Tag Archives: teaching

What every teacher should do: direct-interactive instruction⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

My schooling was during a time when the idea of being a ‘guide on the side’ was quite fashionable. When I think back to some of my lessons I can remember doing an awful lot of stuff and I struggle to recall listening to my teacher talk. However, two teachers stand out for me in my schooling and both of them epitomise what I mean when I talk about direct instruction. They both were great explainers, and storytellers, who demanded excellence from us. They both questioned students deeply and I remember one lesson when my chemistry teacher spent what felt like ten minutes probing my thinking, believing I could go deeper. It certainly worked as I started my university life studying for a degree in chemistry. A lot has changed since then I can assure you.

This brings me to discuss the need for all teachers to pursue ‘direct instruction’ or a better way to think about it is ‘direct-interactive instruction’ as put forward by Bruce Robertson in The Teaching Delusion.

Before we dive into exploring ‘direct-interactive instruction’. I feel that it is important to discuss the difference between a novice and an expert, how they learn, think and how the use knowledge. It is clear (at least I hope so) that a novice has significantly less prior knowledge, or background knowledge of a particular topic, than that of the prior knowledge of an expert. This plays a key role in how they tackle problem, think about solutions and carry out tasks.

A novice will approach a task from the start and tackle each area of a problem individually, they will require a lot of scaffolding, support and feedback to overcome each step until they get to a solution. An expert on the other hand uses all of their prior knowledge to tackle the solution easily, coming to a conclusion with minimal effort. As John Sweller neatly sums up in a 1988 paper on Cognitive Load During Problem Solving:

Novices, not possessing appropriate schemas, are not able to recognise and memorize problem configurations and are forced to use general problem-solving strategies such as means-end analysis when faced with a problem

John Sweller, Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning (1988)

If you consider it from a football perspective, a novice has to learn which part of the foot to dribble the ball with, how hard to hit the ball and will often lose track of where they are because they are continually looking down. An expert has the tacit knowledge to know where the ball is without looking at it and can instead focus on bigger concepts such as ‘game strategy’.

To put it simply, a novice needs to build their ‘schema’ and an expert already has a deep ‘schema’ to access. So, a novice then needs to be given facts and other relevant knowledge in order to build their schema, and the best way to do this is to explicitly teach them the facts of our subject matter slowly and steadily until it has moved to their long term memory. Which allows us to define learning as ‘a change in long term memory’ as outlined by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark.

What is direct-interactive instruction?

In What Makes Great Teaching (Coe et al., 2014) the authors summarised robust research evidence that would best support teacher quality. In the report they discuss ‘ineffective practices’ such as discovery learning, teaching to learning styles, use of lavish praise and grouping students by ability but one quote sticks out for me:

Enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction (Kirschner et al., 2006). Although learners do need to build new understanding on what they already know, if teachers want them to learn new ideas, knowledge or methods they need to teach them directly.

What Makes Great Teaching, Sutton Trust Report.

Greg Ashman has been a prolific blogger on this area and has shown through robust use of evidence that the teacher should ‘ be in complete control of the learning process’. Ashman references Siegfried Engelmann’s Project Follow Through (which is one of the largest educational experiment ever conducted) and this study recognised that Direct Instruction ‘ was not only more effective at at developing students basic skills than alternative models, it was also more successful at developing the ability to comprehend written passages or solve mathematical problems’. (I would recommend looking up Project Follow Through for a more detailed account of explicit instruction).

Direct Instruction is often refereed to as ‘old fashioned’ but the evidence is clear that it is the best approach to take when teaching novices, they need the necessary background knowledge, which is moved to long term memory, in order to make future learning easier to undertake. In The Teaching Delusion Bruce Robertson adds that the instruction should be on the basis of ‘ clear teacher explanations and demonstration which hold students attention’ and should also include checking for understanding’. For teachers to hold a students attention they will be required to involve them in the discussion by asking questions and getting contributions ‘from the floor’. Bruce is clear that ‘great teaching needs to include presenting content directly and interactively to students and checking for understanding’. Teaching in this way will ensure that the students get the relevant knowledge from the expert in the room, the teacher, and by involving them in the process by asking questions and checking for understanding it will allow the teacher to hold their attention on the learning.

Suffice to say a poorly presented lesson which fails to hold a students attention will result in them ‘switching off’ and no learning entering their working memory, on the basis of the idea that ‘we learn what we attend to’. Making it crucial that teachers consider what pupils will be thinking about in each phase of their lesson (Willingham, 2009) through direct-interactive instruction and checking for understanding.

I would recommend reading Andy Tharby’s How to Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone if you want to develop your explanations and get getter at direct-interactive instruction.

What about the ‘interactive’ part?

During a great teacher explanation it is vital that a teacher knows what the students are taking in (even though we know this is them ‘performing’ in our lesson). A teacher can do this in a number of ways and I will write about providing worked examples, questioning and practice in future posts. For now, when you are designing your explanations of key content make sure that you are clear and explicit on what you want the students to learn and think about during the lesson, this will help you shape the questions that you ask as a good question ‘makes the students think hard’.

During this stage in the lesson your aim is to make thinking visible and there is no better way than getting the pupils to write down what they are thinking through your use of questioning. Whether it is in a jotter or on a show me board a great teacher will take responses from a number of students so that they are confident that what they are explicitly teaching is being held in their students working memory. The use of examples, retrieval practice and purposeful practice will help in getting the information to the long term memory. As we said earlier, the more knowledge a pupils has the easier future learning will be and the further they will move along the novice-expert continuum.

Clear explanations are king

Your explanations are king in the classroom and it is so important that we get this aspect of teacher talk right, it is key to effective direct-interactive instruction’. What you directly teach the students is inevitably what they will learn in your classroom so it is important to make sure they are of high quality. So before you start a new topic be sure to consider the following:

  • be clear on what you are going to say, clarity is so important
  • Script what you are going to say, especially in your early years of teaching
  • observe other teachers explaining new content, you can pinpoint what the great teachers do and add it to your armoury
  • make eye contact with every student and make sure the students eyes are on you. You are the focal point.
  • Stand still, the teacher moving too often is distracting for the students and requires extra attention which is unnecessary
  • Repeat your key ideas and include them in your questions when you are making thinking visible.

What every teacher should do: understand how memory works⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

I was never explicitly taught about memory in my eight years of teaching. This is no one’s fault as we are all doing the best we can. However, having starting reading books and blogs there is a whole world of education research still untouched by many. One important area that I feel all teachers should know about is that of memory and how memory works.

We all want our students to remember stuff and I am sure we can all empathise with each others frustration at the students knowing stuff during lessons but completely forgetting it when it matters, during tests. Understanding how our memory works is key to tackling this all too common classroom occurrence.

In my last post we briefly explored Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve and we discussed our ability to retain information through spaced retrieval. To understand this in greater depth we must explore our working memory and long term memory.

Working Memory

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Willingham-memory-model-diagram.png
Credit – Oliver Caviglioli

The first area to consider is that of our Working Memory (WM). Research into our WM has shown that it is a finite resource, with some researchers claiming we can only hold up to 7 (plus 2) ‘chunk’ of information at any one time, some recent research has suggested that the number could be as low as 4 ‘chunks’. Our WM is where we process information from our current environment and also draw upon knowledge from our long-term memory. As mentioned our WM is a finite resource but it is always active and processing information. To reiterate, our working memory is always full, it is taking in everything in our surrounding. As David Didau writes:

Working memory is synonymous with awareness. It is the sit of conscious thought. The act of paying attention, of reading these words, of listening to your children complain about how much homework they’ve got to finish for Monday morning, fill sup our working memory. In practical terms our, our working memories are always active, even when we are focussing on something in particular. We’re constantly absorbing and processing sensory data from the world around us.David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer.

This is where Sweller’s ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ comes into play for us teachers. Often we ‘overload’ our students with too much information which produces too much cognitive load. To lighten this cognitive load our students have to have acquired knowledge in the long-term memory, referred to in literature as schemas (schemas are basically folders of knowledge on one topic, the more the folder is filled with knowledge the lighter the load on working memory for that particular area of knowledge).

As you can see in the graphic our working memory fills up and we can either learn the material by storing it in our long-term memory or forget it. If our WM is filled with too much cognitive load then whatever else is added will most certainly be forgotten so it is worth learning more on Cognitive Load Theory.

Despite the apparent bottleneck of our working memory there are strategies that we can use to overcome cognitive load. Firstly, having a vast store of knowledge in our long-term memory in the form of schemas will certainly help, in simple terms – the stronger the schema the lighter the load on our working memory (this is basically why experts make some things look so effortless and novices struggle so much).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Baddeley.jpg
Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model

Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model (WMM) is one of the most robust theories in cognitive science and gives us further insight into working memory. The Central Executive (CE) acts a bit like a supervisor or night club bouncer. As information tries to enter the ‘club’ the CE focuses attention on the information and decides which one to attend to, or to continue the analogy which one gets into the club and which information gets the good old ‘not tonight pal!’. It’s important to note that the CE is entirely under our control and is more of a subconscious function. Every teacher can speak to losing a classes focus when a wasp enters the room!

The Phonological Loop (PL) deals mainly with speech and other types of audio. This is where we store verbal information, up to about 2 seconds before it is overwritten and new information comes in. We either move it to our long-term memory or forget it.

The Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad (VSS) briefly holds visual information and the spatial relationship between things. Imagine the light goes out in your room, this is where you store the memory of where all of your clutter is so that you don’t trip up.

The Episodic Buffer (EB) was added to the WMM in 2000. It was added because there was evidence to suggest we needed a component to combine the information in the WMM stores to what we already know – our prior knowledge stored in our long-term memory. This shows the importance of a vast array of knowledge in our long-term memory. The more you know and the larger your schema is for a topic, the lighter the load on your working memory.

The role of LTM in helping working memory is well established and very easy to demonstrate (e.g. – compare the retention of a random sequence of letters – DPL OAM IGGB – to a sequence containing meaningful ‘chunks’: DOG PIG LAMB)Taken from ‘What every teacher needs to know about psychology’, Didau & Rose

One of the key things to note about working memory is just how limited it is.If you are distracted while trying to process something you will lose the information you are trying to process (think about what this means when the damn wasp flies in.) We also can only deal with a small amount of information at any one time as suggested by Miller’s ‘7 plus 2’ chunks from his research in 1950.

This is why it is so important that teachers know about Cognitive Load Theory and Dual Coding Theory to help them combat the limited working memory of their students. Dylan Wiliam said that cognitive load theory is the “single most important thing for teachers to know” However, to really help our students we should be working hard to get the information we teach into their long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

First, we must note that our memories are invisible to us and there isn’t any consensus as to where exactly our memories are stored but we know enough that our long-term memory is vast and perhaps even limitless and the more stuff we have in there the easier it is to learn as the working memory load will be reduced. Learning has been defined as “a change in long term memory” by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark. If we run with this then, it is our acquisition of schema that fills our long term memory.

Storing memories is about making links and connections between our experiences in a vast network of related concepts and contexts. These links and connections are referred to as ‘schema’. As mentioned earlier a schema can be though of like a folder in your laptop that gets filled with the relevant knowledge in one given topic. An example of a schema in action is as follows:

A frequently used example is going to a restaurant. The schema for getting a table, ordering food and drink, and paying for the meal makes visiting a new restaurant for the first time, even in another country, a pretty straightforwards process, as we deal with new situations by linking them to things we’ve encountered in the past.David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer

Our long-term memory isn’t a single storage unit and psychologists tend to divide it into to separate but interlinked systems: declarative memory and non-declarative memory.

Non- declarative memory is a catch-all term for everything that may exist in our long-term memory that we are unable to put into words. An example of this is your ability to read this sentence and understand the phoneme-grapheme correspondences required to read this, you just know how to do it (even though it was once a challenging and hard learning experience). Other procedural skills like tying your shoelaces, walking, swimming or cycling are features of non-declarative memory.

Declarative memories are the memories we can declare: “Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid”, “they are 30 years old”, “pythagoras theorem is a2 + b2 = c2” and so on. Declarative memory can be either episodic or semantic.

Episodic memories are those of experiences and specific events, how you felt at during those events. We can often replay events in great detail using our episodic memories. Whereas, Semantic memories are a more structured record of facts, concepts and meanings. Episodic memories are mainly context dependant but semantic memories are more flexible and can be applied across a range of contexts.

The two systems, episodic and semantic are linked in several ways. Semantic memories can become ‘stand alone’ memories but they are often derived from a specific episodic memory. In terms of teaching an episodic memory could be that of a particular lesson and the semantic memories are the facts, key terms and concepts of that lesson. Quite often our students can recall episodic information from a lesson but struggle with recalling the semantic information.

Understanding episodic and semantic memory can help us, as teachers, understand why our children oftentimes can’t recall what we teach them. They remember the episodic memories of lessons – messing about with friends, Mr Murphy’s horrible breath and being given detention for incomplete homework. In order to make our semantic memories stronger we must retrieve factual information often which will allow us to retain our learning over the long term. Which is why retrieval practice really is an important pedagogy to undertake.

If we don’t retrieve the semantic memories, when asked “do you remember when we learned about plate tectonics?”. The students might reply with “oh yes i do remember” but they may be recalling the episodic memory and not the semantic memory and unless the teacher digs deeper with further probing questions the student will have the illusion of knowledge and perhaps be relying on the familiarity effect, with no change in their long term memory.

There have been great studies that have revealed the links between semantic and episodic memories. The most famous of these is by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer. They showed participants of their study a series of films involving car collisions and found that estimations of the speed the car was travelling could be manipulated by changing the verb used in their question. Where participants were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” they gave lower speed estimates when compared to participants who were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?”. The change in language appeared to create a ‘fact’ about the collision which influenced the memory of the collisions they witnessed.

As mentioned earlier a ‘schema’ is like a big folder with interrelated concepts and contexts and is assembled of non-declarative and declarative memories. Some of what we remember is semantic, some is episodic, but they are all stored somewhere within our brain.


Didau, David and Nick Rose (2016) What every teacher need to know about psychology

Didau, David (2015) What is everything you knew about education was wrong?

Didau, David (2019) Making Kids Cleverer

How often do you reteach?⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

During this academic session I have had one class that has required me to reteach topics quite a lot. Perhaps this could be due to poor instruction in the first instance, however I could argue that due to skilful checking for understanding I have identified that I don’t have an 80% success rate.

We know from Barak Rosenshine that the most effective teachers “frequently check to see if all the students are learning new material” and we do this by asking a lot of questions. For me, the expert teacher is one who knows what to do with this information that they glean from their students.

When teaching new material it is vital that lots of questions are asked and that you never ask ‘are there any questions?’. In your questioning you will ask recall questions, explain questions, comparison questions and so on. If the students are providing satisfactory answers then you are ready to move on, but what if the students aren’t getting it quite right.

Mark McCourt in Teaching for Mastery would argue that unless all pupils are having above 80% success then you should absolutely not move on and apply some corrective teaching. It is important to note here that McCourt outlines that this is not the same as reteaching material but a part of an expert teachers arsenal they can use with small groups of students. He writes that we should celebrate mistakes in low-stake quizzes as the teacher “now knows something new about you….. it means I can help you nail it right here, right now”

Sometimes, however, we do need to go back and reteach material. If students aren’t achieving success in our low stake quizzes and assessments then we need to be brave, bold and imaginative so that we can help them attain an 80% success rate. When reteaching we should look to explain differently, try new tasks, identify groupings and model our explanations.

A powerful reteaching strategy is Thinking Aloud. This is where the expert teacher will model and speak their thinking process in order to unpack the material for their students. Many teachers do this while using a visualiser so that students can see their thinking as well as hear it. While modelling in this way the teacher doesn’t simply reteach the material in the same way that they introduced it, they use different explanations in response to the students misunderstanding, misconceptions and mistake. Reteaching must expose the mistake and extinguish the error so that the student achieves success moving forward and is ready to learn new material.

A teacher can also use Purposeful Grouping when reteaching. A teacher can place 1-3 pupils in a group and tutor them in small groups to clear up misconceptions and mistakes. This does require a deep subject knowledge from the teacher as they will need to keep the other 28 students busy while they focus on reteaching the material to smaller groups.

Finally, when reteaching the teacher should use Explicit Instruction. This is where the teacher talk might increase and the volume of questions to deepen understanding of the material also increases. A large volume of questions to all students will help build a clear picture of misconceptions and mistakes. Explicit Instruction is where the teacher talks directly at the students while modelling their thinking and finding a new approach to explain the material at hand.

Teachers need to be brave and bold when making the decision to reteach and commit to doing this when students aren’t achieving a high success rate. We do this because we believe that all students can learn well and base this decision on our continuous assessment of their progress through low stakes quizzes, a large volume of questions and pre- and post-assessments. In my own teaching I often try to fly through work and move onto new material without securing the knowledge and having a high success rate. Moving forward I will commit to being braver and ensuring a high success rate by asking lots of questions, reteaching where necessary through modelling my thinking to extinguish errors and misconceptions.

How to nurture a community of online learners⤴


Community…..” flickr photo by Kamaljith shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’ve been involved in open learning for several years now. It started almost by accident, when some guy called Dave ran a crazy learning experience that we called rhizo14, carried on serendipitously into a sister experience called CLMOOC, and gradually became a part of my daily ritual as I started participating in Daily Creates. Much of what happens in these open, online experiences can appear to be random and unstructured, but beneath and behind them is a set of core principles and values and a tried and tested design. Those can be broadly summed up as belonging to an educational framework called connected learning. That’s helped me to learn some tricks to help all of us (staff and students) to teach and learn online. They’re at the end of this post, for those wanting to skip straight to the punchline.

Connected learning is a work in progress. It begins from an (intuitively plausible, I think) set of beliefs in the value of learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported and academically relevant, and harnesses the power of social media in order to make these types of learning better integrated into learners’ lives while attempting to make it accessible to anyone who wants to participate (equity is a core value). As such, it is platform and technology agnostic, although the values of open education are central to what practitioners do.

At the heart of connected learning is the thought that we live, nowadays, in a participatory culture. Sometimes people describe this as “Web 2.0”, but participatory culture is actually a richer concept than that. Henry Jenkins contrasts the concept of “interactivity”, which he describes as a relationship between a customer and a software company and a property of some social media platforms, and “participation” which is a relationship between people (which can be facilitated by use of social media). This means that we can’t take student engagement for granted, we have to explicitly design it into our courses. For those familiar with the terminology, I might use this distinction to explain the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I say this to note a difference, and not to imply that cMOOCs are always superior – knowledge acquisition and participation in learning are not, imo, contradictory concepts – each has its place. Anna Sfard makes this point better than I could.

To an outsider, learning in the open can look unstructured and random, and those new to this type of learning and teaching can feel overwhelmed, out of their depth, unsure of their own abilities, frustrated, scared or even angry. This goes for both learners (often called participants) and educators (often called facilitators). This is why it is so important to design these experiences carefully, and to think carefully about the types of support that can be provided. I think, in the interesting times that lie ahead of us, we are all going to need all the support we can get – both to keep ourselves going, and to help our learners. Teaching and learning online can be an isolated experience, as those of us who do it know only too well.

So how can all of this help us now? First of all I should stress that I’m not suggesting that everybody immediately abandons whatever they are doing and redesign their courses so that they are connected learning experiences – I’m not trying to make more work for anyone. What I am going to tell you about is some tried and tested strategies that have helped the community that I am a part of to emerge and continue. I’m not pretending to have invented any of these strategies either – just to have used or experienced them for myself.

  • Remember that your learners will be in many different time zones, some of which will have better connectivity than others. People who can’t participate are likely to feel very left out and uncared for. Think about asynchronous activities as well as synchronous ones.
  • Some learners will have state of the art technology, others … won’t. Think about designing activities/resources that can load on different devices.
  • Realise that there is no such thing as a digital native: some (staff and students) will find it easy to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning others … won’t. We can’t predict who will and won’t adapt. Think about how to support staff and students who just can’t work out how to log in/submit/engage.
  • Don’t rely on one platform or one mode of delivery. Systems could be overloaded, or not available for a particular device, or not available in a geographical area (YouTube content, for example, can be restricted by geographical area). Yes, this could mean duplicating important content/messages in order to ensure that everyone who needs can access them.
  • Don’t force anyone to use a particular platform (other than official, institutionally supported ones). Your students might well have ethical objections to using a particular one. Respect those. Never require anyone to sign up to a (non-institutionally supported/“official”) platform in order to participate. Data rights are human rights.
  • Tap into the altruism of others. Nurture a community that helps each other (both staff and students). Model this yourself, watch for others doing it and publicly thank them. Think about the types of roles that might be needed to build a learning community: as well as you (the teacher), you might look for particularly active and/or knowledgeable students to become mentors.
  • Structure informal activities that people can engage in if they want. These don’t have to take a lot of time to design – you might ask students to share something unique about where they are living, to tell others about their hobbies, pets, or family. You could ask them to do this by sharing a small image, a link to a website, or a forum post. These help participants to feel that they belong and can build a sense of community over time.

And, finally, reach out to others around you. Use your networks and don’t be afraid of saying that you are finding something hard. My initial experiences of all of this was a baptism of fire. Those who watch me nowadays often think that I always find it easy to participate, and have always found it easy, but that’s not true. In fact, I nearly dropped out of an early connected learning experience (CLMOOC 2015) because I was feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed. What happened next was, I realise, due to the carefully designed support structure that was in place. I shouted out into the void and someone answered. The rest, as they say, is history.

My take on Differentiation⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Ive been reading a lot of posts on the topic of Differentiation and it has really got me thinking about how I do it. As a Teacher of Physical Education I am confident that I differentiate quite well in the gym. I use smaller rackets in Badminton, balloons in Volleyball and make tasks more complex to challenge and extend pupils. Sport is brilliant at applying and using mastery tasks and pupils respond well. It is in the classroom that differentiation can be a confusing topic, especially for less confident teachers and newer teachers during NQT years.

If you were to ask 30,40,60 or even 100 teachers on their definition of differentiation they would all give you slightly different explanations. Why is this? well we have all had different routes to get to where we are now and have jumped through hoop after hoop in getting this. After a while our opinions and ideas on education may not even be our own. However, it is time now to bang our heads together and grind out the true meaning of differentiation.

For years teachers have spent countless hours per week creating differentiated work for their pupils. Why? we care. Many teachers still can be found doing this and it is no fault of their own. We are compelled to help every single one of our students but we must ask if this is really how we go about differentiation. Is it a waste of time? I certainly think so.

I have seen and been part of lessons that lowered the bar of expectations for the young people. Not intentionally but think of your own experiences and consider how many of these strategies you have seen: differentiated learning objectives like must, could, should or all, some,few. differentiated worksheets, some for the most able and some for the least able. Tasks related to each grade, this is for A candidates. Success criteria for some, most, all.

All of these send messages too young people that they can’t all do all of the tasks set. Imagine sitting in a class where the learning is split into must, could, should and a child completing the work he must do and then stopping there. Or imagine getting work for the least able, wouldn’t that put a big dent in your confidence.

Ive been guilty of using some of these strategies as I felt it is what I should be doing. I can remember outlining success criteria for all, most and few. This pigeon holes children into brackets and moves firmly away from fostering a mastery mindset. We must stop labelling children like this inadvertently. We must take all children seriously and believe they can all do all of the work. The only difference really is the amount of time they will take to get there based on their starting point.

What we should do is perhaps consider changing our vocabulary. If I asked you to challenge students instead of differentiate for them would this change how we approach our lessons? Could be become more Pygmalion in our approach.

A study conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) looked into the Pygmalion Effect. In the study they told teachers that a number of students were ‘intellectual bloomers’ even though some of them scored poorly in an IQ test. Unaware the teachers taught all of the pupils for a year at which point the children IQ was tested again. All of the students who were labelled as ‘intellectual bloomers’ showed significant gains when compared to the control group. This is a self fulfilling prophecy in that if we increase our expectations of students they will respond and the author suggest that the teachers may have subconsciously changed they way they behaved with the ‘intellectual bloomers’.

Why is this important for differentiation you ask? Well could we not all be a bit more Pygmalion and believe that all young people will produce excellent work and not just those considered to be smart or be labelled gifted and talented. What I mean by this is that I want us all to aim high and support up. Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence beautifully sums this up. In the book he talks about how he developed excellence and craftsmanship in his children’s work. He describes how his children created radon gas reposts that were so accurate they were used by their own town and associated towns asked for the work. He also speaks to how younger pupils created field guides that are almost professional. These are just two examples from his book, I urge you to read it.

Strategies he employed to achieve this started with a relentless focus on excellence. He modelled excellent work, encouraged learner to work through a number of drafts, if the work wasn’t good enough he would support children to redo it. He demanded excellence by aiming high and supporting up.

This isn’t easy, trust me I know. It is however a place where I would love to get to but I am a long long long way from it but I have a few ideas on how I and you can make differentiation just what we do as a great teacher. My thinking here has been heavily influenced by David Fawcett through his book Relearning to Teach.

Along with aiming high and supporting up, you should consider making the thinking easier and not the task. A challenging concept but we want young people to access the work. We can do this by considering where they are and improve their knowledge. Before they begin with work we must show them What a Good One Looks Like (WAGOLL) as we can’t assume that they will know without seeing it first. I use writing frames with a lot of my senior classes and offer some pupils more support with this and take the support away from some pupils to allow them to use their own knowledge and retrieval to produce a quality answer.

I mentioned in a previous post how we should become ‘historians of excellence’ by displaying previous outstanding work. This will also help pupils identify what excellence looks like and help with their own work by giving them a sense of ‘if they wrote that, so can I”.

Modelling should be a key piece of your teaching toolbox as along with showing excellent work being able to deconstruct pieces of writing by describing your thought process and breaking tasks down into manageable chunks is a vital skill when aiming high for your students.

Sentence starters are also key to help support pupils but the key here is not making the thinking easier but by providing a carefully considered sentence starter you can support a lot of students to kick on with their written responses. In Relearning to Teach by David Fawcett he references this excellent post from Doug Lemov. In the post Lemov discussed how he, through carefully designed sentence starters, could add rigour to pupils work. It is well worth a read and it will add to your teaching if you consider carefully how you construct sentence starters.

A key tool you can use to help aim high and support up is ‘I Do,We Do, You Do’ and is a form of explicit teaching. In this model you (the teacher) share your thought process as you tackle a problem. The class do the same thing which you will write down fully what they say, take a step back and problem solve together to solve the problem. Once the pupils are happy they then complete the ‘You Do’ which is where scaffold and supports are removed and they get on with completing the task.

David Fawcett’s brilliant Relearning to Teach has had a significant impact on my thinking when it comes to differentiation and a lot of my examples have came from his book. His book also confirmed a lot of my current thinking but a key comment he made in the book allows us to further explore differentiation. After you have shared your high expectations and modelled excellence, provided writing frames and sentence starters you now need to support up students where necessary. For this David describes differentiation as ‘just bloody good teaching and being responsive’. What he means by this is that it’s your skills as a teacher that will provide pupils with challenge and support.

This is where differentiation really kicks in after modelling and explanation you really do need to get amongst the students. I have been guilty of perhaps checking for understanding too quickly and of standing back for too long. Working the room is a key teaching practice and its here where you can provide challenge and differentiation for each pupil. By checking over their shoulder, asking how they are getting on, asking how they will tackle their work or simply probing through the use of sharp questioning will allow you to build a picture of who needs what support or stretch in their learning.

To aid this type of differentiation the teacher needs to be completely secure with their subject knowledge to allow for expert explanations and the ability to change the explanations to suit pupils. They also should plan their questions thoroughly and also consider questions that will come from misconceptions and misunderstandings to get pupils back on track and thinking about what you want them to think about. Giving timely feedback on work that causes thinking will also be different for each pupil and can be achieved while you skilfully work the room.

In sum, differentiation for me is what Harry Fletcher-Wood calls Responsive Teaching. Forget all the resources and the busy strategies it is about you, the master of your craft and the students learning from you, being challenged by you and being supported by you. It is easy to offer pupils different worksheets that are easier for them or more simple in what they ask of them but challenging all pupils to achieve excellence by aiming high is much harder and relies on your skill as a teacher but stick with it. If a pupils is charging ahead, challenge them. If a pupils is struggling, immediately support them. By getting amongst them and questioning them on their thinking, their work and how they plan to tackle problems you get a real sense of their learning where you can provide meaningful feedback to move learning forward. Teach for excellence, demand excellence, support everyone and get amongst it.

Motivation 3.0 in our schools⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

I asked recently why staff at our school love teaching. I got back some amazing responses as to their why of being a teacher. It is important, I feel, to ask this of staff from time to time. We should also ask them to tell their story of why they became a teacher. Many can share this with the same enthusiasm as they do when you ask them how they met their current partner. It is rehearsed as it was lived by them and can evoke great memories and feelings.

There are times, however, when we as teachers can forget why we do what we do. Think of those dark nights in December when we’ve been working non stop for a while and lesson after lesson brings with it new challenges, the marking pile gets ever bigger and more work is asked of you by your leaders. It is at those times we need to remind ourselves of our why!

What has interested me of late is the tremendous motivation that teachers have for the young people in our care. We will do anything to help, encourage and support them in their times of need. However, do we support teachers well enough in their time of need. Some teachers are often so overworked they suffer from burnout but this should never be the case. We must question why we do things? why must always ask.. does this add value to the learning and experiences of the young people.

When discussing burnout, stress and other factors that cause teachers to stay up late at night and miss days at work I came to the conclusion that maybe we don’t have, what Daniel Pink describes in his book “Drive” (2009) enough Type I teachers. In his book, released in 2009, he sets out a new vision for workplace motivation that he calls “Motivation 3.0”. He does so because he explains that we have moved on from “Motivation 1.0” (think our primitive responses for survival and “Motivation 2.0” (think of a culture of reward and punishment). Does judging teachers simply by their exam results from 30 pupils after 12 months of hard work with 300 pupils seem like a fair way to reward or punish them? Does this motivate staff to work even harder next year? Daniel Pink would argue that it doesn’t.

“Motivation 3.0” is described as intrinsic. motivation (or Type I). This is manifested when people are self-motivated and they are given the freedom to do the work they enjoy. In an environment which support this innovation and creativity are key and people are allowed to thrive by doing the work they love. Which brings me back to why you got into teaching in the first place? This should be the energy and driver to you being self motivated. Another reason why it is important to remind staff about this at regular intervals as I mentioned earlier.

Pink (2009) outlines the three key components of eliciting intrinsic motivation in your staff: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.


This is defined as the need to direct your own life or work. To be fully motivated you need to be able to control what you do, when you do it and who you do it with. It is difficult to offer all of this to teaching staff the children are timetable to you. Given this how many of you feel that you have the autonomy to do what you want and are given the space to think creatively with your classes. Yes, we have a curriculum to enact b ut teacher are the ‘curriculum makers’ who bring it to life. Through our Curriculum for Excellence Scottish Teachers have this opportunity and autonomy to deliver the Benchmarks in any way they like. I remember attending an event which empowered me to assess children using any of four criteria can they say it, make it, write it or do it.

Contrary to this are you forced to deliver lessons plans for you, do you have a rigid lesson structure you must follow or do you feel that you have no autonomy at all? The beauty of schools is that we come across a wide variety of ideas, styles and creativity. This should be harnesses and heralded for the great opportunity it is. If you are a school leader I want you to consider if your staff have the autonomy to teach how they want? of course, they have to report, monitor and track under, perhaps, a rigid system but how they get their should always be up to them and how they see the curriculum being enacted.

Now I’m not saying we can go all footloose on curriculum as children must learn to read, write, run, jump, throw, create, explain etc. But to be truly motivated as a teacher or in any line of work you must have some autonomy.


Mastery is defined simply as the desire to improve. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll believe that your potential is unlimited and you’ll seek constant improvement. In schools e have a tremendous missed opportunity for improvement. Each other. How often do we feel isolated, like an island all on its own when teaching our classes. With the staffroom becoming slowly a thing of the past it is now even more important that we get out and watch others teach. We ask them why they chose that approach, why they moved that child there and why they used the language and tone they did with 2D. In any school there are 1000s of years of experience and we are very poor at sharing that experience and quick to judge others, even if we haven’t been in their rooms for more than 10 minutes. EduTwitter is a great place to share ideas but this community must be built in our schools as what we learn there directly impacts on our young people.


People may become demotivated and become disengaged if they understand or invest in the “bigger picture”.

Regardless of whether your school leadership, faculty head or mentor is good, bad or ineffective we should never stray from the big picture in education – the young people. It must always be for them and only them.

As I mentioned earlier always think back to why you became a teacher. It will serve you well, even in the worst of moments in your career.

With this knowledge in mind, how do we create teachers and schools that are full of intrinsically motivated staff. Try out the following ideas and let me know if they work in your context (note: they are all ideas from Daniel Pink’s book, it is worth a few hours of your time)

  1. Take steps to give up control – involve people in setting their own goals, reduce controlling language like “you must” or “you should” use terms like “consider doing” or “have a think about doing” and have open door hours when people CAN come and speak to you on matters arising.
  2. Give staff “Goldilocks Tasks” – these are tasks that are neither to hard or too easy but encourage focus and flow and encourage them to develop mastery.
  3. Always promote collaboration – make your school a place with a learning culture, think ‘when you open your doors and let others in, magic can happen’

What motivates others is a real interest of mine and of many teacher. The ideals discussed here can also be applied to the young people learning in your classrooms. Think about the past week and consider how much autonomy and purpose you gave the children. Where any of them in a state of flow? where they developing mastery skills? or were some of your tasks far too easy which results in boredom and challenging behaviour?

For me, I can think of at least 3 classes I had where the tasks I set were simply too easy. This happens for everyone but that is why I want to continually learn and develop mastery in my teaching craft.



Bubble and Squeak

My Granny taught me a lot about cooking. She’d read a recipe – say for pork chops with apple – and say that she thought she’d make it for tea, and maybe alter it a little bit, because she realised that she had some lamb chops and apricots that would make a good combination. Whatever she made was delicious – she was a great cook.

I thought about this today when I attended a seminar which was advertised as being about Team Based Learning (TBL). TBL is a very structured approach to active learning, and it has a fairly formulaic recipe. Some proponents say that it should be followed to the letter, others say that there can be some leeway in modifying it – but my experience today got me wondering: when does a learning design stop being a modified version of the original and start being something else altogether? The version I was told about today was an interesting type of active learning, but it was very removed from being TBL. It was not bad teaching and learning, in fact I think it was very good – but I don’t think the presenter had understood what the original design was all about.

So where do we draw the line? If I tell you that I am making you a Shepherd’s Pie, but actually I substitute the original filling with apple and the topping with meringue, is it still a type of modified Shepherd’s Pie? Surely not. How about if I keep the original filling and top it with meringue – is it now a not very palatable Shepherd’s Pie? Possibly.

To return to Granny’s cooking, of course in the example above she wouldn’t have told us that she was giving us pork chops with apple – she’d present the dish as her own, maybe as inspired by the original. And, importantly, my Granny understood cooking – she understood why the original elements worked together and why her substituted ones would also work together well. I think that’s the same for teaching and learning – before we can start swapping bits in and out of a successful design, we need to understand how and why the original design works.

Some people might say that TBL is poorly named, and that others can be excused for not understanding that it is a particular type of design. That might be so, but I don’t think that’s much of an excuse.

The Line⤴

from @ EduBlether

On the back of thinking about all the small things that lead to successes in a school, I thought it would be apt to consider the other side of this. One of the seemingly small things that add to a considerable amount of disruption and wasted learning time, in all of the schools I have ever worked in, is the line. I’m going to discuss the various problems I see with this accepted norm, and then I will try to consider some alternatives.

One of the main issues I have with this is the wasted teaching and learning time that could be better spent doing anything else. The time it takes between a bell ringing and children getting into a classroom is huge. Let’s do some quick maths on this. A conservative estimate (based purely on my own experience, with admittedly no scientific rigour applied), would be that it takes at least 5 minutes once the bell has gone to have a class ready to come in at the start of the day, after break and after lunch (at least!). So this is potentially 15 minutes each day, which is about 70 minutes across the week, taking in to account the half-day! That is over 44 hours across the school year.

I don’t want you to think I am ever condoning counting minutes and seconds and making sure every possible part of time is accounted for. This would be dangerous for a large number of reasons. But when there are so many other issues, it begs the question, why are we wasting our time on a bizarre and old fashioned custom that gives nothing back?

Ordinarily, children have been playing in an unstructured and child-led way, then a bell goes (quite abruptly) and they have to stop immediately and form a line, one behind each other. We often scorn them for not being straight enough or for continuing conversations. Quite militaristic when you think about it? But this is quite difficult for a lot of children to do (I think I would struggle to be honest) especially if they have been engaging in high energy play. What are we achieving by standing in line? Efficient management of people cannot be an argument here due to the amount of wasted time. Compliance?

I don’t like the idea of continuing to do something one way just because it is the way we have always done it. I want to know what the alternatives are.

Comment below with any suggestions on alternatives to lining up.

The Infinite Game of Education⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Ive recently finished reading ‘The Infinite Game’ by Simon Sinek and it has really resonated with me in terms of how I view Education and also how I want to be as a potential School Leader. He speaks of leaders who have a finite mindset and play a finite game, these leaders base their ideals on winning and losing and justify their success on tangible metrics such as profit made or in the case of Education… results. Alternatively, he shares stories of infinitely minded leaders who pursue a Just Cause which is a purpose or a mission that is greater than oneself and powers you to outlast your competitors and propels you forward in the face of adversity empowering you to persevere in the face of adversity. I know which mindset I want to adopt.

Throughout the book Sinek provides a framework for companies and its leaders who want to play an Infinite Game. Sinek offers stories and guidance on these key areas which I will elaborate on through my view of Education: Just Cause, Trusting Teams, Ethical Fading & Worthy Rivals.

Just Cause

More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

I could argue that there is no greater just cause than that of being a Teacher and working in Education. Where else would you have the opportunity to really make a significant difference in the lives and future of our young people. I absolutely love my job and get out of bed each morning with a clear purpose which I am sure I share with thousands of other teachers up and down the country. To investigate further the just cause of Education I really liked this quote from the The Voices of Youth:

“The purpose of education is to help instill curiosity and a love for learning in every child, so that they develop into young adults who contribute to humanity, follow their passions, and think for themselves, such that they leave school with a purpose and have the confidence to fulfill that purpose.”

Each School has their own values and mission statement. I would love to discuss this further with fellow educators to try further explore our own just causes.

What isn’t in doubt is that Education is a cause like no other in the world and as the great Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Trusting Teams

Sinek argues that a trusting team is one where it is safe to be vulnerable, it is ok to ask for help and make mistakes. He argues that trusting teams allow employees to take risks without fear of retribution or retaliation.

This one is an interesting concept for schools. In my experience I have always been trusted to do my job and with that I am creative with some of my lessons (to a certain extent) and am afforded time and opportunities to pursue my interests within the school community. However, I do know that people talk about toxic schools and toxic leaders where staff aren’t trusted to do their jobs and are micromanages by Heads of Departments and School Leaders. Sinek notes that if your employees don’t feel safe then it is the leaders fault not theirs. It is important that you set your culture to allow teachers to do what they are trained for and enact exactly why they came into the profession.

Ethical Fading

Sinek describes Ethical Fading as  “a condition in a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles.”

Sinek notes that if a team is not trusted and that structures are put in place instead of human leadership it could result in Ethical Fading. Finite leaders often hide behind processes and cite that a process is easier to trust than a human, apparently. In toxic schools where staff are not trusted this could lead to exclusively teaching to a test so that you are not singled out due to poor results. Where marks are awarded internally staff could also add a few here and there if they are judged solely on their results to avoid confrontation with their leaders. For me Schools should never be judged entirely on their results as there is years of hard work and stories behind every single result. If a school has an infinite mindset and develops young people with the necessary skills and attributes which will allow them to be successful in whatever form they choose post school then we have done our jobs and then some. Creating young people who will make an impact on the world should be our just cause with results simply one of many metrics from years of excellent teaching.

Worthy Rivals/Adversaries

In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our service but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfil our just cause.

This is an interesting concept for me and one that I think school leaders should take seriously. In some policy documents we are encouraged to ‘look outwards’ to identify and share best practice. Through ‘Insight’ (a benchmarking tool in Scotland) we are compared to a virtual comparator which is for the sake of comparison is our worthy rival. We should use this to push us to continually improve. If we set the right culture with a clear vision based on our just cause we should then produce trusted teams who will go over and above each and every day. This over time will lead to the results which will set a school apart and allow our young people to achieve anything they can set their minds to.

I would recommend this book to any teacher and school leader. It is important that we set our sights on creating a just cause for our schools that will encourage people to join our mission. Secondly, we must provide a culture that sets the tone for success and enable all of our staff to want to come in to work every single day. Finally, we must trust one another, a trusted staff member will do more and go over and above regularly because they will have the frameworks and support networks that will not only allow them to but encourage them to.

We all became teachers to make a difference, too somehow matter in the lives of young people and be that one person that tells them that they are brilliant in their own way. Far too often teachers leave the profession because their fire burns out and they no longer feel trusted. Sinek would argue that this is due to leadership being too results focussed and micro managing staff, having a finite mindset.

As I move forward in my career I want to advance with an infinite mindset and to make sure that the culture I set in my classrooms and school is one of trust, compassion, discipline and energy. I believe in all young people and also believe that I can make a positive difference in their lives.


Our ‘thinking biases’ that interfere with learning⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

You may think that you are always clear and rational with your thoughts but perhaps that is not always the case. I was recently introduced to research around ‘cognitive biases’ by Bradley Busch, a chartered psychologist and director at InnerDrive. He taught me that cognitive biases are thought processes that can change how we perceive things and can prevent us from making the logical decisions we think we are making.

Psychologists have identified over 100 thinking biases but not all of them are relevant when thinking about Education. It is important to note that thinking biases occur in your everyday life in all aspects of it. Thinking biases especially occur when there are a lot of human interactions, a school for example.

There are three main cognitive biases that Bradley taught me about. They have really peaked my interest and got me thinking about them when I am interacting with colleagues and students. I have also started to look out for these biases now that I am aware of them.

The Ikea Effect

Work produced from this study found that people place a higher value on things they have helped to create (like some flat pack furniture). The bias states that if someone has an idea and put in some work for it, then they are more likely to believe that it must be a good idea.

In schools, this can apply to teaching staff who hold onto to failing strategies and interventions for longer than they should be. You can protect yourself from this but reminding yourself that just because a project was your idea it’s not necessarily a good approach to take.

You could also consider school leaders who hold onto curriculum changes or new policies even though they are not fit for purpose. Perhaps inform them of the Ikea Effect first before telling them their idea just isn’t working. Help each other learn when to let go of projects.

The Bandwagon Effect

I bet you already think about this one in your classrooms especially when devising your seating arrangements. The Bandwagon Effect notes how you are more likely to agree with something if lots of other people already do. A good example in modern culture is the “90 minute bigots” where you can find people you would least expect joining in with sectarian singing and bigotry at a football match.

The Bandwagon Effect notes how easy it is to go with the flow, as someone else has done the thinking for you. You could also think of fashion in the same way. If many people begin to wear a certain style of clothing you start seeing many others adopt the same fashions.

So what about in schools and in classrooms. Teachers and schools leaders can benefit from the Bandwagon Effect by actively highlighting and praising the norms they want to see with the view of others following suit.

Confirmation Bias

Put simply, this bias is the idea that people pay more attention to ideas they have already agreed with. For example, if you label a pupil as one that displays challenging behaviour you are more likely to pay attention to the challenging behaviour and possibly disregard the times they have not been challenging.

Confirmation Bias is difficult to get around as once you have an opinion you are more likely to collect data that confirms your theory which boosts further your confimation.

An example of this could be the tough lower ability class you teach (we have all had one). One student disrupts the lesson and it reinforces the opinion you have of that group. However, you haven’t taken account the multitude of issues which could have caused that one instance of behaviour.

Confirmation bias is pervasive in schools and its impact cannot be underestimated.

There are 100s of other cognitive biases to sink your teeth into if you want to know more.

Over the next week really have a look out for students, colleagues, school leaders and yourself showing one of these biases. It really does get you thinking.