From the T to the I

So here I am. It’s been a long time but thanks to the limits of the 140 characters available to me on Twitter, I have been forced to move across devices from phone to Mac. Thanks (or blame) goes to @tomhelme, @tiffanyshlain, @pekabelo, @dileed and indirectly @jca_1975 for the inspiration to try to pull together some thinking and for what is to follow.

It’s probably easiest to start with our conversation yesterday morning and work back, so here goes…

@tomhelme and I have been working on an integrated approach to the curriculum using STEAM as a starting point. During our conversations, Tom shared this beautiful video from @tiffanyshlain:

This video resonates with current curriculum design projects I am involved with in various schools at the moment. It acted as a catalyst for me and the conversation that followed. At one point in the conversation, I made a casual reference to how we’re in the first stages of designing a ’T-shaped curriculum’.

T-Shaped Learning Design

I first came across the term ’T-shaped’ in reference to employee competencies and a number of articles and research around organisational development, HR, resource and talent management. Here’s just one example from a talent search company and logistics company, Inspired Search (T-shaped_SCM).

I created a diagram to show what the ‘T-shape’ looks like in its very simplest form as a curriculum model. What strikes me as I see it in this visual form, is not so much the simplicity of the model, which is a great prompt for the start of more complex and intertwined conversations, but the almost accidental relationship this exposes between subject expertise and competency development.

Even in a model like this which is deliberately intended to show a connected relationship between both the skills-acquisition and knowledge-expertise inherent in curriculum design, the separation seems too great. It’s one of those things where it works in my head but not on paper. I’ve even tried squashing the vertical to reduce the distance but it doesn’t really help.

A very simple format

A very simple curriculum model. Subjects are represented by the vertical and generic skills, dispositions & competencies across the horizontal.

But, as it stands, this model has been useful for us working through the ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ of curriculum design subject-by-subject. It does a good job of depicting competency development and knowledge acquisition as clearly distinct from (but related to) each other. It also serves as an interpretation of curriculum where the development of skills, dispositions and competencies only happens in order to achieve the successful development of subject expertise, knowledge and understanding.

On reflection, I’ve done a load of work on this type of discreet ‘in-order-to’ application of meta-cognitive skills over the years and, in the main, it works best when competency-development sits deeply within a specific domain or context. This context or domain is characterised by an agreed canon of knowledge coupled with a robust, evidence-informed system of subject-specific disciplinary literacies and frameworks for understanding.

Put simply, the best kind of curriculum design is able to respond with enthusiasm and conviction to the questions, ’Who is our curriculum for?’ and ‘What should we teach?’ It should bellow its response with learning intentions such as, “Enquire like a historian”, “Reason like a mathematician” and “See the world as an artist”. In doing so, we can embrace a multi-disciplinary approach where generic competencies are developed in order to access domain-specific knowledge and understanding as part of the domain-specific expertise.

With the T-Shape, we have a model that develops transferrable generic skills as opposed to domain-specific competencies. But in a complex world, what we need is an I-shaped design.

Embracing complexity – from T(ransferable) to I(nterdisciplinary)

An I-shaped design allows us to embrace both the complexity of the multiple contexts in which we learn, and the inter-disciplinary realities of our ever-changing, complex world. So now we can invite our learners to: “See this portrait as a statistician”, “Respond to the world as an artist” and “Investigate this text as a musician”.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 18.42.42

This I-Shaped model enables us to see our curriculum through the lens of these deeper learning intentions. We can design learning that encompasses skills, dispositions and competencies, both generic (multi-disciplinary – across the top horizontal) and domain-specific (inter-disciplinary – across the bottom horizontal). Both can then be developed in order to access and so that we deepen knowledge and understanding of core concepts and canons.

In my research for all of this work, I’ve come across some fantastic talks, articles and books. With that in mind, and as a pre-cursor to future posts, here’s a delightful rabbit hole I fell down when I came across the work of Tony O’Driscoll.

His blog is here, where you’ll find a wealth of great thinking about the future of learning. I’ve included his TEDx Talk at Duke University from 2011, not least because it provides another useful visual and a compelling answer to any and all the questions about the purpose of curriculum, education and learning.

I’ll finish with this screen shot from Tony O’Driscoll’s talk:

'Compentencies' that really matter for the future?

‘Compentencies’ that really matter for the future?

I’m still in mid-thought on all of this. I hope you’ll find my musings helpful in some way and that you can use them as a start point for your own discussions about curriculum.

Making my blog work for me again…

I have been immersed in a number of very engaging and, unsurprisingly, ‘Full On’ projects for a few months now. As a result, my thinking has deepened, my focus has shifted and my butterfly brain (though not attention-span, I hope) is currently taking me into both new and renewed areas of work. The impact of this is that I haven’t posted for quite some time. I tend to blog only when I have a near-fully-formed mega-post. It turns out, that just isn’t happening right now, so I need my blog to serve me a little better (rather than make me feel guilty for not feeding it). I am involved in a number of interconnected projects at the moment and I think its time that my blog started working for ME, rather than me feeling like I was working for IT.

The result? I’m going to take a ‘post-as-I-discover’ approach – much shorter posts, sometimes with a resource/ video or with a link to an article or piece of thinking. I’ll do my best to add context and through this, a rationale as to why this connects with my thinking and how it might influence/ inform me but the finished product may have to wait or maybe that’s where you the reader comes in? On reflection, my tendency has always been to post near-finished ideas, thought-pieces or practical approaches, ready for consumption.

Right now, I need my blogging to work differently for me. In doing this, I intend to be far more open about my thought-processes and the ideas that catch my eye along with what they connect with that I already have in mind or that I am currently working on.This is far more authentic and reflective of how I work within my own school and with schools and organisations around the country.

To begin this new approach…

So, I’m doing a big piece of work investigating how a group of schools might go about designing and implementing a co-designed Learning Commons at the moment. This project attempts to synthesise research findings, learning models and principles that both underpin and inform the BIG THREE organisational elements of learning:

  • Curriculum
  • Pedagogy
  • Assessment

In my reading this morning, the Connected Learning Organisation caught my eye. I’ve embedded the infographic below which gives a nice summary of the work they are currently leading. It might be of interest, on a large-scale, to anybody involved in taking a sytems-led integrated approach to the design of learning models for 21st Century learners and society. On a smaller-scale, anybody who;s keen to set up REAL learning projects would do well to consider the principles they use in the design of any multifaceted project-based learning opportunity.

Connected Learning

Creative Commons License This Connected Learning Infographic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. You may Share and Adapt it, but you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

KEGS Research-as-CPD Marketplace 2014.

Great post – thank you for sharing!


Every teacher at KEGS is involved in a teaching and learning group called a ‘workshop’. We meet several times across the year to explore a particular aspect of pedagogy.  Teachers select who to work with and what to work on.  In May each year we have a non-pupil day that we call a ‘Leading Edge’ day where we run a 90 minute marketplace-style showcase of the work we’ve all been doing in our groups.

The 2012 Marketplace is reported here.

The 2013 Marketplace is reported here.

This year, the workshops covered a wide range of ideas although, interestingly, they were clumped around some common ideas:

  • Learning texts by heart and reading aloud
  • Testing and feedback from tests
  • Using Edmodo as a platform for exchanging ideas and information beyond the classroom
  • Deepening teachers’ subject-specific knowledge
  • Lesson Study and IRIS as tools for self-reflection

Following some input in October, the workshops this…

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The Creativity of Pedagogical Sampling

In his Ted Talk, Mark Ronson explains the process of creating his own music through sampling previous music recordings,  “I can bully our existences into a shared event…I can insert myself in that narrative, or alter it, even.” He says that this has always been true of music, and that the explosion of technology has simply accelerated and democratised this over the past 30 years.

The #NTENRED Conference last weekend hosted by Huntington School, York, was an example of what Ronson refers to as just such a ‘shared event’. Every one of the 200 who attended and every one of those who watched online, followed the tweets and who have since caught up with post-event blogs have been invited to ‘insert themselves in that narrative’ of the conference-conversation. They are all now in a position to decide how they might ‘alter it’ and decide how to build on and implement what they learnt.

By increasing education practioners’ accessibility to and engagement with, the body of research about learning, there is a golden opportunity to integrate this with individual observations and insights in a balanced and measured way. In other words, practitioners can deliberately ‘sample’ the information they gather from external sources (the body of research) with the information from internal sources (their own practice and context). In doing so, practitioners are empowered to design learning that is directly informed by the existing body of research intertwined with the unique needs of their individual students. They can then tailor their design to their own specific contexts whilst remaining consistently clear and well-informed about the specific changes they want to bring about.

The real creativity in teaching and learning happens when we weave our reflective practice into the rich understanding we can draw from our sampling and fusing of research and practice and in doing so, increase our profession’s collective consciousness. The ‘fresh and new’ that Ronson refers to is that unique mix of our own expertise, the uniqueness of our own learners and the specific context in which those elements find themselves in at any given moment in time.

So by continuing to nurture an on-going dialogue between practice and research, we bring ever closer the day when we can say of education what Ronson says of music,

“…the dam has burst…we take the things that we love and we build on them, that’s just how it works and when we add something significant and original…then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of that [education] that we love and be linked with it once it becomes something new again.”



Why we continue to accept the challenge

This is a short, snappy post to begin the New Year.

I thought it best to begin with the  words of Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam). This is a reminder of the challenge ahead and a suggestion as to why we keep tackling them with open hearts and minds.

Taken from John Tomsett’s inspirational blog, written a while ago,

“Dylan Wiliam, in his keynote speech at the SSAT Conference in December said, Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.”

And here, there’s a little more from the man himself, reminding us all about the beauty of teaching…

Experiment: Pop-Up Resource Page

I’ve just added a new ‘Pop-Up Resource Page‘ in an attempt to achieve a balance between sharing existing ideas and materials and inspiring ideas that result in improved adaptation. This is an experiment and will have very few resources available to download at infrequent times.

“We liked this…and we did this…”

The ideal impact of this page is that you see something here, like it, tweak it, use it in a different context and let me know what you’ve done. In that way, we grow ideas together and document the process as we go along.

I’m a big advocate of harnessing the power of creation and discussing and thinking collaboratively with those who best know your context to design appropriate resources to enhance learning. As a result, I am always wary of any ready-to-print off-the-shelf materials. The conversation and thinking that goes into the creation of any learning materials is vital.

To begin with, as a result of the requests following the last post here. I’ve added a PDF that should print off in better quality of the graphics of  Teacher Standards with an added quote from Hattie.

The collaborative deal:

The deal is that if you find them useful, please leave a comment to say how you used them so others can get even more inspiration from what you do.

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…


Enhancing the flow of learning through ‘Phased Disclosure’


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…

The best teachers are the greatest learners & vice versa

I have always loved the work of the Innovation Unit. One of the most inspirational talks I have ever heard was from Valerie Hannon at a Cape UK where she delivered a powerful keynote speeches at a conference about 4 years ago. It was here that she referred to the need, in the 21st Century, for the ‘Expert Pedagogue’. It is this concept that I had been working on for many years, but framed as she did on that day, I was use her words and thinking to bring together a whole range of ideas and approaches that have continued to shape my thinking and my own work to this day.

Anyway, rather than go on here about the great work of The Innovation Unit, why not go and take a look at some of their projects? A good place to start is their partnership with The Paul Hamlyn Foundation on ‘Learning Futures’ (with @DavidPriceOBE).

But before you leave this post, take a look at this video (you’ll also find it on their site).

What a way to promote the essence of excellence in learning and education and big up, deservedly so, the qualities of all the fabulous educators around the world. I’m sure I’ll be using this as an inspirational film ahead of INSET and twlights…I’ll let you know what happens when I do! If you use it – please let me know!