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…

Harnessing learning power through video


We (a collection of ambitious educators including the marvellous Jim Smith author of “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook”) ran a student conference in 2008 with 100 students from 10 secondary schools. Their task over the two day residential was to ‘RE-BRAND LEARNING’. Above is just one of the outcomes from one group. Bear in mind, this was a group of learners who hadn’t met each other before the conference and came from very different schools and backgrounds. Yet when it came to learning, they were pretty clear about what they wanted…

The new site launched earlier this month by TED-ED has a call-out for videos to inspire learning and learners in the true spirit of www.TED.com. As you know, I’ve put together TEDucation which attempts to use the wealth of ideas from all the TED talks to reflect on and adapt to learning contexts. This project is a natural next step for TEDsters across the globe. There’s a place to engage through the TED-ED forum and a growing number of questions to respond to.

So, if nothing else, the TED-ED video opportunity could be a fabulous student project, and it could be very naturally linked to the amazing work of the #purposed team (@purposeducation).

“Make your own short film about what YOU think is the purpose of education.” and upload it to a global audience. Now THERE’S an opportunity for some awesome learning.

Collaboration: as with all learning, is too important to be left to chance

Jane McGonigal presents a great argument here that attempts to demonstrate the potential force for good that could exist within games-playing. Games like World of Warcraft require a commitment on the part of the participants to collaborate with their fellow players in order to achieve their goals.

For me, this brings me back to considering the power of games-dynamics in themselves and of the need for students to get as many opportunities as possible to learn together, in groups. The structure and integral components that underpin interactive games-playing might be translated into a some form of taxonomy of learning design. Here’s a very rough draft of what it might look like:

  • Identifies what needs to be done in order to achieve goals
  • Recognises that attainment of goals cannot be done independently of others
  • Identifies who and/or what can help in the attainment of such goals
  • Adapts own behaviour so as to foster collaboration from others
  • Collaborates with others to achieve own goals
  • Works effectively with others to achieve own goals
  • Is prepared to offer collaborative expertise to achieve goals of others
  • Recognises that working with others is more effective than working independently
  • Actively seeks out further collaborative opportunities with others

And so on.

And what if we created a game-scenario that was intended to solve some of the world’s greatest problems and handed this over to our students? How might this encourage learners to engage with the wider world and begin a process of problem solving from which innovative solutions might emerge? We know it works, after all. Consider the way in which The Human Genome Project finally unlocked human DNA, or the creation of WIkipedia or…well, you know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we should ditch the curriculum and get students to start playing WoW. What this talk does make me think about, however, is how collaborative skills need to be deliberately practised just as much as skills in calculus, research or reading. As I’ve said before in posts and what I’m writing about in other forms at the moment, if we can design learning in such a way that it offers engaging opportunities for students to mindfully practise the skills required to collaborate, then surely that’s one step closer to their readiness to both give and take from the world everything it has to offer?

Other TED Talks on related to this and that have similar connections to learning include Seth Priebatsch and Tom Chatfield.

PLTS resources created through fabulous collaboration

(Taken from an original post on a PLTS Action Research Blog)

These resources are under development with the PLTS team at the moment….it goes something like this…

(1) Have an idea

(2) Ask, “I wonder if…?” within earshot of team members

(3) Prototype gets developed

(4) Prototype is tested and refined both in terms of its design and its application to task

(5) Prototype becomes a real resource

We are a great team!

The resources are designed to stimulate QUALITY LEARNING CONVERSATIONS, using the language and concepts of the PLTS. We’ll let you know how are ‘field trials’ go.

The dice are designed as one per PLTS, in two versions, one set is to be used reflectively with the prompt of ‘Have you…’ and the other set is to set PLTS targets ‘Try to…’. They are made out of wood and are, in themselves, things of beauty! The swatch cards are for teachers to refer to when they are observing learning, to support the integration of PLTS language and the cards are for learners to use to reflect and develop the PLTS as a shared language for learning. We’ll be road-testing them all with our project teams of Confident Communicators on Thursday, when we’re holding the Presentation Day for the project. The day is being run alongside an LA AfL teacher conference, and the teachers will attend some of the presentations as a CPD workshop to have a go at observing the PLTS in action using ‘Observing Learning’ techniques we’re developing.

Dsc_0023
Dsc_0024
Dsc_0025
Dsc_0026
Dsc_0027

“RESEARCH WEEK” for Confident Communicators

Since the launch of the Confident Communicators’ project (see previous post on February 24th), I have been reflecting on the PLTS that the students are developing throughout this long-term project and it is abundantly clear that of ALL the PLTS, the skill of being an EFFECTIVE PARTICIPANT is the singular learning skill in the spotlight. What will be interesting to reflect upon, however, will be the learning DISPOSITIONS necessary for learners to develop. Key questions we need to ask when we are observing the learning of the students need to be focused on the learning behaviours that students are displaying that allow the project move forward.

All of the teams are having their learning journeys documented by the AST team, using enhanced This involves the teams taking photographs of key moments of their project work and the ASTs undertaking interviews with the students to unpack how the process is helping them learn. The early edits of these are already flagging up the ‘make-or-break’ elements of the challenge for the teams being hinged upon the EFFECTIVE PARTICIPATION of the team members. They mention their need to communicate effectively with each other and those who can help them with their research. They also talk about listening to each other, organising their thoughts and ideas and really working together as a research group to make sure they make the necessary progress.

All the teams are off to The Pervasive Media Studio (www.pmstudio.co.uk) in Bristol next week. This is a structured research visit that we have set up for them to support their research and give them an experience of field research and hands-on learning. We’ll have lots to report about this particular experience by the end of the week.

Confident Communicators Project Is Go!

I’m just recovering from an amazing day at Bath University where we launched our collaborative schools’ research project. I work with a wonderful, dedicated team who are making all of this innovative learning a reality.

The ‘Confident Comminicators’ project is designed to work on several levels:

1. Develop learners’ self confidence through their communication and collaboration skills.

2. Provide a learner-led research project which will run over the next five months.

3. Create opportunities for teachers to adopt the role of facilitator and observer of learning, using strategies adapted from EYFS practice.

4. Allow learners to work in teams to ‘research the future’.

5. Raise aspirations of learners & teachers.

6. Use podcasting to develop ‘quality learning conversations’.

What a day! A special word of thanks (tinged with buckets of awe) for the ‘glue’ of the day, Mr Jeremy Stockwell (follow on Twitter @jeremystockwell). He absolutely pinned down the essence of the day in what, how and why he said & did what he did.

Suffice to say, I now know how to breathe and, as one teacher reflected on how tired she was at the end of the day (the students were similarly exhausted!), “…it’s great to be tired in a different way.”

Indeed it is. More on the project as it develops.