Learning discernment

Sebastian Wernicke: 1000 TEDTalks, 6 words 

I use the Hemmingway activity Sebastian refers to in his talk a lot. It can be used in lots of different ways.

To capture learning and check progress, it’s a great activity to use with learners to summarise their learning so far from the lesson in no more or less than six words. It also works well for revising whole topics, processes, principles or complex methods.

As a starter activity, it can work really well to assess prior learning. Put the topic you are about to cover on the board and, following a small group discussion, ask learners to summarise, in six words, what they think the topic is about or PREDICT what important information they will need to know or be able to do. That way, you can start from where they are, rather from where you might have ordinarily assumed they are. You can also ask them to connect the topic to prior learning in…yes, that’s right, no more or less than six words. Whenver we place restrictions on divergent thinking tasks, we immediately give additional challenge and purpose to the creative thinking we are hoping to witness. You could, for example, up the challenge by asking learners to summarise a topic in six words (no more, no less) but also include a number, a musical note, a colour, an emotion, a chemical compound….whatever is appropriate. The important aspect of thinking in this way is, of course, the PROCESS, rather than the PRODUCT. And that’s using the Hemmingway “6 words” activity can do.

The talk itself raises the issue of the Information Age – what to do with SO much information? How do we make sense of the knowledge that’s out there? What skills do we and our learners need to mindfully practice in order to exercise some form of control (self-efficacy) over their own information-drenched lives?

The learners of the 21st century need to be discerning in how they respond, receive, search out, use and create new knowledge. An exercise such as Sebastian Wernicke endeavours to accomplish really shows us the challenges ahead of our learners as they forge their own unique pathways through the internet galaxy.

Oh, and for the record, my six word autobiography reads as follows:

“Should have played cricket for England.”



One hour well worth it: a great educational conversation from LWF 2011

Learning Without Frontiers (@LWForg) is an organisation who describe themselves as: “… a global platform for disruptive thinkers, innovators and practitioners to share knowledge, ideas and experiences about new learning.” 

Every year, in addition to leading many projects, LWF hold a conference over a long weekend in January that brings together many of the leading thinkers, advocates, actvitists, researchers and practitioners in education. After the conference, they post many of the talks and events online to create a rich array of ‘think-pieces’ from which everybody can continue learning.

This discussion is just one of many that took place at the LWF 11 last year.

So, why don’t you make yourself a hot drink, pull up a chair and engage in some refreshing personal CPD for an hour with Keri Facer, Mick Waters and Sir Ken Robinson.

And, if you enjoy learning and thinking in this way and would like to do some more in a more bite-sized way, why not pop over to Teducation.com for some smaller chunks of learning? On this site, I’ve put together a collection of TED Talks (each of them last between 5 and 18 minutes) that are connected to learning themes. They are even more powerful if you sit and watch one of these talks with some colleagues/ students/ parents & carers…just think, you could structure a whole personalised CPD programme around this style of learning…high quality, world class thinking available to you in your school at the click of a mouse.


Oh and if you have come across a TED Talk that you think would work well on this site, please let me know, or even better, write a reflection on it and drop me a line so I can include it as a guest post!

Keep on Learning

Many exciting learning developments and projects are now underway and I am ready again to share some of my thinking and reflections on the great big world of learning of which I am very privileged to be a part.

I’ve been working with many great thinkers and practioners over the past few months with a focus on action research and professional enquiry. Adopting this approach with teachers, teaching assistants and school staff is at the heart of much of my work to ensure sustainable school improvement.

Here are just a few of the benefits of working in this way:

1. The research is owned and designed from the outset by the person leading it. In this way, the researcher has genuine autonomy in how they pose their questions, collect evidence and collate findings. 

2. The researcher is supported by an enquiry framework (provided by me in this case*) which gives them an understanding of the process of research but, more importantly, gives them a new way of thinking about their practice.

3. The research is never additional to what they are already doing. It gives them a methodology that enables them to delve deeper into their existing practice, revealing additional, often more pertinent questions to emerge and follow up. The start point is always a micro-enquiry, where the researcher might focus in on one part of one lesson, observing just two or three pupils. It is the fact that the researcher is able to pause and ‘notice learning’ that is important. This will inform the next steps of their enquiry. Developing practictioners who are keen-eyed ‘noticers’ of learning is an immediate benefit from the tiny beginnings of this approach.  

4. The research groups are established as supportive communities within and/or between schools. The scale of these varies, but the central component of every group is a safe leanring community where individual reflections and findings are openly shared. These are sensitively but honestly challenged, checked-out and refined.

5. The outcomes of the research are never pre-determined. In this way, the authenticity of the research process is maintained and the learning is very real and ‘pure’. For those of us who like to know what’s going to happen, this can be particualrly challenging, so we call it ‘exciting’ and accept it as what learning should be.

6. In undertaking research, the individuals involved are able to re-connect with what it means to be a learner again. This, in itself is a powerful experience, developing greater emphathy with the learners with whom they work on a daily basis and reminding them of the delightful complexity of learning.

7. As an integral part of the way in which we research individual pedagogy and practice, a key ingredient has to be the inclusion of learner-voice. In this way, the educators are encouraged to lead quality learning conversations with their learners. They then become very skilled in leading, facilitating and ultimately, coaching learners to articulate their thinking about their own learning. The learners themselves benefit from the opportunity to learn about learning and find a way to talk about it.

8. Another by-product of the action research framework we use is that the practitioners must design learning opportunities for classes where they are able to stand back, be quiet and observe the learning taking place. This results in the regular design of rich learning tasks and truly learner-led activities that, by definition, rely on the learners working collaboratively with each other and letting go of dependence on their teacher. In addition, the practitioner doesn’t have the need to intervene or take over because they have their own job to do – to actively observe the learning (we have designed some handy capture sheets to support practitioners in doing this as part of the framework).

9. Action research within and between schools offers an inclusive approach to professional development. Teachers, teaching assistants, administrators, parents, carers, students…anybody who is a part of the school community, in fact, can get involved in a programme of action research to improve and build on effective practice, at whatever level of experience or competence they might be. 

10. Once the group has experienced this way of working, the aspect of the process that really sticks is a new way of thinking. And that’s the bit that lasts and grows across the school to enhance a learning culture for everybody who is a part of the community.

Matthew Taylor has written about the importance of Learning about Learning in his blog http://www.matthewtaylorsblog.com/ and I happily echo his sentiments.

I fully endorse adopting action research as an integral part of (if not, simply ‘AS‘) professional development. After all, it allows us all to keep on learning with and for our learners and learning communities.

*The enquiry framework we use is a hybrid of several frameworks, but greatly influenced by the fantastic work of Pat Cochrane and Pete McGuigan at CapeUK and their Learning to Enquire resources and the Enquiry Projects undertaken as part of the Creative Partnerships Programme.





Guest post from Matthew Bebbington @Bebbmeister: The power of data pictures

Hans Rosling’s belief is that ‘making information more accessible has the potential to change the quality of the information itself.”  I believe he is right. Rosling’s work provides a unique slant on how to present data in an exciting way that could purposefully enrich the way in which the 21st Century learner and teacher examines and display data.  One question you should ask yourself, as an educator, should be ‘ how can I use Rosling’s work to stimulate learning in the classroom?’

I could (hopelessly) try and describe his work but I think his TED biography summarises it brilliantly:

“Even the most worldly and well-travelled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the West did.”

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus. 

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair. Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

As if all this weren’t enough, the irrepressible Rosling is also an accomplished sword-swallower — a skill he demonstrated at TED2007.

So please, watch, learn and be amazed! 

Linkswww.gapminder.org – download graphs to your desktop for free & use offline also.  There are also examples of gapminder being utilised by educators on the ‘For Teachers’ tab & a 2 minute video tutorial displaying the various uses of the interactive graphs.


What Google and Facebook Are Hiding And Its Implications On Education

GUEST POST from Mike Reading (@mikereading) www.teacherstraining.com.au 

“I came across this short TED Talk yesterday.  The premise is that Google and Facebook are now tailoring your internet experience by learning what you like and the types of links you follow and then only showing you more of the same.

There is a great screen shot of two identical search queries resulting in two very different search results.

My two favourite bits are found at:

2:15 – how Google personally tailors your results at 2:55 they show you the screen shots

3:40 “The internet is showing us a world we want to see not what we need to see”

So what are the implications on education?

Watch the video and I will give my thoughts below.

Here are a couple of implications:

If we tell our students to search for a certain topic or principle they might not all get the same answer.  This could be a problem if you want each of your students to have access to the same content.

Our students are not being exposed to the wealth of information available but potentially only one perspective.  Similarly they potentially will not have access to all the information for or against an argument, thus limiting their world view.

One of my passions is producing well rounded students who are able to read and discern the material in front of them.  This just took on a whole new meaning.  Now they will need to ask themselves is this the total picture?

One a positive side, if we are aware of this as teachers we can be talking the students about the issues that this can present not just in school but also in the ‘real world’.

Is it something to be overly concerned about? I’m not sure. It is something that I will be aware of and monitor in the future.

What are your thoughts?”


Ways to spend your Pupil Premium (plus a great open source infographic programme!)


The Sutton Trust, in conjunction with CEM at The University of Durham, has just released a report, “Toolkit of Strategies to Improve Learning” which summarises the ways in which schools might select to spend their Pupil Premium, weighing up potential gains (in terms of months) against estimated cost.

I really recommend going to The Sutton Trust website and reading their own synopsis of the report and, at the same time taking the opportunity to check out everything they are involved with to reduce social barriers to learning. The report itself is a fascinating read, providing as it does, a summary of the research evidence on improving learning  and attainment to help schools make informed choices about how to support their pupils who are eligible for the additional funding that comes with the Pupil Premium. I’ve included the document below.

Download this file

The infographics at the top and the bottom of this post are my very first attempts to visualise the data on pages 5-7 in the report. The graphic at the top shows the relative cost to gain (in months) for the interventions they looked at. The graphic below is a simmary of the highest impact interventions (aside from the cost).

I’ve just discovered NumberPicture which is a bit like wordle for data. It is a very exciting discovery for a non-coder like me and something I could see learners getting really engaged with.


When NOT taking risks is the riskiest thing to do

PART 1: Indicators

I often hear people talking about the need for educators to have the confidence and courage to take risks and I’ve started to question what that really means. After all, whilst singing a song in public feels like a HUGE risk for one person, for another, it comes as easy as a stroll in the park.

Prompted by some great discussions with a whole raft of people, I’ve been looking into the world of ‘proxy indicators’. In truth, I have been dealing with these things for some time now as part of my action research work around creativity, quality learning and self-evaluation processes. These have all lead me to ask three important questions whenever I’m working alongside colleagues to unpick the intended outcomes of the quality of learning they are either intending to design or have just delivered:

Example: Encouraging learners to think creatively in science…

What did this look like? …learners’ body language was ‘open’…they used encouraging hand gestures towards each other when they were clarifying ideas…they made good eye-contact with each other…they smiled…they were animated…

What did this sound like? …there was a ‘buzz’, conversation within groups was focused on the task at hand…they asked questions of each other and of the task…their discussions used ‘piggy-backing’ to build a consensus…’yes…and’ were used (rather than ‘no…but’)..it was noisy (not rowdy!)

What did this feel like?…for me, I felt ‘free’ to observe, question and coach…I felt they were in control of the direction of the task…they reported that they felt ‘lost in discussion’ and lost track of time…the lesson went quickly for us and we agreed that we wanted to stay until we were finished…the bell annoyed one learner so much that she said as much on her post-it note for the feedback wall.

The richest of these conversations naturally lead into the world of micro-teaching, which is where we can identify how the smallest of interventions, words, reactions can result in ‘learning impact’. John Hattie has done some brilliant work on this in “Visible Learning” and there’s a connected resource at Geoff Petty’s website that’s well worth looking at. What it comes down to is consciously knowing, at a micro-level, what we can do as designers and deliverers of learning that will result in PROGRESS in learning.

PART 2: Risk-taking

So, whereas I am certain that I will be posting more on all of this as my research continues, I thought I’d put some ideas about the proxy indicators of ‘risk-taking’ out to readers of this blog.

Question: What does ‘risk-taking’ for an educator really look, sound and feel like? How do I recognise risk-taking in my own educational practice when it happens and what do I consciously need to do to ensure it becomes characteristic of the learning that I promote?

Suggested indicators for some might be…

STANDING BACK: for many educators, being quiet, stepping away from the reins and letting learners ‘just find out’ and make their own discoveries (and mistakes, for that matter, if you name them that), will be the riskiest thing we can do. Consider what tends to happen when any kind of judgemental observation takes place. Consciously standing back certainly feels like the riskiest option when there’s somebody grading the progress of your learners as they get to grips with the task you have set them. 

MAKING IT HARDER: if learners are to make progress in a lesson, they have to experience some kind of change. From the moment they enter the lesson, they need to think, consider, explore, puzzle and probe to make a discovery that will lead them to take something (new knowledge, understanding, insight, skills, abilities or capacities) away from your lesson that they would have missed out on had they not been there. Ensuring that this progress is significant and meaningful involves posing questions and tasks that are authentically CHALLENGING. To do this, we need to think about what learners will find difficult and start from here as the entry point to the curriculum we are offering.

ASKING NOT TELLING: when the moment of struggle surrounds our learners, we have a critical decision to make…provide or hold-back. Perhaps it feels like the riskiest thing in the world to us to not give a solution to a learner when they are clearly struggling. It may well feel like the toughest thing in the world for us to respond to a solution-seeking question or request by to asking a question. But that question allows the task of learning to remain in the hands of the learner. The riskiest questions from us might sound like this:

“How might you find that out?”

“Who else in the class might be able to help you with this (other than me)?”

“What else could you try to solve this one?”

I’ve got some more indicators, but this post is already MUCH longer than I intended, so I will leave them for another time. 

Some may argue, that in the world as it is and the world as it likely to be, to ‘play safe’ and continue to do the things that feel safe to us is, in fact the riskiest thing to do. I am really interested in what you think about this and I would love your feedback.

Here’s a creative challenge for your learners…

How about asking learners to create a stunning online CV that SHOUTS out who they are and what they are passionate about? I’ve just come across this fantastic example from Chris Ferdinandi (@ChrisFerdinandi). It made me think about how I could use it to inspire learners to tell me more about themselves to build a really safe and authentic learning community. Alternatively, older learners might use a similar approach to drafting their UCAS statements. Wouldn’t it be nice if a university or employer started requesting CVs in this format? Maybe, very soon, they will…