Tag Archives: Student Learning

Achieving equity in practice #TLconference⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


There are very few teachers who would argue with the current focus in Scottish education on closing the poverty related attainment gap. How could you? However, I’m pretty sure that if I were still in the classroom I would have been wondering what I could do more or differently to help achieve this. As a teacher, I felt that I was doing as a much as I could to help all students achieve as much as possible, so what more could I do?

When I saw the tweet above I got an inkling as to what I could be doing differently as a teacher and with my colleagues if I were still in school. I don’t remember ever looking at the attainment disparity in my students based on SIMD data and exploring the reasons for any differences and considering what I could do about them. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

This thought has been further fuelled by some discussions I was part of at the recent #TLconference in Miami. I have a stereotype in my head of assessment in the US whereby teachers have the autonomy to issue grades to their students based on relatively personal and behavioural judgements and that these grades were important to the life chances of students. I was surprised to discover that whilst not universally the case, this isn’t unheard of. There are moves to progress towards standards based assessment afoot, but the practice described above is still prevalent according to some of the teachers I was speaking to.

What I wasn’t aware of however was how tightly this practice is interwound with issues of race. I was informed that many schools there have tracking, whereby students are recommended for different levels of courses based on their grades. Only those who have received the best grades can take the higher level ‘honors’ classes, which in turn are needed for the best college courses. A number of teachers explained to me that as a result of issues throughout the system, “black and brown” (their words – this was the terminology used throughout the conference) students were substantially underrepresented in honors classes. I was quite shocked by the power teachers seemed to yield, which when combined with issues of race appeared potentially very problematic indeed. I heard of efforts to address this through ‘detracking’ and rethinking grading, but these appear to be very contentious initiatives amongst many.

However, since the conference finished I’ve been left wondering, is it that much different in Scotland? If I think back in particular to my National 4 and National 5 classes, or my Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 classes before that, I wonder now how represented students from different SIMD backgrounds were in each class? I fear I know the answer. What’s less clear to me are the reasons for these differences and how they might’ve been addressed. Whereas the differences in the US can be powerfully, and shockingly, visible as described by some of the teachers I spoke to – in that you can physically see the disparity as two classes of different levels line up outside their respective classrooms – in my experience the disparity isn’t always as apparent in Scotland.

So what should we do about it? If I was in school I think I would do three things next week:

  1. Gather and analyse the data as described in the tweet above.
  2. Propose and lead a collaborative enquiry to explore the reasons behind any disparities and develop approaches to practice which would impact upon these disparities.
  3. Use a form of Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche’s data walls in departmental meetings to collaborate on ensuring everything possible was being done for students who were causing concern in terms of attainment. You can find out more about this at SCEL’s May conference.

No doubt there are already teachers and schools taking approaches such as these in their practice, but probably not all. I do think however that it’s important for us all to continually consider if we’re doing all that we can to ensure the best possible outcomes for all of the learners in our care.

There’s only one person who can raise attainment⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

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In my work to support the development of teacher leadership, it’s important for me to reflect upon how this relates to other contemporary drivers in Scottish education, a key one being the National Improvement Framework. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t think that raising the attainment of the children and young people in their care isn’t important. This is equally true of closing the poverty related attainment gap. However, for many teachers, particularly those outwith the challenge authorities, the question often is more about what could they be doing differently in order to achieve these things. The first point I often make is that teachers in Scotland have been raising attainment and working to support children in poverty for years, and we should be seeing ourselves as working from a place of strength. However, it’s clear that for many of Scotland’s children there’s a lot more which could be done. So, what does this look like for teachers and what has it got to do with teacher leadership?

The point I’ve been increasingly making is that ultimately there is only one person who can raise attainment. In the context of this conversation I suspect that people think I’m suggesting that this is a teacher. However, what I actually mean is the learner. In my experience, the only person who can raise a child’s attainment is the child themselves. Only if a child is engaged, happy, ambitious and in possession of a growth mindset can they carry out the cognitive and physical processes required to successfully learn and then confidently share this learning. Attainment being a by-product of successful learning.

In this case, it is therefore those closest to the learner who can have the biggest impact on their ability to learn and succeed. Parents clearly have the biggest role here in terms of supporting and nurturing children, which is why schools are continually developing their approaches to involving parents in the life of the school and learning of their children. However, teachers have a big role to play here also. The relationships and interactions between the teacher and the learner can have a substantial impact on the learning, and the dispositions to learning, of the children and young people in that teacher’s care. And this is where teacher leadership comes in. Here is a section from SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership:

“Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.”

From SCEL’s Framework for Educational Leadership

Teachers who are confidently developing their practice to meet the needs of their learners, and influencing the practice of their colleagues, are clearly going to be more likely to successfully support their children and young people to achieve. Leaders at other levels in the system are crucial also in creating the right conditions and support to allow these interactions between learner and teacher to develop and flourish, but in the end it is the development of these interactions which is crucial to raising attainment.

In this context therefore, teacher leadership is not “another thing” but a crucial element in our collective drive to improve outcomes for children and young people in Scotland.

A Profound Shift in Relationships⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

The new version of How good is our school? has come out and it makes for interesting reading. There are a few shifts of emphasis which I welcome, but I also like the new layout. The more detailed level five illustrations are helpful, and the omission of the other level illustrations is a good move also I think. I also like the short and sharp descriptions of effective practice and the challenge questions for each QI. I think this will prove a useful tool for self-evaluation at all levels.

I’m also really pleased to note that digital learning, practitioner enquiry and creativity are writ large throughout the document, however the focus of this post is on something else which leaps out from HGIOS4 to me.

Here’s what I mean…

1.2 LEADERSHIP OF LEARNING

  • We provide a wide range of opportunities and support to ensure children and young people can take responsibility for their own learning, successes and achievements. Our learners are developing the necessary resilience and confidence to enable them to make decisions about their own learning and to lead others’ learning.

2.2 CURRICULUM

  • Our curriculum is grounded in our commitment to securing children’s rights and wellbeing.

2.3 LEARNING, TEACHING AND ASSESSMENT

  • Learners exercise choice, including the appropriate use of digital technology, and take increasing responsibility as they become more independent in their learning. They understand the purpose of their learning and have opportunities to lead the learning.
  • Learners are fully involved in planning learning

2.4 PERSONALISED SUPPORT

  • Children and young people are at the centre of all planning, as active participants in their learning and development.

3.1 ENSURING WELLBEING, EQUALITY AND INCLUSION

  • We ensure children and young people are active participants in discussions and decisions which may affect their lives.

3.3 CREATIVITY AND EMPLOYABILITY

  • They are motivated to explore and challenge assumptions. Children and young people take ownership of their own learning and thinking. They are imaginative, open- minded, confident risk-takers, and appreciate issues from different perspectives. They can ask questions, make connections across disciplines, envisage what might be possible and not possible, explore ideas, identify problems and seek and justify solutions.
  • They feel supported to make suitable, realistic and informed choices based on their skills, strengths and preferences. They are supported to develop an international mind-set equipping them for the rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world.

How good is our school? 4th Edition

It’s clear to me, that meaningfully involving learners in the learning and teaching process is going to become a bigger and bigger element of school self-evaluation and inspection process. Now, this isn’t exactly news. Back in 2009, when I first read Building the Curriculum 3, it was this shift which I identified as being the biggest challenge to my own practice. Back then, I jumped straight into giving it a go:

Since 2009, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and enquiring into this change to my approach to learning and teaching and I have become increasingly convinced that it is the way forward, however I have also concluded that it is not an easy change to make. Here is just a selection of the posts I’ve written on this blog about all this:

Every time I’ve tried this approach, it has been fantastic for both the learners and me. Everyone is more engaged, the learning is richer, deeper and more relevant. So why haven’t I done it more? Partly this is due to having been out of the classroom for 18 months on secondment and two extended periods of absence due to illness, but it’s also because it’s not easy, and is it any wonder?

I’ve just begun a course in Childhood Studies and Childhood Psychology through the OU and there’s an interesting section in the textbook on the issues surrounding the participation aspect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 states that:

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times.

If the six hours of learning in classrooms which young people undertake each day isn’t a matter which affects them, I’m not sure what is. However, as my OU textbook states in relation to this:

Participation rights have been particularly contested because they represent a profound shift in relationships between adults and children, and challenge conceptualisations of children as unknowing, passive and needing adults to act in their best interests…participation rights have been seen as threatening and upsetting to the status quo. (Farmington-Flint & Montgomery, 2015)

As well as this, there’s also Dylan Wiliam’s point that asking a teacher to change their teaching practice is like asking a golfer to change their golf swing, it’s not simple!

Asking teachers to make wholesale changes in their practice is a little like asking a golfer to change her swing during a tournament. Teachers have to maintain the fluency of their classroom routines, while at the same time disrupting them.

Now, I’m not saying that no-one is doing this already. But I don’t think many teachers are doing it particularly well in the Secondary phase in particular. I have heard of a few noble attempts, but for the reasons outlined above, many of these attempts don’t become a sustained and meaningful change in practice. Quite often they’re tokenistic and are doomed to fail as the teachers are only doing it because they think they should. Or, they have limited impact because although students are asked for their input, this is then largely ignored as the teacher then has to proceed with the preplanned teaching and assessment.

So given all of this, how do we move forward? In my most recent post on this (which if you haven’t already seen you should definitely look at now) my students shared their ideas on how to go about this, so I thought I’d share my own suggestions in this post…

  • Believe that it is desirable, and possible, to involve learners in the learning process and it is worth trying. If you don’t, or are not sure, read this (free) book.
  • Try to take an enquiry approach to your change. Don’t just do it because you’re being told to by Education Scotland, your leadership team or even me, research it for yourself. As well as enhancing what you do, if you propose the change as an enquiry you are more likely to get approval from your leadership team if that is an issue for you.
  • Start small. Choose one class which you think you could work with on this to give it a try. Talk to them about it in advance and explain why you’re doing it. Some classes in the past have thought that I was just being lazy when I’ve not explained it properly! Aim to do it for just one topic and then evaluate it after that.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. This may be new to the learners as well as you, although it may not be if they’ve experienced this at primary, which many will have in some way at some time. When I first tried it I wanted the learners to collaborate on the planning, teaching and assessment…it was all a bit much. It takes time for the class as a community to work together in this way so don’t rush it. You can involve them a little to begin with, and if it works, involve them a little more in the next topic.
  • Make use of ICT as much as you can. Digital tools are fantastic for supporting this approach to learning and teaching, use them and encourage the learners to find their own ways of using them.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things I do with a topic with a new class if that’s of use as an idea to get started:

  • As mentioned above, I explain in advance how we’re going to learn and discuss with them why we’re going to learn in this way and how best to learn in this way.
  • I don’t start with the title of the topic. In fact, I never tell the class what the topic is called in our schemes of work. I start with a hook. Challenging, interesting and relevant questions which get them thinking, discussing, debating and questioning. I then capture and rationalise these questions either on post-its, or in a Google Document.
  • I bring out the experiences and outcomes for the topics and we unpick their meaning as a class. We decide what questions we would need to be able to answer to satisfy these experiences and outcomes.
  • We then bring in their own questions from the stimulus discussion. Do these overlap with any of the questions from the experiences and outcomes? Do any of them fit in with the experiences and outcomes? Which ones don’t fit in?
  • We then decide how we’ll approach the topic. We discuss which of the experiences and outcomes we should do when and how we’ll address their questions which didn’t fit in (this is quite often a research and present task).
  • They then come up with possible names for the topic and vote on it.
  • I then use all of this to go off and modify the schemes of work to what we’ve planned together. I normally find that this can just be done by making a few tweaks to what was already there because they were made with the same experiences and outcomes that we’ve just explored as a class. In terms of any summative assessments for the topic, if these have been well written from the experiences and outcomes then they shouldn’t be a major problem either…however, I’ve sometimes found that the topic tests have been tests of the scheme of work rather than a test of the learning outcomes and in these cases I adjust the test questions so that they relate to the actual learning outcomes in the experiences and outcomes, but maintain the same structure and numbers of marks etc.
  • As you and the class become more confident you can then do the above more quickly and begin exploring learning outcomes, success criteria, assessment and evaluation…but one step at a time!

Ultimately, if we’re serious about this, we have to get away from the idea of standardised learning and standardised testing. I believe that we should have a core set of knowledge which all children should  learn, but not so much that it (more than) fills the time they have to learn it. There should be sufficient space and time in the curriculum for young people to be able to contribute to the learning and teaching process, and the flexibility in the system to support and encourage it.

What is the point in asking learners for their questions if we don’t (or can’t) then make the time to answer them and check that they understood the answers? It is for these reasons that I think we need to reduce the number of experiences and outcomes, in the third and fourth level sciences at least, and support and encourage teachers to take the time to try out the approaches I’ve described above.

This is a hard change to make and to make it well is going to take leadership and support.

Farmington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (2015) An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology. Open University, Milton Keynes.

Involving Learners in Planning Learning⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

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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!

In the wake of change⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I started my first ever Open University course today. And what did I do as soon as I got the email saying I was enrolled? I got into the course website and started exploring. Wow, have they got it sorted. The whole Open University is concept is so well suited to the internet, it’s hard to understand how it ever functioned without it!

Having got to grips with the system a thought occurred to me, why are we still so far behind in schools? It’s not hard to imagine how better use of the web could really revolutionise the way secondary schools function, and therefore how students experience education. I’m not suggesting that we should shut all secondary schools and replace them with a version of the OU, of course not. But there could really be a lot more variety in the system than there currently is. It just so happens that Ian Stuart shared the following great animation on Facebook today also, with the question “When will education culturally accept this change?“.

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It is amazing, isn’t it? I first used the internet in about 1995 I think, and I got my first mobile phone in about 2000. Since then the use of the web has revolutionised the way we do so much, except learning in classrooms. My school are in the process of switching on an open wireless network throughout the school and opening the door to students using their own mobile devices in class, which is fantastic, but perhaps this shouldn’t really be that cutting edge by now? A mere eight years after the first iPhone was launched and McDonalds first installed free WiFi in all of its UK restaurants!

There is some great work going on in the world of Digital Learning (such as the provision of Glow and the new NDLF in Scotland), but I sometimes worry that the pace is too slow, and even where devices are being provided to students, do our current curricular structures allow and encourage their most effective use? Too often devices are introduced and used to simply replace the pen and paper and our practices continue relatively unchanged. However, the effective use of technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we do things as well augment what we already do. One example of this is High Tech High in the US. I like the way in the following video that you can see that IT is integral to the way they learn, but they don’t really focus on it when they’re explaining the way their schools work:

I recently wrote a little piece for the GTCS Teaching Scotland magazine about how we’ve dropped the word ‘digital’ from ‘digital banking’ as no-one really banks any other way anymore. And yet in education, we’re only beginning to dip our toes into ‘digital’ learning, how much longer will it be until we’ve reached the point when we can drop the ‘digital’ again?

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Given how far behind we are on this front in education, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency either. For me, I think we need three things to get moving with this:

  1. Significant investment in hardware, networks and software in schools.
  2. Continuous support, encouragement and guidance for teachers and schools who are wanting to do something different in order to make the most of technology to transform young people’s learning.
  3. An agenda of policy reform (probably through the CLTAS forums) which aims to alter the curriculum to enable teachers and schools to modify their practice to make the most of the potential of technology.

I really feel that we need to get a move on with this or we’re putting our young people at a disadvantage in terms of the skills they are leaving us with. I don’t claim to have got it perfect myself yet, but I’ve long tried my hardest within a system which isn’t conducive to change. However, I’ll finish with a quote from one our former students who left us to study medicine at univeristy.

I think that the single best thing that my time at Preston Lodge gave me was such good experience in using Google Drive and other online resources (particularly from the biology/science department). This really let me hit the ground running when I came into lectures etc, as I already had methods to use that I had tried and tested during my time at school. Please keep on encouraging pupils to use Google at PL, it’s very very very very useful!

All we had done was tried our hardest to use Google Apps when appropriate and possible to support learning, which was nowhere as much as we would’ve liked to due a lack of hardware, network and conducive curricula, however imagine how much more confidence our young people could have in using the web constructively when leaving our schools if we could just get on with it!

Columban Story⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

Last year I was fortunate enough to accompany a group of students from my school on a Columba 1400 Leadership Academy on Skye. The talented Jamie Halvorson (a former student of mine and Columba graduate) was there at the same time to capture footage for Columba and asked me for my thoughts on the programme on camera. You can view the results of this chat above.

Connected Learning | Supporting a shift to BYOD⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

A Connected Learning Network (aka WiFi) is coming soon to my school…exciting stuff. As I’m currently off work awaiting surgery on my ankle I’ve been putting in a bit of work into creating resources to support the launch of this network. What’s perhaps more challenging than the network itself, is the change in mindsets we’ll need to have as a school when it comes to mobile devices. In order to make the most of this opportunity we’ll need to move towards a controlled and managed encouragement of mobile device use in class. We’ve therefore been giving some thought as to what we’ll need to do to make this work.

So far I’ve made the above videos, cards to be distributed to the students and an A4 guide explaining the background to the cards in more detail.

Many schools are currently in the position of thinking through how to support and manage a shift towards students using their own devices in class and so I thought I would share what we’ve done here in the hope that this will be useful to others, but also in the hope that you can share what you’ve done with us also!

Wireless Projecting⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

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I’m in the ridiculously fortunate position of having been given 20 chromebooks a few years ago, 17 of which are still working. I was also given a wireless network to make them work, which has been fab. It occurred to me recently however that with these two ingredients it might just be possible for me to add a chromecast to my network and get some wireless projecting happening. So, one of my colleagues who has a chromecast took one of the chromebooks home and gave it a go on his TV…and, it worked!

So, I set about trying to work out how to connect an HDMI chromecast to a projector which doesn’t have HDMI…a tonne of cables later, and lo and behold, it works!

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What I hadn’t quite anticipated is that not only can I now project wirelessly…anyone who is on the network can! So, if a student has something worth sharing with the whole class, they can just cast it straight up onto the screen from their desk. I’m only just beginning to get to grips with the implications of this technology for learning and teaching…but I thought I’d share what I’d done to at least have got it working – something I really wasn’t expecting to occur when I started playing around with this!

In case anyone else is thinking of doing something similar, here’s what I’ve had to buy to make it all work…

Leaders of Learning⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

Click to view slideshow.
My S1 class are very fortunate to currently be involved in Children in Scotland’s Leaders of Learning project. Phase one of this project involved Children in Scotland consulting with children and young people on their learning which culminated in this report. In the current phase of the project Children in Scotland are working with various schools on some of the key themes which arose through phase one. My class are working on the following theme with Linda Young and others from Children in Scotland:

Children and young people want a more active role in planning around their learning

Following an introductory session the project began with an ice-breaker spaghetti/marshmallow tower challenge which was fantastic for getting the class talking to our new visitors to the class, and also was very effective for getting them thinking about and sharing the skills and attitudes they’d used to complete the challenge.

In the introductory session the pupils were asked to think of something which they could teach others. The second half of session one saw them work in threes to teach these skills. These ranged from dancing, maths, keepie-uppies and the clarinet. In their threes they arranged themselves into a teacher, a learner and an observer. The role of the observer was to make notes on what both the teacher and learner were doing to make the ‘lesson’ effective. I was really amazed by how well the observers were able to complete their task and their feedback was really excellent.

From this task we then began work on planning a lesson together. The class helped me to plan which lesson we would do, what the learning intentions and success criteria would be and how they would know if they’d met these success criteria. Linda then went on to inform the class they would not only be learners in this lesson, but they would also be acting as observers. She then asked them what questions they might have on an observer feedback form, in about ten minutes they came up with the following:

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I thought that this was an astonishing response. We agreed that this was too many questions for one form, so the class decided to split them over two forms with half the class completing one and the other half completing the other. You can see their completed forms here.

The next stages of the project will involve the class researching the rest of their learning in school to find out when they have a say in their learning and then they’re going to work on producing something to share the outcomes of the project.

Yet again, this class has already demonstrated that when given the opportunity young people can consistently astonish you with what they’re capable of…we really need to be finding ways of providing them many more opportunities to do so.

Own Learning⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

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I love teaching. I really do. However, like many other teachers I yearn for other experiences and opportunities as well. I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have had a few interesting out-of-classroom experiences, but to be completely honest with you I’m not sure where the next one is going to come from. Over the past few years there have been a number of potential opportunities but for one reason or another none of them have actually come off or been quite right.

So, in the spirit of New Year resolutions, my plan for 2015 is to see if I can create my own opportunities. Can I generate work outside of my classroom, not to make enormous profits, but to allow me to be able to reduce my teaching commitment and yet still support my family? It’s an interesting question and I suppose I have to ask myself what do I have to offer? I’ve come up with a number of things…

  • I feel that I have a deep understanding of the potential for practitioner enquiry in teacher professional learning and am able to facilitate others in the process. I’ve already run collaborative enquiries and supported individuals through the enquiry process in my own school and now I’m beginning to support teachers from outwith my school through enquiries, which I could build upon further with others. I could therefore lead enquiries in other schools, support schools to develop their own enquiry programmes and even branch this out to wider support for schools’ professional learning programmes.
  • I have a real passion for the development of pedagogy, particularly in the areas of involving young people in the learning process and the meaningful integration of technology into learning. I could support school leaders and their staff to develop aspects of pedagogy and the use of technology in a number of ways ranging from consulting, to speaking or even coming in and working directly with groups of staff.
  • I could also do a huge variety of other pieces of work such as organising educational events or consulting on policy or projects for organisations working in the education sector.

In order to dip my toe in the water and see if anyone is willing to actually pay me for any of these services I’m taking the step of setting myself up as a sole trader. You can find out more on my new website: ownlearning.co.uk

To begin with, any work would be in addition to my full time teaching role, however if it works I’d be hoping to be able to adjust this in the future.

So, does any of this appeal to you or your school’s leadership team? If so, please get in touch. I’ve come up with some rates but obviously these will be negotiable while I’m setting up in return for feedback and references.

Happy New Year!