The making of a MOOC

The scenario of being asked to use a virtual learning environment, a set of laptops or devices, or indeed an interactive whiteboard is likely to be a familiar one to teachers. More familiar still might be the expectation that this technology is used in your teaching and the research evidence supporting its effective use is an afterthought.

On Monday 11 March, a free online course, entitled Using technology in evidence-based teaching and learning launches on FutureLearn with the Chartered College of Teaching and this course will prompt ways of thinking about uses of technology to support evidence-based teaching and learning so that education technology becomes the ‘final piece of the process, not its starting point’ (Neil Selwyn, 2019).


What has informed the design of this course?

From previous roles and a number of months working on online learning for the Chartered College of Teaching, I knew the lack of easily accessible research evidence that pointed towards effective uses of technology in schools. Much of what I’d encountered in the past was only really relevant in Higher Education contexts or was presented in a way that aligned to visions of transformation, and innovation, but not to inform the practical application teachers were attempting on a daily basis in the classroom, nor the large decisions being made by school and college leaders every year. This, in the main, drove the vision for the course.

Teacher Online Learning Development group

During my first few months at the Chartered College of Teaching, advertising for and recruiting volunteer members into our Teacher Online Learning Development group took place. From the outset, I’ve been keen that practising teachers and leaders have the opportunity to inform my work and so, with expertise assembled, they set about providing feedback on the various aspects of our online work, including what this course might contain. Once we had a structure in place, it was tested again on the group, before a final draft emerged to be reviewed. I am now as confident as I can be that this first run of our online course will provide a valuable learning experience to its participants.

Research engagement

Engaging with research can be a discomforting experience. We can read something that makes us question our practice; ‘was everything we though correct actually wrong all along?’ We can sometimes dismiss a finding too quickly when it doesn’t align with our own existing bias and perspective. Approaching existing research in a more measured way to decide whether or not it holds answers for our particular context will be encouraged on this course. It was important that the course began with the research evidence so that our exploration of education technologies would be anchored in that, rather than floating beyond grasp in the weightless universe of ‘transformation’ in which education technologies so often find themselves.

I have purposely used language of may and might in the course, not to sit on the fence but to be transparent that not all research has the answer for every eventuality but that it might point towards a possible avenue to explore and experiment with. I’d be glad to hear that a participant who’d been teaching for years had grown more curious about an area of their practice as a result of engaging with research evidence on this course that provoked new thinking.


If you’ve not accessed any of the articles from the special issue of Impact then you can do so for free online here. Additional articles are available to Chartered College of Teaching members. Many of these articles made their way into the course design because they pointed to the kinds of principles we wanted the course to cover. They were balanced, grounded in effective practice, and made connections between theory and practice. You’ll learn, for instance, about designing better slides and resources that align with learning from cognitive load theory and dual coding, as well as ways in which technology can support metacognition, assessment and feedback in the classroom.

Case studies

One of our biggest jobs, in a short timescale, was to ensure representation across the course from primary, secondary and SEND settings. Whilst I’ll continually work to improve this representation for future iterations, our reviews so far indicate that participants should find something to suit their context throughout the course. Each week, there are a range of video and written case studies to follow the learning from our academic contributors. One of my core aims for the course was for participants to hear directly from academics who would make the research evidence more accessible but for the voice of teachers and leaders to be strongly represented too. I believe that we can only make improvements to practice when we gather all of this influence together. Across the four weeks, I feel as though participants will have heard from voices representing a variety of contexts and perspectives (especially if they also complete the course for leaders once it launches).

What will you learn?

I’m pleased to say that we’ve passed FutureLearn’s quality assurance process and I’m now making the final edits on the course, so what can you expect to learn over the four weeks?

Each week, we begin with a focus on what research evidence tells us about a specific area of practice. Then, through written and video case studies from schools across the country, we explore how technology can be used in a way that aligns with what this research evidence suggests might be effective.

Week 1 – Understanding technology use in educational practice (3 hrs)

This week sets up the learning for future weeks by engaging with the why of technology use; we’ll consider barriers, challenges, and evaluation. You’ll be exposed to your first set of academics and a number of case studies too.

  • Why might we choose to use technology in education?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities in technology use?
  • How can we best evaluate the impact of technology use in our own context?

Week 2 – Building new knowledge and understanding using technology (3 hrs)

This week focuses on research evidence about how we build knowledge and understanding in the classroom. We’ll then see and hear from teachers making use of technology in their variety of contexts to support such practices.

  • How might concepts such as dual coding and cognitive load theory help with presenting learning effectively?
  • What makes effective pupil collaboration in the classroom?
  • How can the presentation of learning and pupil collaboration be enabled with technology?

Week 3 – Technology to support learning that sticks (3 hrs)

This week focuses on aspects of retrieval and elaboration for learning; learning that sticks. Once more, course participants will have the opportunity to select from a range of case studies that demonstrate how technology can be used to support these practices should they wish to use it.

  • How can we support pupils’ long-term retention of content learnt using retrieval practice, elaboration and spacing?
  • How might technology effectively support the retention of learning?
  • In what circumstances might we choose to use (or not use) technology as a tool to support learning that sticks?

Week 4 – Developing technology supported assessment and feedback (3 hrs)

The final week explores assessment and feedback, and the place of technology there. Participants will choose from a range of school case studies to inform possible solutions for their practice.

  • How can assessment and feedback approaches be made most effective?
  • How might technology support effective assessment and feedback approaches?
  • How might technology and research evidence support changes to marking workload?

Whilst FutureLearn’s model is for course content to be completed in each of the designated weeks, you will have access to the content for a little while after it finishes so that you can catch-up on anything missed, which is handy as there’s a school holiday just after the course finishes. There is an upgrade fee to get longer access if you’re not a Chartered College of Teaching member (£52) but the course content will be made freely available after the course run for all members (£45 per year) within your membership platforms.

Learning together

I’m keen that a learning community is established during the course where practice, experience, and reflections are shared openly. We have a number of mentors supporting the programme who will support the discussions taking place. So often, it can feel lonely learning on a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and whilst we’ll be doing what we can on the course, I recommend the following if you can achieve it back in school:

  • Gather together a group of colleagues who will undertake the course at the same time. This could be done by you, a senior leader, or a CPD leader.
  • Arrange a weekly meeting time on a morning, lunchtime, or evening best suited to you all where there will be sustenance of some kind (tea, coffee, breakfast, biscuits, cake…)
  • Discuss the learning from the week. Use some of the discussion points from the course or the reflective questions posed at the end of each week.
  • At the end of the 4 weeks, each select something you’ll try in the term ahead and maintain the group to discuss progress (except perhaps reduce the frequency of the meetings).
  • At the end of that term, get together to share your findings, preferably inviting wider colleagues along to learn from your use of technology in evidence-based teaching and learning.

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you. If the above isn’t possible in your setting then take to Twitter or a blog to reflect for yourself and connect with other course learners at the hashtag #FLEducationTech

I hope to be learning with you over on FutureLearn soon!


Selwyn N (2019) Teachers and technology: time to get serious. Impact (Special Issue 1). Available at:

2018: A year of reading

2018 saw the completion of my library at home and a commitment to more reading. Being an English teacher had lead to far less reading than I had naively anticipated at the start of my career and I looked forward to having more free time to enjoy escaping to far away lands with characters I was soon to meet.

Establishing the habit was not easy but I soon got back into it with some good reads early in the year. The quickest way was to exchange habits that were merely giving the impression of switching off such as scrolling through social media, watching Netflix and doing extra work…on the sofa.

So how did I choose what to read?

I read books I’d had on my shelves for years, books that had been recommended to me by friends, family and colleagues, books that were cheap on Kindle and books from my local library. A mix of fiction and non-fiction has meant I could figure out what I enjoy. It’s been so long since I’ve read for enjoyment outside of a holiday read that I think I’ll still be learning each time I read something new.

I enjoy what I enjoy and pay no attention to whether it’s on a list of classics or what more discerning readers are saying about the way it’s written. If it offers something to my soul and leaves a trace of something behind then it’s on my list of good reads.

At the end of a year of reading, I’ve discovered a range of things I love, other things I enjoy and those more forgettable reads that still allow me to switch off. As I look to the year’s reading ahead, I have a few bucket list reads on the list as well as new releases. Some of the reads from Emma Watson’s book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf‘ have made their way onto my list and I also discovered Gnod. You type in the names of up to 4 authors you like and the tool releases a series of recommendations for you to consider. My resulting list seems promising and I look forward to seeing how they work out this year.

My 52 book challenge for the year was surpassed with 57 reads and here they are:

Fabulous Fiction

  • A History of Bees – Maja Lunde (how human actions write the future of the planet. Bees. They’re really important)
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (I’m not sure I’d ever read this in full and it didn’t disappoint – a utopia is never really a utopia)
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (a secret society and a code to be cracked in a 24 hour bookstore)
  • The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (a tale with messages about how we live and treat those different to ourselves)
  • The Midnight Palace – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (one of my favourite writers. I won’t have a bad word said about him. Shadow of the Wind is hard to beat but but I thoroughly enjoyed this one)
  • The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (a heart-warming tale about a man who saves writing from destruction)
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy (A colleague recommended this years ago and I resisted but really shouldn’t have. It made me realise how much I love post-apocalyptic and fiction and the scenes depicted will stay with me forever)
  • Vox – Christina Dalcher (a dystopian fiction where women are limited to 100 words a day… the kind of terrifying fiction that feels completely possible if certain present conditions escalated. Ending disappointing but then I was unfairly comparing it to the likes of the Handmaid’s Tale)

Work- related reads

  • Community Building on the Web – Amy Jo Kim (I’m creating an online community at work so this made for essential reading that’s helped to form the strategy)
  • Design for How People Learn – Julie Dirksen (combining cognitive science and online learning – a great combination for my role!)
  • Educational Research: Taking the Plunge – Phil Wood and Joan Smith (writing online courses on educational research meant this read was entirely helpful)
  • Understanding How We Learn – Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioli (writing an online course on the effective use of technology incorporates cognitive science approaches and this was accessible, practised what it preached by using the principles to explain difficult concepts, and has left me with further areas to learn about)


Notable Non-Fiction

  • Dear Ijeawele – Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie (the first non-fiction I’d read from this author. Advice for feminists everywhere, whether you have a daughter or not)
  • Do Breathe – Michael Townsend Williams (advice about a life with space to breathe that I’ll return to again and again)
  • Forgotten Women: The Leaders – Zing Tsjeng (inspirational stories of women from history you’ve never, unbelievably, heard of before)
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterley (an inspiring hidden true story… there’s a theme emerging with incredible women from history)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life – Cheryl Strayed (writing for your soul)
  • The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell (especially memorable because I red it whilst running a bookshop in the town where it was written so I met Shaun and many of the characters he mentions)
  • Thrive – Arianna Huffington (shaped my year; full of advice for life and work)
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (this affected my perspective on race greatly, led to me swapping books with colleagues at work and hearing from her in person made her words even more important)


Perfectly Good fiction

  • Black Eyed Susans – Julia Haeberlin
  • Bridget and Joan’s Diary – Bridget Golightly and Joan Hardcastle
  • Force of Nature – Jane Harper
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  • The Book of Hidden Things – Francesco Dimitri
  • The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant
  • The Cows – Dawn O’Porter
  • The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
  • The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Summer of Impossible Things – Rowan Coleman
  • The Taliban Cricket Club – Timeri N Murari
  • The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Non-Fiction with a little something

  • Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind – Jennifer Shannon
  • Help – Simon Amstell
  • The Little Big Things – Henry Fraser
  • The Little Book of Ikigai – Ken Mogi
  • The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
  • The One Thing – Gary Keller


Enjoyable at the time with a busy brain

  • Can you Keep a Secret? – Karen Perry
  • Daisy in Chains – Sharon Botton
  • Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land
  • Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson
  • Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
  • Moonlight over Manhattan – Sarah Morgan
  • Paper Aeroplanes – Dawn O’Porter
  • Since We Fell – Dennis Lehaine
  • Thanks for the Memories – Cecilia Ahern
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • The Girl Before – J P Delaney
  • The Girl you Left Behind – JoJo Moyes
  • The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert – David Barnett
  • The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
  • The Man I think I Know – Mike Gayle
  • The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

#WomenEd Unconference 4

Today’s WomenEd Unconference was to be an event unlike others I’d attended previously. It wouldn’t be my first, I wouldn’t be presenting, I wouldn’t be attending from the perspective of a middle leader in a college. My resulting pledges and response to the day would be very different from previous events.

The start of the day went much as a typical WomenEd event might. I had a smile on my face and felt the warmth of women sharing their ‘so what?’; being open about how they’d learned and grown from their involvement with WomenEd. Their simple yet powerful messages were filled with a new-found sense of belonging, sisterhood, a life they could decide for themselves, brave choices, and permission to accept 98% as enough.

Next was the chance for me to hear from Alison Kriel for the first time. Her keynote did not disappoint as she reflected on her experiences as a black female CEO; sharing experiences with both men and women that had been filled with the kind of prejudice that will have been familiar to many in the audience but that when spoken aloud were enough to elicit shock. She added words from Maya Angelou to messages of her own and transformed them to become messages of collaboration for the day ahead. As someone who makes full use of crying to release emotions, my tear-filled eyes may have just spilled over a tiny little bit. This is known as stage one (?) on the Carly Waterman cryometer scale, I believe.

At previous WomenEd events, I’d had very clear reasons for being there and attended workshops based on that purpose. This time, I arrived late and picked as the session started, changing my mind frequently before finally plumping for a room and dashing in at the last possible moment. My only hope for this year’s event was to surround myself with the honest stories and voices of a diverse range of women and on that count, the day most definitely delivered.

Instead of summarising my learning from each separate workshop, I have chosen to share some of the things I’m left thinking about as a result of all conversations on the day.

Choosing yourself

There were a number of moments throughout the day that addressed the concept of self, values, and what it would mean to choose ourselves. One really useful exercise was included in Jas Dosanjh’s workshop. She asked us to write down all of the roles we played in our lives and place them in order of importance to our sense of self and therefore also how much of ourselves we might be willing to sacrifice to maintain each. For instance, you might have parent at the top, writer second, teacher third, wife/girlfriend fourth, sister, daughter, citizen, neighbour, friend, volunteer and so on. I wrote my list and then had to start over several times. I like to think about these things carefully and will enjoy revisiting my own list as it grows.

As I wrote my list, I really just wanted to place ‘woman’ at the top but saw that no-one else was thinking this way and assumed I must be wrong. If I did my list now, I’d really like to do that. It’s the one role I have in my life where I have no obligation to anyone other than myself and the relationship I have with myself is the one I’ve learned to prioritise as the most important above all other roles I have.

A couple of attendees vocalised that ‘women shouldn’t’ put wife/girlfriend/partner near to the top of the list, instead investing their energies in other places as men come and go (problematically assuming there that we all have male partners). Whilst I would never reject someone else’s reality, we need to take greater caution over our use of language. I believe there to be enough expectations placed on women by society, by the media, by colleagues, by themselves that we don’t need to impose any further shoulds and shouldn’ts on one another. Our own reality, however similar, is never someone else’s and remaining mindful of that will enable us to push for progress as a collective.

I can say, like someone else in the room, that my role as partner is very high on my list. My relationship is a strong source of energy and love. We each have our own lives and identities but have endless reserves of support for one another’s endeavours and therefore it’s a role worth investing my self in. I recognise this will be different for other people; we each have our own set of values and circumstances.

Prioritising the small things

Further in Jas’s workshop, we were asked to state two things that we’d like to achieve before we die – for ourselves – and then consider what was stopping us. I reached my first one pretty quickly but then, having just achieved a long-held ambition to visit Florence, I couldn’t think of a second. Janice, sat on my table, spoke passionately about a walk of a lifetime to Santiago de Compostela she’d wanted to do. I think this kind of adventure needs some serious exploring and it occurred to me that such a journey might make a perfect WomenEd holiday. Ladies?!

In another workshop, conversations around wellbeing and quality of life emerged. I’ve recognised in recent months that it’s actually not the great lifetime achievements and successes that bring me joy. Much of what I’ve been led to believe in the past is that climbing the ladder of leadership, achieving big success, and grand experiences were the path I should be on. I could only be a good woman and feminist if I ‘had it all’, if I ‘did it all’, and if I could speak at conferences about how I had ‘worked hard to achieve it all’.

Today confronted me with this truth I’d been led to believe. In the last 12 months, I’ve been gradually dismantling that truth as I stepped out of a life that was draining me of myself and into a non-leadership position where I’m well on the way to finding me.

  • I’ve learned strategies to counteract my inner gremlin telling me I’m not good enough.
  • I’ve adjusted the distant boundaries I had that meant I was saying yes to everything and everyone above saying yes to me
  • I’ve given myself permission to engage in self-care that tops up my energy and allows me to experience and notice the present

I’ve decided I’ll write in full about self-care soon but I will share that the start of this journey was to recognise the positive knock-on effect self-care had on me. This enabled me to notice when it wasn’t happening and choose differently. I recently started to get into a bad habit with breakfast. I was eating it before work whilst checking emails. I’d fooled myself into thinking that at least I was having breakfast and it allowed me to ease into work but all it did was allow work to encroach on the time that should have been mine and made my day longer than it should have been. I’ve started to make sure I eat my breakfast elsewhere with a book. It seems like an incredibly small thing but it means I’m starting every day by choosing me. I’m now holding myself to account with breaks, lunch and finish time in similar ways.

The days when things don’t quite go to plan are the days when I’m practising forgiveness. The other days this inevitably goes out of the window are the days when I’m in the office; it’s so much harder to maintain a habit I know is good for me if my colleagues aren’t doing the same. My next challenge will be to continue these habits when I’m in the office.

Flexible working options benefit everyone

In conversations that emerged about flexible working throughout the day, I began to recognise the benefits that exist for everyone if a school can wholly embrace flexible working. It opens up the realm of the ‘possible’. My current workplace is supportive of working patterns and approaches that suit the individual as well as the organisation whether that be in hours, location, days of the week, or contract. I appreciate the lucky position that allows me to be in but some of the experiences shared by attendees today indicate that schools are well on the journey to doing and being better. There’s clearly a long way left to go before parents of any gender have all the options they might need in order to find the right balance for them and their families yet it was encouraging to hear from women who had successfully found a way to manage motherhood and work in a way that suited them in workplaces that support them.

The only part of these conversations that are niggling still is the the route of ‘having it all’. This phrase remains a dangerous one for women and society. Dr Mary Berry’s adage, ‘If you want it’ remains a useful one that adds context and whilst I’m far from a expert in this area, I still find it a problematic concept for multiple reasons. Instead of having the life they want, ‘having it all’ insinuates that a woman must have the full-time job (and do it successfully), that she must bring up the children and take on the lion’s share of care and organisation in this area. Perhaps it is the only reality women will ever get to experience and I recognise it as the reality for many women I know but I refuse to believe that we can’t fight for more than that through flexible working that adequately recognises and encourages a man’s role as a parent too. I also recognise that for some women, there is no choice as to whether or not they have it all. They’re forced to choose one or another because of money, or personal circumstances… and what of those women who choose to solely parent? We should support that choice as much as anyone else’s. Fighting for equality means fighting for choice. Fighting for women to decide the way their life looks as much as physically possible.

Today was my first conference attendance in quite some time. Sunday will be a day of rest to energise ahead of the challenges of the coming week. I’m looking forward to watching the recordings of some of the sessions I missed at some point and catching up on other people’s experience of the day. In the meantime, I’ll be making some pledges that prioritise me as a human first so that I can bring the very best of myself to all parts of my life.

My pledges – the two to continue

Continue with the journey my friends affectionately refer to as my retirement (albeit a rather productive and frenetic one right now). It’s allowing me to connect with my values, my truth, and my self; enjoying the moment, the small things and finding joy.

Continue to support #BAMEed by being part of their steering group. I’ll be blogging about the importance of this work soon.

My pledges – the new one to think about

Attending conferences always comes with nerves as I attempt to overcome my natural introversion and the fact that I don’t actually know anyone that well, beyond the odd tweet now and again. I heard an attendee ask another why they were so quiet and shy; suggesting confidence coaching. I don’t see shyness, introversion, or a quiet and reflective quality as a deficit to be fixed.

I’d like to explore ways in which we could support one another ahead of these events. For instance, meeting up at the start of the day, perhaps messaging in advance to get to know each other so we have some faces to at least say hello and a few words to. Finding introvert-friendly gaps so that we can escape the switched-on-ness of the day and find space to recharge. In the spirit of today, if anyone would like to collaborate on generating some ideas and making it happen then I’d absolutely love to work with you on it.


Design for how people learn

In recent months, I’ve become more engaged with the field of cognitive science and what it has to teach us about effective learning. This began with facilitating a mini research project in my previous role alongside Tom Sherrington and Joss Kang (click here to read about the start of it – I really must get round to blogging about the end of it at some point!). This learning focus has progressed more recently with Issue 2 of Impact from the Chartered College of Teaching, the associated Third Space event that I blogged about here and various reading and content shared by others since then (see collated Twitter moments here).

My new role ( I can totally still call it new 4 months in!) at the Chartered College of Teaching combines a number of my interests and areas of experience – professional development, technology and engagement with evidence.


When my role began about 3 months ago, I was on the hunt for a text that might provide me with evidence-informed approaches to online learning design. I arrived at ‘Design for How People Learn’ by Julie Dirksen. I thought I’d once spotted this book being shared by David Weston but he’s certain he’s never read it so the hunt for the original reader continues. If it was you, please get in touch so the mystery can finally be solved!

This text did not fail to disappoint: the reader is taken on a journey of designing effective online spaces, supported by the science of learning.

Aspects of the approach she presented could quite easily be translated across to classroom contexts.

What follows is a collection of the main learning points from the book, framed by my own experiences and plans for future application. One of Julie’s skills throughout the book was to challenge my assumptions and existing thinking. This was welcome and I hope you’ll be enabled to do the same as you read this summary.

Design for How People Learn

One of the things I engaged with once more through Julie’s book was the importance of the prior planning, mapping and thinking.

Design for How People Learn (1)

Whilst it seems obvious that our students would be at the heart of our planning, I find that they can become more easily lost than one might imagine; lost amongst the extensive content we’re working through, the resources we’ll make use, and inevitably the time constraints within which we’re operating. Julie reminds us to think carefully about where our learners are starting from and the destination we’d like them to reach through their engagement in online learning. Here are a couple of my own examples to evidence what this might look like –

I worked on a spelling, punctuation, and grammar project for my GCSE English resit students. There were certain aspects they were struggling with so I knew they needed to get to a space where they were proficient with these elements and were making fewer mistakes. Their gap was mostly knowledge but I also needed to consider motivation.

With the research units we’re working on at present, we want to move teachers from a position of not engaging with research effectively or confidently to a position where they are. The gaps are various and there are elements of each that need to be addressed and planned for.

Once you have a broad idea of start and end for your journey, you’ll need to look at making the destination more precise.

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The questions listed here can help you identify precisely where you want/need the learners’ destination to be. Once you have arrived at an overall destination, it will likely be necessary for you to reduce an overarching goal to make it more precise.


I was once asked to construct some online learning for leaders – they apparently needed to learn to become ‘better managers’. Inevitably, this statement needed some reducing. What they actually needed was to hone their existing coaching skills so they could engage in more effective conversations with their team members.

In my GCSE English resit example, my students needed to ‘improve their spelling’. This too needed some distillation. Students need to develop proofreading habits. Students needed to learn the spelling of 20 key words associated with the subject being studied.

When planning classroom learning, I was considering more effectively what students might achieve by the end of a lesson. I’ve since reflected that I was occupying a much higher level plane when considering what online learning might help them to achieve and this lack of accuracy likely reduced the effectiveness of the learning experience somewhat.

Whilst Julie’s book shares how using Bloom’s Taxonomy can help to define learning objectives, she also shared a framework for proficiency from Gloria Gery. I feel as though I should have come across this before but I’m not sure I have. Either way, I was looking at this particular framework with a fresh perspective.

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This framework made sense for me in what I was personally planning online at the time. I didn’t want the project to just achieve knowledge but I was aiming for competence and proficiency – the kind of proficiency that feels effortless. The design would need to be quite different to achieve this.

So to get from where your learners are to where they need to be, it’s likely that some kind of gap will need to be bridged.

According to Julie, this gap can be one of a number of things. The gap for your project might be one of these aspects, it might be a number of them. I find that this list of questions from Julie is really helpful for defining the gap, thinking deeply and testing my assumptions about the gap. I actually think these questions might be really useful for planning any kind of learning – online or otherwise.

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I think with any online learning, I’ll be using these questions at the start of the planning stage to test out my assumptions and ensure I’m certain about the nature of the gap. Often, where I’ve initially assumed the gap was skills, some deeper probing has revealed gaps in motivation and the environment (these areas are certainly of relevance to those of you planning online learning in a business rather than education environment).

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Design for How People Learn (6)

One of Julie’s recurring themes is to remind yourself, throughout the design process that what might work for you will not necessarily work for your learners. What you think is easy to navigate, will not necessarily be the same for your learners. She advocates testing as much out on your learners as possible and one main suggestion is to watch them navigate the online learning so you can see how they interact with the content as well as how they learn from it: keeping your learners front and foremost in online learning design. I reflected on how rare it is for me to have conducted this in a formal way previously – more recently, I’ve had the space to engage in this kind of work and it’s so interesting to see someone click through a space and just watch – it’s not long before you identify things in the environment, structure and layout that need to be adapted for ease of use.

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I debated for a while about whether this part would be of significance to teachers working in school or college contexts. I think it’s important to consider what kinds of learners you will encounter before planning any kind of learning but I’ve found it to be particularly important at an online level as the experience is so different and this inevitably affects engagement in different ways. The way we question, challenge & check their learning, and encourage them to collaborate enters a completely new space. I also believe I’ve come across each and every single one of these learners both in my students and fellow colleagues I’ve worked with over the years.

Motivation in particular seems to have a higher impact on learning when it’s online as opposed to the effect it might have it in the classroom. You don’t always have the same options available to you within an online environment to make eye contact, have a quiet word with, or engage a learner.

There are a range of strategies Julie shared for engaging each learner, no matter their existing levels of motivation.

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It’s clear that you’ll need to have fewer tools in your kit for intrinsically motivated learners. Maintaining that motivation includes ensuring relevance and leveraging their skills as teachers.

Julie’s suggestions for extrinsically motivated learners make sense to me based on working with a range of learners over the years. Highlighting the ways content might be relevant to them will be useful and asking them to consider in what ways a piece of content will be relevant might also help. ‘How might you use this? Where might you use this? How will this relate to your exam?’ Listen to these learners and identify where they have challenges and attempt to fit content to that. If they don’t feel like they’re making a breakthrough early on with the parts of their learning they find most difficult or frustrating, you’ll not get far in motivating them.

I knew one route into engaging my GCSE English students with online activities was to address the parts that frustrated them the most: the different between affect and effect, for instance.

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Our motivation as learners is heavily affected by our existing level of knowledge and skills. If these are at a low level and the online learning we come into contact with makes us feel stupid by assuming existing knowledge where there isn’t any, this can make us reluctant to engage in future learning. If these are high and the online learning we come into contact makes us jump through hoops we don’t need to jump through, we soon become reluctant to engage further. I think the only thing that sets apart online learning from face-to-face learning in this regard is that you’re less aware of how frustrated a learner might be feeling. It’s far more apparent when they can glare at you from across a room. So what can be done online to affect the incline when a distance exists between your journey of content and your learner?

  • An initial assessment can provide you with information about where your learners’ skills and knowledge lies and therefore what will need to happen next to begin to bridge your identified gap. Depending on the age and experience of your learner, it might be that they’re directed to material based on what the self-assessment revealed. This will especially suit your expert learners and avoid later frustration.
  • The online learning environment itself needs to be as simple as possible to use. Reducing the complexity here means that novice learners are not going to be distracted from the content being presented by an environment that is inaccessible or confusing. Walkthroughs of content and activities, step by step instructions and chunking of content can all help with this.
  • Work to leverage your expert learners’ expertise. Incorporate peer assessment, generating of content, webinars, and collaboration that will enable them to teach others.

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We’ve all had those learning experiences where you get a flood of information and all you can do is try to keep up. If you are the expert, your mental model is likely to look as the first picture does – you can structure your information because you can see the multitude of connections between it. As a novice learner, you lack this structure so you get handed a blue sweater that you can’t figure out where to place so, with a shrug, it ends up in the pile on the floor. This was one of Julie’s analogies that have stuck with me the most as I think it’s a really clever visual for the nature of learning and reminded me of David Weston’s talk on working with novice and expert teachers. An example of how helpful analogies are in learning. So what is available for us to help novices to structure their closet?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that just as misconceptions are revealed in a face-to-face setting through interactions between teacher and student, it will be significant in an online setting for you not to push out the information to your learners and for it to go only one way. We want to aim for a responsive teaching approach and that requires students to give us feedback and for us to act upon it – and I don’t mean, ‘That was a great lesson, miss!’ I mean, ‘I’m not sure about that.’ ‘This part is confusing me.’ ’Can I practise x some more?’  Too many online learning environments I’ve come across continue to rely on being a depository for information first and foremost and interaction is low. You need to bring misconceptions to the surface and deal with them so plan for the flow of information to go both ways.

Here are some ideas about how you can support the development of a structure for generating connections –

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  • Knowledge organisers are great – either to give to the students as complete documents or ideally for them to fill out as they go along; collecting their online learning. This Twitter account has a lot of existing examples for you to explore.
  • The Learning Scientists share examples of dual coding and simple icons to accompany text can be really helpful for novices to make connections.
  • This document is an interesting read about how leaders can work with their teams using storytelling. As I read it, I saw a lot of parallels with the importance of storytelling in teaching.
  • Mind-mapping tools are a helpful way to support students with structuring their learning – Creately and Popplet are online possibilities.

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Sensory memory is the first important area of memory for us to consider; Julie suggests that habituation should be of concern to learning designers. Habituation means getting used to a sensory stimulus to the point that we no longer notice or respond to it. Think about where this might exist in your life.

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This street view at the moment is quite an assault on our senses but over time we would be used to such an appearance. One harmless habituation is the buzzing of the fridge. A more harmful one is getting used to the flashing engine warning light on your car. Online learning needs to be aware of habituation for this reason – so that our learners pay attention to the right things!

So what might the implications be for learning design?

Consistency can be useful – learners get used to the format and don’t have to expend mental energy repeatedly orienting themselves to the format; instead they can focus on content. So think about font sizes and colours, layout approaches, use of images…

BUT Too much consistency can be pretty bad. Varying the way material is presented or engaged with is important so they don’t habituate too much to your approach – I think this is far more the case with online learning than it is with face-to-face learning. Variety is important. One of my favourite sites to use to consider new approaches for online learning is from James Kieft. Whilst our planning considerations, I think at the same time, it’s important to have a handful of tech tools at any one time (again to reduce cognitive load for students).

If we return to my GCSE English resit group, I began the year with just 3 technology tools for them to become accustomed to both face-to-face and in their pure online learning experiences. Only when they became comfortable with the three did I introduce others.

So variation should be meaningful and deliberate. Avoid a random font or header but aim towards intentional changes in approach to engage and motivate.

Design for How People Learn (15)Once something has attracted our attention, it moves into our short-term or working memory. If it succeeds in penetrating your short-term memory, it’s probably significant to you for some reason; you’re actively looking for it, you need to take action, or it surprises or confounds your expectations.

As new information is presented to learners, we need to be careful with its presentation (much as we need to take care over explaining, demonstrating and modelling in a face-to-face scenario) so that it enters their long term memory successfully.

Julie talks about her own ‘shelves’ – her ‘jazz music shelf’ is filled with all kinds of music and events that she associates with jazz – because she knows little about it. Her ‘shelves for 80s music’ are various and specific – for different genres, different moments in her life, things she bought on cassette.

In addition to our carefully organised shelves, we also sometimes have shelves containing unintended associations. Each of you might have developed odd associations over the years – I associate Barcelona with some delicious Haribo sweets – fizzy peaches. They sold them in small bags on their tube system and I loved them (I wasn’t 4). It was the first place I’d had them and so I’ll always associate them with that holiday – it’s not an intended connection and it’s unlikely to be on anyone else’s Barcelona shelf but it’s there all the same.

So how can we use our knowledge of unintended connections to help us design learning experiences?


The environment in which you study will become part of your association with the material you’re studying. When possible, you want to encode the information in the same type of environment where learners will also be retrieving it.

This isn’t always possible but it is worth bearing in mind that the further the learning is from the context in which it will be used, the fewer shelves will be used to store the information meaning fewer useful associations, acting as anchors, will be used. So how can we bring the context closer within the online learning space?

Present the same content in multiple contexts so it’s not always in the same format. Do they recognise knowledge or actually know it?. Build in multiple and varied opportunities for recall

One of the things we often neglect to consider is the emotional context of the learning. How often have you said to yourself, ‘I knew the right thing to do but when it came to it…’ The practice we’ve experienced hasn’t closely enough resembled reality.

I recall seeing a documentary on the BBC about Ikea. It showed a managers’ training session in India where he was teaching them to collaborate and communicate by balancing a stick of newspaper on their fingers down to the ground. Everyone got so confused about the activity itself that the point was lost. Had he actually got them to participate in an activity that would have been closer to what they’d actually have to do on the job (putting together some flatpack furniture perhaps?) then he may have experienced more success.

So how can we replicate the emotions a learner might feel in the context they’ll be acting on their learning as opposed to how they feel in the moment online?

  • Use of role-play can help.
  • Use of real-life scenarios.
  • Create a time pressure with a ticking countdown or deadline.
  • High quality video content and images can help to replicate a context. My GCSE English students recently benefited from engaging in some 360 virtual environments on Google Cardboard so that their experience was an immersive one; one they’d remember in the exam room if they needed an inspiring environment for their creative writing. One of my favourites for this Is NYTVR
  • Storytelling can be a powerful tool in helping us to move learning into the long term memory. Stories work because after years of exposure to nursery rhymes, moral tales, television programmes, and films, we are all aware of the structure of a story. We recognise and empathise with characters and they provide a sequence that is comforting and familiar. We can frame our online learning with content that makes it comforting and familiar to learners – Steps to query a database can be framed by the example of new employee, Carla, who’s been asked a last minute request by her boss.

Frame examples used as part of your online learning content so that it’s made more familiar to your learner and therefore more memorable.

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Our elephant is the part of us that gets distracted or wants to have fun. Pressing snooze on your alarm… Persuading you that the chores don’t need to be done… There’s a cost to us dragging the elephant where it doesn’t want to go: cognitive exhaustion.

Asking your learners to rely entirely on willpower and concentration is like asking the rider to drag the elephant uphill. It’s not easy or enjoyable. So – what might help us to engage the elephant?

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It’s easier for our learners to allocate their attention if they can use what they’re learning right away. Scenarios and stories can replicate this urgency online. We’re always attuned to urgent and important over important but not urgent (the email that pings to your inbox as opposed to the report presentation that needs to be written for next week).

According to a study Julie references, we have a much stronger response to an unexpected reward than to one we know is coming. Julie describes this as the difference between a £5 note you get from your grandma every birthday as opposed to the same note found in the street. We pay attention to the unexpected. If it’s expected, it becomes part of the background and we don’t need to expend any mental energy thinking about it at all. Think about automated feedback you’ve encountered in online learning – ‘Great job! You correctly identified the answer!’ Almost mind-numbingly consistent… We need to think about how this can be delivered in different or unexpected ways.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is when we come across something that doesn’t fit on the ‘shelf’ that we feel it should go on. Presidents of the United States. Then Donald Trump comes along – this creates dissonance and friction in more ways than one! We question it when this happens because our thinking is challenged. The new statue of Millicent Fawcett stands in Parliament Square – male, male, woman! We need to throw things at our learners that are surprising in some way or pique their curiosity. Ask interesting questions, create mystery, leave stuff out, be less helpful…

Social proof was an interesting strategy to read as part of Julie’s list and one I’m certain I used as a teacher – ‘Thanks to EVERYONE who has handed their latest practice essay in!’ ‘It’s been so interesting to read ALL the feedback from the recent trip.’ We should provide proof that this is what everyone’s doing or engaging in. This becomes a little more problematic when we’re talking about teaching & learning initiatives in education but that’s another issue entirely…

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Imagine you work taking the ticket stubs in a cinema. You rip tickets for hundreds of people every day. At the end of the day, how many of those people will you remember? The ones you had a significant interaction with (good or otherwise). If something isn’t significant, important or unusual, why would we want to remember it? This can be particularly significant if we arrive at something the learner thinks they already know.

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Creating friction is important for our learners to aid their memory. If information is just channelled online to a learner then it can easily bypass them or be skipped through at the click of a button. We want them to engage with the material: mull it over, engage in a cognitive rummage (thanks @doctob for this oh so wonderful phrase!) . We create a desirable difficulty. If you want to know more about this and cognitive load then take a look at John Sweller. We need to engage students with material without the extraneous cognitive load – like interacting with a tricky interface for instance.

We should be looking to show rather than tell on an online course wherever possible in order to move the learning experience away from being a static one.  

Move from ‘Here are the rules for when you encounter a school bus. First… to – ask them to think about the biggest concerns with a stopped school bus.

Move from ‘A highly irate woman comes into the restaurant complaining about the service – how do you deal with her?’ to ‘A woman in a business suit charges up to you and points a finger in your face. She says ‘Look! I come in here all the time and I’ not used to be treated like this…’

Look closely at the material you want to communicate to learners and focus on the parts that are most relevant. Anything else may need to be provided as a resource for later. Be ruthless about including only what’s really necessary. I’m certainly having to do this with the research units to decide what will and can be taken forward.

Misconceptions can often be dealt with more easily in the classroom. Online, you’ll need to incorporate plenty of good feedback loops where learners are asked to answer questions, give examples, and explain an idea/concept back to you.

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So we arrive at the all important practice (the part most often missed from learning environments that seek to be solely an information depository).

It’s not always easy to know how much practice you’ll need to incorporate alongside your content or indeed the form it should take. Julie doesn’t explicitly write about form but she does consider frequency as part our planning.

Design for How People Learn (21)Again, Julie offers a useful set of questions for us to ask ourselves that can help us decide on this frequency.

The distribution of new content is essential as part of your planning so as not to overwhelm but encourage your learners.

After practising, students’ hard work will need to turn into action. For many, this will be to form and maintain a new habit.

Students can be encouraged to form their own rules for implementation (it’s more likely to stick if they form them rather than you).

‘If this happens, I will…’‘If I’m presented this kind of question, this is what I’ll do…’

Introduce the habit and ask learners to brainstorm how they’ll go about achieving the goal.

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Suggest a timeframe for their habit forming – every other day for a month…How can the habit be made more visible? Provide a tracker for them to use, either paper-based or or digital. Some digital choices include Habitica, Productive, or Streaks.


Tying the habit to an existing behaviour is preferable as they’re more likely to commit to it. What could they do whilst brushing their teeth, going for a run, on the bus, planning an exam question response?


Julie’s book holds numerous examples and helpful advice about considering every facet of a student’s experience learning online. She has used many sources that rely on aspects of cognitive science as their base. This has allowed me to dip a second toe into these waters and I have a number of avenues to research and explore in greater depth now. Learning is learning, no matter what the context but the environment plays a significant role and an online one is accompanied by some specific considerations.

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Embracing Difference

30 days ago, I started working at the Chartered College of Teaching. This time has absolutely flown by and I found myself arriving at the Annual Conference early on a Saturday morning to help with the set-up wondering what I would get from the day.

When working full-time as a teacher and leader, it was always at this time of the year (and to be honest – most other times of the year) when I badly needed an injection of inspiration to propel me forwards. It was rare that I’d find enough juice for my batteries in the staffroom and so a Saturday conference was invariably where I’d head. I began the day doubtful that I was in need of this same shot of passion in my new position but this was to be a very different Saturday conference for more than one reason.

The programme put together for this day represented diversity in all of its facets. We heard from teachers and leaders throughout the day that I’d not heard from before. We were inspired by passionate educators who affirmed our purpose through honestly sharing their own.

There are many things that separate us as humans, and certainly as educators –
– Our voices and perspectives
– Our backgrounds and politics
– Our qualities and challenges

It was whilst listening to Abed Ahmed that I  recognised the strength that lies in not just accepting a difference in yourself that others may see as a weakness but going beyond mere acceptance and towards embracing it wholeheartedly.

This video explains much of the power Abed has, in his words, as a result of ‘stammering with confidence’ and helping his students to do the same. And stammering confidently, believe it or not, is wholly achievable – we were all lucky enough to witness it first hand.

It seems to me that society often labels difference as weakness, rather than strength. Oftentimes, apologies are made for such differences and perceived limits are put firmly in place. Abed referenced a point in his life when he’d been told that teaching wouldn’t be the right career choice for him; his stammer would apparently hold him back.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock shared a similar story later on when she related her experiences of schools where teachers had underestimated her abilities as a dyslexic girl from a broken home… and yet, it was a teacher who was able to turn this narrative around. Just the encouragement, on a single occasion, to answer a tricky maths question was enough to help her think differently about her future and to continue believing in her dreams.

Listening to the debate panel on inclusion later in the day made me consider the strength in difference to an even greater extent. Teachers and leaders have the capacity to enable every young person they work with to look to the stars, yet so often we give up before all avenues have been explored and limits are placed on what a student is able to see for their future. Maggie shared her view that as teachers, we are the nurturers of their ‘desire to aspire’.

Whilst there is an enormous barrier to be overcome in persuading some of this philosophy, there are other hurdles to be overcome too if inclusion is to be realised across the education system and I believe they demand a more nuanced discussion. For many, there is a fear over inclusion that became apparent for me through overheard discussions and questions asked by members. We can’t just bury this fear with moral arguments. I would suggest that many schools and colleges are a long way off realising inclusion, not necessarily because they don’t buy into what it means but because there is no investment in the development, structure, and support to enable it to happen effectively.

Listening to our teachers when it comes to inclusion is vital if we’re to begin changing the narrative and the importance of teacher voice was highlighted throughout the day, not least of all by Dr Helen Woodley.

How many times have you listened to your colleagues share their ideas for positive change and they’re ignored? It’s not that the ideas simply can’t be actioned but more than that – no dialogue even takes place about the possibilities that might result from such ideas. Many of you will have witnessed what this does to colleagues over time and disengagement is the least of it. If we are to inject a greater level of professionalism into teaching then we must begin with dialogue and genuine listening. Change can be actioned by a single teacher within their own classroom and it is on most days of the year so to ignore their voice the rest of the time is foolish at the very least. I love Nancy Kline’s work on this with ‘Time to Think’. So often we shut down our vocal colleagues because they’re ‘off on one again’… and yet, what might be the reason for their being ‘off on one’ again? Perhaps we shut them down the last time they tried to speak too… At the other end of this spectrum is the colleague whose opening to speak is not a busy team meeting but a conversation with a trusted colleague over a cup of tea in the morning break. How can we ensure there is space for each of our teacher’s voices to be truly heard in meaningful ways?

The voice of Farhaan Patel has been left resonating in my mind since the conference. He showed what’s possible in a world where difference is not merely ‘tolerated’ as British Values would let us believe but celebrated. It’s clear to me that as educators, there is a moral imperative to help our young people to see difference as simply a part of living in the modern world. When we show our young people what diversity looks like, we make them curious about it and we’ll have moved far beyond the kind of ‘telling them about it’ that ticks the ‘E&D box’ on a lesson plan. Farhaan shared a window into his school where children ask endless questions as a result of open dialogue with the adults they trust. Through a partnership with another school, his students became thirsty to learn more and ultimately found friends in places they would likely never have ventured. I’m left wondering why every area in the country has not done as Leicester has and connected their young people through projects like their ‘UnitEd’.

Another ‘box’ leaders and teachers should be equally reticent to ‘tick’ is the wellbeing one. With the current situation with retention and workload in the sector, more fundamental changes need to be put into place. Dr Tim O’Brien facilitated a panel of practising teachers and leaders from his recent wellbeing CPD programmes for the Chartered College. Having attended the pilot as a member, I’d recommend to it anyone. You’re encouraged to take a ramble through wellbeing issues in the education context and you engage in an experiment within your own context to assess its impact. You can read more about it here.

At the end of the panel, I was speaking to a Chartered College member who shared that he finds his colleagues’ negativity a drain on his energies as a relatively new teacher but the most uplifting parts of his day are when he walks into his classroom and shuts the door to teach. More than that, he relishes the opportunity to engage with pupils on his thrice-weekly lunch duties where he can continue to foster positive relationships with the young people at his school. I was reminded that there is no single way to ‘well-being’ and that an individual approach is best. As we spoke, I reflected on the places I’ve worked over my teaching career and the leaders I’ve worked for. I don’t wish to lay the responsibility of wellbeing at the feet of every leader but one thing is left abundantly clear for me from these reflections: where there was trust, autonomy, support, and gratitude then the very challenging job that is teaching was made far easier.

Our day ended with trainee teacher, Philip McCahillsharing his advice for his future teacher self. He ultimately spoke of hope and possibility. We were shown today that, without doubt, there is always another way. It’s simply a case of being open to ‘possibility’. As a teacher, this sense of ‘possibility’ is multiplied exponentially if we can consider all of the lives we may influence by embracing the power that lies in difference.

Guest Post – Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

This guest post comes from Emma Currie, a tutor mentor who writes about her recent completion of an online course via Future Learn.

After recently completing ‘Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People’ (accredited by the University of Reading) I was very impressed by the content and informal assessment strategies, even more so when trialing some of the approaches with my students.

Firstly the exploration of different perspectives; a young person; the parents and those working with young people; gave good advice, prompts and direct questions to use in certain situations to encourage teenagers to talk to someone about their thoughts to ensure their safety.

Suggestions on how to approach the topic of low mood and self harm with a young person in a non judgmental but supportive manner resonated with me as it is something I feel I am coming across more and more within my role.  

Discussion around the connection of low mood, depression and self harm offered  ways and questioning techniques to help better understand self harm. By thinking about:

  • What are the triggers?
  • How does it help with things – e.g does it stop overwhelming thoughts, or block out painful emotions?
  • Are there any situations or people which help you not to self-harm?

The course also examined other strategies which could also lead to considering alternative coping mechanisms.

Finally, the links between depression, low mood, sleep and healthy eating were reviewed offering ways to identify a repeating cycle in order to alter the thought processes and ultimately break the chain of events.  

The course reminds us that we aren’t alone in our struggles and offers many sign posted to specific organisations and charities for help and further information.

I have been a Tutor Mentor at the college since the role was created, I have attended various training events and completed a number of courses that focus on depression and low mood. When given the opportunity to engage in this course online I jumped at the chance, as a way to enhance my understanding and new ways of thinking. I have been working with a young person that is struggling with sleep and I tried a new approach (questioning) as suggested on the course and I was so impressed with how the conversation opened up. I feel the information shared is something I can embed greatly into my role, making me more effective.

I cannot recommend this course enough. It is well worth the time spent.

Guest Blog – Technology: A propaedeutic enchiridion!

One of my favourite things to do if I get a free(!) bit of time at work is to talk to Ken Crow (Games Development lecturer at The Sheffield College) about technology. I asked if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of his thoughts with a wider audience and he kindly agreed.

Technology : A propaedeutic enchiridion! (or adventures with “The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”).

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other and we need them all.” – Arthur C. Clarke.

If the title of this somewhat meandering guest blog didn’t put you off reading the rest of it (and it probably should have) then I’d like to introduce this personal reflection by recounting an experience that I had with my daughter earlier this year. Being 15 and very much into rock (Daddy’s little girl), my 15 year old Gothic progeny and I attended a rock gig at the Sheffield Arena. While shaking one’s head, gesticulating with obscure hand signals and singing along to some of my favourite tunes while simultaneously trying not to embarrass my daughter, I observed 2 phenomenon that really hit home with how I’ve have been trying to integrate technology in my teaching over the past 18 years or so.

The first was my daughter’s artistic ability to take photographs on her smartphone, edit and filter images, annotate them and send them flying into the ether in a matter of seconds using only her thumbs. She managed this typing faster than I can when sat at a full keyboard and it made me think that perhaps culturally, the term ‘All thumbs’ needed redefining for a new generation.

Secondly was the ocean of mobile phones recording the events of the evening. This particularly struck home in a technological hypocritical moment as I captured the image of hundreds of people using their mobile phones to save their memories… with, as you will have guessed, my mobile phone.


So why have I recounted these events (other than to prove that at middle age I’m still a little bit cool and can rock with the best of them)? And what impact does this have on the teaching and learning in my classroom? I’ll return to this question later but first I’d like the opportunity to muse on what I consider a significant barrier to those considering new technology in the classroom.

Fear of new-tech in the teaching and learning journey

It seems that these days not a month goes by without someone suggesting new and improved technological ways of teaching and learning. There are apps, links, web pages, theories, cycles, models, grids, tables, VLEs, blogs, tweet-meets, hashtags, learning communities, hangouts, Facebook pages, platforms, applets; the list is endless and it seems to grow minute by minute. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I was under the impression that a taxonomy was a haven where the ultra-rich invested in off-shore accounts while holidaying in the Maldives.

But how do we keep up? This content is distilled, filtered and delivered 24/7/365 at the speed of light down wires and across the ether. It’s not inappropriate to voice what is a fear for all of us, even those that engage wholeheartedly with technology in our teaching.

What is this new fangled learning thingamy and will I get left behind if I don’t use it in my classroom?

I think the answer to this question is really important. Our motivation for using technology in our respective learning environments should follow a priority of teaching and learning need and although the ‘powers that be’ may push some technology priority further up the bullet point list for the need of collating workable data, (at this point I should put in the disclaimer that the points of view of Ken Crow in this guest blog are not necessarily those of The Sheffield College), technology in the learning environment needs to be planned and follow a specific set of guidelines that places the learner and not the teacher as the focus of the learning tool.

So here is a friendly checklist that helps me decide if I’m going to use a new fangled learning thingamy in my teaching.

The Ken Crow ‘C-U-Right’ New Fangled Learning Thingamy (NFLT) Checklist

  1. Does the NFLT link my learners to resources (curriculum and supportive) that help them learn more effectively?
  2. Does the NFLT help to support the learners (those with barriers and without) in their learning journey?
  3. Does the NFLT empower the learner to experiment with new learning experiences that expand the scope of learning?
  4. Does the NFLT connect learning, learners and teachers together?
  5. Can the Learner use or access the NFLT at their convenience, whenever and where-ever they want to learn?
  6. Does the NFLT offer flexibility to learners of running on most hardware and software platforms that can interface with a multitude of environments?

If the answer to these prioritised questions is yes then I will explore an NFLT a little more closely.

You may have noticed that I left a few things out. It is my conviction that if any of the following reasons are used as a priority for using a new tool in a learning environment, there’s a reasonable chance that a teacher is just adding another admin task to (let’s face it) an already huge list of admin tasks.

I tend to shy away from motivations for using a new tool in my classroom if it is made to appeal to me with the following features.

  • It saves the teacher time
  • It collects data together in one place
  • It polices the learners’ engagement
  • It reduces admin tasks
  • It makes preparation easier

Now here’s the trick, although I expect you might be horrified by the statement I’ve just made please let me assure you that in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The right tool in the right situation that focuses on the learner rather than on other outcomes will always save me time, collect the data that I need in one place, monitor engagement, reduce that amount of admin that I do and make my preparation easier.

Perhaps I should have articulated these ideas in a much shorter statement. If I can trust a new fangled learning thingamy to be entirely learner focused it will follow as a by -product that all of the other features will emerge as an efficient use of the technology.

But not everything is rosy. I would still suggest that the most powerful tools are those where the educator uses a curriculum framework to build content. In my experience with 3 Virtual Learning Environments (Moodle, Google and OneNote) I am using a tool that means I build both structure and content. By molding my VLE to my learners and their qualification specification, all of the additional benefits of using the technology are a byproduct of the process. I believe that there is no such thing as a free lunch; learning to use powerful technological tools in our learning environments will reap benefits but it does require some effort to learn ‘up-front’. Luckily though, you’ve now got a handy checklist to measure whether you should engage with a useful tool for your teaching practice. 🙂

‘The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer’download

I’m taking this opportunity to break up my guest blog with a book review. I am a huge fan of the cyberpunk novelist Neal Stephenson and in his post-cyberpunk sci-fi novel ‘The Diamond Age’ he detailed a most extraordinary publication. Neal’s novel and the illustrated primer has had more impact on my theories of teaching than any text book I’ve read and although “Teaching Today” is probably my favourite practical teaching text, (sorry all you educational academics that poo-poo Mr Petty’s great contribution to practical teaching), the Diamond Age would go on to significantly inspire my teaching practice.

The interactive ‘Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer’ is a book where the pages are animated and the educational content changes based on the environment that it is in and need of the reader using it. (I’m not explaining how it works here but The Diamond Age is a really good read if you’re interested). The book is stolen from an upper class family and lands in the hands of a young girl from the poor side of society. Through a series of adventures, stories and characters the book first helps Nell survive and defend herself but then goes on to teach her skills that would eventually raise her social status and change her life by helping her reach her full potential. The central inspiration in my own experience of learning and eventually teaching is that the individual journey of learning is unique and is required to move the learner from their unique starting point to a unique finish line, all the while facilitating the development of a formal body of knowledge and skill.

Sometimes I see the echoes and shadows of the Illustrated Primer in tools and apps that I look at across the internet, (even in the internet itself). There is a trend in some of these tools that worries me though. In his book, Neal acknowledges the importance of the personal link between educator and learner. The book is an interface between teachers and Nell, having been hired until the job is done her teachers are motion captured into characters that deliver the learning in the book.

Teaching is a collaborative undertaking between learners and educators, I’m not sure that technology can take the place of that relationship. The internet and technology in the classroom are powerful aids in the delivery of our curriculum but can automated apps and platforms really replace the interface between a formal body of knowledge and a unique learning journey? My opinion on this is no, it cannot.

This is not an excuse for things to remain static as teachers roles may change as technology develops but there still needs to be the foundation of a personal link between learner and subject area. I am extremely wary of one-size-fits-all or automated applications applied in teaching practice. As I’ve already discussed I would suggest that a teacher needs to build their own structure and content, supported by technology in order to ensure their presence remains an important part of the learners’ journey both in the physical delivery and curriculum content.

The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer will always inspire me as a teaching tool, it’s a technical marvel as only can be conceived in a sci-fi epic but it never aims to replace the relationship between teacher and student.

Technology is so rock and roll.

So going back to the concert and my original question; What impact does my daughter’s snapchat photo editing and hundreds of mobiles phones raised into the air have on my classroom?

Technology is everywhere in the cultural experience of the learner, it is so ubiquitous as to be invisible to those that use it at every scale in their personal and college lives. Learners cannot be separated from their tech-devices, they build their interfacing lives around the devices that they use. This puts every learner in a unique position with regard to the way that they experience college life. What to learn, how to learn, how to interface and how to communicate is all influenced by their choice and use of devices.

Young people (like my daughter) learn skills that while are seemingly completely transient (snapchat picture editing for instance) are still significant in their own right. It’s easy to disregard what learners bring to college in terms of the skills that they have learned personally or at school but if we pause for a minute and acknowledge the shear breadth of IT experience that learners bring into our building, we would have to admit that there is significant skill set there.

Setting aside for a minute that I am interested in technology (no surprise there), if I ask my self, Why do I engage with new technologies in the classroom and keep my skills up to date? I would have to answer that I think it is my job to make learning compatible with the learners’ experience not demand that the learner moves toward what I traditionally know as IT skills. The discomfort that I wish my learners to feel is the challenge of the learning journey, not my demanding that they learn a traditional set of tech skills that they will never use again. If I’m being honest about how I first learned to use the internet and then made my learners use the same tools then I would be teaching Usenet groups, IRC and UNIX.

For me, embedding new technology in the classroom is not a fool’s errand to try and keep up with an ever increasing speed of development but rather is building bridges between the formal requirements of the curriculum and an ever changing, ever modern digital literacy.

See, I told you! You should have stopped at propaedeutic enchiridion!

Guest Blog – What good schools know and do

Monday 6 November 2017 and John Hattie was going to be in Sheffield. It would be an opportunity to meet the man himself. Unfortunately (or perhaps not so unfortunately), I would be enjoying the sun in Lanzarote, but I wanted a colleague to benefit from the opportunity. A prize draw took place and the lucky winners were notified.

What follows are notes taken by Matt Cannon, Science teacher, and a colleague he met at the conference on the day. There will be some questions to reflect upon and notions to consider against your own practice. The hope is that it will challenge existing thinking and the questions might prove productive, alongside some supporting reading or resources, for a team meeting or similar.

The importance of Impact

How teachers teach is irrelevant. We should only care about the impact.

Be cautious about staff who say ‘I’m this kind of teacher’, as we can’t guarantee ‘that kind of learner.’

We are evaluators – How do I know that what I am doing is working? What am I comparing it to? What value/impact am I having? If it’s not working how do we provide reliable evidence and support to encourage staff to change?  


We don’t engage children to learn. When children learn they become engaged.

Small vs Large Classes

When we look at staffing groups do we consider who is effective with large / small classes? Do the skills for effective delivery to large and small classes differ? Evidence shows that smaller classes teach more. What are teachers doing differently in smaller classes than larger classes?

Growth Mindset

Growth mindset ONLY has impact when students are in a position of struggle. Only then is it better than a fixed mindset. This is about student confidence, and resilience.


Time doesn’t matter (5 or 30 mins). The worst homework is a project as it’s ineffective and relies on parental engagement (still applicable to older or adult learners?). Homework to practice what they’ve already learned is good. Assessment of homework is vital for it to have impact on learning.

School Leadership

Instructional leadership approaches are more effective than transformational leadership.


Self-verbalisation, peer tutoring and peer influences are especially significant where deep learning is concerned. Against such high impact strategies, on average, teachers talk 87% of the time in class. (esp on deep learning)

Most questions asked in class, staff and students know the answer to and they require less than 1 second of thinking and therefore level of challenge is not high.

Student Questioning

How many questions about the work do students ask that they don’t know the answer to? On average = 2.

Goal Difficulty

Students will invest heavily in challenging goals (as long as they’re not too hard) if it’s engaging. Learning Objectives without success criteria are pointless. Learning Objectives should be linked closely to success criteria. Success criteria should be the same for all – it is just how individuals get there and the time taken to get there will differ. It’s important that the destination is the same. The other vital aspect of success criteria is that they’re centred around what learning will take place, rather than what products will be created.

Classroom Discussions

These are important for a teacher judging their impact as it’s where we hear it articulated.

Learning and Failure

How do we get students to see that when they get things wrong they are moving in the right direction?

How do we allow children to fail?


This is not about how we deliver it but it’s about teachers better understanding the impact they have on their students. Building a coalition of trust and success around teachers is important.

Successful teachers see learning through the eyes of the student. Successful students see themselves as their own teachers. Students can do this at age 5 but lose the ability by the age of 8.


When students are faced with a problem we need to consider :

  • How they can manage their emotional response
  • How they find a starting point
  • Students need to consider their approach – mathematical, drawing, guess and check
  • Students need to remember their strategy
  • Good teachers will apply that strategy to new problems

**When students find a successful process, how do we explicitly link the process to new problems?

What strategies do we deliberately teach our students?

  • What do students do before / during / after when posed with a problem or task?
  • How does this fit in teaching across subjects?
  • How do we develop mindset in students where pupils actively seek feedback and set own success criteria?
  • What is the link to aspiration?
  • How do we capture students individual learning intention and feedback against that?
  • Do staff model effective use of different strategies?
  • Do staff ensure students have opportunities to use different strategies?
  • Use instructional goals and feedback – not for students to monitor and plan their own learning – they need guidance.
  • Do staff provide opportunities for self evaluation?

**3-5 years to change the culture of a school

Student Voice – Craig Parkinson

Treasure Hunt not witch hunt. 

Trust and not accountability for what students say 

Why do it?

  • Evidence of impact
  • Development
  • Staff have to be prepared to fail (hear criticism)
  • Feedback to staff needs to happen, be honest, supportive for change, impact monitored.
  • How does student voice increase effectiveness of teaching and learning?
  • What tools can we use to capture student voice(SV)?
  •  Is SV primarily to gather good impact? How effective is it for change? Do we triangulate SV with walkthroughs, obs…? What do we then do about it? Where does SV sit in Quality Assurance(QA)? Does it confirm / add to big picture or do we use it to guide the QA? Does SLT ask why certain students have been selected and what questions are being asked?
  • Do students verbalise what they are doing or what they are learning?
  • What is the language of learning we use as staff?
  • Do we (SLT) discuss SV and then summarise this into 4 key actions points to feed back to staff?

Open questions 

What do you want to thank your teachers for?

What would you ask your teachers to change?

Collective Efficacy


Image available from here

A shared understanding and ethos. Staff believe that through their collective actions they can positively influence outcomes for students.

1) My job is to cause learning. I change students.  

Student control over learning has limited impact unless the teacher guides and acts as the control / expert.

Staff to take credit when progress is good – they caused that learning.

2) The role of expectations 

I explicitly inform students what successful impact looks like from the onset.

Student expectations are more powerful than teacher expectations.

The teacher’s job is to check expectations and help children exceed their expectations.

3) I am an evaluator of my impact 

Evaluation of impact of T&L – Who did I affect, about what, how much?

80% of what goes on in a classroom is unseen/unheard so make sure to evaluate the 20%

Every child deserves to make at least 1 year progress in 1 year.

4) Progress to proficiency  

How do we get to top right? How do we stay in top right?

If you plotted your students on this chart, how could it help you to better support students?

Biggest issue for progress are those students who are above average but cruising!


Image available from here

5) Evaluative thinking  

Not what teachers do, it’s how teachers think.

I skills

  • Is self-aware
  • Is a learner
  • Can manage conflict through collaborative sense making
  • Demonstrates social sensibility

We skills

  • Collective efficacy
  • Shared purpose to improve
  • Problem solving
  • Trust
  • Strength Based

Social sensitivity is crucial – opportunities to discuss learning not what is being taught; shared across departments and visiting other schools.

Need collective motivators – positive, credible feedback

6) impact  

How do we measure a year’s impact. What does it look like?

What are the early indicators that progress is not being made – these observations should lead to intervention

7) Teachers are to DIiE for 





Do teachers have a common concept of progress?

8) School leaders  

They construct a narrative around impact

They build trust

They move from ‘plans and good plans’ to ‘purposeful practice for all’

They ensure all are involved

They share joint ownership of all students and all successes as a result of the above actions and activity

Key Messages

Visible learners

Inspired and passionate teachers

Know the impact


Children just want to know, ‘Where to next?’

Guest Blog – A Day Out at Google HQ

This guest blog comes from Nick Hart, a Lecturer in Engineering at The Sheffield College. He and colleagues have recently made the move to Google Classroom and so we funded his trip to an event that might provide further inspiration. Turns out, it did.


Ok so thoughts on Google…

Incredible, mind blowing, inspirational, endless possibilities, potential are all words I would use as an educator for the Google family of software.

As a dad and a human the word I would use is scary!

But with my educator hat on I have to think about the time we could save, the efficiency we could build into our working life, and the positive effect we could have on our students’ experience here at College.

In no particular order:



A fantastic way of collating information from different sources. I could see this being a great way of doing all of the following-

  • A plenary. Exit ticket.
  • ‘What a good one looks like’ (WAGOLL) activities for students to respond to
  • The forms could though be used by our technical assessor facilitators to create a record of industrial visits/work completed by student/evidence of knowledge. The information could then be collated through an extension called Autocrat and put into a Google Doc or PDF for a neat and tidy record.



Mind blowing…

Geo charts is a way of evidencing data captured as a heat map (on a map). This can then be linked to a presentation file and remain live and linked.

Something called sparkline which gives a really quick idea of what a graph would look like for one line of data.

Sheets is a spreadsheet with all the functionality of a normal spreadsheet. It will also answer questions which are worded rather than a formula. The Explore button, bottom right, will allow the user to interrogate the data with a written question.

There was mention of a couple of add-ons which I haven’t yet had chance to play with. Goobric and Doctopus both are aimed at automating marking.


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The use of the explore button was explained here and the link with creating citations which Kieran Briggs had already shown me. The students love it by the way.

If you use tools – document outline it will create an automatic heading menu.

One that I really like and is connected to the comments is the ability to download the document as a webpage. This then includes the comments and links the comments to the text written by the student. This could be useful for when we have an external verifier who can’t use Google (heaven forbid!).


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The presenting part of the Google suite (that’s what they call it). It is really making sense to switch for me, it’s just the time factor converting everything. A couple of things that I liked were:

  • The link with keep, you can include keep notes in slides and then present them within a presentation. If you change them in keep then they change in slides too.
  • You can insert a YouTube video into a slides presentation and trim the length of the video, change the start or the end point of it.


There were a few fun bits too


  • Google trends – if you search Google trends visualiser it makes a really good starter for classes.
  • My maps – again could be a starter or an ice breaker. (also great for the geography department!)
  • Be internet awesome – brilliant for younger people or people with younger minds for teaching internet safety.
  • The teachable machine – making geeks out of normal people with a camera.
  • Reverse image search, drag an image into google image search and it’ll tell you anything about it. (not people, although I’m sure it’ll do that as well).
  • Google earth time lapse – clue’s in the name.
  • Set timer for – if you type ‘set timer for’ into Google in the chrome browser, it’s an automatic timer.
  • Type in ‘fun facts’ and you get fun facts, which then allow you to talk about them in class. (‘I’m feeling curious’ will do something similar).


Really important bits –


Image available from here

Equatio – it’s an extension which I have nearly got working perfectly in class. You can write an equation in and it will convert it to text which can then be inserted into a doc. I have had a maths teacher using it today and he thought it brilliant and would save him hours preparing documents and resources.

I would also like to use it for mathematical assignments, in conjunction with a chrome book and a tablet (not an iPad type thing but a graphical input), the students could then work on their own document live and write in the text. Equatio then converts it into the document and you then have an auditible trail of evidence.

Realtime board – essentially an infinite white board. This could be superb as you could do a years work on one white board and then frame each sessions writing and be able to refer back to it later in the year. Jamboard, an expensive and small white board. Not for me, the software though could be even better than realtime board and can do handwriting recognition. But it’s the collaboration which may be better.

Forms were being used for all sorts of applications but exit tickets were high on the list as I mentioned before.


An Experiment within an Experiment, Informed by Evidence within Evidence #CPDinFE

The feeling I experience at this moment in time will be familiar to many an educator. It is the end of the first half-term of the academic year. For an educator in a Further Education College, this means that most staff have been in College since the end of August. Our half-term is a week later than seemingly everyone else in the country and so this makes it at least 10 weeks since the start of term (closer to 12 weeks for many, including me). That’s a long slog when it’s involved new classes, timetable clashes, fresh faces and names to learn, room changes, new syllabi, as well as the usual high levels of decision making, pace of activity and load of teaching in a normal week.

It would seem that I have enough left in my batteries to eek out a short (actually not so short now I’ve written it!) review of the very first day of our exciting #CPDinFE project as I feel the need to consider, reflect and contemplate before true rest and relaxation can take place.

The day’s activities began with me asking participants to answer the question,

‘What challenges are your students experiencing with their learning?’

We had purposely framed the question in this way so that students would be at the forefront of practitioners’ minds and therefore the shaping of their projects throughout the day. Beyond the numerous external factors, some themes emerged –

  • Independence
  • Study Skills
  • Literacy skills
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Confidence

I’d like to explore these challenges in greater detail and see what other themes could be pulled from them. It was soon clear that many of the challenges listed were either structural, procedural , or related to the practice of the teacher rather than the learning of the student. I wonder that if we ran the same activity at the end of the project, the responses would be the same. I’d hope not. My hope is that we’d see practitioners even more in touch, at a deep level, with the challenges their students face in their learning.

This activity, after hopes and expectations were shared, gave us a platform for Tom Sherrington to introduce the five approaches participants would choose from. His input, and indeed input from Joss and I in the afternoon would focus on ‘effective practice’. Teachers make so many decisions and have so many aspects of practice to consider that this project would provide the space and permission to focus on a single aspect and practise it deliberatel, as well as measure its impact on learning. Phil Stock‘s latest post about why we need to resist the urge to implement all that is new fits incredibly well with our aims.

Tom began his introduction to the five approaches with – 

Retrieval Practice and Knowledge Organisers

He began by asking, ‘What is Learning?’ He shared that it was something you do in the long-term. He could teach us how to tie a knot today. We could follow his instructions and do it there and then. That’s performing only. He can see us doing it but it doesn’t mean we’ve LEARNED it.

When he referenced a chapter of Daniel Willingham‘s book titled ‘Why do students forget everything I say?’  there was a murmur of recognition around the room so palpable I could almost hear their eyes roll back in their sockets as smirks spread across their faces.

We need to develop the skill in our students to process knowledge from their long-term memory into their working memory. There’s limited capacity in our short-term memory and so what works its way quickly into our long-term memory needs to be secured with clear links and connections so that it can be retrieved when needed rather than left to fade altogether. I need to read much more on this to understand it a deeper level as it’s a complex process that would be valuable to understand better. The odd blog or tweet just won’t achieve that.

We need to plan, not just for our input (in fact, we spend far too long planning that), but on our students’ learning – leaving time for them to forget and recall until they can retrieve knowledge quickly and easily. This might seem as though we’re planning solely for knowledge; prioritising rote learning but in fact, we’re preparing our students for problem solving in the future. 

Tom gave the example of chess players. They study moves and games and learn them. When they’re presented with a scenario. A game. A problem to solve, they are then able to draw on all of this knowledge and apply it to the problem that sits in front of them-

This question, how do chess experts evaluate positions to find the best move, has been studied for decades, dating back to the groundbreaking work of Adriaan de Groot and later to work by William Chase and Herbert Simon.  de Groot interviewed several chess players as they evaluated positions, and he argued that experts and weaker players tended to “look” about the same number of moves ahead and to evaluate similar numbers of moves with roughly similar speed.  The relatively small differences between experts and novices suggested that their advantages came not from brute force calculation ability but from something else: knowledge.  According to De Groot, the core of chess expertise is the ability to recognize huge number of chess positions (or parts of positions) and to derive moves from them.  In short, their greater efficiency came not from evaluating more outcomes, but from considering only the better options. [Note: Some of the details of de Groot’s claims, which he made before the appropriate statistical tests were in widespread use, did not hold up to later scrutiny—experts do consider somewhat more options, look a bit deeper, and process positions faster than less expert players (Holding, 1992). But de Groot was right about the limited nature of expert search and the importance of knowledge and pattern recognition in expert performance.]

In de Groot’s most famous demonstration, he showed several players images of chess positions for a few seconds and asked the players to reconstruct the positions from memory.  The experts made relatively few mistakes even though they had seen the position only briefly.  Years later, Chase and Simon replicated de Groot’s finding with another expert (a master-level player) as well as an amateur and a novice.  They also added a critical control: The players viewed both real chess positions and scrambled chess positions (that included pieces in implausible and even impossible locations). The expert excelled with the real positions, but performed no better than the amateur and novice for the scrambled positions (later studies showed that experts can perform slightly better than novices for random positions too if given enough time; Gobet & Simon, 1996).  The expert advantage apparently comes from familiarity with real chess positions, something that allows more efficient encoding or retrieval of the positions.

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This example has resonated with me so much and has left me contemplating how we treat knowledge in the Further Education sector. Not with disdain but perhaps something akin to it. Skills are prioritised – study skills, English skills, maths skills, digital skills, collaborative skills, reflective skills, technical skills, vocational skills… Whilst these are clearly important to our vocational learners, how much do we spend time thinking hard about the knowledge that will underpin the acquisition, development and mastery of these skills? One for me to continue contemplating…

At the time of teaching, we need to avoid over-loading working memory. We need to stress the main things. There are too many things to remember and that’s where knowledge organisers and micro-testing come in.

We do first have to define what it is that the students need to know about a particular topic. What do they need to retain? Apply in an assessment? Apply to a problem or challenge in the workshop? Once we’ve decided on this then we gather all of this necessary knowledge in a one page A4 ‘organiser’. We have structured the information in a logical way for students. We have likely included some icons, drawings, pictures… to accompany text so that there are visual cues to support the learners.

Tom shared this Twitter account as they manage a Dropbox where practitioners can place organisers @knoworganisers These two have been shared by this account and give you an idea of what they look like-

  1. Give students a knowledge organiser
  2. Teach a lesson.
  3. Tell them what they’re going to be tested on (give them the questions)
  4. This is what you’re going to be tested on.’ ‘You need to learn it.’

If we test students in this way then it builds their confidence and sells the concept of working hard. Revising. Learning. If they do a test one week and don’t do well, we’ll talk not about the content again but about how to revise better and then we’ll try again. Every week, content is revisited frequently and over time in low stakes quizzing (usually best placed at the start of a session). This regular quizzing should have a routine around it. A pace. It should feel celebratory rather than a chore. Use whiteboards or paper rather than something that looks and feels like a test or an exam. Success and confidence will both build over time. It’s a cumulative process. The retrieving needs to be slick and business-like so that you can move on to teaching new content without fuss.

TOP TIP – Invest in good questions that you can use repeatedly. Work with peers to develop a list.


Redrafting for Excellence

We need to focus on teaching students to the highest level. Have you defined what excellence looks like in your subject and considered how re-drafting might help students to achieve excellence?

No matter how many times I watch this video, I see more in it every single time. The main lesson from Austin and his teacher’s use of critique is that it teaches an important lesson and sets a high standard for learning – it’s not a case of ‘good, you’re done.’ Or, ‘thanks, that will do’. It’s about a constant challenge to improve in a climate that fosters perseverance. 

As teachers, we must believe that our students are capable of much more than the first thing they offer us. The butterfly was always inside Austin, he just didn’t know it was

Some questions for any educator to begin developing this culture –

  • What does excellence look like in your subject? Can you articulate it easily? How is it communicated to students?
  • Do you provide students the chance to practise something, receive feedback, and redraft it enough before they’re assessed? What needs to change about the design of your curriculum to achieve this?
  • Do they need to redraft the whole or is it possible to break down the parts and encourage the students to practise just the one part to build their skills?
  • How often do we replace jargon-filled success criteria with multiple examples of both mediocre and excellent so that students have models to follow and points of comparison for their own work?

Once students feel and experience ‘excellence’, they never want anything less. If they aren’t given the opportunity to achieve this then they just see themselves as a ‘pass student’ eternally. Once more, I could hear the murmurs of agreement around the room.


Responsive teaching through questioning and checking for understanding

Yet more of Tom’s content resonated with the room when he shared this next approach. ‘I’ve taught something but I’ve no idea if anyone’s learned it so I’m going to spend a lot of time checking it.’

He referenced some of the pre-reading participants had been asked to do – The principles of Instruction

In it, more effective and less effective teachers are described. Less effective teachers ask fewer process checking questions and they don’t seek answers from multiple people in the room.

One of Dylan Wiliam‘s biggest regrets about the launch of assessment for learning via ‘Inside the Black Box’ was that it was interpreted as testing and assessment in a high stakes way. He wishes he had called it ‘responsive teaching’.

  • Have a destination in mind.
  • Constantly take bearings and consider how you need to adjust in relation to how the students are responding.
  • What does excellence look like? How are are we going to achieve it?

Tom modelled the kind of questioning I see (and I’m certain I use) on a far too frequent basis. It’s important that all of our students are able to demonstrate their learning during the lesson. Tom references an abseiling analogy used by John Hattie. Before abseiling down the side of a cliff, you don’t just take a look at one person’s carabiner, discover it’s fastened correctly, and say , ‘Everyone cool? Thumbs up. OK!’ Translate this to the classroom and it’s, ‘Everyone ok? Nod at the students. OK, then let’s move on!’

If we rely on reading the room in this way then we’re doing it wrong and we won’t receive the information we need to about learning. Body language tells you zero about learning. Even students who self-report positively, might be wrong. Whilst they may THINK they’ve got it, their knowledge could contain all kinds of inaccuracies and misconceptions that won’t be revealed until we ask them and we don’t want the first time we ask them to be their summative assessment.

We obviously need to generate questioning strategies that work for a whole room. It can be too time-consuming to go around everyone one by one and it’s not a beneficial use of students’ valuable time for their learning. Make use of peer assessment and peer critique so that students become resources for one another. We need to develop our students’ capacity to assess their own performance accurately too. They need to learn to self-correct.

Whiteboards can be a good solution but are they being used correctly? Use them  Every. Single. Lesson. Ensure the students hold it up until you’ve really seen, absorbed, praised and probed their responses. Like other techniques it’s useful to hone over time this can be yet another punchy, dynamic, and proficient part of students’ learning.

There are many other questioning techniques that can be utilised. Mainly from Doug Lemov. These include-

  • Cold Call – Always individuals. Never hands up. Removes the ‘does anyone know the answer to…’
  • Think, pair, share or turn & talk – Provide the opportunity for students to build their answer together before reporting back to you
  • Right is right – Continue to question, clarify and probe until the answer that returns to you is as complete and knowledge/understanding-filled as possible.
  • Student-led demonstrations – Show the rest of the class how you did…
  • Information checking questions – I learned this on my CELTA course (to teach speakers of other languages). State an instruction. Ask specific individuals to repeat back what you’ve asked them to do. Check with a couple of people before proceeding. Don’t just ask, ‘Does everyone understand?’ Ask – ‘What are we doing next?’ ‘Explain it to me.’ ‘June- do you agree?’

You can access a range of resources related to these methods (including mini whiteboards) here-


Click here to view this collection

Modelling and Metacognition

This was one of the key moments of my day. It was all in Tom’s analogy of the ‘mystery of excellence.’ We often reveal a great piece of work to students as just that. Here’s one I made earlier! The mystery of success remains and achieving excellence remains an inaccessible achievement for our students.

Live modelling is best so that it fits with a responsive teaching approach. Consider the content of the session and think about what those students will need to practise to move them on in their learning. Model that part in front of them and as you do, talk your thought process through. ‘I’m putting this here because…’ ‘I’m going to write it in this way, and not that way, because…’

We need to remember not just to give students the answer but talk about why it’s the answer and how it’s been arrived at. If we just give the answer without any of the reveal then we reinforce the mystery of learning. We should also ask students to articulate their own thinking so that it can be brought to the surface, aired, and reflected upon.

A perfect example of this occurred when I went to the Estates office to ask for the air conditioning to be put on in the room we were in as it had become a little warm. We chatted for a while about random things and I returned to my original question to check if that was ok. The reply was,

Yeah. It’s already done.’

‘Oh really? That quickly? But… you didn’t move from your PC… Is it just some sort of button?’

‘Oh, I couldn’t tell you that. You’d be far too dangerous with that piece of information.’

I’m not quite sure the level of havoc he imagined I would be capable of (he does know me so perhaps he was accurate) but he had created a mystery over the success of the air con. And that was ok because I have no need to be able to do that for myself. But when it comes to our students’ learning, we need to own the secrets of success a little less.

Evidence-based revision strategies

These 6 strategies are not intended for teachers but to be used by their students. 

When it came to selecting the approach they would focus on, none of our project participants chose this approach. In reflecting with Tom about why this might have been, I felt that it was related to the original challenges they had shared around study skills and independence. This strategy would be far too high risk. It sets out complete reliance on the students, when the other approaches each provided an element of control for the teacher still. They could really be in charge of how successful these strategies would be. 

However, it’s not a strategy I want to let go of and would like to explore how we use it with tutor mentors and the development of their study skills.

We need to get students to focus on the most effective rather than what’s easiest.

Two of the key elements Tom highlights as part of the above video and 6 strategies from The Learning Scientists are the following two things – 

  • Make links and connections between the parts of knowledge so that they’re not just reciting but ‘making useful’
  • Use visuals alongside text

We ended Tom’s session by leading into lunch, where practitioners would be asked to select one challenge their students experience that they wanted to address. This wouldn’t be about implementing everything at once with carefree abandon but exploring one idea carefully and considering its impact on students.


Setting a question and considering data collection

Joss made use of Nancy Kline’s thinking environment philosophy to set out enough space in the afternoon to set up some quality time for reflective thinking.

‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’ Nancy Kline, 2012

We would be referring throughout the project to it being ‘practitioner-led research’-

  • It is called ‘practitioner-led’ to emphasise that the questions, the methods and the meaning of the results will be determined by practitioners
  • Extends reflective practice by moving from ‘gut feel’ to an evidence-base, making it easier to argue a case or justify the need for change
  • Can be about very small-scale change and achievable within the constraints of everyday work
  • Is more likely to involve research via: the internet; talking to colleagues or learners; following-up ideas gained during a training programme; etc …… rather than researching ‘learned journals’
  • Does not require sophisticated statistics: simple data collection and presentation in tables, bar/pie charts are fine; qualitative data such as feedback from colleagues or learners can be summarised into key points
  • Does require a common sense understanding of what data means and whether improvements are likely to be ‘real’ or due to other factors
  • Does require a ‘mature level’ of critical thinking and reflective practice.

These definitions led to a deep level of discussion between participants in relation to their own experiences of research.

As we moved into forming the project question, Joss shared that The chance of finding out something useful depends on the quality of the question that is asked in the first place.

She introduced practitioners to the PICO model @DrGaryJones and they were all given the opportunity to shape a PICO question once their approach had been selected.

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We encouraged a small-scale change with a single group of learners that would have 2-3 data measures included. 

We explored the varying pros and cons of different data measures available to practitioners and they had the chance to explore these in relation to a couple of case studies of already-implemented research.

We discussed the importance of context, perspective and how we ensure our data is as reliable and valid as possible. One colleague raised a shared question which was, ‘How do I know if it’s this action that has had the impact’. Well, ultimately, the answer is that we won’t. But we can attempt to demonstrate impact if a variety of measures are used and data is gathered in an appropriate way.

  1. We have encouraged a data collection before the intervention is put into place
  2. The intervention will then be put into place
  3. The final data measures (whether quantitative or qualitative) will be taken before findings are produced by the end of February

Practitioners left the day with an approach they want to try, a fully formed or somewhat-formed project question, and an idea about measures they may wish to use.


What Next?

Online materials will be shared with participants and we’ll ask them to share final questions and plans for implementing their project with us. This will undoubtedly lead to another blog as we gain a better sense of the kinds of interventions they’ve each selected to run in their contexts.

More practitioners will be recruited from the College so that we have enough to make the project more viable.

We’ll plan for the 8th of December day when project participants can get back together and share how their interventions are progressing so far.

Support and feedback will be provided during this time to ensure practitioners can progress with confidence.

Further excitement as we see where this experiment within an experiment, informed by evidence within evidence, will lead us.

Final reflections

I’m left reflecting on the parts of the day that have already left an early impression –

The approaches we’re experimenting with, at their heart, are really all about heart. They are about providing students with the best possible chance of success and believing in their capabilities, without conditions attached.

As teachers, we must believe that our students are capable of much more than the first thing they offer us.

Body language tells you zero about learning. Even students who self-report positively, might be wrong.

‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’ Nancy Kline

Revealing the mystery of success and learning is an image that has stuck with me from today, not least of all because of the Wizard of Oz magic required to get Tom’s slides walking by disappearing to the PC in the cupboard behind the screen. Teachers need to own the secrets of success a little less.

Crush Your Gremlin #WomenEd

A few months ago, I’d seen the advert online for WomenEd looking for workshop facilitators. I flagged the form for that evening, resolving that I would register and move from TeachMeets to a workshop attended by hopefully more than four people (as my first national conference delivering on ‘making the most of meetings’ had been). It would be a test for me and the 10% braver I needed.

A day from hell ensued and by the time I sat down to the form in the evening, there was no way I could do this. Who was I kidding? What would I have to share with anyone?

By the end of the week and after a session of coaching (arranged through WomenEd), I submitted my form a little after the deadline and this would be my topic. I did have something to share – I would share my journey towards taming my critical inner voice.

But there were months to go yet. My inner voice told me that no-one else shared my journey. They all had this mastered and what did I really have to share? I hadn’t totally conquered it and there were occasions when it was most definitely still getting the better of me.

But here I was because when you make a pledge to 10% braver, you can’t go back on it. Especially as my name was now in black and white on the programme.

Fear lead me to several weeks of me promising to write my presentation and failing to do so; leaving it all until last minute and then changing it all again 48 hours before because I’d had some better ideas, inspired by Naomi Ward.

My workshop began with participants filling out their sticky note of what had made them proud that day and eating a sweet. I wanted to begin the workshop in a positive way. I also allowed time for them to share why they wanted to be at the workshop. I had planned to preface this with a hope that they hadn’t ended up in mine as a last resort because none of their favoured options had spaces left but as mine was one of the full workshops, I knew this wouldn’t have been the case. Hurrah!

I then shared what participants could expect from the workshop and here’s what you can expect from this blog – lots of ideas, not all the answers. Elements of experimentation and I would be sharing my journey. I had heard other women during the day apologising for sharing the personal journeys, stories and perspectives. But how can we share anything else? I’d find it pretty hard to share someone else’s journey and whilst this presentation didn’t share much research or data for people to grapple with, it did share my truth.

In exploring issues around what holds women back, it’s important that we don’t neglect to consider the important part we may be playing in our own sabotage.

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Click here to read the full speech containing the above quote from Meryl Streep.

I then asked all participants to sketch an object that would sum up who they were. We’d be returning to it later. I shared that mine had emerged as a sunshine over time and I had turned it into a motif I could use to give me strength when I needed it the most.

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I began to share how my journey into leadership had progressed. This gif seemed to sum it up perfectly…


Early on in my leadership journey, I had read this in an ‘Insights’ report about myself –

‘She may underestimate herself and either takes anything she does well for granted, or regards it as no great achievement at all.’

This statement had resonated with me. It felt true and I recognised where it had appeared in my life until this point. The issue was that I took it so to heart that I became fixed mindset about it and saw it as unchangeable aspect of my own personality. I soon learned this wouldn’t be the way to view my critical inner voice but in the meantime, I did the following things-

Ignored the problem and hoped it might go away of its own accord-

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Berated myself; believing that I was the only one experiencing this problem-

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And that’s where part of the issue lies. We all wander around believing that we’re the only ones who experience a negative inner voice… but more of that later.

I then shared three of the approaches my old manager, Graeme Hathaway had been able to share with me.

Recognising Impact

Part of the battle in the shift from teaching to leadership is that your impact is not quite as visible and immediate and I was struggling with this. One approach is to consider an action you’ve made and begin to observe it as a ripple moving out from that moment and the sphere of influence it has led to.

Daily Affirmations

There’s a great deal to be learned from this little lady about how to start a day right. Daily affirmations work by helping to remind you every day of your strengths. Your values. The things you will prioritise. Shape your own 3-4 statements to begin with and see how you get on with these.

Celebrating Successes

At the end of every day, I would write down 5 successes, however small. Graeme would write his down too to establish the habit, there was some accountability there. There are plenty of journals and diaries out there that can prompt you to do just this. The advantage is to seek the positive in every day, no matter how bad it has felt.

My favourites are these Inner Truth journals (available on Amazon).

After sharing these 3 strategies, I also shared how WomenEd #10%braver had helped me to take those small steps to be bold, brave and see how my confidence was positively affected. When it went well, my critical inner voice was nowhere to be found. When it didn’t, well… my gremlin was to be found everywhere.

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I knew that I needed to tackle this at a deeper level and that’s where my coach, Naomi Ward, comes in. From a recent session with her, I was able to form 3 guiding principles of gremlins to share at this workshop-

  1. Your gremlin’s voice is not yours. It’s not even a part of yours.
  2. Your true voice is of value and deserves to be heard.
  3. Imagine what you could achieve if your gremlin’s voice could no longer be heard?

A Twitter poll I shared in the days leading up to the conference made it clear that it wasn’t just me who was tempted to listen to my critical inner voice. Whilst not everyone who answered the 1st question answered the second, it gives some indication of how frequently we might be giving our gremlin more airtime than it deserves-

One other aspect of women holding themselves back, is frequently referenced by members of the WomenEd community – Imposter Syndrome. I shared my belief that this is driven very much by our gremlins as it is by other social constructs that exists for us. Our gremlins often mean we put other people on a pedestal; we believe them to possess all of the skills, knowledge and qualities we don’t.

The School of Life’s book, On Confidence, has a chapter dedicated to Imposter Syndrome and this is a quote from it-

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Once the room agreed they were ready to move into crushing their gremlin, I revealed the first part of my workshop title by playing a clip from Bridget Jones and asking a couple of questions –

What does Bridget reveal about her inner voice? and How does it affect her relationship with Mr D’Arcy?

The room concluded that she deflected the compliments and it was clear she had built up some defences based on her perception of herself, or at least the one informed by her gremlin. One participant made a great contribution in that it’s actually rude for us to behave in a way that deflects other people’s compliments or praise of us. Are we suggesting that people we like and respect are incorrect? Are we so arrogant that we really know better than everyone else?

We then worked through stages of a reflective activity that involved individual reflection and paired discussions at points-

  • Visualise a recent time when your gremlin was present and prevented you from doing something you wanted to do.
  • What things does your gremlin say to you?
  • What did the gremlin look like?
  • Where was the gremlin positioned?
  • How did the gremlin make you feel?
  • What did your gremlin stop you from doing?
  • What evidence do you have that the gremlin’s voice was accurate?
  • What was your own voice saying to the gremlin?
  • How would it have felt to do what you wanted to do instead of giving in to your gremlin?

Now was the point at which we returned to our image created at the start of the session. We fleshed it out a little more; noting down how it embodies our voice and values. I then asked participants to consider-

  • What would your object do to crush your gremlin?

I was then about to take a risk and hope that the room was with me. I had forgotten the tape I was going to bring to make a line on the floor so instead we used the doorway.

I stepped through the door and told them what awaited. Their values. Their true voice. Freedom from their gremlin. When they were ready, they were to join me on the other side of the door, which I promised was a totally awesome space. Luckily, everyone came through and I could sense the smiles on some of the faces around me as they stepped into this space.

I shared how since being introduced to this strategy by Naomi on Thursday, I had searched for lines I could cross during my day. I now already look forward to stepping over the top step at the train station I use every day, walking into my office and other rooms in my workplace. It’s a way of me noticing how my gremlin is speaking to me and allows me to press reset. Before my workshop, I had a wander around to find suitable lines I could cross over to feel free of my gremlin as I knew I’d need this to counter the nerves that inevitably accompany the facilitation of a workshop for the first time.

Then came the challenge of encouraging the group to go back into the space where we’d just left our gremlins…

Once we were back, we explored how actually having a greater awareness of other people’s struggle with their gremlins might help us with our own. WomenEd is an incredibly inclusive community of people that allows everyone to share their stories with one another but I still felt we could do more to share the truth of success and the gremlins involved.

I challenged everyone in the room to go away and write a letter to me that I could share more widely via my blog. A letter because the art of letter writing is lost, and it would be a letter that could-

Remove the gremlin’s power for women everywhere.

Click here for the letter template

Send to: Hannah Tyreman, The Sheffield College, Granville Road, Sheffield, S2 2RL

The workshop ended with Billy Joel’s lyrics, some of which have helped me to accept my strengths and myself just the way I am. In the world of education, eternally driven by what’s next and what else is going to be improved of developed, it’s not easy to achieve.

As we listened to the song, participants shared pledges and I handed out their workbooks and letter headers to take away. You can find all links to resources used in the workshop and those for further exploration here. I will also be adding those recommended by workshop participants too –

Was my gremlin heard during the workshop? Absolutely! Did I step over a line to escape the voice numerous times during the workshop? Absolutely! Was it rather loud a few hours ago once the workshop had ended about what I could and should have changed about the workshop? Absolutely! I chose nice food and a Lush bath bomb instead. A future day will allow me to consider with logic and perspective what could have made my workshop better should I choose to run one again in the future but for now I would celebrate –

  • I had managed to get the workshop together after leaving it until last minute.
  • I had been 10% braver.
  • I had facilitated a packed workshop to 29 participants, many of whom have now made year long pledges to tackle their inner gremlin as part of the closing call to action for the day.
  • Other participants spoke to me afterwards and tweeted out what they had gained.
  • I am immensely proud of myself for being bold for both myself and others.

I hope that I receive some letters so that I can begin to share stories of conquering our gremlins. I hope that all participants commit to their pledge and we can stop allowing our inner gremlin to hold us back from smashing ceilings and being our authentic selves.

Working with ‘Novice’ and ‘Expert’ Teachers – David Weston

This is a rather delayed write-up of my notes and reflections on David Weston’s (@informed_edu) workshop at The Telegraph Festival of Education. Having heard David speak on several occasions, I felt certain that he’d live up to everything good CPD should and I’d leave with disrupted thinking and things to be curious about. I wasn’t disappointed.

Within a few weeks, I had shared my new learning with senior colleagues as well as fellow leaders at College. This has been learning that has locked itself firmly in my thoughts and will hopefully lead to more effective CPD approaches for colleagues.

Many of us used to facilitating CPD or introducing fresh approaches in our colleges and schools will be accustomed to colleagues often presenting with the rolling eyes of,I’ve been teaching for 20 years. What will be different about this new learning that I won’t have experienced before?’ And why blame them? Much of education policy seems to take a cyclical motion. Something experienced 6 years previously appears again but those crafty politicians have disguised it to look like something else, assuming that we’ll all be fooled into thinking they hold all the answers to our prayers. Alas, we are not as stupid as we clearly appear and we can see through their thinly veiled attempts at revolution. So when teachers pitch up at yet another workshop or coaching session claiming to ‘revolutionise their practice’, there is little surprise many present with an initial cynicism. 

So how can we approach teacher learning in a way that lands with novices as much as it does with experts?

I mean, apparently the inclusion of a brain or the word ‘science’ could get us pretty far…

But seriously, what answers might science hold for us?

Please excuse any inaccuracies in what follows and please feel free to leave feedback on anything you think is scientifically awry. It’s not especially my strong suit and it’s new learning for me!


The images used are ones I created – I’m sure David Weston (@informed_edu) wouldn’t appreciate you thinking they were his handiwork!

Schemas formed the basis of the first part of David’s exploration of teacher learning. For those of you who don’t know what these are, they’re essentially ‘packets of information that help us anticipate what we’ll find when we encounter a certain concept, category, person, or situation.’ (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Psychology)

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When we encounter a new situation, our senses pick up on aspects of this new situation and add to the packet. For instance, we learn at a young age how to tell if things are hot and how best to respond to this situation in the future – ie. don’t put your hands directly into fire. In fact, remain a safe distance from it.

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It’s important that things are discarded from the packet or placed in a different packet at times though. For instance, when we learn what a dog is, we recognise it has ears, 4 legs and a tail. As we come across more dogs we learn that they’re furry and bark. But what happens when we come across a cat? They’re furry, they have 4 legs, they have ears and a tail. But they don’t bark… If this information were to be added to the existing dog schema then it may cause some considerable issues… Luckily, we check this thought with those around us and they confirm that what we’re seeing is not a dog. As we learn and form schemas, there is a continual adjustment to what our senses are presenting; causing equilibrium and disequilibrium as our schemas adjust and are formed.

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So, our brains respond to sensory information and begin to form associations; constantly causing this shifting movement as our schemas form and adjust based on our responses to the environment we find ourselves in.

Let’s translate this to the teaching environment then. Think back to being a brand new teacher. How did it feel? An assault on the senses? New things, faces, people, process, approaches, knowledge… You can see where this is going! A serious sense of disequilibrium and one can easily imagine the impact this might have on our learning.


When working with ‘novice’ teachers, it’s important that we help them to navigate the choppy seas and their feelings of being overwhelmed by the assault on the senses and their confused attention trying to make sense of everything they’re coming across.

How many of us when we first started teaching (especially in Further Education) were plunged straight into a classroom on day 1 with no training and a full timetable (my hand is up!)? How many of us were sent to observe more experienced colleagues to see how they did things? How many of us left those observations thinking all teachers were gods with magic powers and presence we couldn’t work out how to get our hands on?

This is the point at which I realised that what David was sharing could be absolute dynamite for the profession if we all took it on board.

Novice teachers have few relevant schemas already formed and no real clear idea of what a good lesson looks like. Lessons lead to confused attention and there is a sensory overload but they struggle to make connections and associations as they have no existing schemas in this area to help. It’s an exhausting experience and their working memory becomes overloaded as what they’re experiencing is in a brand new domain of expertise.

Novice teachers are unable to make sense of what they’re seeing in a more experienced colleague because they don’t have existing schemas yet. They see students engaged, attentive and working well. They see a teacher in command of the room and seemingly effortlessly involving each and every student in answering questions. The novice teacher sees only the end product and conclude that there’s just something magic going on or they try to piece together what they’ve seen based on little knowledge of teaching and form incorrect schemas.

If they were to have a colleague or mentor with them whilst watching the session then that colleague could act as the translator of the effective practice- ‘They’re reacting in that way because of the teacher’s position in the room, their stillness, the routine they’ve established with the ‘do now’ activity and meet and greet at the door.’ ‘She’s getting every student involved and boosting their confidence by taking a look at their work first, and spotting which ones have the answers before asking them to share with everyone else.’

You get the idea. It’s essentially a walkthrough of what a teacher has achieved so that the work of a teacher is demystified for a novice and made to seem far more achievable. That it’s not just down to experience. Most things written by Doug Lemov achieve this kind of thing perfectly, see this example of cold calling. (I might be a little obsessed by Doug Lemov at the minute).

The dangers that exist if we leave novice teachers to their own devices is that they begin to form schemas that won’t lead to effective practice in the future or a continued sense of being overwhelmed that ultimately leads them to leaving the profession.

So what might help?

Well, the paired observations would go far to support the formation of effective schemas. As a result of a paired observation, novice teachers could then benefit from clear procedures to follow for just 1, 2, or 3 aspects of their practice at a time so the disequilibrium is reduced. We shouldn’t be asking them to develop all aspects of their practice at once or expecting them to; this will only increase their feelings of being overwhelmed.

After recalling my own start in teaching, I feel some of these approaches could have seriously reduced the negative impact of being thrown in at the deep end. When I recalled what I’d heard from the Head of Michaela earlier on in the day speak about how their new teachers receive feedback on specific aspects of their practice 4 times a day, I made the immediate connection and my schema about effective CPD for novice teachers had expanded.

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So what of expert teachers?

As experts (experienced teachers and not necessarily effective ones), we have a lot of relevant schemas to make use of and we can therefore direct our attention effectively to whatever needs it the most. What we choose to pay attention to is easily decided upon as we’ve become accustomed to the classroom environment and have well-established schemas to help us respond.

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The issue with well-established schemas is that ‘unlearning’ is not easily achieved and whilst learning something new, we are easily drawn back to old habits and existing schemas. We demonstrate bias and reject the unfamiliar. Learning and change becomes a much greater challenge.

What biases should we look out for in our ‘expert’ teachers?

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Most leaders, coaches, mentors, and facilitators of CPD will undoubtedly recognise some of these biases in colleagues they’ve worked with at one point or another.

This is the curse of ‘knowledge’. We have an inability to remember what it’s like being an overwhelmed novice.

So what might help?

  • Get ‘expert’ teachers to articulate existing thinking- ‘What are you doing now and why? How does it impact your students?’ (In order to change or at the very least challenge their existing thinking).
  • Leaders being more transparent about their learning and the journey taken, including their own biases they had to challenge along the way. All the better if they can demonstrate, too, their evidence-based decision making proving that whilst their experience had taught them to make one decision, they routinely choose to check this against what other sources of evidence have to say.
  • Encourage expert teachers to gain a new perspective on existing thinking by following a student around for a day to see learning through a different pair of eyes, a different lens. A colleague to join them help them reflect on this experience would surely help them to correct and form new schemas just as it would for a novice?
  • As a leader, use social connection to change and overcome resistance. Form connections and make relationships. Admit your own failures and reassure them.
  • Experimentation, a sense of agency and high quality feedback are all essential.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about expert teachers is that it’s vital to sustain the change over time on order to suppress and replace incorrect or ineffective schemas. Short interventions mean that existing schema will just reassert themselves so it needs to be continuous.

Once more for the cheap seats…

Development must be continuous for expert teachers. One offs can even be actively harmful for experts as they might reinforce schemas we already have- ‘It looks similar to something I already do so I’ll just continue doing that as there’s nothing long term to influence my thinking in any other direction.’ There’s no depth to one off experiences and so the learning has all the stickiness of a sticking plaster ready to fly off at any moment.

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Novice to expert is the journey that we want and we want it in its most effective form. Just repeating procedures won’t make us great teachers. We need a higher level of expertise than that. We need an adaptive approach. Responsive teacher learning will support this so that a teacher’s learning is pursued based on the classroom happening in front of them.

This session from David at the festival has seriously disrupted my thinking about teacher CPD and, along with the online Match Education course on coaching, has already had impact on my practice and approach to working with teachers.

Now that’s the level of impact we want from CPD.

If only it could all be great as this.

I believe it can be.

We just need to listen to David!