whilst thinking of a response I was reminded of the following quotes from John Loughran in his book What Expert Teachers Do“…

Professional Development has typically been understood as the more traditional approach to in-service that teachers often experience when they are asked to implement a new curriculum or some other policy initiative. In many cases, the waves of change that regularly flow over the profession generally involve some form of up-skilling in relation to the new things that we are expected to do or to deliver. Therefore, traditional professional development is often linked to the implementation of some form of educational change by doing something to teachers, that is, telling us about the change and expecting it to then be carried out. In this way mandated changes are presented, we are trained in those changes in terms of technical requirements (sometimes as simple as re-labeling existing curriculum and practice) and then we are expected to implement those changes. It is a top-down approach and it functions in a similar way throughout the education system whether it be in the form of policy initiatives from the central education bureaucracy or at local school level from the principal’s office.

Professional learning operates in a different way. Professional learning assumes that we have some commitment to the change(s) – that the change might be driven, or developed and refined, by us. In essence, professional learning works on the bases that change is a result of work with, and/or by, teachers. Further to this, professional learning also carries an expectation that we are able to bring our expert judgement to bear on how change might best be implemented in our own context and practice. Therefore, professional learning is more about the learning that occurs through the process and how that learning is then able to be applied in our practice. Involvement in professional learning is therefore more likely to be voluntary, and the subsequent learning is personal and appropriately shaped and directed by each of us as individuals.

Loughran (2010)

I think perhaps this latter concept of professional learning as described by Loughran best describes everything we’re trying to do at Pedagoo. This includes this blog, but also #PedagooFriday, our events (#TMRetreat & #tmSLFringe12) and all our other future developments.

What do you think? How would you best encapsulate all that is Pedagoo?