Category Archives: teaching and learning

Tyrannosaurus test

Last night I popped into London to attend the entertaining Intelligence Squared debate on whether testing demeans education. Outside the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster the glittering educators of the capital filed into the debating chamber, one lady perusing her copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. The main question seemed to be whether regular school testing helps students to flourish or actually hinder development. So what do we think? Is standardised testing a tyrant king with no regard for anything other than soulless data collection? Or does it have a place in the ever changing modern world? I suspect no sensible educator would fall at either extreme of this spectrum, but nevertheless the debate was interesting and amusing in equal measure. Summer Turner has written up her thoughts with usual thoughtful-panache so if you are only going to read one blog on the event read no further and click away.

First up and for the motion was Tristram Hunt, former Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. He cut quite a dash up at the lectern. I could quite easily see why it is such a loss that he has resigned from the Shadow Cabinet. In fact much of the audience were left wondering what might have been by the end of his persuasive speaking. Out came the easy on the ear soundbite that students need to be “learning skills for jobs that don’t yet exist” and that tests were not suitable preparation for the workforce. Throughout the evening Hunt was an incredibly good sport, taking gentle jibes and digs about currently inhabiting the political wilderness with good humour and class. He started his address with “Friends, Comrades” to much mirth and towards the end referenced “frenzied Corbynistas.”

Next came Daisy Chirstodoulou, she of Seven Myths, speaking against the motion. Recently she has written several excellent blogs on the subject of assessment, therefore it was no surprise that she constructed a logical and reasoned case for testing (in fact I don’t think either sides of the house wanted to dispose of testing completely) and more tests in particular. One main foundation of this argument was the hidden bias of other assessment methods, Christodoulou ascertained that teacher assessment discriminates against low income pupils and therefore testing should replace such an unequal practice. It was at this point I lost the specific reference she used but her suggestion that tests are fairer resonated with some parts of the audience. In all her speech was a barnstorming and surprisingly emotive appeal to equality by declaring testing a fairer method. At this point I felt convinced that relentless testing was a necessary and useful tool in education’s arsenal. Since the debate Christodoulou has written up the experience which is well worth checking out.

Tony Little was close to persuading me to reconsider throughout much of his discourse. Much came from his wonderfully titled An Educated Person’s Guide to Education, the content of which I absorbed while on holiday this summer. For this reason hearing Little regal and bring to life the chapters of the book was an immersive and trans-medium experience. According to his address we are a juggernaut at full speed heading off a cliff by persisting with a regime of testing for testing’s sake. In his own words “we’ve allowed the exam testing business to go too far…we run the risk of being slaves to data.” He spoke at our Prize Giving ceremony three years ago and from this I know that Little does value achievements beyond GCSE and A level, particularly the former of which it was clear would be the tests that would be ditched. Additionally the wonderful Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning that was one of his final acts as Headmaster of Eton College is testament to his dedication to a broader approach to learning; one only needs to look around the incredibly impressive space to know there is a purposeful exploration of improving education and thus avoiding the “shrinking curriculum.” However, he still did not quite explain what might take the place of the current state of affairs.

And then to Toby Young, so often providing an alternative view point on education. It seemed to me that his premise was to take down those for the motion, perhaps a sensible tactic but also one that might alienate the undecided (although this is maybe my meek agreeability coming to the fore). In this vein he joyously pointed out Tristram Hunt’s opposition to decoupling the AS from the A level in response to, former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s recommendations; in doing so pointing out the obvious that this would have meant more exams. Quite a change of tune indeed. Where Young was particularly strong was taking down the idea that testing in education was removed from the kinds of tests faced in the workplace. Again the theme of equality, or perhaps inequality, was seized upon “an atmosphere of healthy competition and regular testing” is key to helping disadvantaged pupils.

After some questions from the audience (some were even genuine questions!) we were ready to hear the result. It transpired that the result was not ready for us and, chair for the night, Sir Anthony Seldon put to use his improvisational skills (I wonder if Wellington College have lessons for improv?) to fill time. Asking ostensibly Tristram Hunt, but more accurately the gentlemen to his right, whether he would like to be a Headmaster Tony Little amusingly intercepted with “are you asking me?” However, my favourite and beautifully superfluous question was asking Daisy Christodoulou what her favourite myth was (answer you can always just look it up), proceeding to then ask what her second favourite was (projects and activities are the best way to learn). Before we had a complete count down from one to seven the results were in. Those for the motion had convinced the most people to change their minds and so it was we had collectively resolved to end the tyranny of the test.

As always debate and discussion engender a self-reflection that otherwise might not have come about. For me there were several questions that lay unanswered, the two most pertinent being:

  1. What are the alternatives to standardised testing?
  2. Does testing suit certain subjects over others?

In particular question two raises the issue of how we examine or assess creative subjects. Although I will be continuing on with my end-of-topic and end-of-year tests in Biology, I am not so absurd to reason that this approach works for Drama or Design and Technology. In what is becoming one of my favourite phrases at the moment, there is of course no “one-size fits all”, tyrant test or not.

Tickety-boo

This post is a part response to this article detailing what one examiner thinks whilst ploughing through their marking. It is also time I put down why I subject myself to a summer of missed evenings to make endless ticks and crosses on someone’s hopes and dreams. Unlike the Guardian article I do not have anonymity, but that doesn’t stop me detailing why I do it (and it certainly is not for the money) and what we can learn from the process. Unlike the author I do not “try to guess…what kind of person” wrote the answers. And I have not been privy to hilarious responses, in fact I always think it a little sad that a student has veered so far away from fact as to blurt some form of nonsense.

I have written before about the uneasy marriage of subject understanding and examination technique – I am against exam teachnique, where students are taught how to just answer exam questions, like performing fleas in a flea-circus jumping through tiny hoops. At its worst teachnique is akin to looking through a monocular at the narrow confines of a specification point or sentence in a syllabus. However, understanding how an assessment works is vital and it is here that the lines blur. When does good teaching become unhealthy and blinkered teachnique-ing? (I’ve laboured this poor play on the two words enough so good to go out with a really pitiful attempt) Here ends this little tangent as this is meant to be about why I mark exam papers.

My top five reasons for being an examiner:

  1. Improve understanding of how an assessment works.
  2. See where common misconceptions occur for different topics.
  3. Plot “healthy” ways to address these misconceptions when teaching a topic.
  4. Improve/refresh/confirm subject knowledge.
  5. Meet with enthusiastic people who enjoy discussing the subject.

One of the best perks for this particular job is the moderation / standardisation day. It is great to meet up and indulge in some geekery. I genuinely find the time spent pawing over an examination paper and mark scheme in early June to be some of the most worthwhile CPD I take part in. As each year goes by I feel like I have another layer of understanding about not just how exams work, but also the subject too. Each year my knowledge of Biology increases as we discuss the finer minutiae of osmosis, transpiration or some other process. I have read calls for teachers to take an actual exam in their subject as part of the interview process or performance reviews and I actually quite like the idea. Surely we should be masters of our domains? I would add to this suggestion that we should also be examiners for our subjects too as a means of staying on top of and feeding back into the assessment system.

Beyond the obvious peeking inside the machinations of deciding a mark scheme, the actual process of marking is incredibly illuminating. The common mistakes that are seen from paper one to paper three-hundred and fifty also help me to understand where students go wrong in their understanding. This is where the Jaffa Cake conundrum really comes to the fore, it is plain to see when a student has a clear understanding of a topic and also when that clarity is lacking. Truly my advice to all students who sit a Biology exam is to

“write less, better”

There are definitely misconceptions common to Biology and, I would guess, some more uniform mistakes that I see that are also made in other subjects too. Below are three such errors founded on my school-based marking of end-of-topic tests as well as examination work. For me this advice is firmly in the good teaching camp and is more know thy assessment than the teachnique of knowing just a reduced and useless junket of knowledge to jump through a worthless hoop, but please let me know what you think. I live in fear that I will one day fall down on the wrong side of this particular tightrope.

List of three common errors and suggested quick fixes

Response that are totally barking up the wrong treeRead the full question! Actually read every word, read it again. Box the command word, underline the key words and glance at the mark allocation (BUG).

Candidate scribbles down everything they know about a topic mentioned in a question but has no specific focusAnswer the question! If the instructions above (RTFQ) have been followed the question will have been carefully read, twice, and the components highlighted in some way. Write down a response and when finished immediately read it through, checking it has actually answered the question.

Partial or no response – It is difficult to know why sections are left blank in an examination, there could well be reasons specific to the individual which an examiner would never know. In mocks and end-of-topic tests that is not the case, so I will base this “fix” on these internal assessments and be quite blunt with the solution. Learn the content. There is no substitute for knowledge and understanding, so put the hard yards in to revision and start learning! The real paper or final assessment is not the point that you want to find out you did not know enough.

My frustration is that there are students who have excellent subject knowledge and understanding who are being failed. This is not a complaint about challenging questions and I like the idea that “intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do”, but this goes beyond that. At times I ponder this significance and there are points during the process when I have had my fill of marking with a deadline looming large. In fact in the past when I had finished my share I would tell myself “never again” only for the New Year to fall and my resolve to soften. Now I won’t even contemplate the question until January. I know there will be a time when I just don’t fancy doing it again, but for now the insights into understanding and learning that I gain from standing on the other side of the looking glass are too great and beneficial for me to ever consider it a waste of time. And there was also the occasion in a moderation meeting when we somehow managed to digress to discussing the definition of “producing wind”, but that story can wait for another time…

Know Thy Impact

Yesterday I had the good fortune of attending the Impact Conference 2015, which gathered a truly stellar cast of speakers together in London. Trying to measure the effect of interventions when it comes to teaching and learning is a fascinating area and one that I have come to via Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning books, especially The Science of How We Learn. As a keen scientist (okay biologist) I am also interested in the idea that by observing something you can’t help but change it; certainly the Hawthorne Effect is a useful reminder that many interventions will work by just being a source of increased attention to detail and raised level of effort. So how do we sift the useful from the useless and how can we prevent the proliferation of educational homeopathy? These were just two of the questions I approached the conference with. Below is an outline of what I took from two of the excellent speakers on show, Professor Rob Coe and the aforementioned Professor John Hattie. Sadly once again I cannot rein in my inefficient verbosity (some might call it verbal diarrhoea) thus I will not be writing up the fantastic Sam Feedman and Philippa Cordingly or the hilarious genius that is Dr Ben Goldacre who all also spoke at the conference.

Professor John Hattie (talk I) I took a great deal from both of Professor Hattie’s talks, in particular challenging the assumption that just because something works it is good and therefore shouldn’t be changed. Reassured that there is very little you can do to decrease attainment (although interestingly labelling students has an effect size of -0.61) it was heartening to hear him say that in the UK success is all around us; it is impossible for everyone to be in PISA’s top 5. Certainly one of the main takeaways from this talk was a reemphasis on seeing learning through the eyes of the learner and using criteria from the learner’s point of view to measure impact. This was nicely summarised as “teachers who learn to be learners and students who learn to be teachers”. Another key point I eagerly agreed with was that the job of a teacher is not to help students realise their expectations but to help them “exceed what they think they will do”. During the first session Professor Hattie was also at pains to point out that he did not say that “teachers should not be researchers” in a recent interview. Instead he urged us to be “evaluators”, a not so subtle change in semantics. I actually fully agree with this. As teachers we are not trained in research so it seems a task for which we are not optimally suited. One might argue that there should be more emphasis on research on the ITT and other training courses, but my own opinion is that this would be detracting from learning the skills needed for actually teaching. However, that’s not to say that the area of research should not be revisited at some point in a teaching career.

Professor Rob Coe As joint author of What makes great teaching Professor Coe did not disappoint during his witty and

insightful talk. He made it clear that it isn’t enough to just know the effect sizes for certain interventions but, as teachers seeking to improve education, we should always evaluate what we do. I liked his point that using motivation to enhance attainment is putting the carriage before the horses in that convincing a student that your lesson is a “game they can win” to raise attainment will have the knock on effect of increasing interest and motivation. Professor Coe confirmed my belief that we do not allow enough time to elapse for an answer after asking a question, but extended this to waiting another 3-5 seconds after an answer to elicit even better responses. This is something I aim to do immediately, both with my classes and colleagues! The final point I’d like to pick up on from this part of the conference is the question “do we know a good lesson when we see one?” There is no doubt in my mind that grading of lessons is an absurd practice but it is wonderful to hear evidence to back this up:

  • When two teachers observe the same lesson and one grades it “Inadequate” the probability that the other will agree is just 10%. Even with thorough training in how to observe a lesson the probability increases to just 40%.
  • When an observer judges a lesson “Outstanding” the probability that the pupils are really making sustained, outstanding progress is just 5%.

Moral of this story? Do not grade lessons.

Professor John Hattie (talk II) Opening on a slightly controversial theme of “neurotrash” Professor Hattie argued that this area of educational research is interesting but does not actually get us anywhere. So often you can simply replace the term “brain” with “learner”.  Turning his sights next to the cause célèbre known as “twenty-first century skills” he suggested that by themselves they are irrelevant as they are devoid of content. In fact it is only where they come with content that you start to establish a transition from surface to deep learning. Indeed he spoke on how critical thinking and problem solving quite simply should not be taught outside of subjects. Another fantastic quote, this time on the importance of learning from failure, was “the second time it’s a mistake, the first time is a learning opportunity”.

I was introduced to a concept that I had not heard of before; James Nottingham’s Learning Pit, see here.This is another instant takeaway that I will look to explore and guide my classroom work. Again the words spoken by Professor Hattie were particularly pertinent in that “feedback feeds on error” and we must not stigmatise failure, instead encourage a thorough reflection and analysis of what went wrong and why. Overall I found yesterday’s conference to be a fantastic INSET / CPD opportunity and would recommend the January event to anyone interested in looking at ways to measure and evaluate impact. Additionally the discussions with other delegates will also be worth the cost of the ticket! Click me!

Header image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

An OESIS in the desert

Just before the end of the spring term I was lucky enough to be at the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools held at the always marvellous Eton College. Having written before about EdTech I hope it is clear that I am nothing if not open minded to anything that can improve pupil learning whether pen and paper or ones and zeroes. And at OESIS there was a wealth of ideas, innovations and enthusiasm from the US and UK all aimed at helping learning. Within minutes of the conference starting Tony Little, outgoing and indomitable Headmaster of Eton, addressed one of the main issues in eLearning (and I paraphrase): how does it become a real positive for students in the UK, rather than a distraction? When will eLearning be recognised by UCAS and therefore not seen as a diversion from the examinations that form the basis of university entry? Pertinent points to ponder.

Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools

Image taken from OESIS Group website.

The conference itself was incredibly enlightening as a succession of US teachers, Heads of School and educationalists presented on how they made the most of technology to promote student learning. It seems across the pond there is a similar amount of innovation within this area than in the UK and also the same difficulties with separating benefit from cost (in the Hattie sense of the word as well as monetarily). Blending learning between “bricks and mortar” schooling and online courses seems the furrow being ploughed and one I heard a lot about over the course of the two days. Perhaps one of the most surreal moments was a session where we were shown around a virtual classroom for students to explore using avatars, answering questions from teacher-avatars also inhabiting this SIMS like habitat. Indeed during this session a huge smile was brought to many faces when, having been invited to join up and explore the space as an avatar, a delegate blocked a virtual-doorway so the presenter’s avatar could not leave a room! Conversely it was the human interactions over the course of the symposium that really helped me understand what sort of impact technology can have. I find this is always the way with conferences; chatting with other delegates is often worth the cost of the event alone.

The sessions I learned most from related to how to fully involve, engage and use staff to help guide the process of using EdTech. For example Sarah Hofstra, of the Hybrid Learning Consortium, outlined a few dos and don’ts during her session on SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses):

  • Do offer eLearning as an opportunity to increase the impact of teaching and improve student learning.
  • Do not force teachers to use eLearning.
  • Do be patient, wait for the second or third year to be a watershed moment where staff see the effect of using technology.
  • Do not push or pressure teachers into this way of working; it will be severely counterproductive to any aim to increase impact as staff “lash out”.
  • Do allow staff themselves to spread positivity about using technology, do not impose it from on high.
  • Do not necessarily expect it to work within existing frameworks, be prepared to create something completely different; at the most radical end of the spectrum think about using a non-traditional timetable.
  • Do emphasis the benefit of developing life-long learning, amongst students and staff.
  • Do allow students to embrace their own technologies (smartphones, tablets, etc) and be there to help guide their use.

Perhaps the statement that most caught my attention was that the US schools that have made the most progress and greatest success with eLearning have been those that paid their teachers to be more involved. E.g. paying extra for staff to spend their summer developing a course or topic online to then use in to complement their teaching. Additionally schools that successfully use EdTech hire firms, such as the Hybrid Learning Consortium, to actually come in to set up, train and manage the initiatives.

Another session that I found very illuminating was a panel involving a number of Heads of School who had successfully set up and built EdTech and blended learning into their curriculum. In particular the responses to the two questions below: 

  1. What would you do differently?
    • Have different expectations; not expecting uptake / effect too early and not assuming everyone is on board.
    • Allow more time to educate staff.
    • Allow teachers to still teach in the way that they want to.
    • Have the infrastructure in place and staff employed for instruction (one school had two full time “tech instructors” for training purposes, but others found they needed more).
    • Have a greater emphasis on not allowing precious skills, such as picking up a pencil, to be lost.
  2. If you started afresh at a new school what would you do?
    • Hire well! Employ open-minded and passionate teachers, ideally with a keen interest in EdTech.
    • Design creative and collaborative workspaces that not only enhance learning but bring the best out of any technology being used.
    • Use a non-traditional schedule for the school day, e.g. timetable based on blended learning rather than classes, labs, etc.
    • Ensure “messy classrooms” (e.g. student-driven, project based and tech-inspired group work) were encouraged.

In summary the two days really did have a profound effect on my understanding of using technology in a school. And this is without going into detail about the amazing Emerge Education lunchtime workshop where I was treated to presentations on using a RaspberryPi laptop from Pi-Top, the incredibly interesting OceanBrowser from Rodney Tamblyn and Cristian Dinu speaking about Learn Forward’s interactive textbook.

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Image taken from pixabay.

Image taken from pixabay.

This post uses a simple coding trick – if I can do it you can too!

Header image taken by Michael Smyth, 2011.

The Twenty Five Four Percents – TLAB15

My recollection of Saturday is a bit of a blur but for a third year running I was left wishing I had access to Hermione Granger’s Time Turner necklace as this would have been the only solution to the problem of choosing which workshops to go to. Sadly time travel was not an option, but the tweets on the day and subsequent blog posts (e.g. Cup of Teaching, Nikki Able, Those that can…, Kamil Trzebiatowski and many more) have given me a flavour of what was happening around Berkhamsted. The two workshops I attended were excellent and more on them in the future. However, this post seeks to be a brief summary of my own workshop for anybody who was unable to make it.

The title of the workshop was a play on Sir Clive Woodward’s statement that “Winning the Rugby World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing one hundred things 1% better”. The session was based on a post I wrote at the start of this academic year and at our little gathering I hoped to discuss ideas that I had picked up and adapted to use in my teaching. Nothing was earth shatteringly novel and I was certainly not breaking any new ground with my presentation having borrowed almost all of the ideas from elsewhere. In fact the best had been nicked with glee from the brilliant colleagues I have worked with, but as English workshop leader Mike Grenier put it in a tweet on the day “better to be a professional magpie than ostrich” and I made this point in my presentation with a few Pica pica flying on to my email address. However, I hoped that even if people took just one thing from the session they might refine and improve it further and then let me know how it went. This actually happened during the workshop with great ideas (much better than my own!) coming from the delegates listening. The hour time limit put paid to any ideas of discussing one hundred ideas, so twenty five four percents it was.

  1.  Backburner Bingo – students are given an incomplete key word grid that they fill in as the lesson goes on. Some of the key words should be novel and some can only be found out through listening to teacher / carrying out activities in the lesson. This is then completed in the background until someone yells out “BINGO!” and wins a prize. The key is to ensure that for some definitions there is no one correct answer to draw pupils into a discussion. However, Backburner Bingo can become a bit of a distraction, especially if your pupils enjoy the competitive element!
  2. What’s in the box? – simple activity where you unveil a box in the classroom that has something inside it (although often this can be imaginary or hold something that could not possibly be contained). By giving a series of clues students then try to guess what is in the mystery box. E.g.
    • Alive
    • Has a backbone
    • Venomous
    • Has fur
    • Lays eggs

With the answer being a duck-billed platypus. Sometimes I intersperse these clues throughout the whole lesson, which is what I attempted during the workshop. Again this can be used to elicit discussion. Certainly my demo did this with the question of whether round was the best word to describe a Jaffa Cake; probably not and disc was suggested as a better alternative!

  1. Patience – when asking a question do not expect an instant response, but allow a good 8-10 seconds before actually looking for answers. I used a tortoise moving slowly across my slide to illustrate this point, but often just count to ten in my head. This was something I picked up from The Multiplier Effect and also use it in departmental meetings.
  2. Random name generator – using the settings on PowerPoint to allow a random name to be picked from a class list, which led to…
  3. Random command word generator – pupils have to create a question with one of the exam question command words (e.g. describe, explain, calculate, etc), which led to…
  4. Random verb generator – created by a colleague, Cécile Coudert, in the Languages Department who customised it to test students on whether to use être or avoir. In fact anything could be plugged into it and a couple of people told me they did similar activities with their classes.
  5. Revision bookmarks – another colleague, Rob Tanner, has created bookmarks with a proposed revision schedule for students to use, as tweeted by Mumta Sharma on the day. The great thing about these are that they act as a constant reminder that pupils should be taking responsibility for their learning early in the school year (e.g. for GCSE groups the schedule starts in February). Again this idea was further improved by the suggestion that students could use a hole punch when they had covered an area or completed revising a topic.
  6. Six words – students use just six words to summarise a key word, term or process. E.g. in one class an AS student came up with “globular protein, specific complementary active site” to describe an enzyme. During the session I actually asked people to come up with their own to describe TLAB15, having had a little time to reflect on this task my best effort would be: whirlwind of enthusiasm and idea sharing.
  7. Three pictures – students summarise a key word, term or process in three pictures. On the day Andy Ford tweeted his own three pictures to sum up the day.
  8. Trips for further interest – my colleague, Tom Robinson, has started to organise and run voluntary stretch and challenge trips on the weekend for students to come along to if they wish. We have been to the London Natural History Museum and its offshoot in Tring and to Downe House in Kent. Although this does require the usual paperwork we have found them to be fun days that help to eke out the interest and passion from the Sixth Formers who come to them.
  9. The Jaffasaurus – Again something I have stolen from a colleague, Dave Payne, and I have written before about “the Jaffa Cake conundrum” and will only briefly outline it. By writing less, better students can ensure that even if their tired and overworked teacher / examiner marking their end-of-topic test /exam has run out of their favourite biscuits they will still be awarded a mark. This idea led onto…
  10. RTQRead The Q The aim is to eliminate irrelevant detail and ensure students actually address the question when writing an answer. Again leading to…
  11. ATQAnswer The Q Do students actually answer the question in front of them, or do they try to answer one that they have seen before? This “four percent” and number 12 were also discussed in my previously mentioned post. However, just before the day itself a brilliant former colleague, Lucy Smyth, told me she uses BUG with her classes to a similar effect:
    • Box the command word
    • Underline the key words
    • Glance at the marking allocation
  12. Teacher Tips For Success – pinned up on our Biology notice board and at various points around the department are laminated posters with each teacher’s top tips for exam success. The three subtitles are:
    • Best piece of revision advice
    • Most common mistakes seen in exam papers
    • If I could give one piece of advice to someone taking an exam it would be

All of these have the purpose of making students look back and review past mistakes and (hopefully) change their practice in future.

  1. Observation (of the Nation) – as HoD I have always enjoyed carrying out lesson observations; not for the form filling in, but for picking up new ideas and activities to use. Therefore the fifteenth four percent was a hearty recommendation to go out and observe colleagues departmentally and beyond. In fact instead of a flashy INSET course in some soulless hotel function room I believe people would gain much, much more from going to another school for the day. Not only observing lessons but soaking in the whole culture of the place. Interestingly both the eighth and ninth “four percent” were picked up from just this process; my colleague, Tom Robinson, spent a day at Westminster School and came back brimming with enthusiasm and a Six Words, Three Pictures worksheet.
  2. Lesson Study – this is a natural continuation of point 15 and something we are just setting up at the moment, forming triads of colleagues working together to plan and deliver lessons. There is lots of information all over the internet about this ancient Japanese teacher improvement process. We are lucky enough to be working with the University of Hertfordshire to set ours up. What I am particularly interested in is how to make it sustainable and more than a flash in the pan… Any thoughts are most welcome!
  3. The Triptych Learning Conversation – a new (and still currently being refined) model of observing lessons. The emphasis is on having a proper conversation between the observer and observee both pre and post observation. This is again taken straight from the brain of someone much cleverer than myself and on Saturday it was a real pleasure to meet Dawn Cox whose excellent blog post inspired me to start designing a document to improve the whole experience of observations. More on this from me in the future.
  4. Subject selfies – to some the selfie is the very embodiment of vulgar egotism. However, many departments can use them as a way of promoting discussion of their subject and for this reason I think that they can be a great way of engaging students outside of the classroom. As much as the selfies of teachers by an ancient monument or overlooking the crater of a volcano makes for a great departmental display, it is when the students themselves engage with the process that the idea really takes off. A colleague in the Geography department, Laura Andrews, has made a super display of “geo-selfies” with contributions from both the staff and students; there are selfies from the peak of Kilimanjaro to overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain.
  5. Learning audits – this is as much about terminology as it is good practice. Any form of work check or book scrutiny should be used as a means of sharing good practice as much as it is about accountability. The fact that terms such as “book look” or “learning audit” get this point across a lot better than the alternative nomenclature is no surprise!
  6. Further reading – encouraging students to read beyond the specification, with a recommended book of the term, e.g. Life Ascending by Nick Lane (as an aside this is a fantastic accompaniment to A level Biology, I cannot recommend it highly enough!). What I forgot to mention on the day is that we now try to source these recommended titles from our pupils, so posters go up in classrooms with the phrase “recommended by Stew Dent, U6RJL”. This point was followed by the need to read beyond the subject ourselves as educators and to take an interest in books to improve our teaching. As one delegate pointed out this does not necessarily need to be in book form anymore and TED talks are an excellent source of innovation.
  7. Twitter – voyeur is the wrong word, but I am certainly someone who likes to listen / read what is going on around the country and this is the place to do it! On occasion I tweet some inane opinions, but mainly this is for me to stay in touch with the great minds across the country.
  8. Blogging – similarly I stumble upon lots of excellent and highly sensible ideas via blog links on twitter. However, my main point here is that by writing a blog yourself it gives you a chance to properly reflect. Certainly writing this has made me think very carefully about what actually happened on Saturday and how I might improve on my presentation in the future. Therefore I would encourage others to blog to help distil and refine ideas and allow others to gain from the experience. In fact look no further than workshop attendee Paul Gillam’s excellent blog on Edexcel IGCSE Biology, perfect for high achieving students and teachers alike!
  9. Formal idea sharing sessions – immediately after TLAB13 I set up a formal cross-curricualr group that met to discuss ideas in my own school. It was not compulsory, no-one told others how to do things, instead it allowed for colleagues to sit down and actually chat. Something that we never quite seem to find the time to do.
  10. Collaboration – as mentioned, I can take very little credit for any of these ideas. But that is the point of teaching, we should not always be looking to reinvent the wheel but rather improve and refine what is around us. Our collaboration allows up to improve the one hundred one percents and we do this without consciously thinking about every time we help or pas son an activity. As the thirtieth POTUS said “I not only use the brains I have, I use all the brains I can borrow”.
  11. Failure –we are very keen to let all and sundry know how important it is for students to fail (again a previous post makes this point even more explicitly), but as teachers we should not be ashamed of failure either. Beautifully this point was made by Neil Atkin in his superb workshop earlier in the day.

As a final note, I would be very happy to share any of my resources or the presentation itself. Just contact me and we can be part of the collaboration I was just typing about. Or even better please, please, please let me know how you use and improve these ideas. I am serious when I say I am already looking for my next twenty five four percents.

Header image taken with permission from @TLABerkmasted.

The TLABoratory

Next Saturday sees Berkhamsted School hold its third Teaching, Learning and Assessment conference (TLAB15). I have been lucky enough to attend the two before and both times came away awash with ideas and, more importantly, renewed enthusiasm for my work. Each visit has benefitted me in numerous incalculable ways; from my classroom teaching to decisions made at a departmental and even whole-school level. With tickets now sold out and the event just eight days away I feel the familiar professional curiosity of what might unfold. Based on previous experience I am sure to be in for a real treat… In fact one of the main problems I have faced each time is whose workshop to attend. However, away from the key note speeches and conundrum of which workshops to go to, I am also looking forward to the chance of chatting with everyone there. Over the last year there have been so many tweets and blogs that have influenced my work that I cannot wait to actually speak with the people who have written them.

...and to think they said this design wooden work

…and to think they said this design wooden work (image taken with permission from Nick Dennis

Just like my dilemma of choosing a workshop to attend, there will be so many people there who share my interest and, dare I say it, passion for teaching and learning that there is no way I could speak to them all. To some extent this is what I would term the laboratory of collective enthusiasm and this is the real driving force of the teaching profession. The fact that people are prepared to give up a Saturday to further their own practice and feedback to their place of work. There are plenty of displays of this dedication across the country at various events. However, I single out TLAB as it just happens to be the one that properly sparked my interest in teaching and learning and therefore I owe it a great deal.

I remember being in the audience of the keynote speeches and participating in the workshops of TLAB13 and thinking: THIS. IS. INCREDIBLE. Swiftly following this day I asked to set up a Teaching, Learning and Assessment Group (TLAG – imitation is the greatest form of flattery!) at my own school and started co-ordinating a cross-curricular ideas sharing forum. In many ways recreating the TLABoratory like conditions of endeavour, curiosity and openness. This group has been operating for the last two and a half years and is a fantastic conduit for creativity and collaboration. Yes, we do not set the world on fire with what we discuss, but the accumulation of small gains is very much what education is about.

This brings me nicely onto some shameless self-publicity *pretends to hang head in shame*. I have the very enjoyable task of actually delivering a workshop this time around. The concept of this workshop is to look at the small margins of improvement – refining what works well to make it even better. The session is brazenly called “The Twenty Five Four Percents” in homage to Sir Clive Woodward and his one hundred one percents. I hope to share twenty five ideas that might enhance learning and teaching in the classroom and beyond, one hundred would have been pushing it in the 50 minutes provided! Please be forewarned, I will not be delivering earthshattering advice and no doubt a lot of what I say people do already, but most likely twice as well. In fact I fully admit that most of the ideas have roots (pun intended bearing in mind the conference logo) elsewhere. However, having the chance for some open discussion and ideas sharing is all part of the laboratory that is teaching and if I can give something, anything, back then it will be my honour to do so.

And at this point I must return to my slideshow… I have a presentation to plan!

Header image taken with permission from Berkamsted School website.

(Tab)let them eat cake II

A few recent blogs have re-kindled my interest in “EdTech” and its place in teaching and learning. Following my post on discussing tablets during a Teaching, Learning and Assessment Group meeting last term I also feel obliged to give a quick update of what happened next. My own thoughts remain very similar to before. I have the same healthy scepticism for any new learning directive or teaching strategy regardless of whether it includes technology or not; convince me that the benefit outweighs the cost. This theme was further highlighted by Tom Bennett’s Raging against the machines? Not really. Adventures in misunderstanding post on EdTech. He too has a “hearty scepticism” and would like to see “wide-ranging evidence” to persuade him it has a significant impact  – but too often this sort of attitude is perceived as technophobia rather than a considered stance to new methodologies. As Bennett says

“If tech adoption were cheap or easy, and didn’t take much time, I wouldn’t worry so much about it. But if you want to persuade people that it’s right for them then it’s not unreasonable to ask what evidence is there that this will have a positive impact before they money on it. That’s just good governance.”

The fact is that it is not cheap nor easy to implement ,on a whole-school or even departmental scale, changes to EdTech so we had better be sure that they make a measurable difference. I am pretty open-minded about most new ideas but can be prone to paralysing cognitive dissonance when I fear that they might cause colossal amounts of work… In this respect I would imagine I am very much like everyone else who actually works as a classroom teacher and understands all of the trials and tribulations required to semi-successfully teach and assess a large(ish) class of students. In fact a blog post from December by the excellent Heather F on how technology has transformed her teaching struck a chord with me. In addition to her, as always, sensible musings her point that “if applications of technology are genuinely useful they won’t need the hard sell” is bang on the money (pun intended). I have no doubt that tablets will prove very useful both in specific subjects and across the school at some point, but I have not yet been made aware how. Perhaps this will be something I find out as I look to delve deeper into their impact in the classroom. However, I am equally open to the idea that we are not at that point just yet. That is what I mean by having an open mind and not being immovably one way or another, pro or anti EdTech.

Ain't no party like an S Club party! (Image taken from Flickr)

Ain’t no party like an S Club party!
(Image taken from Flickr)

So what did we do next after our aforementioned TLAG meeting? We set up a ‘working party’ to explore staff attitudes further (it seems from my own personal experience that jokes on the theme of “well it certainly is work but I’m yet to get to the party” are either unfunny or have been said before).  The group was made up of seven members of staff from a range of subjects across the School and hoped to represent a spread of opinions, from those very open to EdTech, those with experience of its implementation and those who were healthily sceptical. I believe that we got the balance about right other than we seem to have more “sceptics” than “champions” to borrow from Harry Webb’s superb recent post on why EdTech sucks (and what to do about it). The aim of the group was to discuss how best we could survey what teachers across the school thought about the possibility of EdTech, specifically personal devices such as tablets, aiding teaching and learning in the classroom. One thing that we all agreed with is that coercion of having to use EdTech will simply not work, as Harry Webb says “mandation is clearly not the answer”. However, there are definitely some benefits or “lots of small gains” as a member of the working party mentioned at our last meeting. We also felt that people did not know enough about what you could do with a personal device in the classroom; the “unknown unknowns”. I include myself in this category – I do not know exactly what I could or could not do with something like a tablet – and aim to expand my knowledge by attending conferences, reading blogs and participating in workshops to see what they can offer. No doubt you’ll hear my experiences in the eagerly awaited third instalment of the (Tab)let them eat cake saga, release date to be confirmed.

I am lucky enough to work with a range of talented people and one such colleague summarised a sensible approach to EdTech and the vast array of shiny gadgets available with these two simple questions:

  1. How does ‘it’ make the teacher’s job simpler, easier and more effective?
  2. How does ‘it’ make the student learning process simpler, easier and more effective?

If ‘it’ does not have evidence that it improves either of the above then you need to re-consider whether ‘it’ is the right approach to learning and teaching, whatever ‘it’ might be. The working party has also focused the direction of how we will canvass the opinion of the staff body; in our most recent meeting a method we considered and agreed upon was to actually go into departmental meetings to discuss the range of options available. Following a chat with one or two members of the working party (staff with the “known knowns” to bastardise further the Rumsfeld quote) there would then be a short departmental questionnaire to fill in. Our aim is to roll this out in the next half term and try to get round every department before the end of the academic year. I am intrigued to find out what people around the school think and this will then inform the next steps of the working party. Additionally I am also looking forward to discovering myself, first hand or via the conference circuit, what might be possible. However, if it does not improve upon or simplify what is currently in place then I may well remain the open-minded sceptic. To be continued…

Header image taken from Flickr.

Gridiron greatness

As stated before in my posts I very much enjoy reading; both for pleasure and to learn. Due to the latter, heavyweight pedagogues litter my desk, bookcase and floor by my bed. Yet sometimes I feel I can learn just as much looking outwards and away from education’s ripped abdominals of wisdom and conjecture. Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading the wonderful The Score Will Take Care of Itself by the late Bill Walsh (just the very name of this book brings smiles of joy to my face; focus on the process and not the outcome). Walsh was a Hall of Fame American Football head coach and general manager of the San Francisco 49ers and the book captures the musings, ideas and standards of an extraordinary man who helped revolutionise a sport with his approach.

ALRIGHTY THEN (Image taken from Flickr)

ALRIGHTY THEN
(Image taken from Flickr)

Although the book is more business-orientated than straight biography I really enjoyed the snippets of detail I picked up regarding the sport itself. This is coming from someone whose sum knowledge of “football” is from watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Any Given Sunday. The former film a seminal classic from my youth; and to think if it wasn’t for that pesky Dan Marino holding the ball laces inwards, Ray Finkle would never have kidnapped Snowflake the dolphin in the first place.

In fact I found the sporting history of the book fascinating and will make a more determined effort to understand the game in future. Walsh took a team that many people regarded as not only the worst in the National Football League, but also the worst sporting franchise in North America, and turned them into champions. All within three years of taking over.

Image taken from Flickr

Image taken from Flickr

Right from his very first day he sought to impose the highest possible “standard of performance”. From the players, to the coaches, to the administrative staff, everyone knew exactly what was expected and how they should go about implementing it. This was not simply offensive game plays or travelling to away fixtures, even the secretaries who answered the phones were fully briefed on exactly how they should carry out their role. Often when I hear someone is concerned about this level of detail it makes me think that their micromanagement might have a negative or diminishing effect. Walsh was worried about this too with a chapter entitled Don’t delay delegating (Famous last words: “I’ll do it myself”). In fact he had a bad experience with a boss who did their best to keep him as an employee, at the extent of communicating to other franchises that Walsh was not particularly good.

Diagram of Bill Walsh's former colleagues who became head coaches

Diagram of Bill Walsh’s former colleagues who became head coaches (Image taken from Wikipedia)

The coaching tree diagram above shows the extent of Walsh’s influence and the huge impact he had on American Football. In 1998 half of the 30 coaches in the NFL had worked for either Bill Walsh or fellow Hall of Famer Tom Landry. This is surely a sign that, although he feared his diminishing tendencies, at heart he was a multiplier.

As a teacher I have no real interest in making decisions based on inspection bodies; I lose count of the number of times I have discussed with like-minded individuals this concept. At no point should we be looking to make things right for inspection. Instead time, effort and hard work should be spent finding ways to improve learning, thus allowing students to achieve to higher standards. You don’t need any “OFSTED-whisperer” to tell you that. To me this book exemplified this attitude of high performance for the sake of doing things better and not for just a final outcome. I am not so naïve to think that leadership in schools should pretend inspectorates do not exist or not consider them in their thinking, however, the key is that they do not use them as a focus to direct teaching and learning. An inspection rating “will take care of itself” if everyone is willing to put in time, effort and hard work into reviewing and refining the practice that does work and being open to new ideas and methodologies for the sake of advancing pupil learning.

A few other things I have taken from reading the book:

  1. The top priority is teaching – educating those in an organisation to continue your good work and that through hard work, elevated thinking and a sense of joint responsibility anything is possible.
  2. Standards of performance – to bring the best out of individuals and the group give them high expectations. This will be required for both actions and attitudes.
  3. Unleash mentors – allow individuals within the group to teach and help others to improve, give them the chance to lead and a share of responsibility.
  4. Discussion is important – chatting through ideas, allowing people to contribute is vital to allowing creative solutions to be found. Everyone can and should be involved in and influence this process BUT once a decision has been made that is the end of the discussion and energy is concentrated on implementing the change.
  5. Being wrong for the right reasons – it is fine to make mistakes if you are looking to improve; to succeed you must fail. However, it is important not to allow ego or pig-headedness to make a mistake into a major problem.

It is interesting that as I solidify my thoughts on this book more and more I see parallels between being a multiplier and what Bill Walsh ultimately did for the San Francisco 49ers. I would hugely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in leadership philosophies and how to get the most out of people they work with. Steve Jamison and Bill Walsh have weaved a fascinating insight into top level sports management and coaching; there are lessons here that should be shared beyond sport. Remember: “quick results come slowly”! Next up as part of my sporting reads, when I get the chance, is Legacy about the All Blacks, which came just as highly recommended as The Score Takes Care of Itself.

Header image taken from Flickr.

(Tab)let them eat cake

Last Monday we held our first Teaching, Learning and Assessment Group meeting of the term. I have mentioned this group before  but I would reiterate what a really good vehicle it is as a way of getting staff from across the school together and this week’s meeting was no different. The topic of the session was “the future of tablets in education”. Although this was a broad and wide ranging matter it gave rise to some very interesting discussion and exploration. From the start we put the issue into context by outlining that the technological infrastructure required to run tablets was not the issue we were trying to address. We felt that there was no point spending time talking about WiFi, charging points, storage, etc. Instead by imagining that all of these administrative details were in place we could focus more squarely on actually using a tablet for teaching. As a final reference point it was also made clear that we were talking about tablets in general rather than any particular model.

The session was incredibly illuminating and as a quasi-luddite I was fascinated by the ideas staff had for using tablets to help teaching and learning. In fact it presented me with quite a challenge to transcribe the minutes. Not only was there a range of opinions but also different levels of actual experience shared during the session. (As an aside with reference to meeting minutes, my personal feelings are that there is a real art to getting them right. Whoever writes them can be a scribing Shane Warne, spinning comments one way or another. In my other life as a head of department this can be quite useful! However, to try to keep as much veracity in the TLAG minutes I emailed a draft around to those who attended so they could check I had captured the sentiments expressed correctly) To lay my cards down on the table I am currently cynical of the effectiveness or tablets in improving teaching, learning and assessment in my own classroom. There is no real problem that I think they would address and I wonder whether they might actually make life harder for me. Whenever I think about change, new ventures or novel ideas these two points are my fist questions: “what problem does it solve?” and “will it make more work than the previous option?” However, I am always open to listening to new ideas and the wisdom of others:

“I not only use the brains that I have, but all I can borrow” Woodrow Wilson

Over the issue of teachers using tablets for email and as organisers there seemed more agreement in their usefulness. It is easy to see how a Drama or PE teacher could give feedback on a performance or skill instantly to a group of students by using the video or camera and then playing it back; you would be mad to suggest it would not help or be an impact on their learning. My personal opinion is that I would definitely benefit from having access to a premium model as an organiser and way of working away from my desk.

However, there were the beginnings of two camps with regards to student use. Some could see subject specific niches that they would fill and therefore enhance learning opportunities. But here comes the greatest sticking point for me; how do we know that they actually improve learning? Where are the double-blind placebo-controlled studies? It makes me twitchy to think that such finite hardware costs so much. Is it a humungous white elephant? Especially considering my dubious views on the end product; I struggle to think of any use for them in my next week’s teaching. Genuinely nothing. I have no doubt that they would be great for a research lesson and a colleague who has taught in a school that used tablets confirmed this. However, it was also pointed out that even 100 years ago pupils at our school have had access to more information and knowledge than they would ever possibly need via the library. The problem is guiding and focusing learning.

Just in case you were unsure, The animal above is a dinosaur. (Image taken from www.commons.wikimedia.org)

Just in case you were unsure,
The animal above is a dinosaur.
(Image taken from www.commons.wikimedia.org)

Whilst I am airing my slightly prehistoric views I also raised the point that the vast expenditure of buying in tablets and pimping up the technological infrastructure could be used to employ more staff. Perhaps this might alleviate some of the admin tasks that teachers face on a day to day basis actually allowing them more time to focus on their teaching, learning and assessment? I also think that without days, if not weeks, of expert training the teaching body will never be able to make the most of tablets.

A common theme that cropped up in our meeting was that using this sort of equipment should not be foisted upon staff. A lot of my reaction to tablets is most likely the “yuck factor” that my university lecturers used to explain why people took certain views on ethical issues in biology. I certainly have some fear of the brave new world of techno-education and I will admit that most of it is probably due to not being aware or exposed to the opportunities that exist for using tablets effectively in the classroom. However, for me the biggest issue is the doubtful pedagogical effect these devices would have. As another colleague who got all Tom Cruise said during our session:

SHOW ME THE MONEY! (Image taken from Wikipedia)

SHOW ME THE MONEY!
(Image taken from Wikipedia)

For me the crux of the matter is what problems do tablets solve and will they create more? A common concern was whether they will prove to be a greater distraction in the classroom. In my opinion undoubtedly. You might argue that we should be guiding students in how to use technology and avoid potential distractions. After the session I was interested to read a blog from a university lecturer in the US who has moved away from using technology all of the time with his classes. The writer references a metaphor used by Jonathan Haidt of an elephant and rider which I think neatly sums up the problem of student distraction. There will be many who think we should indeed be strengthening the “rider” when using new technologies and I would agree to a certain extent. But why introduce a definite distraction unless it has a definite positive effect?

There is no doubt in my mind that tablets have the potential to be very useful, but they are no panacea for improving student performance. And I would go so far as to say they never will be. Instead they will be another tool in the arsenal, a quicker method of completing tasks, another resource to use in conjunction with a variety of others. The tablet should not be central to learning but rather a device to support it. My line manager is a very wise beast and he summed it up nicely when saying that we should not be blinded by “tabletmania”; only when a sub-£100 tablet makes them truly ubiquitous within education will we start to really see their best uses as they start to naturally evolve. To conclude I found the information shared and the issues explored a real eye opener. I have a lot more reading to do on the subject and I look forward to coming back to this topic with a little more wisdom and perhaps different point of view in the future.

Header image taken from Flickr.

The one hundred one percents

I love a good book. Or a bad book for that matter. I’m happy reading all kinds of books: from the trashiest holiday novella to a bicep-building tome on biochemistry and everything in between. Today I’ve just started a book on the Trojan War and last night I finished Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs (much to my wife’s disgust and fear that I would suddenly start developing sociopathic tendencies –nothing to report. Yet.) However, my guilty pleasure is the sport biography; I will devour them! At times this can be slightly obsessional. Having read The Damned United by David Peace I immediately ordered every Brian Clough book on Amazon and absorbed everything that there was to read about Old Big Head.

In a similar vein in the years after England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup I would purchase and read every member of the England squads’ biographies as soon as they were published. It was almost as if I was building up a database where each book gave me a different piece of information or perspective. It was an extremely sad day when space literally ran out in my bookcase and I had to cull these memoires. Out went Martin Johnson’s The Autobiography; sad farewell was said to Full Time by Jason “Fun Bus” Leonard; Matt Dawson’s Nine Lives was unceremoniously dumped in the blue IKEA bag destined for Oxfam; I even donated the musings of one of my all-time favourite players, Austin Healey’s Me and My Mouth: The Austin Healey Story (yes, I know he was not actually part of the World Cup squad. Please don’t remind me. The pain still hurts); Greenwood, Jonny, Robinson and the rest of the lovingly assembled set also waved goodbye to my rich mahogany shelves. What I would not allow myself to do was remove Winning! by knight of the realm Clive Woodward. Sir Clive’s book is less autobiography, more retelling of the six years leading up to that astonishing night in Sydney. Unfairly panned by some critics I hung on its every word. From setting up a player code-of-conduct to left-field team building sessions, there were few ideas Woodward wouldn’t try in an attempt to glean a competitive advantage. Visual awareness computer tests, asking Nike to develop new skin-tight strips, building state of the art facilities both in Twickenham and at their Pennyhill Park training base were just some of the ideas he tried. Admittedly it is likely not all of them worked, but in the search for improvement no stone would be left unturned. In fact the thing that I will always remember from his book* is the quote below which sums up his philosophy:

“Winning the Rugby World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing one hundred things 1% better”

The man. The legend. (Image taken from www.commons.wikimedia.org)

The man. The legend.
(Image taken from www.commons.wikimedia.org)

Thus Jonny Wilkinson’s right footed drop goal at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney with just 26 seconds left on the clock was not an accident, but a culmination of years of hard-work and planning. I try to think about the attitude embodied by this message with regards to my teaching. Every so often we are sold a story by an interested party about how their method is the best and will revolutionise teaching. Sometimes these crusades advocate dropping everything else you might be doing. I can think of a number of ideas communicated to me over my teaching career, for example AfL, “no hands up”, the three part lesson plan to name just a few. Each time the message was clear: this is the right way and what you are doing is the wrong way. What rot! This is not to say that trying new things is a bad thing: I am in no doubt that new ideas are vital for the profession and are needed to inject verve and vim into our daily dealings, but not necessarily at the expense of everything we are currently doing. Instead we should be looking to bring in the small gains, increasing the impact of many of the things we currently do by reviewing and analysing what went well and what could be improved. Or perhaps bringing in some new ideas to use in conjunction with what we already know works. This is what Sir Clive meant by doing many things 1% better.

As the start of term approaches I am already looking to my one percents. Having taught enough to understand what increases attainment and having built up a decent variety to my teaching, I hope to refine this and eke a little more out. In addition I have a few new ideas that I am going to use and perhaps, if I think they are any good, push for my department to start using. Of course some will not work. Some might not be any better than what we are doing already and I will certainly not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but there might just be small tweaks that make the difference. Using yet another tired cliché (I know I use far too many) it truly is a case of looking for evolution, in the Darwinian sense of the word of small adjustments that slightly improve, rather than revolution. I also think it is important not to obsess about the final product, whether it is improved exam scores, greater independence of learning or whatever else will benefit the students. Just the other day my old chum Nick Dennis tweeted a link to an article about Sir Dave Brailsford’s quest for improvement with British cyclists.

Tweet

The wise words of @nickdennis

The quote that he selected to accompany the link is another perfect embodiment of always looking for improvement in the things we do. However, it makes explicit to me that whatever we might try to improve in the classroom, in education and beyond should not have the sole focus of exam results, inspection ratings, etc. Just as Brailsford did not look at just the winning, but what could be improved. It is unfortunate that Woodward titled his book Winning, because it implies the outcome is more important than the process. Having read the book this is not the case and he too emphasises the things you do before the outcome; the one percents.

This year it is my intention to take up the quest of looking at the many ways of improving the little things and making the process more efficient in my own teaching; I will keep you posted.

* As an aside the other thing I remember most vividly from the book was Sir Clive’s brief obsession with Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. What a song. What a man.

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(Image take from Flickr)

Header image credit Wikipedia