Festival Feedback – A few snippets

What with all the end of term fun and frolics, I have not had a chance to share as much from the Festival of Education as I had hoped.  So, to make up for this, here are a few pearls of wisdom from various presentations I made it to …

Putting Evidence to Work – Kevan Collins

Kevan spoke about the work of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF).  This organisation is keen to reduce the impact of fanciful fads on educational thinking by collecting evidence to establish how effective different approaches to pedagogy really are.  It has taken the idea of effect sizes, which John Hattie’s work is currently the best known example of, and taken it a step further by relating the impact of a certain approach to the investment it requires.  The Foundation’s work is still in its infancy, but based on their work to date, the most cost effective ways of advancing pupil’s learning are providing better feedback and equipping pupils with more ability to self-regulate – both ideas which are already high on our agenda! Good to know we’re on the right track here!

Accidental Learning – Hywel Roberts

Drawing on his own diverse educational work, Hywel recently published a book called “Oops – helping children learn accidentally“, and in his festival presentation he shared just a few of the insights contained in this book.  What struck me most about this session was the way in which Hywel practised what he preaches, modelling with his audience of educators the sort of approaches which have made him a very successful educator himself.  I’m now half way through the book, which is highly readable, and I can honestly say that every page has given me something to think about.  Yesterday the RE staff kindly indulged me as I tried out his “Chilean Miners” hook, and I certainly enjoyed our session – I can’t wait to use this and other suggestions from Hywel in the classroom next year.  It would be unfair on Hywel to share all his ideas here, so … buy his book!

What’s worth learning these days? – Guy Claxton

Having looked at Guy’s work on Building Learning Power, I was curious to find out how he would answer the question posed in his presentation title.  In actual fact Guy said very little about what should be learned, and a great deal about how learning should take place.  A lot of what he said struck a chord with Dweck’s ideas on Growth mindets.  Again, it was good to know we’re on the ball with this one. He also shared a couple of thought-provoking quotes:

“Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.” – Piaget

“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition.  Certainty is a rideiculous one.” – Voltaire

The phrase that stuck most in my mind though was one shared with Guy by an Oxford admissions tutor, who said that when interviewing student applicants he deliberately asked questions designed to make them flounder, just to see whether they could “flounder intelligently”.  And in this lies the answer to Guy’s question: if we are to produce truly reflective and articulate students, then we need to give them any opportunity we can to develop these skills – in other words, everything is worth learning …

The Teenage Brain – Sarah-Jane Blakemore

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever understand how any brain works, especially a teenage brain, but Sarah’s illuminating talk made it clear that neuroscientists are constantly discovering more.  She covered a lot of ground, and I cannot possibly do justice to it all here, so here are a just few interesting points to ponder …

Adolescents are three times more likely to take risks when in the company of their peers.  Most have a particular fear of being excluded from that peer group, and in order to prevent this from happening they may well take risks in a bid to retain their credibility, such as smoking or driving too fast.

When people are tested on their ability to see something from someone else’s visual perspective, the average adult makes errors 40% of the time, but youngsters between the ages of 9 and 14 make errors 75% of the time.  This is because their brains are basically different at this point in their lives, not just because it’s a skill they have yet to acquire.

Because their brains are different, teenagers have markedly less ability than they will go on to develop as adults when it comes to:

  • self-control
  • planning
  • problem-solving
  • decision-making
  • self-awareness
  • social interaction

Teenagers are not just being awkward!  Their brains are still developing and are highly malleable at this age.  This is very sensitive period in their development, and they are heavily influenced by their environment.  Risk-taking and susceptibility to the influence of their peers are both very notable … but this need not mean teenagers are unmanageable!

Festival feedback – growing a love of learning

At the Sunday Times Festival of Education I was immediately drawn to this session by its title, with its reference to something we’d all like to be doing: growing a love of learning.  When I read the outline, I knew I had to get to it: “Ways to foster growth mindsets, creativity, resilience, and learning skills in your school”.  All of this in just one session?  This was something I had to see!

I arrived a few minutes early and made myself comfortable.  When someone sat next to me, I turned to him and said “This speaker’s come all the way from Scotland to give this session – that’s pretty impressive”, to which he replied “Well, I’ve some all the way from Australia to be at this Festival – and it’s all been great so far.”

It turned out that there were many other people keen to hear from David Starbuck (maybe, like the person who introduced him, they had confused him with David Starkey, but I very much doubt it!): there were soon over 100 people crammed into a room in which there was only space for 40 chairs.

David Starbuck

If this was at all daunting for David, it certainly didn’t show: he delivered a really engaging presentation which covered an immense amount of ground in a very short time.

We began with a bit of neuroscience. The brain creates neural pathways to store knowledge: each time we “revisit” a certain idea, these pathways are reinforced and we are subsequently able to recall that idea more easily.  However, the brain is processing so much information that it has to filter out a lot of it.  As an example of this, we might never have noticed a certain make of car, but then a friend buys one and suddenly we start noticing that type of car everywhere: because this information was previously of little relevance to us, we did not register it.  As teachers, we must be mindful of the fact that everyone has the same ability to form neural pathways, and that those who seem to be less proficient learners are in fact just filtering out more information.  To overcome this, we need to make their brains more receptive, which is where Growth Mindsets come in.  For more information on this, see our page on developing resilience by clicking here.

David talked about the need not only to use the sort of language which encourages Growth Mindsets, but also to truly embrace the philosophy that underlies it.  If we as teachers adhere to the traditional notion that there are some things which some pupils will simply never be able to do, this will affect the way we plan our teaching and generally interact with the pupils.  Referring to this as “professional congruence”, David quoted Dweck’s assertion that  “when teachers and students adopt a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort and mutual support.”  David pointed out that therefore we should aim to foster a Growth Mindset in every member of the school community, including the staff.  Leading on from this, David suggested that schools should nurture a “creative culture” within all aspects of school life by encouraging more risk taking, collaboration, and personalisation.

Clearly this is a very brief summary of a pacey and invigoration presentation.  I leave you with just one last thought, as it resonated with an issue I have heard many teachers complaining about over the years: why is it that when pupils are taught something in one subject, they then seem unable to apply it in others.  I have often referred to this as “compartmentalised learning”, and have shared the frustration of my colleagues.   David talked about the “learning locale”: he quoted research which has shown that learning is often linked to the location in which it takes place.  We’ve all experienced this sort of association – a notable example being when we hear a song which reminds us of a certain place we once heard it in.  This is why it is no good if we only try to nurture Growth Mindsets in certain areas of the school curriculum: to truly make a difference, this has to be a whole-school philosophy.

If you’d like to know more about David’s approach to learning, you can read his own blog here – well worth a look!

“Failure is success in progress”

The words of wisdom in the title come from Albert Einstein.  Within the world of education, harnessing the power of failure is very much in vogue at the moment, inspired to a large extent by the work of Carol Dweck.  The idea is simple: those who fear failure will not try out new ideas and will therefore deprive themselves of valuable learning opportunities.  This applies as much to teachers as to students!

A school in Wimbledon recently held a “Failure week”, designed to help the students understand that whilst failure is not very pleasant, this does not necessarily mean it is a bad thing.  The school encouraged pupils to embrace the  positives that come out of failure.  It also discussed strategies for dealing with the negatives.

success & failure

All of this links in with resilience or grit, and the idea that schools should be helping youngsters to acquire the attitude and ability to cope with setbacks and to overcome challenges.

Some useful links and resources which might offer inspiration on this topic:

The Learning@Loreto page on resilience.

My recent assembly on the value of failure

A video of J K Rowling discussing the benefits of failure, along with accompanying transcript.

A video of Jack Andraka discussing his path to success.


Creative ideas for teaching English

Here are some creative ideas shared on twitter in recent weeks:

1. A tube map of connectives created by @JamieClark85 and inspired by @LauraLolder.  For more details, and instructions on how to create your own tube maps, click here.

tube map

2. “Said is dead” – so peg something different, created by @Ellabumblebee:


3. Make your writing more colourful by @murphiegirl:

colourful writing

If you liked those, you might also like this pervious post about a “mood wheel”.


If you ever want your pupils to try something new or challenging on a PC or laptop, you should consider using the free app Screencast-o-matic to model the activity by “recording” what you are doing on your own screen – you can add a voiceover to talk them through it too!

This tool could also help you to flip your students’ learning: they could practise using a certain app, website or piece of software in their own time, and therefore be already be prepared to use it for the purpose you have in mind when they get to your lesson.


Click on this link to watch a short video which explains how this app works, and this link to try it for yourself.



What is Flipped Learning?

This image answers the question well:


For further ideas and resources related to flipped learning, look at this previous post.

For a comprehensive list of webtools and apps which can be used to help flip learning, click here.

And finally, a poster from the US explaining the origins of this concept, the basic principle, and evidence of its success:




Sticky Teaching

We all want our teaching to stick, and of course one of the best ways to achieve this is to carefully plan the learning that will take place in our lessons.  Inspired by the work of Chip and Dan Heath, various teachers have recently been sharing some great ideas on how to do this.

When planning your lessons, try to work in the six “sticking traits” nicely summarised by Shaun Allison as follows [click on image to enlarge]:

sticky teaching 1

If you’d like to understand this more fully, take a look at our page on Academia, which outlines the work of Chip and Dan Heath.

Another blogger, @MrOCallaghan_Edu, has created the following lesson planning template to support this approach [again, click on image to enlarge]:

sticky teaching 2

Back to Shaun Allison for an example of sticky lesson planning in action – his objective was to introduce a Year 11 Science class to the idea of nuclear radiation:

Simple – I anchored my lesson on to their existing knowledge of the atom by getting them to draw and explain the structure of the atom, which we then shared and discussed.  This would then lead on to two key concepts for the lesson – to describe and explain Rutherford’s scattering experiment, and then to describe and explain an isotope.  This is definitely not about dumbing down or lowering expectations.  It’s about distilling complex ideas into the key ideas and then using what they already know to build up to these complex ideas. In his article on explanation (see below) David makes the point of how important it is to use specialist academic language here – and insist that students do too.

Unexpected – In order to get them curious, we looked at photos of Chernobyl and posed the question, how could these tiny atoms cause such devastation? This is the gap in their knowledge that we were going to fill, having opened it.  They were curious!

Concrete – Rutherford’s scattering experiment is very conceptual, so I demonstrated it by throwing squash balls at footballs.  They bounced off, in the same way that early scientists expected the alpha particles to do when they hit the ‘plum pudding’ atoms. This led on to a discussion about what it meant when the alpha particles went straight through?

Credible – The photos of Chernobyl helped with this, as it made the issue very real. This can also be backed up by statistics e.g. claims that Chernobyl won’t be fit for human habitation for 20 000 years.   However, this will be returned to next lesson, when we get out the radioactive sources and the Geiger counter. Students will see that objects emit radiation.

Emotional – The photos of people who had been affected by Chernobyl (mutations) certainly made them feel for the people.  The ‘emotional’ trait can also be developed by making students feel aspirational.

Story – Science provides loads of opportunities to tell stories – and the story of Rutherford’s scattering experiment was no exception.  It also resulted in some great questions from the students about ‘How science works’ e.g. Why didn’t he just believe the plum pudding idea? What made him think of this experiment? Did he do any other experiments? Did people believe him? How do we know he’s right? Brilliant fodder for the science teacher!