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 Learning Cycle: #2 Compliance to Your Training (Learning) Plan

Reflecting on the second episode of “The Road to Glory”,  and inspired by a fantastic Twitter conversation with @HuntingEnglish and @macn_1, this is the second of my Learning Cycle posts. See here for #1 and #3. My PLN buddies and I had all watched the first two episodes of “The Road to Glory”, a Sky documentary about the quest of the Sky Pro Cycling Team to be the first British cycling team to win the Tour de France. Led by Team GB Cycling Performance Director, Dave Brailsford, the documentary is providing a fascinating insight into the meticulous approach that is needed to be successful at the highest level.

In the second episode, we heard how Bradley Wiggins, the team leader and ‘arrow-head’ of the Sky Pro Cycling Team, had been on a personal journey to get to the point where he was ready to be the team leader and achieve the successes that were to come his way this summer. Interviews with the team psychologist, throughout the documentary, made it clear that the role of Dr Steve Peters was integral to all the riders, but in particular, with Bradley Wiggins. Whilst Bradley’s talent is unquestionable in terms of cycling ability, he has worked with Bradley on his levels of self-belief and, as Peters refers to them, his ‘inner chimp’ to really exploit the potential of his talent. There’s a useful explanation of Peters role and his view of the ‘inner chimp’ on the Sky Pro Cycling website and he’s written about it in his book, “The Chimp Paradox”, which is now on my reading list…! Anyway, the term ‘inner chimp’ is used to describe the emotional part of the brain. I’ve always thought of it as the reptilian part, the amygdala, but I prefer the chimp analogy as it captures just how troublesome it can be when we are ruled by our un-thinking, reactionary emotions when faced with unfamiliar or challenging situations. Consider your first day of school (as a pupil or an NQT) and you’ll soon start remembering not what happened, but how it felt. That’s the chimp for you. it has no language, no ability to rationalise, it is our inner-most hub of feelings and reactions to the world around us. It is this that is often the determining factor in how well, and, at times, if, we learn.

As the trainers talked about Bradley’s approach to becoming integrated into his new  team and responding to his training plan, they used the word, “compliance”. They said that once all riders, including Bradley, had ‘complied’ to their individual training programmes, then success would inevitably follow. In the sequence that followed, this is exactly what started to happen. Even to the point of Bradley surprising everyone when he won his first ‘bunch’ sprint finish on one of the stages on the Tour of Romandie prior to the Tour de France.

But back to our  learning agenda and that word, ‘compliance’. It feels uncomfortable to talk of any form of compliance when we’re discussing learning. For me, it conjures up the concept of ‘yielding’ or ‘acquiescing’ or even ‘subjugation’. It suggests a pathway to passivity, as opposed to encouraging, if not demanding, active engagement in a process or with a system.  So as I watched the programme, I struggled to find a way in which the concept of compliance might ever be applied to learning and what we ask our learners to do. To what, exactly, must they become compliant? But then, never one to walk away from a thinking struggle, I started to play around with the idea and see if there actually was a way to apply the philosophy of ‘compliance’ in learning. So here’s what I’ve come up with…

Perhaps if learners are charged with the task of designing their own learning plans and are genuinely empowered to follow, amend and implement these, for themselves and if they comply to this, their own plan, perhaps that’s a way to adapt the concept to learning? Stephen M.R. Covey talks about the need for us to make an explicit commitment to ourselves as the very first step in achieving trust, in his book, “The Speed of Trust”. Before we can trust others, whether individuals or organisations, we must be able to trust ourselves. This means that when we say we are going to eat our five-a-day, we need to do it. Only by being committed to our own goals and making these a priority, he argues, will we be able to really know what it means to completely trust others to do the same. The “Road to Glory” documentary depicted compliance as a positive act, as a way of reducing intra-personal conflict (with oneself, and particularly, the inner chimp) and of giving in to the ‘best’ way. I had a conversation with @lucysweetman about this and she used a lovely phrase in reflecting back to me what I was saying. For the team of cyclists, their compliance was all about ‘owning their ambition’. I love this phrase and it certainly resonates with the focus of so much of my work around motivation, confidence and self-directed learning. The practical application of this concept would need to be informed by a programme of Aggregation of Marginal Gains…

How manageable would it be to ask every learner to design their own personal learning plan informed by specific, individual goals that incorporate even the tiniest marginal gains? What would this look like? To be an effective learner in (x) subject would obviously have to include knowing the technical nuances of the subject, the skills related directly to this subject and being able to apply these in a variety of different topic areas. In addition, at a micro-level, it would also be explicit about the need to arrive to the lesson on time, with an open-mind and readiness to learn, demonstrated by bringing the correct equipment, knowing what was expected and listening to others’ ideas, contributing to class discussions.

Do learners ‘own their ambition’? Where is this already happening, and if so, how effective is it? Do we ask the learners how effective their learning regime is? What ‘gains’ do their existing plans already include and how could we include some micro-gains? If they are not complying with their learning plan, what can we do to help them engage with it? Who designed the plan and who takes responsibility for monitoring it?

All of this reminded me of the work on motivation by the fabulous Educational Psychologist, Alan McLean. He highlights the ‘Three A’s’ in his work on motivation in “The Motivated School”. These are:

Affiliation – a sense of belonging and of feeling a part of a group and community, where all views and contributions are welcomed and valued.

Autonomy – ability and opportunity to make authentic choices and be self-directed in learning pathways.

Agency – self-belief and confidence that tasks can and will be achieved. Learning is both challenging and achievable.

For me, the only kind of learning plan learners can and should be expected to comply to is one that is overtly underpinned by the Three A’s above. Only in that way, can they truly own their ambition.

Here’s what @HuntingEnglish  said:

“I also like the simplicity of the ‘triple A’ model for motivation.  It gives a clarity to some of my instincts on the matter. I do think the Rosetta stone of learning is motivation – if it can be triggered and sustained then truly anything can happen. 

With all my new teaching groups this week – effort and motivation have been integral to the tone I have sought to establish – which is where the ‘bum warmer’ marginal gain was referenced!” 

Imagine the impact of every learner in a class, year group and school agreeing to ‘comply’ to their very own ‘3 A’s’ learning plan; accountable first and foremost to themselves and their self-selected personal goals. Imagine the quality learning conversations that would happen in the drafting and re-drafting of such plans. Think of the ways in which we could incorporate all of the marginal gains in what we know about learning dispositions, the skills required to be an effective learner as both subject-specific and generic experts and the understanding we have of growth mindsets if we worked alongside each learner to craft such learning plans. I’m not sure yet but this certainly feels that compliance to such a plan would be empowering, energising and motivating. It’ll be interesting to hear what you all think.

Here’s what @macn_1 said in response to this…

“Your second post has really got me thinking about how we could apply this in school – I think there is a definite opportunity for some research here – in our school, I can really see your idea of linking marginal gains to learning plans and ‘owning ambition’ working –  we already have scheduled review meetings and 20 mins of vertical tutoring time every day, so there is lots of potential for conversations to take place, frequently, … lots to think about! It’s early enough in the year to get a project going!

I’d be really keen to work with you further on this/contribute anything I can!”

Next: #3 The Peloton

Research and Development: Learning About and Learning From

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of engaging in some of the very best learning conversations. I recognise these as the ‘best’ learning conversations because they are characterised by those (seemingly) luxurious and in-depth reflections on existing practice and observations. They are characterised by a meticulous observational analysis of learning and they are punctuated with frequent checks against assumptions and generalities. The way I know I’m really in one of these quality learning conversations is that the flow of dialogue is interspersed with an exchange of phrases such as, “…that reminds me of the work of [x]…” and “…ah, you should read the report on [y]” and “…I don’t know if you’ve come across it, but, I think you would really love the work of [z]”.

The on-going challenge of plate-spinning in the day job means that simply finding the kind of relevant research from leading thinkers and academics to draw on during these conversations is a task in itself. Actually having the time to make sense of the research so what we can apply it to daily practice is a whole other challenge. I am constantly fascinated by the wealth of research available to educationalists but it can feel like a full-time job to keep up with it all; a job I welcome with open arms, eyes and mind, nonetheless.

The power that external research can have on thinking and practice cannot be underestimated. But when it is coupled with internal research and contextual evidence, the potential for innovation is massive.

That’s why I am so excited about the rapidly growing numbers of individual teachers and whole school communities (staff and students together) who are already experiencing the benefit of designing professional development and learning opportunities around their own action research projects.

With that in mind, I am building (very slowly…these things take time!) a page of readings and resources that I hope will be useful for anybody wanting to develop their work in this area. I hope that these readings will be helpful in their own right, but they come from organisations and sources where some great work is happening, so if you have the time, I recommend going to the point of origin to see what else you can find. If you have any other recommended sources, please let me know so I can add them to this site for others to find.

My role over the next year includes some discreet projects and opportunities to be immersed in working in this way and I am really looking forward to sharing some of it here and reading about your experiences through your feedback.

Where practitioners and whole school communities are actively encouraged and supported to collate evidence from the learning they design, deliver and see everyday, the establishment of schools as communities of learning will become more commonplace. If in-school research can be married with external research findings, this can only be a good thing.

In Religious Education, there are just two attainment targets: “Learning about religion” and “Learning from religion”. I have always really liked the simplicity of these two targets. I wonder if they can be applied to the development of reflective practice? Something like, “Learning about research” and “learning from research”…?

The task of becoming a reflective practitioner is not an easy one, but it is certainly one that time and time again, reaps long-term sustainable benefits to both teaching and learning alike. It all promises exciting times ahead for professional development and innovation…

A vision for learning and the importance of GRIT

From The Young Foundation

I have written about the idea of GRIT before, inspired by creative thinker and writer, Jonah Leher (@jonahleher). His website is well worth a visit, not least because it is a thing of beauty.

This morning, I came across this report all about GRIT, from The Young Foundation, which provides a really detailed analysis on both the importance and benefits of developing GRIT and RESILIENCE in all our learners. With an array of useful links, case studies and practical applications to curriculum redesign. If you are currently developing your vision for learning, this is a great place to start.

 

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.