“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…

Marginal Gains: “SO THAT” we can squeeze the learning out of LOs (Part 2)

In my commitment to refining and developing my thinking as a reflective practitioner, here’s a couple of additions to the previous post as a result of Tweacher feedback:

@charte shared some learning from Cramlington, where, “…LOs were usually stated as Content…Process…Benefit which I found helpful!”

And @rachaelkp who tweeted,  “..interesting and useful, could be followed by a question to take learner to next LO?” followed by, “…it also puts the learner in the driving seat, great for motivation.”

Which made me think of this as a type of LO equation, which is great for showing progress over time…

[Today’s LO] SO THAT [next lesson’s LO]

or for links to the wider world or longer term

[Today’s Learning] SO THAT [BIG PICTURE OUTCOME: “You understand/ make informed choices/ contribute to…”]

or for connections to a specific skill…

[Today’s learning] SO THAT [application of skill: “You can…”]

or for a differentiated outcome

[Today’s learning] SO THAT [all can…] [some can…] [most can…]

I’m sure there’s much more in this and I hope you understand that this blog post is my attempt to test out and share my thinking. But it seems that if we dissect the LO so we think about it in terms of exactly why and how the learning will result in the intended outcome, “Learning = Outcome”  then we have a chance to be explicit and concrete about why ‘learning this‘ or ‘learning in this way‘ or even why ‘learning this right now‘ is important, relevant and meaningful. I also really like the Cramlington approach tweeted by Chris Harte which puts the process of learning into the equation.

If students can take the opportunity to reflect for themselves why they think they are ‘learning this’, ‘learning in this way’ and ‘learning this right now’ then they’ll be able to give us some invaluable feedback about the level and security of the understanding they have about their learning which we can then use to inform our teaching adaptations.

If there’s a way to really use LOs to drive the learning and work for us, then I reckon that it could well be yet another marginal gain well worth aggregating.

Constructing learning SO THAT it is meaningful and purposeful

Finding ways to make the complexities of learning concrete and clear to learners is a challenge. Ensuring how we design learning that is both purposeful and meaningful is one thing. Deciding just how we translate the often abstract concept of learning we have in our head so that it makes sense and has meaning for others is what makes a quality learning experience.

This is part of my Marginal Learning Gains (#marginalgains) thinking as it involves focusing in on a very small aspect of learning and refining it in order to extract as big a learning opportunity as possible from it. What I have come to refer to as ‘squeezing the learning’.

I’ve been grappling with the challenge of how to construct learning outcomes and /or objectives (which I will refer to as LOs from here on) that are both purposeful and meaningful. For many lessons, LOs often become the empty and unloved dark corner of our learning architecture rather than the engine room of the learning experience we are offering. So, with my Marginal Learning Gains thinking hat firmly on I started to unpick this one aspect of learning design to see if there was a marginal learning gain to be aggregated in the use and construction of LOs.

The “So That…” of learning 

By inserting the connective of ‘SO THAT…’ there is a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning. This can also counter challenges from those students who, when faced with something new or unfamiliar and are reluctant to take an intellectual risk, ask why they need to learn/ do/ understand/ study this or learn in this way. So it gives us a great opportunity to pre-empt what is, in fact the ‘SO WHAT?’ by making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset.

Some of the benefits of using the ‘SO THAT…’ connective I have begun to notice…

  • It forces me to really think through the reasons why I have designed the learning in a particular way and it doesn’t let me off the hook!
  • It makes me explicit about what I intend the impact of learning to look, sound and feel like, so I have front-end evaluation criteria from the outset as part of my outcome-focused planning
  • It sharpens up my thinking about every form of learning or training session I design. After all, if I can’t explain the ‘SO THAT…’ it probably means that I couldn’t answer the ‘SO WHAT…?’ if I was asked
  • It means that anybody who comes in mid-way through will be clear about the purpose of the design and content of the learning experience
  • It provides a prompt for all learners to articulate why and what they are learning in terms of content and the how in terms of the organisation of their learning
  • It provides an opportunity to involve the learners in working out for themselves what the purpose of learning is. In doing so, they co-construct the success criteria for individual tasks and can see how these are directly linked into the bigger picture of learning

And, if you know me well, you’ll not be surprised that I need a visual to show what I’m talking about. So here you go…I’m working with some teachers to see how this goes, so please let me know what you think so we can add, tweak and refine it further if needs be…Image

The Learning Cycle: #4 The Learning Quotient

This morning, @HuntingEnglish sent me a link via @StuartMaginnis to an interview with Team GB and Sky Pro Cycling Performance Director, Dave Brailsford in the magazine, ‘Cycle Sport’. I read this article a while back so this was a great opportunity to reflect on it once more with my ‘Marginal Gains’ Goggles on. In this article, Brailsford talks about the way in which he uses statistics to inform his thinking and planning. For the data rich environments of schools, this approach to performance analysis is very familiar. In fact, I found it surprising that it was highlighted as such a distinctive aspect of Brailsford’s approach. After all, sport has led the way when it comes to gathering statistics and making informed training plans for athletes. From the time when the very first games, races and competitions were recorded, data has been collated, analysed and interrogated. But there is something distinctive about how Brailsford uses the data available to him. In acknowledging that the website he uses most frequently is not perfect, he makes the following observation,

“There are some flaws in it. For example, a rider will get the same amount of points for a sprint win as another rider will get for a summit finish but they are very different challenges. When you look at the rankings, Cav [Mark Cavendish] has 1,400 points and Hesjedal has 1,200 points but they’ve won them in completely different ways. As riders they don’t overlap at all.” 

Cycle Sport Online May 20122 (http://www.cyclesportmag.com/features/inside-the-mind-of-dave-brailsford/)

Showing & sharing what progress looks like

So here’s where a learning programme built on the principles of Aggregation of Marginal Gains (see #1) began to resonate for me. By interrogating the data that is available to us and drilling right down into it, we all know that individual learning stories of learners become apparent. What the Marginal Gains approach to learning may give us, however, is an opportunity to very deliberately adapt our teaching to the specific learning needs of students. This will, in turn, enable us to usethe data to inform the teaching of specific learning points and identify the specific skills, knowledge and understanding that will require development. More importantly, if we can find a way to show this and, therefore, share this, with learners, then this will give a greater understanding of what progress over time looks like for them, in the context of a specific topic or subject area of expertise.  With this, we can draw on the learning intelligence available to us and let it act not as a driver, but as a component part, of the conversations we have with learners.

The beauty of all of this is that we have an inordinate amount of innate ‘learning expertise’ that we can draw upon to identify what it is that students need to know and understand, be able to do and  be like in order to be effective learners.

When mapped against the distinctive learning strengths and areas for development required by each learner, students can construct their own learning plan; one that with which they are eager to comply (see #2). In this way, they can really start to lead their own learning and ultimately ‘own their ambition’.

Such a meticulous approach may also result in teachers being able to distinguish between two learners who, in terms of their data, at any given point, may be working at the same level, but working in very different ways, underpinned by very different strengths. This echoes Brailsford’s reservations in the quote above about the data source he relies on so heavily when assessing the ongoing performance of the riders in his team.

By using what we know makes an effective learner in subject or topic (x), we can, as learning experts in our own right, explicitly guide learners to deliberately design opportunities for them to practise the specific elements of their performance that will help them make the marginal gains they need.

In my earliest drafts of Full On Learning (about 3 years ago!) I had a go at designing a progress chart to illustrate this. The progress chart didn’t make it into the final edit of the book, but Brailsford’s comment on the flaws of the data that he uses in the quote above reminded me of it. In particular, his observation that data can inadvertently mask the different ways two people might achieve the same immediate end but hide a gap in the learning history that may be critical at a later date. So, I trawled my archived files and had a go at seeing if it works within the Marginal Gains concept. Here goes…

Seeing and sharing progress over time

The chart is designed to record in a visual way the progress over time of learners as they move through a scheme of learning. We know that APP (Assessing Pupil Progress see: Ofsted: “The Impact of Assessing Pupil Progress Initiative” 04 April 2011) can work really well to identify the specific elements of expertise that learners need to develop within a particular area over a period of time.

The chart provides a way to actually see and discuss the specifics of learning progression, or ‘opportunities for improvement’, as Marginal Gains would define them. The idea is that the chart visualises the learning pathway of every learner in a group. The immediacy of this visual approach to tracking progress over time makes it easy to share with learners exactly what progress looks like. It is designed to be used to highlight specific success criteria and recognise just how this fits into the overall picture of “Being an effective learner in (x) subject)”. In this way, the ‘Why?’ of learning can also be shared it is clear how one single task fits into the on-going learning process.

Every learner can create their own chart to record their progress over time, using it as a reflexive tool. They can identify what exactly they have achieved, what, specifically, they need to do to improve and why they need to do it, rather than simply recording their attainment and moving, unthinkingly, on. Using the chart requires regular opportunities for reflection to be planned to encourage quality learning conversations underpinned by a far more concrete picture of learning.

The chart included in this post is a whole class version that teachers use to identify the specific areas for development that will need to be re-visited. In this example, it is clear that although, in the most recent piece of work, the two students have both attained a Level 8, one of them needs  to revisit the preceding topic to practise the skills, check their understanding and correct any misconceptions. In other words, (if I’ve got it right!), it can be used to show exactly where the marginal gains for each student can be made. The individual charts can be used to see individual progress and can become personal and very specific ‘ambition templates’ for every learner.

Benefits of this visualisation:

  • An opportunity to make progress over time in specific areas  visible to learners and teachers
  • A way to make abstract learning processes concrete and tangible
  • To identify opportunities for marginal gains that may otherwise be masked by ‘most recent performance’
  • To match teaching to individual learning needs and for learners to design their own Learning Plans to which they can comply (#2)
  • To establish a shared start point and the basis for a script to stimulate and support quality learning conversations between teachers, tutors, learners, parents and carers
  • To encourage learners to take ownership of their learning, goal setting and recognition of effort and achievement by designing and recording their own versions
  • To track and compare learners who, in terms of performance data may be indistinguishable

With deliberately planned opportunities for reflection in lessons and conversations with tutors, students can use their charts to recognise their progress in specific areas and set their own goals by recording progress topic by topic and always within the context of a bigger curriculum area.

If you are following these posts, you’ll know that these are ‘think-pieces’ designed to explore how the philosophy of Aggregation of Marginal Gains can be applied to learning. I welcome any thoughts you might have…

The power of creative explanations

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Just take 8 minutes out of your busy day and watch this awesome explanation of The Higgs Bosun and what they’re up to over at the Large Hadron Collider. For those of us who are constantly trying to find ways to celebrate clever-endeavour and the joy of intelligent curiousity, this creative and engaging animation is a pretty good way to start.

Just imagine the discussions that could stem from this…

Joyous!

Enhancing the flow of learning through ‘Phased Disclosure’

(https://foursquare.com/sachab/list/northern-line)

Those of you who know me will know what a hopelessly visual-biased learner I am.  I adore the way we can communicate complex ideas in a multi-layered way through a simple illustration, shape or diagram. The popularity of info-graphics and data visualisations reflect an increased interest in communicating ideas and messages in an easily accessible format.  More on this in a post to follow, but visual representations or pictorial short-hand are by no means new or unfamiliar.

I was watching the BBC documentary series ‘The Tube’ recently and episode 5 included a great piece on the work of Paul Marchant who is Head of Product Design at Transport for London.  He gave a fascinating explanation of how the signage throughout the whole London Underground system is designed.  The signs are deliberately designed so as to give just the right amount of information at the right time as you travel through the system to get to the right train.  Not only that, but the information is deliberately designed according to the best distance to be able to read it, so the size of the lettering (the ‘X heights’) is meticulously calculated to give people enough time to read the information whilst still keeping them flowing through the system.

In his piece to camera, he explained that without the signage, the commuter wouldn’t be able to make their individual decisions at the specific point that they needed which would result in an interruption to the flow of the system, which would then start to back up.  The signage enables the system to work more efficiently.”People think this just happens…” he said, but the process that underpins how to increase the efficiency in the flow of commuters through the system is very deliberate indeed.  As you would expect, this made me think about learning design…

He used a great phrase for the design principles he uses, “Phased Disclosure”.

It made me think that if we were to apply theses same principles to how we deisgn learning, I wonder if we could increase the flow of learning in lessons?

So here’s an enquiry question: “How do I increase the flow, and therefore quality of learning through my lesson design?”

And my initial thoughts on what success could look like…

1. More opportunities for quality reflection and reduction of interruptions (by teacher and learner)

2. Greater autonomy for learners to make choices (select from the 4 T’s of Autonomy: TEAM: who they work with; TIME: when they get the work done, TECHNIQUE: how they work and TOPIC: what they work on) that will lead to an increase in choices offered and improved decision-making

3. Higher levels of sustained engagement by all learners, working at their own pace and leading their own learning

I’ve had a first go and aligning the ‘flow’ of a commuter through the underground system that Paul Marchant explained to the flow of learning.  I’d be interested to hear what you think:

(1) ALL OPTIONS DISPLAYED: Go through the gate line – graphic representations of all possible travel options that are available to you (BIG PICTURE & the WHY, HOW and WHAT of learning*)

*See Simon Sinek’s great TEDx Talk about this model and his website and book “Start with the Why?”

(2) DECISION MAKING POINT: colour coded, suspended signs indicate the route to follow for the desired choice of tube line (AUTONOMY & INDEPENDENCE: 4 T’s of CHOICES: TIME, TECHNIQUE, TEAM, TOPIC*)

*Daniel Pink talks about the ‘Four T’s’ in his brilliant TED Talk (also well worth a watch in animated form in the RSA Animate series) and he has written about motivation in “Drive”

(3) REASSURANCE: as you move down the escalator, there are larger suspended signs that everybody moving down the escalator can read as they descend towards the platforms. These reinforce the information you already have and reassure you that they you moving in the right direction (QUESTIONING & FEEDBACK: LEARNER-TO-TEACHER)

(4) DECISION MAKING POINT: colour coded again and suspended, these provide you with options of northbound or southbound pltaforms (REFLECTION & RESILIENCE: PROGRESS & INTELLECTUAL RISK-TAKING)

(5) BIG PICTURE: as you walk onto your platform, you can check that you are heading the right way for this part of your journey by looking at large static ‘maps’ of the tube route on your desired line, in the direction you have opted. (REFLECTION, ADAPTATION, AMENDMENT & SUCCESS CRITERIA)

This is all very early days in my thinking, but I wonder if this gives us another way to look at how and why) we need to personalise and differentiate?

Perhaps we should be thinking about learning as ‘phased disclosure’? But exactly who gets to do the disclosure is the next challenge…