From the T to the I

So here I am. It’s been a long time but thanks to the limits of the 140 characters available to me on Twitter, I have been forced to move across devices from phone to Mac. Thanks (or blame) goes to @tomhelme, @tiffanyshlain, @pekabelo, @dileed and indirectly @jca_1975 for the inspiration to try to pull together some thinking and for what is to follow.

It’s probably easiest to start with our conversation yesterday morning and work back, so here goes…

@tomhelme and I have been working on an integrated approach to the curriculum using STEAM as a starting point. During our conversations, Tom shared this beautiful video from @tiffanyshlain:

This video resonates with current curriculum design projects I am involved with in various schools at the moment. It acted as a catalyst for me and the conversation that followed. At one point in the conversation, I made a casual reference to how we’re in the first stages of designing a ’T-shaped curriculum’.

T-Shaped Learning Design

I first came across the term ’T-shaped’ in reference to employee competencies and a number of articles and research around organisational development, HR, resource and talent management. Here’s just one example from a talent search company and logistics company, Inspired Search (T-shaped_SCM).

I created a diagram to show what the ‘T-shape’ looks like in its very simplest form as a curriculum model. What strikes me as I see it in this visual form, is not so much the simplicity of the model, which is a great prompt for the start of more complex and intertwined conversations, but the almost accidental relationship this exposes between subject expertise and competency development.

Even in a model like this which is deliberately intended to show a connected relationship between both the skills-acquisition and knowledge-expertise inherent in curriculum design, the separation seems too great. It’s one of those things where it works in my head but not on paper. I’ve even tried squashing the vertical to reduce the distance but it doesn’t really help.

A very simple format

A very simple curriculum model. Subjects are represented by the vertical and generic skills, dispositions & competencies across the horizontal.

But, as it stands, this model has been useful for us working through the ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ of curriculum design subject-by-subject. It does a good job of depicting competency development and knowledge acquisition as clearly distinct from (but related to) each other. It also serves as an interpretation of curriculum where the development of skills, dispositions and competencies only happens in order to achieve the successful development of subject expertise, knowledge and understanding.

On reflection, I’ve done a load of work on this type of discreet ‘in-order-to’ application of meta-cognitive skills over the years and, in the main, it works best when competency-development sits deeply within a specific domain or context. This context or domain is characterised by an agreed canon of knowledge coupled with a robust, evidence-informed system of subject-specific disciplinary literacies and frameworks for understanding.

Put simply, the best kind of curriculum design is able to respond with enthusiasm and conviction to the questions, ’Who is our curriculum for?’ and ‘What should we teach?’ It should bellow its response with learning intentions such as, “Enquire like a historian”, “Reason like a mathematician” and “See the world as an artist”. In doing so, we can embrace a multi-disciplinary approach where generic competencies are developed in order to access domain-specific knowledge and understanding as part of the domain-specific expertise.

With the T-Shape, we have a model that develops transferrable generic skills as opposed to domain-specific competencies. But in a complex world, what we need is an I-shaped design.

Embracing complexity – from T(ransferable) to I(nterdisciplinary)

An I-shaped design allows us to embrace both the complexity of the multiple contexts in which we learn, and the inter-disciplinary realities of our ever-changing, complex world. So now we can invite our learners to: “See this portrait as a statistician”, “Respond to the world as an artist” and “Investigate this text as a musician”.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 18.42.42

This I-Shaped model enables us to see our curriculum through the lens of these deeper learning intentions. We can design learning that encompasses skills, dispositions and competencies, both generic (multi-disciplinary – across the top horizontal) and domain-specific (inter-disciplinary – across the bottom horizontal). Both can then be developed in order to access and so that we deepen knowledge and understanding of core concepts and canons.

In my research for all of this work, I’ve come across some fantastic talks, articles and books. With that in mind, and as a pre-cursor to future posts, here’s a delightful rabbit hole I fell down when I came across the work of Tony O’Driscoll.

His blog is here, where you’ll find a wealth of great thinking about the future of learning. I’ve included his TEDx Talk at Duke University from 2011, not least because it provides another useful visual and a compelling answer to any and all the questions about the purpose of curriculum, education and learning.

I’ll finish with this screen shot from Tony O’Driscoll’s talk:

'Compentencies' that really matter for the future?

‘Compentencies’ that really matter for the future?

I’m still in mid-thought on all of this. I hope you’ll find my musings helpful in some way and that you can use them as a start point for your own discussions about curriculum.

Considering how to see what learning looks like – conceptual change

On concepts & narratives of learning

In keeping with my commitment to post-as-I-think as opposed to posting-when-I’m-finished-thinking, here’s what I’m working on at the moment, and still working on. I have created the diagram at the bottom of this post to aid discussions around the design of the curriculum in relation to models and narratives of learning.

All this began a very long time ago, starting from my exploration into what is meant by ‘conceptual thinking’ and how we structure learning so as to deepen ‘conceptual understanding’. For a very long time (and we’re talking years/ decades here) I have been interested in:

  • The cognitive development of conceptual understanding: How abstract concepts become tangible to learners so that they gain a secure understanding of them


  • The metacognition of conceptual understanding: The actual process involved in developing the understanding of these concepts so that learners have a greater understanding and awareness of how they acquired this new knowledge so that they might draw upon this in the future

This poses questions for me as to how (if it is indeed possible) we might identify specific moments within a learning session when metacognitive skills have been or could be deliberately developed and, at this moment, consciously recognised by learners. I am particularly interested in how this self recognition occurs authentically and beyond surface-level awareness of teacher-defined expected metacognitive skills. So that a learner becomes consciously aware of their deepening understanding of fundamental concepts either as they happen or as part of a reflective dialogue, taking place within particular subject domains or contexts.

I’m also intrigued by the emotional aspect involved in this process – how it feels to be faced with–>then grapple with and then–> finally–>grasp a difficult concept to the extent where it can–>then be applied to new contexts and/or connected with existing knowledge.

Anyway, this is where my need to draw and visualise thinking kicks in.

The diagram below is a synthesis of my current thinking about this. It is an interpretation, a visualisation and an integration of a number of sources, ideas and inspirations from:

  1. At the heart of the diagram is my interpretation of an article by Esther Zirbel, adapted from, “Teaching to promote deep understanding and provoke conceptual change” (2005)
  2. Above the dotted line (in blue) a sequence of metacognitive skills that I’ve been using as reference for learning dispositions for the past few years
  3. On the lower dotted line (in orange) I’ve integrated a highly simplistic reference point from one of my favourite sources of inspiration which I’ve been using to help my thinking about curriculum design and learning models from Martin (@Surrealanarchy) Robinson’s book, “Trivium 21c
  4. On the arrow along the bottom of the diagram, the interrelationship between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment (mentioned previously)

Visualising Learning

I have attempted to indicate a non-linear pathway with a fat dotted line. Imagine this is one single learning sequence, whereas in reality, it is likely that it will loop or spiral back to previous stages, depending on the level of security the learner has at any given stage. I am by no means suggesting that learning is linear but wanting instead to map the experiences of a learner as a system or process.

The metacognitive skills are developed through the sequence (in blue) and the process of knowledge acquisition and transference through the three elements of curriculum-pedagogy-assessment which I’ve written about here) are depicted under the thin dotted line.

How is this of any use…?

We’ll, here’s how I’m using it…

  • Seeing learning as a narrative: I am using this visualisation as a way to describe learning experiences as narrative. Which is beginning to have some additional applications beyond the formal curriculum provision on offer in school settings.
  • Curriculum & Lesson Design Tool: I am hoping that this will be particularly helpful as I continue working on the deliberate design of the curriculum (longer sequences of learning) and any series of lessons within a fixed-term project or even individual sequences within lessons.
  • Project & Enrichment Learning Design Tool: It may also be of use when planning field trips, enrichment activities or end-of-term excursions, when seeking to ensure that as much ‘learning value’ as possible can be squeezed out of any organised visit to a museum, place of interest or gallery.
  • Self-Reflection Tool: This visual description is also useful in sharing with learners to VISUALISE their own learning and identify moments to either reflect on or expect it to be hard and difficult, and see any moments of struggle and challenge as an integral and necessary element of the process of learning. By using the diagram as a self-reflection tool, learners can identify the moments when they encountered struggle, challenge and success and use this as a script to articulate their own learning processes, the strategies that they used and how this might inform their approach to learning in the future.

Anyway, I’d be interested in any feedback and thoughts you have on this. Let me know if you can see a use for visualising learning in this way, perhaps if only to make the people we are working with (adults and young people alike) aware that we KNOW what we ask of them when we ask them to ‘learn’ and we are ready to support them in what is about to come…that they are about to place their unique footprints into the wet sand of a well-worn path. Or something like that…

Making my blog work for me again…

I have been immersed in a number of very engaging and, unsurprisingly, ‘Full On’ projects for a few months now. As a result, my thinking has deepened, my focus has shifted and my butterfly brain (though not attention-span, I hope) is currently taking me into both new and renewed areas of work. The impact of this is that I haven’t posted for quite some time. I tend to blog only when I have a near-fully-formed mega-post. It turns out, that just isn’t happening right now, so I need my blog to serve me a little better (rather than make me feel guilty for not feeding it). I am involved in a number of interconnected projects at the moment and I think its time that my blog started working for ME, rather than me feeling like I was working for IT.

The result? I’m going to take a ‘post-as-I-discover’ approach – much shorter posts, sometimes with a resource/ video or with a link to an article or piece of thinking. I’ll do my best to add context and through this, a rationale as to why this connects with my thinking and how it might influence/ inform me but the finished product may have to wait or maybe that’s where you the reader comes in? On reflection, my tendency has always been to post near-finished ideas, thought-pieces or practical approaches, ready for consumption.

Right now, I need my blogging to work differently for me. In doing this, I intend to be far more open about my thought-processes and the ideas that catch my eye along with what they connect with that I already have in mind or that I am currently working on.This is far more authentic and reflective of how I work within my own school and with schools and organisations around the country.

To begin this new approach…

So, I’m doing a big piece of work investigating how a group of schools might go about designing and implementing a co-designed Learning Commons at the moment. This project attempts to synthesise research findings, learning models and principles that both underpin and inform the BIG THREE organisational elements of learning:

  • Curriculum
  • Pedagogy
  • Assessment

In my reading this morning, the Connected Learning Organisation caught my eye. I’ve embedded the infographic below which gives a nice summary of the work they are currently leading. It might be of interest, on a large-scale, to anybody involved in taking a sytems-led integrated approach to the design of learning models for 21st Century learners and society. On a smaller-scale, anybody who;s keen to set up REAL learning projects would do well to consider the principles they use in the design of any multifaceted project-based learning opportunity.

Connected Learning

Creative Commons License This Connected Learning Infographic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. You may Share and Adapt it, but you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

Professor Dweck at TED earlier this year

This TED Talk by Professor Carol Dweck provides a good catch-all summary and introduction for anybody wanting to start doing some thinking around Growth Mindsets.

I’ll be adding this to the Core Professional Curriculum iTunesU course we have at school. This talk is only 10 minutes, so we’ll be using it as an introduction to the start of an EduBook Club Meeting. It also works well as a stimulus for a departmental meeting with a team wanting to undertake some subject-specific action research or a staff meeting in a smaller setting where you want to start focusing in on the big hitters such as motivation and engagement.

Here are just a few prompt questions I have posed in the past when using Ted Talks and other short videos and podcasts of educational thinkers in this way:

  • What do I know about the perceptions my pupils have of their own ability and how can I find out?
  • How does this relate to me, in my subject area, for the groups I teach?
  • How can I use the information from this research to refine my questioning to encourage pupils to refine, redraft and act on feedback?
  • In what ways does this prompt me to consider the way I design learning activities?
  • How does teacher-mindset influence verbal and written feedback?
  • How can we develop a shared language of learning that explicitly promotes the belief that learning is a developmental process?

Dweck’s earlier book, Self Theories is well worth a read (be warned, it’s quite pricey!) as it gets right into the different ways that pupils perceive their own ability, respond to praise, feedback and criticism, based on years of research undertaken by Dweck and her team.


This blog has languished in my draft-posts for a year; you’ll see this from the date references! The main reason I didn’t publish over a year ago was simply because I didn’t want to wade into what was, at the time, an extremely highly charged debate about the place of research, evidence, and practice in education. My additional reasons for not publishing until now will, possibly, be covered in another post on another day.

Anyway, a year has come around and although the charge and passion of the debate is still high, it has, perhaps calmed and softened somewhat. l have spent the morning watching the second National ResearchED 2014 Conference online thanks to the wonderful technical expertise of Leon Cynch @eyebeams through the LIVESTREAM feed. Having listened to the first of the main hall speakers (@johntomsett  @huntingenglish and @dylanwiliam) advocating a practical, wise approach to what we do in our classrooms, I thought I’d go back to this post from last year, take the plunge and publish.

I haven’t edited any part of it, and my only addition to it is the inclusion of a presentation by an inspirational education consultant, Dr Julia Atkin (@Juliaatkin) South Australia who I came across a few months ago. In this talk, Dr Atkin references the Aristoltlean view of knowledge, PHRONESIS, also referenced in Dylan Wiliam’s presentation today. Dr Atkin speaks brilliantly about the need for teachers to merge their own experience with research, through the lens of deliberate practice and analytical thinking.

ORIGINAL POST (Written in September 2013)

There is always healthy discussion around research findings and sources of evidence and even more so thanks to the increasing availability of the work of academics and research centres online. Tom Bennet and ResearchED have responded to this debate in the establishment of a conference for teachers and researchers as part of ResearchED 2013 to be held at Dulwich College in London on Saturday 7th September 2013.

The growth in Master Level opportunities and engagement in accredited courses through the National College and Teaching School Alliances will continue to bolster the body of research findings and evidence for teachers to access. Alongside this, academic research is increasingly becoming more accessible through websites and direct engagement with researchers and there’s a tiny selection at the end of this post for reference. There are far more listed on the site of The Teacher Development Trust who also, on 20th May 2013, launched the second exciting phase of The National Teacher Enquiry Network“A family of schools & colleges working for better professional development” to strengthen the link between evidence, practice and professional learning in schools.

But there’s nothing stopping anyone developing and researching their own practice right now and the summer term is a great time to have a go and try something different, new, or just to do more of the good stuff that’s already in place.

Individual practitioners can access reams of effectively communicated evidence from contemporary researchers such as John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, Carol Dweck and Geoff Petty and even discuss their work directly with the authors through social media and by attending seminars and public lectures.  The educational landscape and quality of teaching and learning is so much richer for this and for the debate and discussion these sources of evidence stimulate.

CPD: Thinking ‘as’ research 

Our own evidence base and sources of inspiration continue to be drawn from the wider educational world and beyond; from business and advertising; from design and engineering; from fashion and space exploration and from medicine and architecture.  As a result, we are able to adapt many different ideas, approaches, systems and processes from the many different contexts we encounter. Integral to this is access to an effective evaluation framework against which we can assess impact on learning outcomes.

Amongst all of the evidence that we have access to, it could be argued that the best evidencei.e. the most valuable, important and accessible, is the evidence we have before us every day: the internal. First and foremost, it is this that we can begin to research, as it unfolds before us, immediately.

So we need access to everything that is available to us, in a digestible but not diluted format. We need researchers to continue to make their work accessible and practical. The Education Endowment Fund Teaching and Learning Toolkit has provided us with one highly accessible format for this. We also need to create a personal-professional evidence base drawn from our own research into our own practice. For it is only when we can understand and witness first-hand the real-life impact of teaching-decisions on learning-outcomes for our own practice and ultimately, for our own learners, that we will truly be able to bring our practice to life and have the greatest impact.

So…a mindset to adopt….? CPRD

This is my attempt to clarify the impact of ‘thinking-as’ a researcher; an activity of adopting ‘Research Thinking’. In doing so, a ‘Research-Thinking School’ will encourage a systematic implementation of Continuing Professional Research Development. Such an approach to professional development and system-wide innovation will engage practitioners in habitual meticulous self-reflection that result in deliberate and mindful teaching actions. These ‘mindful teaching’ actions will be both evidence-informed (external and internal) and research-based (external and internal). The result of this is to establish and sustain a culture where observable and measurable innovations in practice become an integral expectation and rationale of the systems throughout the organisation.

Sustainable school-wide systems that connect research, developmental lesson observations and coaching and place these at the heart of professional development will have the greatest impact. Many schools are using video to support a similar growth-mindset approach to professional development. When placed within a carefully personalised programme supported by skilled coaches and reflective practitioners, the benefits of such an approach are clear.

But the first port of call must be to establish a culture that both enables and encourages us to research that which we encounter every day. It is this that informs and inspires us more than anything else and it is this that we can analyse and interpret immediately and meticulously in every lesson designed and delivered. It is the activity of researching this evidence that sharpens our thinking and prompts us to pose challenging questions. It is a culture of active, on-going and daily research that will continue to excite and enrich us and, as a direct result, our learners.

Thinking and acting as a researcher of our own practice requires a habit of constant evidence collection (feedback) from our immediate experiences, often in the form of informal, ‘micro-research’ projects. These micro-research projects encourage Mindful Teaching that notice and describe rather than infer and interpret. There’s more on this on the Marginal Learning Gains METHOD page.

Couple the everyday evidence to the canon of wider research and evidence (incorporating evidence and research from the educational world and beyond) available to us, then we have a powerful framework for systematic and daily research of own practice:

(a) Discuss and share what we see, hear and sense (internal research) from our own experiences and

(b) Connect and compare our own research to the experiences and evidence from beyond us (external research) and between each other

(c) Understand and apply what we now know and understand to our own context and setting (the internal and external) so that it shapes and informs the design of the learning opportunities that we provide

(d) Research and evaluate the impact of its application so that we can

(e) Repeat the cycle from (a) and begin to embed it as everyday practice 

Thinking and acting as a leading research-thinker and constantly investigating the evidence of our own practice in this way enables us to engage in an overarching process where we can be part of a constant process of collating, analysing and applying evidence from beyond and within so that it directly informs our practice and brings about sustainable and systemic change. It has an impact on:

  • Frequency of feedback (an on-going cycle that includes in equal measure information from the learner to the teacher and back again)
  • Systematic reflective and collaborative professional practice across a whole school (and beyond)
  • Quality of specific language that communicates learning outcomes and success criteria
  • Effectiveness of the communication of teacher and learner expectations
  • Deliberately planned opportunities for learners to lead, take responsibility, articulate and evaluate their own progress

Instead of providing us with a detailed list of ‘teachable actions‘ that we have not developed from our own practice or professional conversations, ‘Research Thinking’ ensures that the evidence we have to hand can be used to directly, immediately and in a timely manner to inform ‘learnable behaviours’.

‘Research Thinking’ provides a bridge between the evidence before us (internal) and the evidence and research from beyond us (external). It demands that we

  • analyse and dissect teaching language and actions
  • clarify our understanding and interpretations
  • so that we can…
  • define our concepts of learning
  • forensically analyse its implications, inferences and impact on learning

‘Research Thinking’ enables us to actively and habitually search out examples, experiences and findings from beyond our context so that we can make sense of ourselves and our practice in our context.

“This is my evidence.

There is much evidence like this. But this evidence is mine.

Without me, my evidence is nothing.

Without my evidence, I am nothing.”

(Paraphrased by me from The Rifleman’s Creed)

Useful websites:

Check out the following tiny selection of online research resources available:

The Research Centre for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Education (

Current Educational Research in the United Kingdom (

The Economic Social Research Council (

The National Foundation for Educational Research (

In addition, sites are emerging that invite direct interaction between researchers and practitioners:

The Learning Emergence Site (

Futurelab (

There are many, many more…

FINAL Quick note: When it comes to ‘Research Thinking’ all I am attempting to do is to articulate my own approach to pedagogical pedantry (a pejorative term that I therefore dislike) and with this, my approach to curriculum innovation and designing systemic research-driven opportunities for professional development. This post is an attempt to explain the ‘Why, How and What’ it is I try for myself and practitioners to ‘be like’ when we’re thinking and talking about learning. This approach is illustrated in the Marginal Learning Gains Theory project.

A Pedagogical Model for Excellence & Growth

I have drawn together some ideas to form a first draft (very EoE) of a Pedagogical Model for Motivation, Growth Mindsets and Excellence. It also incorporates a Marginal Learning Gains approach as an integral part of developing Growth Mindsets for teachers and students alike.

This work is in its infancy in terms of a fully workable pedagogical model but I am hoping it my serve to start conversations and give practitioners some of the following:

  • The Why – Rationale and research to underpin the aims of the changes that are sought
  • The How – Strategic ways of thinking and designing learning to bring about those changes
  • The What – Practical tools and approaches to test out to increase the teaching repertoire to achieve your stated aims

It may will be that I need to provide the narrative that I would use to accompanies any work around this document if so, please let me know! I certainly see it as the start point for:

  1. Some very focused action research linking into the Marginal Learning Gains approach
  2. A design template for learning where we can truly wrap the curriculum around the pedagogy.

If you want to find out more about what schools are doing around Growth Mindsets, then please get in touch with the EG Schools Network via the blog and follow on Twitter @EG_Schools. There’s already a fantastic bank of ideas, blogs, resources and approaches being shared by the Excellence & Growth Schools’ Network,

In the meantime, I’ll be updating this in time once I’ve had a chance to collaborate and reflect on the model…so here it is:

EG Culture