What Learning Looks Like…to me

A personal think-piece

Combining visualisation, design and systems-thinking, this is my visual response to the question,’What does coherent, evidenced-based learning look, sound and feel like?’.

Something to watch with a cup of tea…

(Created in Keynote, converted into Mp4 with a rather lovely Creative Commons soundtrack from Bensound found here: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music)

Considering how to see what learning looks like – conceptual change

On concepts & narratives of learning

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Visualising Learning

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

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

How is this of any use…?

We’ll, here’s how I’m using it…

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

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


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

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

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

ORIGINAL POST (Written in September 2013)

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

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

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

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

CPD: Thinking ‘as’ research 

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

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

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

So…a mindset to adopt….? CPRD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is my evidence.

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

Without me, my evidence is nothing.

Without my evidence, I am nothing.”

(Paraphrased by me from The Rifleman’s Creed)

Useful websites:

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

The Research Centre for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Education (www.eppi.ioe.ac.uk)

Current Educational Research in the United Kingdom (www.ceruk.ac.uk)

The Economic Social Research Council (www.esrc.ac.uk)

The National Foundation for Educational Research (www.nfer.ac.uk)

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

The Learning Emergence Site (www.learningemergence.net)

Futurelab (www.futurelab.org.uk)

There are many, many more…

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

Quality Teacher Talk

In this typically engaging short video piece from Hans Rosling, the world-renowned data visualisation and data-entertainment guru (see his brilliant TED Talks for more), identifies the power of explaining using props. He emphasises that although video can be used to explain some concepts, (see Ted-ED for examples to use if you’re looking to implement some flipped learning in your lessons), nothing replaces the teacher and their ability   to make learning fun through the explanations they can offer. For teachers and presenters alike,  being able to draw upon a vast repertoire of explaining is fundamental to being able to meet the needs of all learners/ listeners. As a result, there’s a great opportunity to keep refreshing ‘explaining techniques’ and consider the many ways we can employ quality teacher talk to differentiate, challenge and encourage learners to understand new concepts and think in new ways.



I’ve included a screen shot of an observation format I use very regularly for you to have a look at: ‘Explaining – Improving the Quality of Teacher Talk’  The original version plus others that I regularly use, adapt and tweak can be found in “Full On Learning”. You’ll notice that this is a very focused observation tool, as it ONLY looks at the quality of teacher talk in relation to EXPLAINING. Hence it can be used as part of a developmental coaching approach..which is just how I use it.

I use this particular one as part of my pedagogical coaching toolkit. I’ve got others that focus on questioning and a more generic one that looks ONLY at ‘Pupil activity during the lesson’. They’re all developmental in design as they are limited by their focus on a very specific element of pedagogy. In practice, they work as a simple tally sheet during the lesson. You can add additional layers of complexity, according to what the teacher wants to focus on, but my watchword is and always has been to keep it SIMPLE when it comes to observing the complicated world of teaching and the similarly complex world of learning.

The strength of this tool is:

1. When you work with a group of teachers to create and amend the observation format you get into wonderful discussions and sharing of expertise. In fact, it’s at THIS point when you get the really crunchy discussions about ‘quality teacher talk’ and how various concepts can be explained and what else could be used to aid the communication of complexity, of topic fundamentals and of core concepts so that learner understanding is secure.

2. When used as part of a pedagogical coaching programme, the results can be put into a simple spreadsheet to generate a visual chart (Hans Rosling would be proud!). This then forms the basis of your coaching discussion, as it places the focus of the discussion on the teacher, enabling them to reflect and consider their own practice.

3. Coupled with a skilled coach possibly also with video, you get rewarded by by using this as part of a MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS approach and find that you get those sought-after MULTIPLE GAINS from one simple pedagogical focus.

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher Talk

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher


Even Better If we specifically focused on What Went Well

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to work in a wide variety of contexts around the country with fabulously open and highly reflective practitioners. Of late, I have been involved in engaging and often very challenging debates around the ways in which all forms of observations are used in schools to improve the learning experiences of young people.

One of the main areas of my work is concerned with how to develop and sustain a safe and effective culture of quality professional reflection. An integral aspect of this involves the design of dynamic professional development programmes that integrate a culture of coaching, action research and developmental lesson observations.

This includes:

  • the constant testing and revision of all observation formats
  • clarification of the purpose of all observations
  • agreement of the intended and expected outcomes of all observations
  • reflections on the language for and of learning
  • creation of a range of observation tools (different tools for different purposes)
  • systems that reflect and embrace the values of truly developmental and highly reflective professional learning

An often neglected area of the process of all forms of observation is the post-observation conversation*. In establishing a culture where developmental lesson observations are used to develop the quality of learning opportunities alongside and not instead-of or as separate-from judgmental or graded observations, the challenge is to find the most effective way to ensure that every post-lesson conversation is about professional learning and not professional telling.

Quality post-lesson conversations

The conversation following any type or style of learning observation can, and should, make as many of the demands on the professional expertise of the observer as on the practitioner whose lesson has been observed. This is just as true for a developmental lesson observation as it is for a graded / formal / judgemental lesson observation. It’s certainly true that just because there’s no grade to be given doesn’t make the complexities (practical, emotional and professional) of the discussion any more straightforward.

We can employ as much reassurance as we can think of in the form of…

‘It really IS developmental, there are no judgements here’ OR…

‘Remember, I’m not using the criteria to form any judgements in this, so don’t worry’ OR…

‘The lesson observation format I’m using doesn’t allow me to look for evidence that could be used to grade the lesson’

…BUT until a reflective and developmental culture is established (and even after it is), it is worth remembering that it is likely that it may always feel, for the person whose lesson has just been observed, that the ‘grading elephant’ is present in some guise in the room.

This is particularly true at that critical point of the commencement of the post-lesson conversation when the crowd of learners have packed up and their backpacks have disappeared towards their next lesson. For most, it is worth noting that this is when heart rates spike again, for both the observer and practitioner. It is at this point that the sophisticated skills of the observer have to be fully deployed into the situation, immediately and expertly.

Scorpion feedback 

A typical structure of much of our feedback conversations with learners involves providing some positive reinforcement and actively noticing some elements of effective practice followed by some ‘points for development’. This is often encapsulated as ‘What Worked Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ or ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ AfL-style feedback. At other times, it comes in the form of a ‘feedback sandwich’, where the effective element is followed by a developmental point and finished with another effective element. This structure has been adapted by many schools for observers to use with practitioners as part of the post-lesson conversation. The actual structure has many merits, whichever version or adaptation is used.

What I have been reflecting on most recently, however, is the relative impact of the effective elements (WWW) against the impact of identifying the (WWW) developmental points.

What we say/ what we hear

It’s a bit like going to a gallery to see an exhibition and finding pieces of art that we really like but noticing that the weather wasn’t very nice.

What often happens is that the person receiving the feedback does’t really listen to the WWW, however fabulous these are because they are waiting for the EBI. So whether there is a formal judgement hovering and waiting to be delivered or simply a non-graded developmental EBI, or both, the ‘EBI’ can still act as an unhelpful sting in the tail of the conversation, regardless of how massively positive the impact of learning has been as a result of the WWWs. And however accomplished the practitioner has been whilst employing these WWWs.

One of the main reasons for this is:

(1) The WWW and the EBI are often, although not exclusively, presented as two very separate, distinct elements of the observation.

(2) The source of these separate elements is often very different. This is because the process of identifying the elements of effective practice and the elements that we would consider as goals for development, even during the lesson itself, tends to involve an entirely separate search.

So the observer might see…

(1) (WWW) The lesson structure is clear

(2) (WWW) The Learning Outcomes & Success Criteria were communicated effectively to students

But identify…

(3) (EBI) The teacher-questioning didn’t encourage expansive answers from the learners.

All three points are really important, but when this particular post-lesson conversation occurs, there is a danger that all the practitioner hears is point (3) and leaves the lesson thinking, ‘My questioning isn’t good enough’. In doing so, they may fail to acknowledge and or even care that their planning was really effective and that the construction and communication of learning outcomes and success criteria ensured that all students knew why, what and how they were learning throughout the lesson. These elements may constitute two things into which they’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy and with this, elements of practice that another practitioner two doors down the corridor would really benefit from seeing in action. But they leave the experience thinking, ‘my questioning isn’t good enough.’ and add this to the infinite ‘to-do list of a self-imposed ‘must-do-better’ mindset.

The M.O.T.** and avoiding the STING 

So, in implementing Marginal Learning Gains Theory, the observer has the opportunity to be as meticulously selective as the reflective practitioner for whom they are observing the learning. In doing so, they can identify a specific area for development directly from the effective elements already in place. This means that the onus is on the observer to make a clear and specific connection between the elements of the lesson that have been effective and identify how more of this will enhance the quality of the learning experienced. This also means that as observers, we have to really up our game in making a highly sophisticated professional analysis of what really needs to be ‘grown’ from existing practice that will make the biggest impact on the quality of learning.

Obviously, in a coaching relationship, the options for what to focus on in terms of growth are identified and prioritised by the practitioner, but the elements from the observed learning presented by the observer still need to inform and enhance the depth of this  conversation.

So, here’s one very simple strategy (and yes, it will very soon be appearing as a Marginal Learning Gain) and the bonus is that is has an equally transferrable application for peer and self assessment activities with our learners.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 12.49.17

The fear of the EBI (Elephant Behind the Insight)…or something like that.


When the MOT leaves us knowing we’re on track and have the skills already in place to keep going…

* I am deliberately not referring to the post-lesson observation conversation as ‘feedback’ because in doing so, it still feels like I’m describing something that is predominantly a one-way process. This is regardless of how much we insist upon the need for there to be several feedback channels where the ‘loudest’ feedback channel is that from the ‘learner’ (or the practitioner’s lesson being observed in this instance) to the ‘teacher’ (the observer in this case).

**And yes, this means I have a new acronym (because I really don’t think we have enough in education).

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:

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 21.34.06

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’


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…

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 18.59.09

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?