About fullonlearning

Educational praxis, professional learning, relational systems thinker and writer

Teaching repertoire to learning repertoire

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Visible pedagogy

One of my most memorable responses when I asked, “What do you like most about these lessons?” was the reply from a Year 7 pupil who answered without hesitation, “I like the plenary that Miss always does.” On hearing this, a wave of excited reassurance washed over me and I followed up with, “That sounds great, so what happens when you have the plenary?” Just as quick, the pupil confidently said, “That’s the bit where we get to pack up.”

By thinking of pedagogy and the design of learning activities as akin to the exoskeleton of lessons, we can share the relevance (the ‘so what’?) of the learning by pointing out to learners exactly where the joints, connections and overall structure of the learning is and how it all fits together. In doing so, we offer a chance for them to grab on to the bones of the lesson and find their own way around complex knowledge, difficult concepts and new applications with each other.

Making our pedagogy visible to  learners is a fantastic way to deliberately involve them in the process of learning. It provides a great opportunity to introduce and establish a shared language of and for learning. It also offers a chance to share effective practice across the school.

Jim Smith (@thelazyteacher), often talks about creating a sort of bingo card for learners to record all the different activities and ways they are asked to show their learning that they encounter during a series of lessons. Such a card could include presentations to the class, extended writing, role play, posters and so on.

Building on this idea, the table below is an extremely generalised mix of activities and pedagogy that could make up a reflective tool. From this, you can refine the table into the way in which you design learning so that you use specific strategies for specific purposes, a sort of ‘What Works Well AND WHEN’ for learning design…

  • Launching new topics
  • Checking progress
  • Deepening understanding
  • Clarifying misconceptions
  • Gathering feedback on progress
  • Assessing the security of understanding

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A learning script

To squeeze even more learning out of adopting a visible pedagogical approach, we can ask learners to do more than just record what they experience. We can encourage them, as part of regular reflections on their learning, to demonstrate their understanding of how these activities help them learn and, most importantly, how confident they are in learning as a result of thinking in this way. From this point, learners could create their own activities for each other according to what will work BEST for the topic and phase of learning they are in.

By deliberately integrating this as part of on-going self-reflection, we also avoid straying into the soul-destroying conversation many of us will have experienced over the years which goes something like, ‘I am a kinaesthetic leaner, so I can’t write any of this down.’ Instead, learners will become more discerning about what activities work best for them, when and why. Learners will  become aware that some activities are more challenging for them than others and so they need tom consciously can invest more effort to become better at these. They will become more involved in their own learning process and gain access to what is often referred to as the ‘secret garden’ of the curriculum and the ‘so that’ of learning outcomes.

Conversations with learners can then be informed by the card as a ‘script’ to help them reflect on the learning skills they are developing. The essential aspect of this is that the learners themselves use this to:

  • Recognise what, how and why activities are designed for them to learn in particular phases of a topic
  • How effective these activities are in helping them make progress
  • How effective they are in learning in these different ways and what they need to do to improve
  • The rationale for why certain ways of organising learning are used at specific times
  • Start making suggestions as to how learning might be organised in light of their increased self awareness and understanding of what helps them learn

Making the untypical typical  

By having a prompt card such as this, learners have to be flexible and adaptable when we introduce a new way of doing something because this will be typical of what happens in all their lessons. We will avoid the, “Oh no! You’ve moved the room around!” statement of horror as thirty stunned faces enter what has become an alien landscape because this is the first time in 5 years that the furniture in the room has ever moved. Instead, you should hear, “Oh, are we doing hot seating / continuum line / talk partners / secretive…today?”

One of the additional benefits of this approach is that we too can keep a record of the range of activities and approaches we have used with particular topics and groups. This can then be used to:

  • Remind us of our own teaching repertoire and ensure we adopt a relevant, purposeful learning design for each specific aspect of the topic
  • Ensure that we regularly reflect upon, refine and adapt the way in which we design learning opportunities
  • Open our teaching repertoire to self-reflection and peer scrutiny so that it is always ready for refinement
  • Share different approaches across teams, departments and whole school, learning new strategies as small, manageable chunks of expertise

A Marginal Learning Gains Repertoire Card

The repertoire card can also become a handy teacher prompt to refer to during the lesson and focus on a specific strategy as part of a Marginal Learning Gains approach. I’ve had a go at an Marginal Learning Gains version below:

MLG Repertoire CardOnce our pedagogy is visible to us, we can challenge ourselves to reflect on the very specific strategies we have tested and identify the impact on learning and develop ways to further develop these.

A Pedagogical Platter upon which to feast

Cross-departmental collaboration: We can collaborate with our colleagues both within and beyond our teams to create five new activities or strategies or try an existing one in a new and unfamiliar context.

Student representatives: If you have student representatives in department meetings, this approach provides the students with a script of learning to which they can add, share experiences from other subject areas and teachers and authentically contribute to the development of teaching and learning across the school.

Self-efficacy of learners: Imagine a time when learners have such high levels of agency that they feel confident enough with their language of learning and pedagogy to select from their own learning repertoire effective strategies to develop their knowledge and understanding. Or a time where they come to their lessons and point out that they have ‘done’ card sorts in their last three lessons, so please could they use a different technique today? Then you can invite them to decide what strategy/ pedagogical approach would enable them to best meet the success criteria of the task. And, once the activity is completed, with you, they can self and peer assess their outcomes by reflecting on whether the strategy they chose was the most effective based on how well they met the success criteria. The next step could be to design the way they will organise the next task, giving them an opportunity to lead their own learning for the outset, anchored by the assessment criteria against which they will measure their progress.

Hope and Wisdom and the Via Negativa

This a strange post, so forgive me. I think it must be what happens when you’re trying desperately hard not to stray into something that you’re not yet prepared for, but can’t help thinking about, and yet keep recognising that it is evident in everything you do, how you think and certainly, how you view the world and always have. And after that introduction, I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to click away…but if you don’t, just to let you know, this post is about HOPE.

I had the pleasure of hearing Baroness Estelle Morris speak last week at the Institute for Effectiveness in Education Conference 2013 hosted at York University. I do not intend to go into the evidence, research and practice debate here as there’s many others doing just that extremely well right now.*

One thing Ms Morris said really struck a chord with me.  In her response to her introduction, and after she had said, “Please call me Estelle”, she reflected on how she had been introduced. She said that she felt that she needed to define herself as what she was not.** She  acknowledged that in a room full of educational researchers and a very small number of teachers, she was not…

  • a teacher
  • a researcher
  • a politician

But that what she was, or rather, where she was, was in ‘the gaps’ in between these things:

“…it is because I’m not these things, what I hope to bring…is an attempt to fill the gaps between all the things I’m not.”

She went on to say that wisdom is required to ensure that the connection between these things is made strong so that the gaps in between the three are reduced. This is something that definitely informs my thinking about the research, practice and evidence debate.

But back to this post…

Sometimes, I come across an idea, a quotation, an approach, a picture, a piece of text, a film or a sound that sits in the gaps between what we do, what we think and what we hope for. The job for us, then, is to make sense of it and in doing so, bring it closer to our own lives through our values and expertise. This is how our wisdom gets exercised and this is the wisdom of teaching. Because once we make those connections, we get to offer the very same opportunity to our learners.

So here is one such stimulus.

For me, this 3:14 minute trailer could be shared with learners in pretty much every subject area and chime with any theme connected to resilience, grit, learning, determination and aspiration. In doing so, it offers leaners the opportunity to forge their own connections between the subject of the film, their ideas and actions and thereby offer them the chance to reduce those gaps and develop their wisdom. By exploring the many different ways in which they can connect the film to the subject, topic or theme, they are learning about, they get to generate quality questions and begin to create their very own links that in turn will connect to their prior and present learning.

Because it is such a rich resource, if nothing else, at the end of the day, projects like the one outlined in this film give us all a much needed and refreshing dose of one thing that lies at the heart of everything that drives us in education, research and, I would like to think, politics too: hope.

If you want to really immerse yourself in hope and, given the times, why wouldn’t you? Then there’s also this inspirational 18 minute TED Talk all about the origins of the Barefoot College and where the concept of solar electrification first evolved. I’ll be posting it on my TEDUCATION site to sit alongside similarly inspirational and education-applicable TED Talks, with some of my own reflections soon.

*NB If you want to find out more about the evidence, research and education debate, I strongly suggest you sign up for The ResearchED 2013 Conference (@researchED2013) being organised by Tom Bennett and follow the twitter stream and fabulous blog posts that have been stimulated by the debate.

AND...There’s also the fabulous work of The Coalition for Evidence Based Education CEBE. They’re already set up to create one of the proposals that Ben Goldacre calls for…the equivalent of a ‘dating service’ to enable educators and researchers to develop projects together.  I’m saving specific references to it for another time, after some careful reflection (regular blog readers wouldn’t expect anything other than that from me, I am sure).

**I am probably biased here as this is one of my favourite philosophical approaches, the ‘via negativa‘, if you’re interested. It is always a fabulous stimulus for any ontological debates for the existence of…well, anything, really.

Learning with SOLE – take 20 minutes and watch this

Sugata Mitra gives his TED Prize Wish Talk

“Onstage at TED2013, Sugata Mitra makes his bold TED Prize wish: Help me design the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other — using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Hear his inspiring vision for Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), and learn more at tedprize.org.”

(from www.TED.com)

My last post suggested that all educators have three duties:

  • To be curious: educators couldn’t do much more in fostering their curiosity than to subscribe to www.TED.com. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I am always keen to recommend TED Talks and the TED sister sites such as TED-ED as a powerful repository of learning and resources. If you want to ease yourself in gently, have a look at www.teducation.com (which I am in the process of importing to WP) to find a selection of cracking Ted Talks with some of my own and guest-bloggers’ learning-focused reflections. If nothing else, they’re ready-made for INSET sessions and T&L groups to spark debate…
  • To share: once you’ve watched Sugata Mitra (@sugatam) explaining his Prize Wish, you could share the talk itself with a colleague or your team or you whole school. The next step would be to see if you could devise a SOLE project of your own, building on the principles of BROADBAND + COLLABORATION + ENCOURAGEMENT & ADMIRATION. There’s a SOLE Toolkit available to download that’s well worth a look
  • To acknowledge: tell others about ‘The School in the Clouds’, about SOLE and about TED Talks. Tell them by sharing informally, using an AOB at a team or staff meeting, asking people to join you to develop SOLE learning, leaving the SOLE Toolkit available for people to read / putting a copy in every pigeon hole, posting on the VLE…you get the drift. PLUS: as they ask on the TED site where get the toolkit from, sharing your feedback with them.

Over to you…

Three professional duties…?

Curious, Share, AcknowledgeFIRST: ‘We have a duty to be curious’

The assertion that we have a professional duty to be curious is taken from the words of Lucy Sweetman (@lucysweetman) and, with her permission, I used her quote in this illustration from Full On Learning:

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I would be amazed if there was anyone who works with children and young people who was not inherently curious. For therein lies the strength, if not the lifeblood, of not simply what we do but, who we are. We are insatiably curious. We exercise this curiosity every moment of our professional lives because it sustains us. And it is probably why we do what we do. Seeking out a battery of ways that enable very different learners to make a connection with the ideas, concepts and information that we lay before them is driven by our curiosity to understand, if not, decode the complexities of learning.

To exercise professional curiosity requires elements of introspection and outrospection in  equal measure. We need to be introspective and insatiably interested in our place in a world that is the world of our classroom and our school community. We then skilfully employ the powers of outrospection to reveal for our learners how what they are learning and experiencing relates to the wider world.

When it comes to outrospection, our creativity and ingenuity has an opportunity to jump to the fore. Forging connections between our world (that of our individual classroom and school) and the world  beyond (other schools and external research and evidence) is a natural process. The opportunity and challenge to be truly curious is to make connections between our classrooms and the worlds of business, engineering, fashion, design and scientific exploration, to suggest just a few. To consider the ways in which business and industry has created systems to engage their employees and / or their customers can provide valuable insight into ‘What motivates us?’ as in this post and to learn about the underpinning design process for the London Underground offers opportunities to devise powerful approaches to differentiation or even how to organise the traffic flow in school buildings, as in this post on ‘Phased Disclosure’. Just one look at www.Informationisbeautiful.net and the accompanying book, ‘Information is Beautiful’ by David McCandless enables us to see the power of visualising data to explain complex information and processes…and how we might encourage learners to use visualisation to present their learning.

For a great talk on ‘outrospection’, here’s an RSA Animate production. It’s a far-reaching talk by philosopher Roma Krznaric about the importance of EMPATHY as a powerful force to bring about change and there are some interesting applications to the realm of educational sharing and development which are too many to include in this post.

The professionally curious are the professionally enriched. It is because of this that they are also the enrichers, the inspirers, the synthesisers and the generators.

SECOND: ‘It is our professional duty to share’

This ties in with some of the themes covered in the RSA video above, but the importance of sharing as professionals was brought to my attention by a comment made by the fabulous educator, John Tomsett (who tweets as @johntomsett and blogs here), who simply stated that every educational practitioner, ‘…has a professional duty to share’.

Trying to encourage educators to blog, to document and to Tweet comes down to just this, a ‘professional duty to share‘.

Every day, we share our understanding, knowledge and our experience with our learners so that they can relate and connect with new knowledge. This is made possible through a repertoire of learning strategies, the skill of pedagogy and the design of the curriculum. When it comes to professional conversations, through informal and formal opportunities, most of us just can’t help ourselves when it comes to sharing our ideas about learning. It is, after all, what we do every day. Our business is, fundamentally, a sharing business.

Ensuring that our schools grow as regular and habitual places of such sharing comes about through a systematic approach that actively expects sharing to take place. Many schools who have this in place are now no longer in a position to require educators to share because it is now so embedded that it is part of the culture and, they might say, ‘just the way we do things here’. The challenge is for us to move to a place where the process of sharing is an institutional priority that underpins (and thereby facilitates) daily practice. It then becomes an integral part of the culture of the school and the habits of the members of the school community.

The aspect of Tim Harford’s book, Adapt: why success always starts with failure that most struck me was his proposition that the best ideas come from those who know their context best; from those on the front line, on ground level and who are front-facing. So the duty to share extends from an individual duty that all practitioners have to becoming a duty of schools to seek out and implement the most effective ways for those practitioners who ‘know best’ to connect.

Organisations such as schools who find ways to capitalise on the informal opportunities for sharing that in the frenetic pace of school life are already on the front foot.  By taking the next step and committing time to designing systems that create formal opportunities specifically and exclusively for the sharing of effective practice, for problem solving and solution-finding, the interactions and genuine collaboration will flow. The first step in this process is to make it a requirement for practitioners to share ideas and spend time with each other so that the second step evolves very naturally for practitioners and sharing in all manner of ways becomes a habit.

I read recently that Yahoo! has caused controversy by ending work-at-home arrangements. The anger from those affected resulted in the publication of this internal memo and the initiative was reported in “All Things D”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of working from home (that’s definitely one for another post), but the rationale for Yahoo!’s change in policy is fascinating, particularly in light of the type of company that Yahoo! is. It would seem from Yahoo!’s stance that they have made human contact and physical interaction a priority for on-going innovation. In this, it would seem that they acknowledge that the value of both informal and formal opportunities for collaboration is too great an opportunity for the company to miss out on, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts from being physically together…Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, its about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices”…interesting indeed.

Yahoo Memo

THIRD: ‘We have a duty to acknowledge’

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

Finally, we must never lose sight of the third point of the professional triangle, the ‘duty to acknowledge‘. In our collective endeavour to increase and secure our understanding of the oceans of information in which we swim, it is all the more important that we acknowledge the wise words, new insights and droplets of ingenuity that wash over us. Somebody once quoted the famous words of Isaac Newton to me when I was creating a bank of footnotes in an article, stating,  ‘The thing is, Zoë, we all know that we stand on the shoulders of giants…but there’s no need for the giants to be in the shot’. I have thought about this for a long time and I disagreed at the time and I still do. It is absolutely imperative that we keep the ‘giants’ in shot. The sharing of an idea  that is inspired by a conversation or reading is far more meaningful when the original spark of inspiration is placed centre stage in the spotlight. This acknowledgement is an integral part of professional curiosity.It encourages others to seek out and connect with the origins of the idea for themselves. So that others can adapt and create new meanings, thereby enriching the initial spark and fuelling it to shine brighter and for longer.

The way in which educational professionals engage with Twitter is, for the most part, an exemplary testimony to a shared professional endeavour to SHARE, BE CURIOUS and ACKNOWLEDGE. There are lessons in this for our students as they immerse themselves into the exponentially increasing banks of information that characterise all our lives in the 21st Century and when we discuss the uses and opportunities presented to us through social media.

So now, perhaps more than ever, as technology continues to give us the opportunity, we should actively embrace our individual and institutional professional duty to share, to be curious and with this, our duty to acknowledge.

Ask a quality group about group work and this happens…

Who are the best people to ask about group work? 

So I put out a tweet to a really high quality group: The Tweachers…

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Here’s what came back:

David Didau (@learningspy) “Effective Group Work” which was endorsed with a re-tweet of this link by Eric Wareham (@developingTandL) plus a second link from David here: “The Ultimate Teaching Technique” and  “Why group work works for me”

John Sayers (@JOHNSAYERSA picture of this group work assessment grid

Andy Day (@AndyphilipdayMonitoring Group Work: Charting its Progress

Robin Trangmar (@yrathro) sent links to documents in Dropbox:

(1) Student Learning Groups

(2) Teaching Small Groups

(3) Group Work Doers

Alex Battison (@alex_battison) tweeted: “Hi Zoe, harkness tables, at Exeter Philipps university (and prolific at Wellington college), are good things to investigate…they have rules to create group work that is completely student led. I have also looked to develop this in my lessons…students have created a list of rules for effective group work.”

Paul Sturtivant (@paulsturtivant)  tweeted: “Is your ScaRf NEAT? Successful group work Roles for learning Noise Equipment Attitude Time”

So, if you’re doing some thinking, maybe some action research or simply reflecting on learning design and considering what ‘quality group work is all about, here’s some resources to keep you going…not a bad effort for a Sunday afternoon. And all the while, this rich vein of expertise was flowing in, I was walking in the sunshine in a beautiful National Trust Property…who has time for educational Twitter?

A Mēlée of Mistake Monsters

Risk-taking and Mistake-(Monster)-Making

In high quality learning environments, risk-taking and mistake-making go hand in hand. Establishing a learning community that is both safe and challenging represents a fascinating tension. We know that encouraging a risk-embracing culture in any organisation is critical to the effective growth of a productive community of learning. The challenge is to find ways to make it okay to take risks; where mistakes are welcomed as learning opportunities rather than failures. In practice, however, this presents us with complex tensions.

We need to explore those times when taking a risk may simply be recklessness. After all, to become an effective risk-taker, we need to employ sophisticated skills of discernment and analysis of the situation. We need to use our ability to think through the consequences of the potential outcomes but this is a tough call when we may be trying something entirely new and the possible outcomes are, by definition, unknown. That’s where we need to be clear about our intentions and expectations.

Similarly, making mistakes may or may not be the result of risk-taking. A mistake may simply be indicative of carelessness, lack of time or stress, rather than an overt effort to take a risk. For a mistake to be a learning opportunity, we need to be able to communicate what the expected intended outcome was going to be. This is particularly true for us when we find ourselves staring at the disastrous wreckage of our Great Plan. If we don’t know what we want to achieve, it is hard to know how we can learn much from it when it goes catastrophically wrong.

Is there any such thing as a mistake?

One of the first conversations worth having with groups involves interrogating what we actually consider to be:

(a) a risk

(b) a mistake

After all, one person’s risk is another person’s ‘piece of cake’. For one, working independently is a massive risk whereas for another, it is a dream to be able to work alone and develop ideas without having to defer to group consensus. We need to develop a shared understanding of the individual risk-parameters present in any group, whatever the age.

And what exactly do we consider to be a ‘mistake’? It is worth thinking about how many ‘mistakes’ have become ingenious discoveries. Take the humble yet powerful sticky note, as just one example. The result of ‘inventing’ a glue that didn’t stick very well is now at the top of the list of every stationery order in almost every business and school around the world. So how many mistakes can never really be considered to be anything other than a mistake, and, therefore, worthless? You could argue that every time we do something wrong, we actually get closer to doing what is right (or so St Thomas Aquinas would argue  with the ‘Via Negativa’ approach to learning)…so is there ever any such thing as a mistake?

There are some other questions worth consideration and that could form the basis of co-constructing a risk-taking culture where it is acceptable to make mistakes in lessons:

1. What is our PERCEPTION of risk?

Creating a continuum line of risk-taking is a helpful way of asking learners to assess what level of risk they are either (a) prepared to take in their learning and/or (b) have taken as part of their learning. Encouraging them to discuss what we actually mean and understand when we talk about taking a risk is integral to agreeing a set of qualities of risk taking behaviours that we would, as a group, either encourage or discourage.

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(Painting excerpts from Edvard Munch)

This also works as a handy progress measure as the group can keep a record of the level of risk they are prepared to undertake over a period of lessons and try to increase it OR see if, by developing their levels of confidence, their perception of risk is reduced.

2. What is an ACCEPTABLE mistake?

Discussing examples and scenarios where making a mistake results in such catastrophic fall-out that it cannot, under any circumstances be ‘understood’ and, thereby, forgiven is a valuable aspect of developing a culture of risk-taking. For example, we have all experienced the highly developed, some might say over-developed, sense of justice that young people often hold. When it comes to confronting and commenting on mistakes during a self or peer assessment session, agreeing the expectations and etiquette of what actually constitutes a ‘mistake’ is a crucial part of ensuring purposeful comments and feedback.

3. What are the implications of encouraging an all-embracing mistake-making culture?

Aren’t there some situations where there really is a ‘right’ answer, a correct way of doing things which basically means that the time it takes to make a mistake is wasted time?

Well, perhaps the time-element is the crucial factor here. Perhaps if we respond to a wrong answer’ or a ‘mistake’ by simply stating that it is not right this time, then we can overtly communicate that this particular mistake does not represent the end of the world and doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to get it right or that you are rubbish at this and always will be. Instead, we can reassure that although this time, it’s not right, there’s a chance to learn from it, do it differently and get it right next time. This approach digresses slightly from the effort-focused conversations endorsed by Professor Carol Dweck in that it confronts and uses the mistake itself as the focus for the learning conversation. In this way, the inaccuracy, misconception or gap in knowledge and understanding that has lead to the mistake becomes the learning opportunity we want it to be.

4. Mistake response: What was your INTENTION?

In establishing a culture that embraces mistakes and expects risk, being both specific and overt (you would expect me to say that, I am sure) works well. Being overt about what we, as a group, understand and expect to see in an environment where learning stands proud and tall on the foundations of error, mistakes and misjudgements will enhance the quality of reflective learning conversations.

Perhaps the answer to all of this is to define mistakes as the product of intentional risk-taking i.e. ‘having a go’. This means that mistakes can simply become learnable moments. A bit (very much, actually) like all learning. This is a sort of silver-lining approach to thinking about mistakes. It also needs us to recognise that in the grand scheme of things, there is almost always something we can salvage from the embers of a ‘failed’ endeavour. If only to agree to never do it like that  again.

5. MAKE A MISTAKE MONSTER AND FEED IT!

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had recently where the concept of creating a ‘Mistake Monster’ or ‘Elephant of Errors’ was being discussed. A colleague had set a challenge to the students to actually design and create a personal mistake monster. During the term, they would ‘feed’ the monster with their mistakes. At the end of the term / unit / topic / lesson, the students can have a critique the mistakes they have made rather than discarding them. They would employ the pre-agreed criteria for what actually constituted a ‘mistake’. From this, there would be discussions and classifications of ‘good mistakes’ ‘helpful mistakes’ and so on, to the point where the process of learning (progress) was truly at the heart of the conversations between students and teachers.

As we discussed the possibilities of this, I started to imagine students and teachers creating their very own actual ‘Mistake Monsters’ and installing a ‘Mēlée of Mistake Monsters’ (for that is, I am sure, the collective noun of Mistake Monsters) as welcomed members of a risk-taking community of quality learning.Inevitably, this made me wonder what my own ‘Mistake Monster’ would:

(a) Need to Know and Understand

(b) Be Able to do

(c) Be Like

Mistake Monster

“Before I…”: creating a community voice of aspirations

I came across this TED Talk and it made me think about creating an ASPIRATIONS WALL in school. I would suggest changing the initial starter statement so that the whole school community could focus on a REAL, SPECIFIC and ACHIEVABLE GOAL set within a definable timeframe that can be reviewed and reflected upon. In this way, the ASPIRATIONS WALL can…

  1. Come to life as a truly interactive goal-setting tool, used to prompt and document conversations
  2. Become a ‘living conversation’ engaged in by the whole school community
  3. Be a piece of public art by and for the school community (as referred to in the talk) that grows and changes over a limited period of time
  4. Be adapted to connect with whole-school or subject-specific themes
  5. Be a tangible way to communicate, model and reinforce a positive, hopeful and aspirational ethos and culture
  6. Be a channel for the whole school community to value inclusive and supportive  essential learning conversations

Just imagine the power of developing a shared school (or wider) community voice using the STATEMENT/ HOPE/ ASPIRATION wall idea explained and beautifully illustrated in this short TED Talk. With the new year fast approaching and the season of resolutions, promises and future-thinking almost upon us, just imagine the power of creating a PUBLIC and very real physical OR virtual OR mini OR whatever-you-like “HOPES & ASPIRATIONS WALL” for your school community using this simple concept.

Some initial thoughts about creating this as a project…

1. Adapt the starter stems to set the tone you feel is most appropriate:

“Before the end of this/ next term…”

“Before I leave this school…”

“Before the end of this academic year…”

“Before I am 25/ 35/ 45/ 60…”

2. Make it a pop-up art-literacy project and restrict it to appearing for just one or two days or at most a week and then remove it / record it and ‘lock it’, only to revisit it later in the month or year…asking whether the hopes and aspirations were achieved.

3. Make it as big as you want…unloved corridor walls / sides of buildings / tarmac areas ?

4. Make it subject-specific e.g. Encourage statements to be scribed in a particular language / Ask statements to be formed as problems to be solved / Make it a wall of musical phrases to be compiled and connected into an entire composition…

5. Place your wall in unusual and unexpected areas and put it up without announcement and see what happens.

6. Use time lapse recording to film the development of the wall over time, with appropriate notices to alert people that this is what is happening, of course.

7. If not a wall, then be inspired by a Buddhist Prayer Tree…ask students to submit their own aspirations on specifically designed labels and attached to a tree / ladder / appropriate structure – the key is to ensure the aspirations can be read by everybody. It is the public, community and inclusive element of this project that is critical.

8. Open up the wall to members of the local community to join in and contribute their own aspirations…decide the level of anonymity you want to have..you may just have age and gender.

I am sure you’ll have many, many more adaptations and ideas for this. I’d love to know if you already have such a wall and how it works for you and your community.

For me, the power of the ASPIRATIONS WALL can be found in the following elements:

  • Public
  • Inclusive
  • Positive
  • Accessible
  • Temporary
  • Adaptable

NB I would usually upload a TED Talk like this one to the TEDUCATION page of this blog and add some of my reflections on how it can be linked to learning and offering some ideas about projects that might develop as a result, as I have done here.

For a variety of reasons, however, I wanted this particular talk to sit here and take centre-stage for a while. It’s about 6 minutes and I reckon there’s so much potential in adapting this particular  project for our school communities that it warrants its place here.

Watch the Talk and be inspired….let me know what ideas it sparks for you…

Interested in MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS for Teaching and Learning?

Check our the dedicated blog for Marginal Learning Gains for Pedagogy..see tab above or copy this address into your browser:

www.marginallearninggains.com

…and previous posts on this blog

..and the Learning Goggles page has a downloadable PDF covering the underpinning thinking, beginnings and first FIVE Marginal Learning Gains posts.

“Ask not what you EXPECT of me, but what you EXPECT of yourself”

(This is also published as new addition to the “EXPECTATIONS” post on www.marginallearninggains.com)

The Line of Engagement

Reflecting on to what degree pupils are engaging in their own learning and what this looks like, rather than whether they just simply, ‘are or are not engaged’ is another important dimension of the mindset of expectant teaching that you may wish to develop.

Here are some reflective and observational questions to hold in your head when the lesson is underway that you can use as part of your Marginal Learning Gains micro-action research:

QUESTION: Who is at what level of engagement for a SPECIFIC phase of the lesson?

(1) PARTICIPATING: Those who are simply ‘there’, being compliant to others and the lesson and completing tasks as and when they decide to, possibly prompted by eye contact with you or your proximity to them.

(2) INVOLVED:  Those who are following the path of least resistance, making you aware that they are there by answering the first and / or lowest challenge, ‘quick win’ questions but not taking their own thinking further or developing it beyond the initial stages. They don’t pose their own questions and certainly don’t take up the challenge of driving their own (or others’) learning on.

(3) ENGAGED: BINGO! These are the students who question, consider, pose, test and really grapple with their own learning. They clarify their understanding through further questions to you and their peers and uses phrases like ‘I had a go at this…what do you think?’ These students demonstrate a real sense of AGENCY.

This approach can also be assessed and, more powerfully, peer and self assessed through powerful learning conversations that might begin with…

  • What do you think is the difference between (a) PARTICIPATING (b) BEING INVOLVED (c) BEING ENGAGED?
  • How ENGAGED (a) Do you EXPECT to be today (b) Did you EXPECT to be today?
  • What does ‘being engaged’ look, sound and feel like for (a) you (b) your peers/ learning buddy?
  • How do you need to change your EXPECTATIONS of yourself SO THAT you can move up the mountain of ENGAGEMENT?

Here’s a familiar (to those of you who know me well) visual prompt that you might want to adapt to support such questions with your groups…

If you’ve got a genuinely engaged group, then you may wish to really place the challenge of learning at their feet with an adapted mantra:

“Ask not what you EXPECT of me, but what you EXPECT of yourself”…or something like that! Improved suggestions on a postcard, please…

Please let me know how you get on with this MLG. Unpicking EXPECTATIONS is a critical component of the MLG project and one MLG that has massive potential when it comes to aggregating the MLGs.

Ensuring Impact: The Aggregation of Marginal Learning Gains

So, I am now well into a reflection-development phase of the Marginal Learning Gains work. This has to centre around, as with all educational endeavours, “What impact will the Marginal Learning Gains approach have on the quality of teaching and learning and how will I know?”. It is early days, I know, but I am a front-end evaluation sort of thinker and I like to be clear about the intended impact and outcomes from the outset. I am always looking to refine and learn and to do that, I have been asking a few questions of MLG. My own experiences with MLG mean that I have been part of a launch of MLG and I am privileged enough to have been made aware from feedback to this blog, emails, ‘actual’ (!) conversations and through Twitter that many, many people are also now well underway in developing Marginal Learning Gains as a way to reflect and develop their own practice with colleagues and staff.

This post is an acknowledgement to the amazing amount of MLG interest, positive feedback, ideas and fantastic sharing of thinking over the past few weeks about the implementation Marginal Learning Gains (MLG). People have been sharing how they are already using MLG to develop quality learning opportunities in individual practice, within teams and across a school.

Although it is tempting at this point to simply say, “Just try it and see” or, “Take a look at what people are saying in their blogs and tweets about how they’re using MLG and the impact that is having” that’s not enough for the evidence-based researcher in me.

Marginal Learning Gains: The missing verb

When it comes to impact, there is one word missing from my blog posts, our tweets, the marginal gains hashtag on Twitter and even the Marginal Learning Gains website itself that is most likely to provide an answer to how we will see and know there is impact. Although described in the original Dave Brailsford documentary and in his interview here, the one word missing from MLG is the verb, “AGGREGATION“.

For it is in what we DO with the many small Learning Gains we identify, analyse and develop that will lay the foundations for sustained improvement. This will also avoid the inherent danger that some people have rightly noted and commented in our discussions of recommending Marginal Learning Gains as a way to ‘just find some (possibly random) little things to improve’ which may result in pressurising us into implementing a frenetic series of disconnected teaching activities that will only serve to confuse, disrupt and overwhelm. Which is the exact opposite of what MLG is all about. It is designed to give clarity to what we want to develop and improve so that we can think, reflect and discuss what great learning needs to look, sound and feel like for our learners. Have a look at the Ofsted survey on the Learning Goggles section of this blog, placed at Number 4: ‘Some myths about teaching and learning’. This has a description of what might constitute ‘over-teaching’ on pages 12-15 of the Ofsted Survey and illustrates this point about ‘overwhelm’ with teaching strategies.

Criteria: what is a Marginal Learning Gain?

A Marginal Learning Gain is one that can be identified as one small constituent part and incorporated into the whole of a teacher’s practice and used to enhance the daily learning experiences of learners. Ultimately, if there is to be an authentic sense of AGENCY and AUTONOMY in this process, the MLG is entirely up to you. It is for you to reflect on your own practice so that you can select what to focus on as what you believe will make the greatest difference. Drawing on your own wealth of expertise and the advice and observations of others around you is probably the best way to select your first few Marginal Learning Gains.

Here are three possible sources of evidence you may choose to use to refine your definition of your own Marginal Learning Gains and make an informed selection:

1. SELF AWARENESS: The here & now: What and where are the missed opportunities that we frequently observe in our own and each others’ lessons, see in written work or notice during learning walks? What are the small adaptions we could make that would avoid the reflection, ‘…if only…’ in response to how learning is delivered and organised. Where we know we could have provided students with opportunities to think more deeply, make connections across and between topics, discuss with confidence, synthesise their prior and present learning and apply their expertise to new situations?

2. EXTERNAL RESEARCH: The known & reported: What does research say really makes a difference to the quality of learning outcomes? Which of the most powerful teaching techniques or approaches are worth really making a part of our standard practice?

3. JUDGEMENTS: The accountability framework: What does Ofsted say aids (a) the flow of learning and (b) the quality of progress over time of every student? How do we avoid trying to do everything listed be discerning about the few things we can identify in our own context, analyse these and develop them accordingly?

There is an inherent danger in taking an ‘only-do’ approach to MLG in that although it may well lead to identifying some (possible very small) aspects of teaching that, if given attention, can be analysed and then developed, this may not be something that, when aggregated, makes s direct contribution to the ‘whole’. There is one level of impact in reflecting in this way, for sure. The trick is, as is always the case, to consider how to make this learning gain an ACTUAL GAIN and with this, ensure that it is sustainable and can be aggregated (incorporated into the whole so that it has impact). The key to the MLG approach is to ensure that every learning gain made can be embedded and sustained as part of everyday practice, ensuring that this will not be one of those ‘missed opportunities’ at a later date.

So here goes…the Marginal Learning Gains approach with a methodology to accompany it. One that can be used time and time again so that gains can indeed be aggregated. As Dave Brailsford says, it is only when you put the marginal gains together and embed them as part of your standard practice, that you will start to see the TOTAL impact. In this case, on the quality of teaching and learning.

So this is my first attempt (of several, I am sure) to explain just how integral and manageable ‘MICRO‘ action research is as an integral part of the Marginal Learning Gains approach. It is an approach I have used for years and as part of the MLG process, I can only see how will benefit anybody who wants to ensure that MLG thinking will have a sustained impact over time for quality teaching and learning.

For me, any form of research is about developing a reflective mindset and with this, it has a direct a impact on practice. In working and thinking in this way, we get to the point where we are confident enough to implement the small but meaningful changes (MLGs) in teaching practice that will make a big difference in learning outcomes.

The MLG tool: Micro Action Research

Micro action research is the methodology that is most suited to implementing Marginal Learning Gains in your practice and ensuring that the aggregation happens. If Marginal Learning Gains is the philosophy, then micro-action research is the methodology. At the end of which, the Learning

Gains can be pulled together (aggregated) to ensure sustained impact. There’s clearly a synergy between the methodology and the philosophy of MLG.

In micro action research, you focus on developing just one aspect of pedagogy (which you have identified from one or all of your three evidence sources listed above) with a specific group within a limited timeframe. Once you have developed this one aspect, embedded it and sustained it as part of your practice, you simply identify another key component and apply the same process. That’s where the Aggregation of Marginal Learning Gains starts to really take a hold.

This is how it works…The Micro Action Research Question

Rather than asking, “How can I improve my teaching from (x) to (y)?” and with this question, getting frustrated because you feel that you’re doing everything you know you should be doing, micro action research requires you to reframe the question in SPECIFICS, so that you can easily and systematically assess the impact of any specific changes you test out. So your question will sound more like this,

“To improve my teaching from (x) to (y)…” becomes…

“How can I use [SPECIFIC STRATEGY] (e.g. paired discussion) SO THAT I see an improvement in the [LEARNING OUTCOME] (e.g. quality of learning talk) with [FOCUS GROUP] (e.g. five Year 9 boys) over [TIMEFRAME] (e.g. three lessons) ?”

The handy thing about this approach is that the research can be undertaken without making massive changes or requiring hours of pre-planning. By adopting a reflective mindset in the first lesson, you are using the Marginal Learning Gains (IAD) approach at a meta-level and in doing so, embedding it in your own thinking.

In your first lesson, you IDENTIFY what your focus needs to be. Between the first and the second lesson, you ANALYSE the characteristics of what you EXPECT when you listen to ‘quality learning talk’ in this instance and then, in the second and third lessons, you can DEVELOP those specific characteristics through the small changes you implement.

In doing this, you don’t have to undertake a whole-scale re-programming of your  teaching preferences and style but instead, you are free to focus your attention on a specific aspect of your repertoire. You can then engage in a highly reflective process that will not only develop this specific aspect of teaching but, more importantly, shape the way in which you design learning at the outset.

If you merge this with some developmental lesson observations as part of a focused MLG coaching programme, then you’ll have a model for teaching and learning development that is sophisticated in terms of depth of thinking and quality reflection but simple in terms of manageability. This is a Low Input: High Impact model for professional development. And if you want to know more about how the developmental coaching programme works, I’ll be posting about that soon.