Sunday, June 26, 2016

Developing mastery in the classroom through personalised learning

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To master anything you first need to be taught how to do it then have the opportunity to practice it, test what you've learned and practice some more until you get it. That's about it. Yet in schools we seem to ignore this and revert to a list of lesson requirements that appease an observation checklist. My presentation at The Telegraph Festival of Education explored this and suggested a few steps that any school can implement quickly to rid themselves of the unnecessary requirements that they have imposed on teaching.




During my time at the Festival I heard a number of teachers having conversations about education, as they would at such a festival, and the topic of mastery often arose. I used the image of the young child leanring to ride a bike as an example of what mastery is. The opening line of this post also defines it quite simply. So with my definition out of the way I got onto examples of great teaching provided by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby from the brilliant Bright Spots post . I've appraoched teaching in this way for most of my career. I have also been made to teach according to what my SLT deemed Ofsted wanted to see in a lesson. What I have found about both approaches is that the latter doesn't work. It does nothing to help teachers become better teachers and creates the culture of the show lesson for observation purposes which has become so prolific across schools today, in fact my partner has just spent the better part of the evening creating her show lesson for a lesson observation she has tomorrow. And for what? So a member of SLT can feel important at having judged a colleague by ticking a sheet of paper.

So, let's say that you get this and want to know where persoanlised learning fits in. Well, I'm an EYFS teacher and have been for the last 3 years. What I have discovered working in this age group is how essential it is to build a complete picture of every child in your class. EYFS teachers build these pictures up through daily observations of the leanring that happens and we use this knowledge to provide opportunities for children to practice what they have learned, test their understanding through feedback that happens there and then and helps move the child on to the next steps. Lessons flow into one another, timetables are written in September and never followed from then on, the daily learning structure depends almost entirely on the needs of the child. And it works. Yet when those very same children go into Year 1 and they enter 'Proper Primary' the approach is dropped in favour of the 'what we think Ofsted want to see' approach. Children are herded into ability groups, lessons become forulaic due to the schools accountability regime and immediate feedback is replaced with multi coloured marking that takes hours to do. Personalising learning goes out the window and mastery becomes another box to be ticked in a lesson observation and book scrutiny.

Hammering mastery into your curriculum whilst still expecting teachers to teach according to what you think Ofsted want to see does not work. And it will never, ever allow children to master anything they learn.

I suggest you start looking for answers by reading Tom Sherrington's excellent 'Principles of Effective Teaching' post to gain an insight into how your school can start developing effective teaching and learning. And if you want to improve teaching through obsevations then please read Tom Boulter's recent post 'Making observation optional'.

For further information on how you can personalise learning in your classroom check out these posts 'Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom' and 'Personalising Learning'.




Saturday, October 31, 2015

Switching on the Outstanding Factor


Every teacher has faced the impending lesson observation. Your senior leadership team have told you the date and what the subject will be. So you go home and start preparing for it, usually a few weeks in advance. You believe that you should approach the observation as you would any other lesson you teach but you know that your SLT want you to pull out all the stops. 

What should you do?

Leadership teams have an unfortunate habit of using Ofsted's whole school observation checklist for individual lesson observations. Many teachers will add bells, whistles and even a few fireworks to make sure the observed lesson has all the outstanding features that the Ofsted whole school checklist appears to mention. To gain outstanding you must tick all the outstanding boxes after all. Teachers will also add in additional features the SLT have deemed necessary due to reading up on other school Ofsted reports. These features may or may not help improve teaching and learning but because the school down the road had them in their latest Ofsted report then your SLT wants to see them included.

So your not planned for outstanding lesson looks like this.

  • Write the Learning Objective on the IWB (use of technology ticked)
  • Discuss said LO with the class and what it means - tick
  • Write a list of success criteria to achieve said LO (add additional criteria as you know your SLT like to see lots of them - tick)
  • Show a video/image to draw in the class (this can be related to the LO or not, just make sure the children are engaged - another tick)
  • Ask questions about the video/image but make sure you follow the recent no-hands up policy, use lolly sticks or even better use the class set of iPads lying in the ICT/Computing (what's it called?) suite/trolley and that app someone mentioned where you hold up a printed out QR code or something (lots of ticks here)
  • Model the lesson and play a game on the IWB (children can't come up to use the IWB as that would take up too much time) - ticks galore
  • Make sure children are not sitting on the carpet/chairs for too long as you have to make sure there is pace in the lesson (Mastery hasn't quite made it into your school's SLT lesson observation guidelines yet)
  • Send your Higher, Middle and Lower groups off to complete their differentiated work (tick, tick and tick)
  • Make sure your TA is with your Lower group and ask a few pertinent questions to show your control of the TA's function in the class -tick
  • Sit with one group for at least 10 minutes, ask lots of reasoning type questions and listen intently. Try that bouncing question technique someone mentioned last term (ticks)
  • As children are working interrupt them with inane questions so your observer sees you (tick)
  • Do not mark any work during the lesson no matter how strong the urge as your SLT said no marking during lesson time (see next point)
  • Lesson marking should be ticks and corrections, use corrections on the visualiser to demonstrate powerful learning opportunities (someone in SLT read this online and said it would be food to Ofsted) - ticks all round
  • Add a mini plenary every so often, not because you and your class need one but because your SLT insist on them - a tick for every plenary
  • Keep an eye on the time, the lesson cannot run over time nor should it end too soon. Let the children know when there are 5 minutes left.
  • Plenary time, your SLT want you to move the learning on so do not use this as an opportunity to go through errors or misunderstandings, this is a time to move the learning on. (ticks, ticks and ticks)
  • The observed lesson is over

Later that day you will discover whether or not your lesson was outstanding. 

Your class on the other hand will wonder why you were being such a idiot.



Friday, July 24, 2015

Design Thinking and Moonshots



I recently attended the Google Moonshot Summit in Amsterdam which was led by the inspiring +EdTechTeam. This summit was very much like the Google Teacher Academy London last October which I attended as a mentor. This consisted of design thinking, creating a moonshot and was led by the brilliant +Ewan McIntosh and +NoTosh Ltd. Both events wanted its participants to think big, to create a moonshot. A moonshot is
"an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term success or benefit and also, perhaps, without a full investigation of the risks and benefits." (moonshotsummit)

Think big then think bigger. That's your moonshot. The process at both events involved lots of thinking, teasing out ideas and thoughts, pulling at every suggestion and making it bigger. It was tough but the design thinking process isn't meant to be easy, as President Kennedy said "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

So what is a design thinking process involve? I'll let Ewan McIntosh explain.



Design thinking is much more than using post-it notes, hexagonal pieces of paper or even LEGO bricks. It involves prototyping to solve complex problems. It can also help turn us from problem solvers into problem thinkers.

Unpacking The Design Thinking process - image from Know without borders
I suggest you read through the following sites to develop a better understanding of the design thinking process.



During my attendance at the Amsterdam event, the teams came up with the following moonshots.
  1. What if we could gamify student learning where earned points were used to improve society?
  2. What if we could design teacher training that reflects best teaching pedagogy?
  3. What if we could create a system of Moonshot mentors for teachers and students?
  4. What if we could integrate community/city life into schools?
  5. What if we could build structure that allows students to co-create the curriculum with teachers and experts?
  6. What if we could design a meaningful learning environment and assessment system?
  7. What if we could connect students locally and globally to solve authentic problems together?
  8. What if we could create a program to allow students to chose what they want learn?
I was involved with moonshot 6 and one of our possible solutions was to get rid of high stakes testing that costs millions and instead put that money into improving teaching and learning for all. We can't think of any valid reason why this can not be possible and I would welcome your thoughts about this and the other moonshots.

Thank you to the +EdTechTeam for their fantastic event in Amsterdam, to +James Sanders for his inspiring story, +Mark Wagner+Molly Schroeder +Jennie Magiera for their drive and passion, and to the inspiring +Esther Wojcicki for sharing her time, thoughts and energy with us.