Tag Archives: pedagogy

Reading for Pleasure⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

So, let’s be up front about this. The author of this book is a pal of mine. More than that in fact. He was my primary partner in pedagogy during our pedagoo days. As a result, I already respected him massively as an educator and as a person. Rather than this fact hampering my review of his book, I actually think it only serves to enhance it. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to think more highly of Kenny Pieper prior to reading his first (of many, I hope) book, How to Teach Reading for Pleasure, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In this book, Kenny uses his fantastic humour and authenticity to argue passionately for the power of reading and the crucial role teachers have in leading and supporting young people to choose to read. Whilst Kenny generously and modestly shares many of the practical classroom techniques he uses to achieve this he also clearly articulates why this matters for our young people specifically, and society in general. I’m not sure I’ve ever read an edubook which was so entwined with the values and personality of the author. Reading it was like spending time in his company and I found myself frequently nodding and laughing along…the only thing missing was the pint!

If I had one criticism of this book it is that to some extent it is marketed as a ‘how to teach’ book with a particular slant towards secondary teachers of english. As a biology teacher, this book was very relevant to me and I know of primary colleagues who feel the same way. In many ways this book would and should appeal to any and all teachers, and parents, especially those who think that reading matters, not just secondary english teachers. I know if I was still in the classroom I would be doing a few things differently tomorrow as a result…

In case you haven’t guessed, I loved this book and highly recommend it to all. You can get your own copy here.


#100wordTandL Musiccam⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

This is a music specific post but can be adapted for your own context. Pupil and lesson observation feedback this term have highlighted the use of a simple webcam as a useful tool to aid learning. As a music teacher I find it very quick and easy to use the webcam over the piano to […]

Involving Learners in Planning Learning⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I’m a big believer in the power of engaging young people in their learning through involving them in the learning process. As Lois Harris argues, if students are going to feel that they own their learning they need to have opportunities to collaborate in the learning process:

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How).
Adapted from Harris (2010).

But how on earth can we as teachers involve our students in planning their learning? I’ve been working on adapting my practice to make this possible for a number of years now, so perhaps I could tell you how to go about doing this yourself?

Well, I’m not going to. My students are. I’d been working with my S1 Science class on developing approaches to involving them in planning learning last session when we were approached by Children in Scotland to participate in their Leaders of Learning project. Children in Scotland, the students and myself worked together over a number of weeks to explore and develop approaches to involve the students in planning their learning to a much greater extent. The project culminated in the students evaluating what we’d done, and producing the following video to communicate what we’d learned together.

Hope you enjoy learning from them, I know I have!

Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

Searching for 1% improvements to teaching and learning! My throat strained under the excessive screaming and my arms pumped with wild hysteria as I cheered the GB cycling team on to gold at the 2012 Olympic games, but what impressed me the most was the behind the scenes dedication and determination to achieving excellence.  We […]

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it!”⤴

from @ mr jamieson flips

As you are perhaps aware, 2015 is most famous for being ‘The Future’ in the Back to the Future movies, well it’s February and not much has happened yet….but the scene above is from the first movie, where Marty McFly, in 1955, returns to his parents’ school for the ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ dance and plays Johnny B Goode (not to be released until 1958!)

Watching the movies with my children the other night – a vital part of a young person’s education in my opinion!- got me to thinking…what would Marty notice was different from 1955 to 1985 and into 2015 in schools?

OK, so crucially, teachers can’t hit you with a belt, which is…well, nice.  Much else has changed socially and culturally that has permeated into schooling, sex education exists, girls are allowed to do technical subjects etc.  What has changed pedagogically though?  Is the way we teach any different?

Confession time, I’m a Mathematics teacher, and I collect (well I actually just rescue them from the bin!) old Maths textbooks, as the archaic language is fun, and the way in which problem solving questions are posed is actually really great – complete with imperial units to add a frisson of excitement…and confusion – sorry US readers!  Here is one:


Generally speaking, our pedagogy has not changed that much, in my opinion.  Especially in a subject like Maths, it’s quite difficult to change the way you teach 2000 year old theorems I guess…or is it?

We are very keen wheel reinvention experts as teachers, we tweak and tweak pedagogy, like a game of ‘chinese whispers’ (please let me know if this is an unintentional racial gaffe, I will edit it I promise!) until the original model is unrecognisable.  Then we tweak it back again until we return to the beginning!  I must attest here though to the good intentions of teachers that do the tweaking, we are just trying to get it right.

This raises, for me, two important points.

1.  We need, as a profession, to develop a more critically evaluative mindset…in keeping with the movie theme, a balance should be struck somewhere between Clint Eastwood and Austin Powers.  This has been discussed here already.  We need to be able to get it right, but with direction and with evidence as our guide.

2.  Teaching facts or the translation of information cannot really be changed much…it’s what you do with it that counts


What is great is that we are starting, with the aid of some clever tech, to do something with ‘it’.  Lessons are being taught via videos and podcasts, freeing up time for more focussed, personalised pedagogy in class.  Students are submitting work online, allowing for auto/quick marking…again, freeing up time in class.  We are even allowing mobile technology in class (Great Scot!!) to gain insight into the learning of our students on a more personal level.  Change is most certainly afoot…

Maybe there has been not much change in many aspects of education, but in 2015 we are no longer tinkering around with a Ford Capri in the garage…we are building the Delorean!  We just need to keep it at 88mph!


Reflecting on Involving Learners⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I recently mentioned the powerful questions which my S1 class came up with when I involved them in planning our first topic together. Well, I’m pleased to report that we’ve recently finished this topic with a high degree of engagement and learning, from my perspective at least. However, an outstanding question for me was what did they think of being involved in planning the learning? There’s an obvious tension in my pedagogical approach here in that I’m trying to involve them in the planning process, but without first asking them if they want to! I’m comfortable with that tension as I believe that as a teacher I have a role in leading the learning still…however, although I had no real intention of stopping this approach, I did need to find out what their perceptions of it are in order to review, adapt and improve it.

It just so happened that the night before I was planning on asking their thoughts on our learning in the first topic that I was reading this paper in preparation for the Edinburgh Uni professional enquiry masters module I’m involved in delivering. The paper shares an approach to supporting learners to share their thinking by using thought and speech bubbles – I reckoned this would be perfect for my purposes and so gave it a go the following morning!

The class completed various thought and speech bubbles in pairs for the stages in our learning process so far, including being involved in the planning process. You can see the full document I asked them to complete by clicking on the image below.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 13.47.18

Their responses were fascinating. I’ve included the raw thought and speech responses for the planning stage in the table below.

Write the things you were thinking here… Write the things you were saying here…
“i was thinking i hope i will learn a lot”
“i was thinking i think this is going to be fun!”
i had lots of different question to contribute when we were writing them on the post it notes.
i had lots of different ideas and questions that i wanted to find out while doing the topic.
I was thinking about all the questions we were writing and how we were going to learn them.
I thought the planning of the topic was a bit boring because it took over 3 lessons to have a planned topic.
i was wondering what topic we were going to do.
i was wondering if this was going to be fun.
This planning just plain boring can’t we just do it.
i was thinking i barely know anything about biodiversity or the other things the teacher was talking about.
i was thinking what a wierd name for a topic
If it was going to be a hard topic.
What will be the name of our topic and what will it be about? this class is funny!
i wanted to do it on volcanos
What if I don’t know anything about anyone of the topics.
i was saying “i dont know a lot about this”?????
i was saying “i think i am going to learn a lot!”
i was saying some of the questions i was thinking of to contribute to the topic .
i had lots of different questions but most of the time i didn’t say them in front of the class.
I was saying about how long is the topic. I was saying that the topic contains alot of variety in the tasks we would do. (experiments,writing,reasearch)
what topic are we doing.
what do you do in this topic
wow this is fun.
will it be very hard and will i understand it
i was saying what order to do things in.
Saying ideas for the topic.
lets call our topic the wonderful wizard of life?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!
same as thought
What if you don’t know what the topics were.

There were a few interesting responses here. Firstly, some of them thought that the planning process had taken too long, or was ‘boring’. Also, others clearly felt a bit threatened by the process and so I then asked them the following question in order to stimulate a discussion around the purposes of involving them in the planning process.

photo 1

Obviously, my question was clearly loaded in the positive, but that is because I had no intention of stopping…the purpose was to share the reasons for the approach, which I think we managed.

I also responded to their request to try and complete the process quicker. So, for the next topic I set a homework task which involved a few pictures which were related the learning and asking them to come up with some questions with someone at home to bring to our planning lesson.

The planning lesson then consisted of a series of quite controlled stages which they completed in groups within the hour…

  1. They shared their homework questions with their groups and transferred them to post-it notes.
  2. They then organised their questions with the four experiences and outcomes associated with the topic.
  3. They then devised further questions which they would need to be able to answer in order to have successfully learned each of the four experiences and outcomes.
  4. They then had to decide on the order we should learn the four experiences and outcomes and come up with a title for the topic.

You can see their completed planning sheets in the images below. The yellow post-its are their own homework questions, the green post-its are their added curriculum questions.

photo 1-1 photo 2-1 photo 2 photo 3-1 photo 3

They completed this process remarkably effectively in the hour, so they were right – it can be done quicker! We were lacking in time though to discuss the topic as a class and I’ve had to bring their separate plans together on my own without their input, which is not ideal. It was great though for them to have responded to the challenge of completing the process in an hour.

And so, we now begin the process of learning our new topic…I’m not sure what it’s called yet as they haven’t voted yet…but it will be one of the following titles;

  • We are Stardust
  • Everything is Atoms
  • #supercalafragilisticexpiealadoshusubstance
  • #Atoms
  • #supercalafrajalisticexpialiatoms!

Now we’ll see how we get on with our new Chemistry topic…

Switching kids on…⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

Earlier this year I shared the outcomes of approaching a new topic with my S1 class differently. Basically, rather than starting the topic with the title, learning outcomes etc., we started with a discussion which generated questions…

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 19.07.04

Once we have the students’ questions, we add in the experiences and outcomes and begin to bring together a topic together as a class. They then name the topic. This year it’s called ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Life’ - a fantastic title which I would never have come up with myself. What has really blown me away this year however has been their questions. The following questions are the ones they came up with which we were able to easily align to our experiences and outcomes:

  • What species are there?
  • Is there life only on Earth? How and why was life on Earth formed?
  • How was life on Earth found?
  • Why did humans evolve on Earth and not on Mars?
  • How did we change from monkeys to humans?
  • Could there have been life on Mars because there was water?
  • How does life continue every day?

However, for some reason we had a much greater variety of questions this year which left us with the following to answer…

  • Why do hammer head sharks have a hammer head?
  • What made the countries split up?
  • How do natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes occur?
  • How was the Earth made?
  • Could humans survive a meteorite hitting Earth?
  • How can animals survive in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and we can’t?
  • Where do deadly viruses come from?
  • Why were the dinosaurs killed through meteors?
  • How do viruses transfer to humans?
  • Will there ever be WWIII? What will happen if it does?
  • How does gravity work?
  • How do volcanoes erupt?
  • How far away is space?
  • What did space look like before Earth was created?
  • How does Earth stay together?
  • What will happen if meteors hit the Earth?
  • How did the Earth’s core get made?
  • What are the planets made from?
  • How big are all the planets?
  • How was the sun made?
  • What did space look like before the big bang?
  • Why is there no ozone layer in Australia?
  • Is there anything which could destroy Earth?
  • What if the hole in the ozone layer gets too big?

Wow! Remember, these students are in S1…which means they’re about 12 years old. Our curriculum will perhaps attempt to answer some of these over the next six years, but not all. How did we answer all these I hear you ask…well they each chose one to research at home and share back to the class as a homework project which they did brilliantly on Friday of last week. Not a perfect solution, but at least they had the chance of exploring at least one of these big questions and hearing from others about their questions too.

This whole process has really made me think…if that’s the questions they are arriving to us with, why is it so hard for us to make the space to answer them? Also, if we make no attempt to try and answer their own amazing questions is it little wonder that many of them eventually switch off to schooling? Imagine instead of being so obsessed with content in S1-3, we instead focused on those skills and attributes which we so wished our students possessed in S4 onwards? I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t matter, but I don’t think everything necessarily needs to be taught to everyone at the same time.

One of my favourite papers contains a much more complex version of the table below. Harris suggests that to get learners to see the purpose in, and even ‘own’, their own learning they need to be collaborators in the learning process:

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers
can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

I love this idea and have been striving to find a way to make it a reality in my classroom for some time now. It really shouldn’t be that hard given that there is significant overlap between this idea and the capacities we are tasked with developing as part of the curriculum.


So, for me there seems to be a contradiction here. If we want our learners to own their own learning and develop the capacities we want them to have, we need to be able to allow them to be collaborators in the learning process. If they are to be collaborators in the learning process then we need to make the space to take their complex and challenging questions seriously as part of their curriculum.

Ultimately, if we want our kids to be switched on we have to somehow find a way of decluttering the curriculum and making the space for it to happen…

On Doing What Makes Me Happy – Co-operative Learning – Values and Practice⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

“Happiness is when what you think, what say and what you do are in harmony.”  (Mahatma Ghandi) Co-operative learning makes me feel happy.  It also makes me feel perplexed and challenged but this discomfort is worth it, most of the time.  The thing that makes me happy about co-operative learning is the interaction between the […]

Research for Teachers? Whatever will they think of next?!⤴

from @ mr jamieson flips

Throughout the past 9 months as a flipped learning educator, I have been asked, “it sounds great, but does it work?”  My answer, usually just managing to sidestep the pedantic “define work?”, has been so far quite vague.  I will refrain from blaming the question, because as teachers we know what this means generally…does the flipped classroom ‘raise attainment’?  Well, it hasn’t lowered it, thanks Ken for the witty repartee!

I have mentioned in the past, and on Radio Edutalk, that as teachers, we care.  We do not want to change for changes sake, we want to know that the effort that we put in on a daily basis for young people will yield results for them.  Yet the puzzling thing about all of this is…is that we rely on someone else to tell us what works, what will have an effect on learning, engagement, attainment, results?!  The mere mention of finding out for yourself has not yet taken hold in the majority of practitioners minds…yet.

Think of it like this…you go to the doctors, feeling stressed and run-down.  the doctor breaks out this:

blood letting!

It’s a ‘scarifier’ from around 1810 or so, and the doc casually mentions that the treatment is blood letting!  You do this…

daffy hole in wall

Ok, so you don’t turn into Daffy Duck, but my point is that research has led good doctors away from centuries old practice and towards new, increasingly evidence based practice.  Doctors are obliged to keep up with current research and be reactive to it and, ‘Big Pharma’ interference aside, do so for the good of their patients.  Can we, as teachers, say we’ve come so far from the blood letting days of old?

We want to certainly.  I’m just not sure that we know the way yet.  It was my pleasure to attend the Into the Light Conference and hear Marilyn Cochrane Smith (can’t sum up without rampant hyperbole!) , the GTCS’s own Tom Hamilton  and Pat Thomson (read her blog, but please come back to mine…one day!) discuss the way forward with this issue.

Research/Enquiry or whatever label you give it, is the process of practitioners developing their critical faculties.  Often what we are told to do in teaching, we kind of just do it…think VAK, Traffic Lights or Phonics.  That is not to say that these techniques and principles do not have value, it’s just that as teachers, we don’t ask, we deliver.  This is borne of course, out of the desire not to appear cynical, but we must distinguish cynicism from constructive criticism so that we can weed out the “Snake Oil Salesman” (hat tip to Tom Hamilton for that one!) and focus on the valuable and beneficial research evidence that is increasingly more accessible to Scotland’s teachers.

I refer of course to the access to over 1700 research journals and 28 eBooks that is now provided here by GTCS.   Access to this information from a central source is a massive leap forward in terms of the ease that a teacher can get their chalk stained hands (somewhat outdated imagery perhaps, but smart-boards don’t really stain!) on a piece of quality research.  Follow me on twitter for more information as I will retweet profusely or search #gtcsPL for updated information, research focussed chats etc.

The big question, the elephant in the room and the spanner in the works of course is will teachers engage?  Aside from being a central part of our new Professional Standards in Scotland, so ‘a huv tae’ (that’s Glaswegian for mandatory!). I think that the future is very bright in this regard.  We will be able to engage on many levels, from twitter lurking to full blown PhD research, and if my experience is anything to go by, this evolution can happen quite naturally.  A focus on practitioner research is empowering, and if we as teachers can be courageous enough to find out ‘what works’ for ourselves, and crucially in partnership with the once distant world of academia, we can all have a transformative effect on the profession that we are all a part of.

My penchant for the theatrical (and the fact that I have National 5 homework to mark) leads me to end this post with a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress 1/12/1862:

             “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.

As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Somewhat dramatic perhaps, but apt nevertheless…





from @ Fearghal Kelly

Curriculum for Excellence will be ten years old this coming November. This is if we count its date of birth as the publication of the report of the Curriculum Review Group in November 2004 which was titled ‘A Curriculum for Excellence‘ – which is as good a time as any to measure its age by I think. There are many interesting issues which arise from this policy process reaching double figures…firstly, for some in Secondaries, CfE is only two months old – i.e. it only really started in May of this year when students sat the new exams for the first time! For others, a ten year old policy would imply that we must surely have got to grips with it by now and it must surely be fully implemented – how though do you ever fully implement excellence? For many however, the growing suspicion might be that a ten year old policy is surely in its dying days. Don’t we do big bang reform every 10-15 years or so?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m pleased to learn that there is an effort being made by SG/ES to avoid further big bang reforms through the new CLTA forums and I really hope these are successful in this endeavour. However, are the winds of change already amongst us? As David Cameron mentioned at #PedagooGlasgow, the focus seems to be shifting back to attainment – which is evident from the theme of this year’s SLF. Also, has anyone else noticed that the term ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ seems to be being slowly played down on the Education Scotland website?

Change, I suppose, is inevitable and desirable. This can be hard for many teachers to hear after having lived through the last ten years, but it’s the reality of modern life. The real question therefore should probably be about what sort of change we want and for what purpose? The assumption I was alluding to above is that Government at some point in the coming years replaces CfE with something else. My personal fear in this scenario is that it takes the form of a pendulum swing back towards a focus purely on attainment, testing and rote learning. But perhaps this isn’t the way the change needs to happen?

I’ve long felt that CfE was implemented the wrong way round. To put autonomy onto teachers who have not experienced autonomy for years, does not necessarily feel like a good thing! I’ve argued on a few occasions in the past that we should’ve started with skilling up and reprofessionalising the profession before attempting to implement a new curriculum. I always felt that trying to achieve transformational change through giving out folders and subjecting teachers to powerpoints was unlikely to be successful. But we are where we are, so where do we go from here? Well, we now have in place a relatively future-proof set of policies at their core which we’re all relatively familiar with on some level. At the same time, we’re now in the process of implementing some visionary new professional standards from the GTCS which, I think, up the game in terms of what this job of ours involves – particularly in relation to engaging with, and contributing to, research. As a result, we’re beginning to see an increasing engagement with enquiry and research across the profession. This is more like the form of professional learning which is likely to bring about real change in classrooms I think.

Perhaps, therefore, the time is right for us as a profession to shape the direction of the curriculum in the future. As an engaged and researching profession, we can have the confidence to argue the case for change and make sure the curriculum continues to evolve in the way that we think it should and make it what it should be for our young people. I once wrote a fictional history post which suggested that this is the way it should’ve been the first time, which was always a bit far fetched…but perhaps it’s less so this time round?

So rather than fearing possible further changes to the curriculum in the future, let’s engage in enquiry, debate and policy forums and make sure that change does indeed happen for the benefit of our future learners. Perhaps that’s what CfE2.0 could and should be?


I’ve expanded on this post here.