Long Time No See

The purpose of this blog was initially to support the sharing of ideas, resources and create a forum for discussion.

It has been some times since I last posted anything on this blog, mainly because, for a period of time, my focus in schools drifted from teaching and learning. Fortunately, my role within a new multi-academy trust, and an organisation that I strongly believe in, has allowed me to focus my attention on teaching and learning once more and the development of policy and practice across a family of schools.

In June 2016 I was delighted to join Reach4 Academy Trust as Deputy Director of Education. Our purpose is to bring educational equity to areas of the country that deserve good schools and good teachers the most. It is an exciting time and I am delighted to be working with a group of excellent school leaders who are committed to providing excellent opportunities and outcomes for the children in our care.

The Essential Guide to Classroom Practice was a project to bring ideas together and share them so that they could be discussed and used to influence classroom practice. The book was written over three years ago now. My perspective on education, ideas and practice have significantly changed and grown. I regret that I have not been able to share my thoughts and learning through this forum. It seems I am not much of a blogger, or a ‘tweeter’ for that matter (something one of our Directors of Education keeps reminding me (he is though, and a great educator to follow – @Benedick1). However,  I do wish to share and collaborate with teachers outside my own circle of schools.

From time to time, I am contacted by teachers who have read my book. I always enjoy hearing from teachers and enjoy sharing the strategies, policies and practice I am working on. Indeed, I am very excited to be working on a new book. It’s a slow burner and will take some time to bring everything together. It will explore the principles and practice around all-through education. Something we are very passionate about at Reach4.

So, if you have come across my book and have found your way to this blog then I apologise that it is somewhat lacking in the sort of content and rich debate you will find on some of the other wonderful education blogs out there. I just don’t have the time!

Nevertheless, please take this as an invitation to get in touch with the author to share, discuss and collaborate. After all, this is how we learn.



A Night of Revision

On Monday 2nd February we ran our first student and parent revision evening at the High School. The purpose of which was to educate our parents in how they can support their child preparing for examinations. We called the evening ‘Success at GCSE and Beyond’ and over 190 people attended. We set out to make the evening as engaging and active as possible with tasks and games for students and parents to take part in. We also adopted a ‘tag team’ approach to the evening, whereby different teachers would take the stage to introduce and deliver a new strategy or topic. We covered all the old favourites and shared some best practice approaches to revision cards, mind maps, organising notes etc. On entry we gave each family a pack of resources to use and take away. These packs came in a ziplock folder and contained:

  • Our Students’ Guide to Revision booklet
  • white board and marker
  • post-it notes
  • The Awesome Revision Board Game
  • example question cards
  • a blank revision timetable
  • The Deep Thinking Dice
  • blank dice nets
  • A guide to GCSEPod
  • Revision reward ladder

We sat families (2s or 3s) around exam desks. On each desk we placed coloured cards with stimulus material that corresponded to each of the strategies covered during the event. For example, an activity on word abbreviations corresponded to a pink card with GCSE Science concepts for them to use to create an acronym, mnemonic or acrostic. We we kickstarted the event with some active games to get everyone warmed up and explain some of the key principles behind effective revision. These explained the value of repetition, ‘chunking’ information and the importance of understanding concepts before a student comes to revise it. For example, the first activity gave everyone 10 seconds to remember as many spanish words/phrases as possible. Most people picked out gracias, salud or adios, but the other phrases we simply made up – no one remembered these! The principle being that we can only retain what we really understand.

Slide3  Slide5

The second activity pitched students against parents to remember a string of letters. The parents (yellows) naturally were able to recall more letters than the students because their brains chunked the information into words and abbreviations they were familiar with (BBC-RAC-CD-IPAD).  Hence, an explanation on the importance of ‘chunking’ your revision.

Slide7  Slide9

Next up came the Awesome Revision Game . The game is designed on the first to finish principle and makes use of four different strategies. Say it, Draw it, Act it and Model it. The board also comes with some handy templates that students can use to come up with different styles of question, such as the jeopardy style questions, missing word or multiple choice. For this reason the board can be used in a number of different ways. The reverse includes instructions on how to play.


As mentioned, the intention of the evening was to ensure parents went away with a handful of practical strategies that they could use to support their child when revising. ‘Just a Minute’ is one of my favourites from the evening. Inspired by the Radio 4 gameshow, students were required to talk on a topic for 1 minute. A challenging task for anyone, but students could stop the clock by saying the six words or phrases written down on the card held by their parent. We trialled this with the whole audience. Student where able to select one of several phrases to talk about, whilst parents checked off the key words on the card as the timer ran down. Lots of fun and easy to create.


During the event we also looked at some subject specific revision strategies, including the best ways to revise languages. This included making the most of your learning environment, labelling and using online quizzes  such as Quizlet, Memrise, a website that combines language learning with gaming, and Vocaroo, a handy little site for voice recordings. This next strategy was inspired by Shaun Allison’s recent post on the same topic here. In his post, Shaun uses a quote from Daniel Willingham, a Psychology professor – “Whatever you think about, that’s what you remember. Memory is the residue of thought.” This got me thinking about the ways students could consolidate their revision with some deep thinking strategies. This is how I came up with the ‘Deep Thinking Dice’. Basically, six simple strategies presented on a net of a dice that students can roll to pick a strategy to help them consolidate their learning. I’ve tried to make the strategies as generic as possible so they can apply to any topic or subject. The net includes an explanation of each technique and can be downloaded here.


During the evening we also spent some time discussing what was involved in an effective revision schedule. The principles we shared here was that revision should be broken down into different strategies and scheduled over a period of time. Revision should not simply be reading over notes, but a variety of activities that make the brain think about the content in different ways. These ‘schedules’ should then be spread over time with the intention of returning to topics on a regular basis. We gave the students time to think about these schedules, the strategies that worked for each subject and the strategies that might work best for them. The revision booklet provided space for students to devise their own schedules for each subject and a guide to constructing an effective revision timetable.


Some of the other activities included building your own acrostics and acronyms,  a guide to GCSEPod and organising your revision with flash cards, including the best places to buy. We also got students using the whiteboards with a bit of ‘taste for teaching’ All students were given five minutes to use their whiteboards and pens to explain a concept to their parents; another great way to finish off any revision session. Before everyone left we got students (with the help of parents) to think about the rewards they could use to motivate themselves through the difficult points in their revision timetables. Each pack contained a simple reward ladder that students could use to plan their breaks, treats and rewards after a tough revision workout!


The event certainly got parents on-board and they appreciated the practical strategies picked up during the evening.  There was lots of positivity in the room and it is certainly an event we will run again. A big thank you to Nina Gunson (@ninaparkin), Stuart Campbell (@MrCampbellSHS), Kathryn Boulton-Pratt, Helen Thorneloe and Emma Sandwith for helping to organise and run the event.

Collaborate to Motivate

Picture an outstanding lesson and what do you see? What’s going on in the lesson? What is the teacher doing? What are the students up to? For some, the image conjured might be a calm classroom where students sit studiously with their heads in a book, but I would guess that most of us have pictured a classroom where students are working together. They are engaged in dialogue with the teacher and their peers, sharing ideas and opinions, asking questions and working on tasks and problems together. Whenever I have worked with groups of teachers to discuss and draw out the key features of outstanding learning a common factor that always prevails is some level of cooperation and collaboration between students. Sometimes you can walk into a lesson and instantly know it is outstanding because the learning is so palpable. There is a certain buzz to a lesson where students are working purposefully together in small groups. Indeed, it is harder not to find good examples of learning when these conditions are present. Evidence of learning is much harder to find in quiet lessons where students work in isolation.

Collaborative approaches to learning dominate the evidence-based research for the impact they have on student achievement. When compared to more traditional methods where students passively receive information from a teacher, cooperative, problem-based learning has been shown to improve student engagement and retention. Furthermore, More than 1200 studies comparing cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts have found that cooperative learning methods improve students’ time on tasks and intrinsic motivation to learn.

This got me thinking about how we can motivate students in their learning. A staple theory on most Business Studies or Psychology syllabus is the work of Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow’s popular theory of human motivation represented through his Hierarchy of Needs (1943) identifies five distinct levels of human motivation (see below).  Here I have suggested how the five basic human needs might be fulfilled in a classroom context, from the basic needs through to self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming. A few slight tweaks might be necessary should we examine the concept from a whole school perspective, but this is my take. As teachers, we help our students achieve these ‘needs’ in our lessons and, to me, it seems fairly obvious that their love and belonging needs would come from opportunities to collaborate with others and feel part of a learning community. I’ve dedicated a whole section of the book to collaborative learning and would welcome opinions on how Maslow’s theory might work in a classroom setting.

Fig 4.1 Maslow in the classroom

New Year’s Resolutions for the Classroom

Like most of us, today I have turned my attention to the dreaded new year’s resolution. This evening the wife and I have been flicking through the Clean and Lean Cookbook trying to agree on nutritious and healthy meals that we can both enjoy over the coming months whilst trying to subdue our cravings for bread and pasta. Let’s see how long that lasts!New-Years-Resolution

I’ve spotted a few tweets from teachers about new year’s resolutions too. This blog post from @LearningSpy has a number of thought-provoking suggestions of new years’s resolutions for teachers and school leaders. This got me thinking about my own classroom and how I can start the year by encouraging my students to take more responsibility and become better learners.

In my book I have written about a tool I started to use last year to encourage independent learning. The Conditions for Learning Model encourages students to think about what it takes to be an effective learner and can be downloaded here. It is also explained in more detail in the first chapter of the book. Example below:

Fig 2.7 The Conditions for Learning

As teachers we talk about a language for learning. An agreed set of principles, skills or values that we promote in our classrooms and across the school. Many schools have their own set of values, characteristics or skills they champion and promote through their curriculum that are desirable human traits and necessary  for life-long learning. Here is an idea that you can use to agree, share and promote a set of skills and dispositions for effective learning. The Conditions for Effective Learning allows teachers and students to build a model of desirable skills that can be used to reinforce attitudes and behaviours in every lesson. The model is built around three components.

Dispositions – the habits and characteristics shown by successful people

Skills – the skills we need to become effective learners

Barriers – the internal and external factors that get in the way of learning

The purpose of this activity is to build and agree a model with your students that everyone can use to gain their learning. Whether you come up with your own list or, even better, develop it as an exercise with students it’s a useful prompt and reminder for teachers and students alike.

i’ve been thinking how I might revisit this with my students in the new year to come up with three resolutions for the classroom:

1. A disposition to promote

2. A skill to develop

3. A barrier to manage/avoid

We’ll see if they can stick to them!

Learning Journeys with Tube Maps

A while ago I came across the idea of using tube maps to visually present information, connections and represent a ‘journey’. Amongst my favourite tube maps is this fantastic connectives map created by Jamie Clark @jamieclark85


I love how visually appealing this is for students to use and develop their writing skills.

On the back of this I decided to create my own to promote our School’s Sixth Form offer (below). Quite a complicated example, but that was the point. It’s hard to express everything we do, but this goes some way to represent it visually and create a talking point with students and parents. We printed this on the reverse of of Sixth Form open morning programmes and displayed it on screens around the Sixth Form.

I also took this a step further by creating an interactive tube map for students to explore. This involved creating ‘hot spots’ over each station using a brilliant site – Thinglink http://www.thinglink.com

Thinglink allows you to create interactive images that can be embedded anywhere using text, images and video. Now, whenever someone moves their cursor over a station more info is accessible through a small text box that pops up or a short video played within the window. A work in progress, but here’s the initial results.


I made this using a DTP package, but a website you can use to build your own tube map is http://www.beno.org.uk/metromapcreator/

Please share any examples of tube maps for learning or your own examples of  ‘Thinglinks’.



EDpuzzle: A Great Way to Flip

I recently came across http://www.edpuzzle.com when planning a cover lesson.

EDpuzzle is a website that allows teachers to create tutorials, assignments and projects easily by importing and editing video. The inherent problem with using videos for teaching or flipping the lesson, is that, unless we have made the videos ourselves, the content doesn’t always meet our needs. Perhaps additional concepts are covered or the explanation or example doesn’t quite suit the specification or class we intend to use it with. Edpuzzle has a number of features that help us get around some of these problems.

To start, EDpuzzle allows you to search for and pull content from various sources, such as YouTube, TED, or upload content yourself. The first handy tool is the crop function. No longer do you need to specify a time frame to watch, just trim down the unnecessary content.


Perhaps the two most useful tools of the website are audio track and audio notes. An Audio Track acts as a voiceover recording. I’ve found this particularly useful when I have needed to replace video audio with my own explanation or instruction. For example, when interpreting the images on the screen such as adding my own explanation to a diagram as it is being drawn on the screen or providing a commentary to the visuals.

The Audio Notes add similar functionality, but instead of providing a voiceover, allows you to pause the video and add your own explanation. This is my favourite tool as it allows you to add clarification, prompts and explanation at relevant points. Something you can’t usually do when students watch a video outside of the classroom.


The final function before exporting your video to an assignment, project or a class, is the Quizzes function. This allows teachers to pause the video and add any type of question you like. Multiple choice, short answer, extended written response or simply your own comment (like adding a voice note). The answers submitted by your students when assigned as a class are then collated for you to view on the website. There are also additional settings you can apply that prevent students from skipping any of the features you add to the video. The results of the questions and progress on each video are collated and shown visually on the dashboard. Multiple choice questions are graded automatically and open questions can be marked online with feedback given to each student. The results can even be exported to a CSV file.


I’m still learning, but initial attempts to use this resource have been promising. A great website that is effective and simple to use.



Effective CPD

Driving Outstanding Practice: A Model for Inter-School Collaboration

The case for inter-school collaboration is strong and over the past few years the prominence of collaborative partnerships has grown. Inter-school collaboration creates new opportunities, raises standards, delivers economies of scale, breaks down barriers and improves understanding of different educational contexts and helps teachers work together in a mutually beneficial way.

In October 2012 I contacted a colleague to explore the possibility of building ties between the independent school I had recently moved to and the comprehensive maintained school I had left that summer. At the time, he too was looking to build a collaborative partnership between a number of schools to develop best practice teaching and learning. After a few phone calls to friends, acquaintances and old colleagues, a Saturday meeting was arranged at my home. The purpose of our meeting was to try and pick out the most successful elements of CDP in its various guises and come up with a solution that incorporated them all. Over several brews and a full packet of chocolate hobnobs the Driving Outstanding Practice Programme (or DrOPP) was born. The programme was launched in January 2013 through a local Teaching School Alliance with four schools hosting the half-day events. The initial cohort involved teachers from eight different local schools. The programme was successful and has since branched out to involve more schools and teachers. Since its conception, the principles behind the DrOPP have been used successfully in a range of contexts to help bring teachers together to collaborate and share their ideas and expertise in teaching and learning.

Each event would take a different focus on a key aspect of teaching and learning. These initial events were entitled Achieving Outstanding Teaching and Learning, Best Practice in Assessment for Learning, Driving Improvement Across Classrooms, Encouraging Successful Student-led Learning and Differentiation for Key Learner Groups. We allocated these topics to a school where there was a strength or a particular area of interest. Each event followed its own agenda depending on the nature of the topic or preference of the facilitator and held during a morning or an afternoon.

Before starting the programme with a new cohort we asked each teacher to produce a one-page profile of themselves, their areas of expertise and three things they hoped to gain from the programme. Apart from being a nice way to introduce the cohort to one another, these profiles were extremely useful in tailoring events and pairing teachers with similar objectives. In order to personalise the programme for each teacher the lead members of staff from each school, acting as facilitators, would get together to discuss networking opportunities, not only amongst teachers on the course, but between those teachers and the staff at the school they were visiting. In the past this has allowed us to a pair a newly appointed Head of Science with an established Science Faculty Leader, a teacher looking to develop the use of ICT in her subject with a teacher who effectively used a departmental blog and Twitter feed and teachers looking to introduce a new syllabus with those having taught the specification for several years. We were able to set up most of these meetings by asking the relevant staff to pop along during a free period, break or lunchtime. No matter what was the format or focus of the event we also tried ensured the following principles were always applied.


Whenever I go on a course, visit an exhibition or take part in INSET I want to come away with something. A free pen, or two, will often suffice but whenever the focus is teaching and learning I’m always looking for a new idea, a strategy or a resource I can potentially adopt. When I get the chance to talk with other professionals I also want to learn from their expertise. Therefore, each event would start with an opportunity for small groups to bring along an idea related to the focus of the event to share with others, very much in a teach meet style. As the events progressed these slots for sharing ideas and practice also focused on any actions or implementation from the previous meeting. For example, what the teachers tried and how it went. In order to ensure no one missed and idea or resource it also worked well to collate all of the ideas and resources via email following an event. At the end of the programme these were then shared as a bank of resources on a memory stick or posted on a sharing site. These resources build into an extremely valuable source of expertise that everyone can come back to later.


So much teacher training takes place without the pupils being around. Instead, we wanted our delegates to discuss teaching and learning and then experience it first-hand. In most cases we were able to do this with a series of short learning walks following a discussion, sharing of ideas or a demonstration from a facilitator. This gave delegates the opportunity to immediately observe and reflect. For example, after a session on questioning, delegates were able to observe a series of lessons with the purpose of identifying good practice techniques. Other approaches involved interviewing a panel of students about how they learn best, departmental tours with Heads of Department and receiving feedback on lesson plans from pupils. It is always a privilege to walk into another teacher’s lesson and see how others operate in a different context. The opportunity to do this was highly regarded by everyone on the course.


In each event we also found time for a bit of ‘sage on the stage’. This normally involved one or more of the facilitators presenting new ideas or a selection of teachers from the home school showcasing strategies in a carousel. Once again, this offers a great opportunity for delegates to take away new ideas. All schools deal with things differently and this presented the opportunity to invite middle and senior leaders to share whole-school policies and procedures and future plans.


From the outset the impetus of the DrOPP has been to get teachers having an impact and driving change within their own schools. In order to help teachers embed what they had picked up at each event we set a beyond event challenge. During the early event this would simply involve trying out a new idea within their own classrooms, but would quickly progress into coaching others, leading department training and developing a new whole-school initiative. These beyond event challenges also helped maintain enthusiasm following an event and gave delegates a channel to make improvements in their own schools.

For the final event of the DrOPP we allowed individuals and groups of teachers to share the initiatives they had developed within their own contexts through a showcase event. Apart from being a nice way to end the course, these showcases gave teachers the chance to see how the ideas they had previously shared had been transformed and adapted to meet the needs of others in a different context, whether that be subject, stage or type of school.

There have been times when I have wondered if an event will run as smoothly as we had hoped. Of course, some events work better than others, but the main thing that always seems to click is the people. Put like-minded teachers in a room, give them a stimulus, give them quality time and they will do the rest. The DrOPP is a common sense approach to CPD, but for any course to be effective there had to be a real commitment to release teachers for several days and give them the opportunity and platform to drive change.