SOLO in ICT: Episode I


Last week, in a classroom far, far away…

Of all the things I’ve read about on Twitter and in various blog posts over the last year SOLO was the one I kept coming back to and by the end of the year, it had become the “thing” I wanted to try most.

There are a lot of people out there using SOLO and it was difficult to know here to start but I stumbled upon and gently prodded towards a number of particularly helpful sources, namely Pam Hook as well as Learning Spy, Tait Coles, Andy Knill, Lisa Jane Ashes and latterly Data Fiend amongst many- I urge you to seek out the work of all these worthy people.

I had found little – if anything – about SOLO being used in ICT, other than a post in ICT Evangelist’s excellent blog. (If there is something out there that I’ve missed I’d be grateful if someone could point me in the right direction)

I actually wondered whether SOLO was an idea that would fit into ICT at all. As SOLO is primarily about thinking, most of the subjects in which it seemed to be being used seemed to involve students using it to investigate “big” questions or concepts.

I’m not saying that ICT doesn’t involve thinking – of course it does – but the principles SOLO didn’t seem to “sit right” with most of what I was teaching. (I am sure there are plenty of opportunities for SOLO within GCSE, or A Level ICT or Computing, which I don’t teach)  After thinking about it for a while, I wondered if it whether SOLO could be used to introduce spreadsheets.

Spreadsheet modelling always seems to be one of the most challenging topics in the KS3 curriculum (or perhaps I’m just not very good at teaching it!) and I felt that there were plenty of “abstract” questions in there, requiring thinking and conceptual understanding spreadsheets as well as a need to relate this thinking to practical contexts.SOLObook

A colleague then pointed me in the direction of some SOLO resources for a range of subjects, including – Maths – and, it was there that I saw some similarities with ICT.

For example, one of the SOLO maths examples was the topic of Area –

  • At a prestructural level, students didn’t know what area was
  • At extended abstract level, students were able to use their understanding to find the area of complex shapes

When looking at this and other examples I was able to see parallels with my topic – traditionally students have very little if any knowledge of spreadsheets at start of the Y7 project, but by the end, many can create spreadsheets of their own, choosing and applying formulae themselves. I spent some time taking the spreadseet modelling topic apart and identifying key tasks and questions.  I then used the resource below (from the SOLO Wiki) to support me in writing (what I hope) were appropriate success criteria for each one, ensuring that I used the correct verbs with each example.


I used the spreadsheet SOLO tasks that I had written to put a student booklet together  in order to support the students in assessing their progress each lesson and identifying the next steps to improve.

So here are my reflections of my first two lessons of SOLO with Year 7.

Disclaimer: I am finding my way with SOLO – it may well be that I’m not doing it right so if any advanced SOLO practitioners are reading this please be gentle with me!

Lesson 1

I started out with a video which introduced the concept of SOLO using Lego – which countless people have used – to introduce the students to the concept of SOLO. It’s a great idea, beautifully executed.

After a brief chat about what SOLO was and why we were using it, I introduced the topic of Spreadsheets.  In our initial Q&A session I asked students about what they thought spreadsheets were and encouraged them to use the SOLO levels to assess their understanding. They were hesitant but had a good stab at it. Even at this stage, it was evident that they had different levels of understanding.  I ran the lesson as normal, moving from a simple task involving identifying parts of a spreadsheet to practical exercises introducing simple formulae, which they accessed via the VLE. The two activities were linked since they needed to understand the terms in the first exercise, in order to complete the second exercise.The students progressed well with the task and as I supported them, I encouraged them to use the SOLO terms to assess how well they were doing.  At the end of the lesson I gave out student SOLO booklets and asked them to self-assess their progress (by drawing the SOLO symbol) and then giving a reason as to why they thought they were at that level. I felt that the last bit was important!  I set a homework about the use of spreadsheets, which required the students to apply the knowledge gained in the lesson, and told them that they would be marking it next lesson…using SOLO!

Lesson 2

The first activity of Lesson 2 involved the students peer marking the homework they did after lesson 1. I asked them to do this using SOLO symbols and to provide a comment explaining why their reasoning. To get them thinking a bit more I asked them to suggest how the student could develop the homework further to move to the next level. I supported the students in their peer assessment task by displaying a slide with the relevant success criteria, next to the appropriate SOLO level.IMG_20130114_112610

The students made a really good job of marking the work and I feel that the peer assessment they did with SOLO was an improvement over similar exercises done using different methods.

I was pleased to see students starting to recognise what they needed to do to move forward, as well as simply identifying where they were at.

The main part of the lesson involved students working towards producing a simple spreadsheet of their own based on a scenario I gave them. At the end of the lesson I asked students to use a post-it note to assess themselves and post it under the appropriate SOLO symbol on the whiteboard.SOLOself_assess

I know that there are more “techy” ways of doing self assessmentSocrative for example – but I was still more concerned about the students making the judgements correctly and considering their next steps. Since they have little experience of Socrative so far, I felt happy using an analogue method. Some students asked if they could place themselves between levels and were able to explain to me why they felt that they were only part of the way to the next stage.

The students then wrote about their progress in their SOLO books.

Next steps?

  • As the photo above shows, I have students at three different stages. Even though I currently have no students working at extended abstract, I am going to have a stab at using SOLO stations to support the students in making further progress
  • I am also going to look at using Infuse Learning to support self assessment. While this tool is very similar to Socrative, that fact that it supports drawn responses makes it an interesting possibility for using with SOLO
  • I am looking at use of hexagons and hot maps

Does SOLO work in ICT? Still too early to tell, but at the very least, I have noticed after just two lessons, that students are really thinking about the progress they are making in their lessons and, more importantly, they are thinking about what they need to do to make further progress.

I would be interested to know if any of you are using SOLO in ICT and if so, what your experiences are.

And sorry about the Star Wars picture…


How long is a piece of string, what is “good performance” and other impossible questions

So it looks like Mr Gove is going to get his way again and we are going to get performance related pay. Head Teachers and Governors will be able to make salary decisions based on how they perform in annual appraisals.

How do we apply worth or value to a teacher? If Head Teachers can reward “good performance” what exactly does this mean?

Let’s look at a typical (or not) school and some of the teachers who work within it-

Mrs White – solid, experienced, dependable teacher – her students achieve well, in line with their targets. A “good” teacher in the traditional sense of the word.

Mr Green – superb form tutor, develops strong relationships with his tutees – some with very particular and challenging issues – and works effectively with parents. Some of Mr Green’s students may not have made it through school without his efforts.

Mrs Brown – Amazing PGCE and NQT mentor. Works tirelessly to support and develop new entrants to the profession. Mrs Brown has helped the school develop a reputation as a good place to learn to teach.

Mr Black – Organises extra-curricular events and trips. Mr Black ensures that there are opportunities for students in every year group to experience something different and exciting during their time in school. In charge of the school prom – a consistently well organised and memorable event.

Miss Scarlet – teaches exciting, engaging lessons. Always interested in developing best and next practice in her school. Engages with colleagues on twitter, attends TeachMeets and does everything she can to stay on the “cutting edge”

Mr Pink – Subject Leader in a “core” department. Plans his department timetable to ensure that he takes his fair share of “challenging” and low-ability classes. Ensure that less experienced or less confident staff are given timetables that help them develop, without leaving them with classes they can’t manage.

All of these staff make valuable contributions to school life in some way or another. I feel sorry for the Head Teacher who may have to attach value to these contributions. Which of teachers above is the “good” teacher? The teacher who gets “results”? The teacher who coaches and mentors colleagues in those important early years of their careers? The teacher who inspires “awe and wonder” in their students? The teacher who provides the child with an experience that they carry with them for the rest of their lives?

It would great to think of a school where every teacher can do all of those things but that school doesn’t exist. No teacher can be “good” at everything. A school needs ALL of those people and the complex mix of skills and qualities that they bring.
Forcing Head Teachers & Governors to compare teachers in this way cannot be good. It will surely be divisive, impacting upon morale and teachers willingness to collaborate and share practice.

I suspect that Mr Gove’s definition of good performance involves results – the kind of results that can be quantified in nice statistics on bits of paper in the same way that he believes that league tables are the best way to judge a school’s performance. He wants to introduce an EBac which will stop teachers “teaching to the test” yet surely the opposite will happen with PRP.

He also believes that the new pay recommendations will make teaching “a more attractive career and a more rewarding job” How rewarding would it be to work in a climate where you are potentially judged against the person in the next classroom? Or where your gifts and talents aren’t deemed worthy because they kind of results they yield aren’t tangible or easily quantifiable?

Perhaps in Mr Gove’s ideal school, results are the only thing that matter. Teachers are there to get students through exams and nothing else matters – not relationships, not the joy of learning, not the experiences they have along the way –just like the “good old days”

That would make sense. He wants to send our curriculum back 40 years, why not send teachers back with it?

Gove Nirvana

Gove Nirvana

The Pilkington Principle?

The great philosopher that is Karl Pilkington once said “you never get anything done by planning”‘.   He also once asked “what were those things in Gremlins called” so I wouldn’t usually pay much attention to the musings of Mr Pilkington.  But I’ve started to wonder if, just for once, he might actually be right.

I’ve been thinking about planning and writing lesson plans a lot recently – my department is changing most of its courses again next year, in all Key Stages. This is the nature of the beast with ICT but it is a particular challenge this year since my school asks for lesson plans, in the school format, for every scheme of work. Without going into the individual courses we teach, I’ll say that there are a lot considering that we are a department of 5! Writing lesson plans is going to take a long time.  I am hoping that our courses aren’t out of date again by the time we finish.  Of course we have to plan lessons.  But how far apart is the process of planning from the act of actually writing a lesson plan? How many teachers find it a vital part of getting their freshly-minted inspirational ideas from brain to classroom – or depressing, productivity-sapping grind?

Take a look at the extract below, taken from Michael Wilshaw’s speech at the London Education Fair, on November 17th 2012:

“Good leaders recognise that while the different methods and orthodoxies slip in and out of fashion, the qualities that help, and make excellent teachers never change.  They are timeless and universal.

You’ll recognise the most important ones – an understanding that planning is important to a good lesson, but only as a framework in which the teacher can adapt to the changing dynamics of the classroom and the different needs of the children.”

There we are – planning is “important to a good lesson” but only as a “framework”  A framework, not a script.   Does reflective teaching lend itself to using a document the same size as a large-print copy of war and peace? I would love to know how many teachers teach the same lesson twice – surely most of us tweak something, even after what we would consider a “good” lesson?If Mr Wilshaw is telling us that it is OK to mentally run red-lines and crossings out through planning and plaster the good bits with gold stars (which we mentally all do anyway) then don’t we need to seriously think about the way in which we go about writing things down?

It also useful to recall Wilshaw’s words at the NCSL conference in June 2012;

“Ofsted inspectors will not arrive with a preferred teaching style or model lesson.
Lessons, of course, should be planned, but not in an overcomplicated or formulaic way. A crowded lesson plan is as bad as a crowded curriculum. We don’t want to see a wide variety of teaching strategies unless they have coherence or purpose.”

So there is no “preferred teaching style”. If this is true (and I really hope that current and future inspections will prove that it is) how can there be a preferred planning style? For how long can schools expect staff to use a standard lesson planning format?  How can different teachers in different subject areas fit their planning into a one-size-fits all document which doesn’t reflect differences in teaching style, or, more importantly, their students’ learning style?  Why do all lessons have to look the same? Isn’t a varied diet more interesting – and better for us? I was talking to someone about this recently who had experienced an SLT  lesson observation in their school and during the feedback they were told that their lesson plan was “not detailed enough’.  The SLT member then proceded to show them a 4 PAGE (4 PAGE!!) lesson plan as example of what they should have produced.

This is an extreme example and I hope, a rare one. Would this have happened at all in a climate where every decision in schools wasn’t motivated  by what OFSTED would think?

Perhaps more colleagues have to emerge unscathed from a Wilshaw era OFSTED inspection, before before schools have the confidence to start loosening the shackles in terms of how they ask their staff to approach lesson planning. On the basis of the last few years alone, that would be understandable.

So what are the alternatives?

This is where I point you towards the work of the mighty Ross McGill – AKA @TeacherToolkit.    His model of a 5 minute lesson plan – a simple lesson plan template allowing teachers to focus on the key learning in a lesson – has been spreading like wildfire across the twittersphere…
You can get it here.

 Ross shows a number of contributions on his own site, from other teachers  who have tried adapted the format to suit their own needs. They are well worth a look.

We spent our last department meeting looking at the 5 minute lesson plan – I had asked  everyone  to come with a lesson in mind that they needed to plan for the coming week.  We gave it a go and found that even within a department of 5 there were things about the format each of us might want to tweak to make it our own. We are going to do more work on the 5minLP, but were agreed that this was a simple format to use and allowed us to focus and drill down on what we wanted the students to learn.

I think this tweet, sent during last Sunday’s #SLTchat sums up in simple terms what we should concentrate on when planning..

If your planning is focused around the needs of your students then they will learn. If they learn they will make progress and surely a happy OFSTED inspector is the byproduct and not the focus of this.

Surely even Karl Pilkington couldn’t disagree with that..

Interactive Fiction? No IF’s or buts…

When I was 12 years old I discovered “Fighting Fantasy” books, perhaps the most famous and  best loved  of these being the “Warlock of Firetop Mountain”.   I spent  hours going through these books, making decisions,  trying to solve puzzles, captivated by the immersive world they created –  I wish I had kept them!  The ability to be able to “play” a story was an amazing concept to me at the time and I remember trying to create my own “Fighting Fantasy” adventure during one cold, wet summer, hampered only by a complete lack of ability to either draw or write.  Round about the same time I started to toy with “text adventures” on my Vic 20/Commodore 64.

I didn’t get out much when I was 12.

Fast forward 30 (!) years or so.  I am about to finish teaching Interactive Fiction to a group of Year 7 and Year 8 students.  It is increasingly becoming my favourite lesson of the week.   Interactive Fiction.  Sounds cool, doesn’t it?  Less geeky then “text adventures” and creating a less worrying mental image then “Fighting Fantasy” might to the unenlightened sceptic.

IF (as it shall be known henceforth) is  the term to describe the Fighting Fantasy/Text Adventure method of storytelling, where the reader interacts directly with the world within the story and their decisions influence the outcome.

Once my 12 year-old self had got over the shock that he would become a teacher, he would be amazed that such a thing could be taught in school and that (horror) there may be ACTUAL EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS as well.

I discovered IF while watching presentations by Kristian Still and AlexWarren at the “Changing the Game” conference in Birmingham last year. Alex was demonstrating a piece of software he had written called “Quest” that allows students to create text adventures without needing programming knowledge .  Kristian spoke about how the software had been used in his school and the positive impact that had resulted. He would be the person to ask for a more scientific and rational analysis of the benefits of IF.  I loved it as soon as I saw it.  I hastily wrote a scheme of work and introduced it to our KS3 Enrichment programme.  (In fact I started teaching it before I’d done a proper S.O.W but don’t tell anyone) Enrichment is a series of “options” we run for Year 7 and 8 students throughout the school year.  The students have an enrichment lesson each week and each course runs for 12 weeks.  The whole focus of this programme is to ignite the students love of learning, to provide them with something extra that will engage them.  Subjects offer things that are off the well-trodden path.  There will be learning, engagement, curiosity and opportunities to do topics that perhaps wouldn’t normally squeeze into a full-to-bursting KS3 curriculum. To enrich something means to add to it, to make it better and that’s what the we have tried to do with our Y7/8 curriculum. Right, back to IF…

So, without really knowing what I was doing I started teaching it.  A year or so later, I’m getting a little better at doing that and I am loving it more each time I teach it.  Here are some of the reasons why.

It is good for literacy

IF gets students writing.  A lot.  I can see cogs turning and imaginations sparking.  I get IF stories about zombies, Harry Potter, Area 51, London Zoo, zombies, Haunted Houses, and er..Manchester City…

And did I mention the zombies?

Students HAVE to write descriptively, as they create a world from nothing and fill it with people, places, creatures and things from their own imaginings.  Consider the fun I had playing a game last week that two boys had written and getting to type in EXAMINE ENTRAILS…. For the benefit of sensitive readers I won’t share with you the description that boys had provided… I would love to see how an English teacher would approach IF and I think it would soar as a cross-curricular project delivered with ICT and English.

It helps to develop wider ICT Skills

The students wanted to do more.  They wanted to make maps and put them into their Quest games.  So I pointed them towards Adobe Fireworks and off they went.   (Imagine combining IF with Google SketchUp and BUILDING the world that they describe! ) They wanted sound effects so when they couldn’t find them on the web, they recorded their own and edited them in Audacity. Arguably a cleverer teacher than I could have done more with the mapping element and I am sure that this would work as a cross-curricular project with Geography as well.  Since YouTube clips can be added to Quest games, there is also the scope to get students to record little bits of drama, upload them to YouTube and use them in their games.

It provides collaborative working opportunities

The Enrichment groups are made up of Y7 and 8 and it just seemed obvious to get the students to work in mixed groups.   The students are very good at this, and the fact that we have a vertical mentoring system doubtless plays a part.  They worked in groups pretty much from the start, planning and discussing their ideas and mapping things out before they got near the computer.

Student planning work for their Quest games

I found that the topic lent itself to this as there seemed to be clear roles emerging.  Working on a Quest game provides the opportunity for real collaborative group work. Dylan Wiliam has spoken of the need for students to have clear roles and shared goals when working in groups and Quest is perfect for this.  Some of the students took on the role of cartographer, some were graphic designers, others would lead on the programming and teach other students when they were in need of help.  I have increasingly tried to encourage them to work independently when finding their way troguh Quest, and to draw on each other for support.  I have made some video tutorials (they’re not brilliant but they can be found here if you’d like to check them out) and I have found that after the first few lessons I do very little “teaching” as such.  Of course, occasional refereeing is needed (they’re kids, it’s last period on a Friday..) but on the whole, my role has been more about supporting, questioning and  encouraging.

It is an open-ended experience, different for each learner

The fact that we deliver this in Enrichment has made it a joy to teach. Tempting though it has been to move into the KS3 ICT course, I have avoided doing so There are no grades or levels in Enrichment.  We don’t have targets to work to and it creates an opportunity to take the lessons where we want to.  Don’t get me wrong, we have a scheme of work and we do plan lessons – I have had a formal lesson observation teaching IF – but for me there is a tangible feeling of freedom that I think the students pick up on too. There is TONS of assessment going on – peer and self-assessment happens all the time.  We use Socrative – especially near the beginning when we are skill building – to help them measure their own progress and to help me judge how much they need from me as a teacher. In fact if you REALLY want your students to get feedback, why not get them to upload their games to the website for others to play?

It introduces students to programming principles

On there is a lot of great information about how IF supports the curriculum.  I will quote a tiny bit of that here:

“Perhaps the most obvious use of Quest is within ICT/Computing. Quest provides a gentle introduction to programming concepts – variables, functions, loops, expressions, objects, etc. – and the visual editor means that students don’t need to remember commands or syntax.”

To make things work in Quest, students need to use SCRIPTS – for example they would need to write a script to handle a locked door, or a key hidden in vase, or a zomb – actually better not mention that one.

It’s programming by stealth.  We found last year that IF provided lots of useful information as to the students that might be invited to start GCSE Computing in Year 9. It certainly sparked an interest in programming in a number of students.

I  hope this lengthy (sorry!) post has sparked an interest in IF.  “Quest” is free and can be downloaded here. I would love to know how IF is taught in other schools and indeed if anyone has done something so using things other than Quest.  For me there are no IF’s about whether you should use IF in the classroom  Try it yourself. Even better, get your kids to try it.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just worked out what to do with the entrails…

Learning to Lead #2 The language of leadership

Much of the focus of our second ASLDP session, was to do with the qualities of Leadership and particularly, the “language of leadership”.  I hadn’t considered that there might be a “language” for leadership.  Of course schools, like everything else, rely on effective communication to function properly, but how apparent IS the influence of leadership in the day to day running of the school?  What would happen if the there was a lack of fluency, as in the case of poor Manuel? How does one learn this language?  I’m guessing there isn’t a series of CD’s giving easily-repeated sentences mastered in 5 easy lessons.

Everyone in the ASLDP group gave their perspectives on what they felt language for leadership looked like in their own schools.  What were the key messages? How were they communicated? How can we measure how EFFECTIVELY they are communicated?  I noted the responses given and used them to create the word cloud below; An interesting set of answers reflecting a diverse set of approaches and priorities in the schools represented by our group.

I thought about the language of leadership used in my own schools since the new Head Teacher’s appointment around 3 years ago.  We become familiar with two key messages –   “World Class” and “The Main Thing is the Main Thing” The second one is reflected in our focus on teaching and learning (which I allude to here) but I was asked by others in the group how “World Class” might be defined or measured – how was this language of leadership actually impacting on my school?  This was a good question and I thought about the “3P’s” of Leadership in Education that we had been introduced to earlier in the session;

  • Principle (moral basis of the school)
  • Purpose (core business of the school)
  • People (social relationships in the school)

I was able to think of numerous examples of how Leadership had influenced all three of these areas; I won’t list them but it was hard to think of any change in my establishment over the last three years that didn’t fit into these categories and that wasn’t driven by the key messages we  had heard on a regular basis. I felt there was clear, measurable impact in each case. So perhaps a case of managed-well, rather than Manuel? (Sorry!)

We covered some interesting ground on the qualities of good leadership in tonight and I gained some useful personal perspectives from the DH leading the session.  The challenge of leading people towards shared principles and practices in your school seems to depend so much on your ability to communicate these things effectively. I think it’s done pretty well at my place – how clearly is the language of leadership written through your school?

Is the language of leadership at the core of your school?

An app episode.. AFL with Skitch

I have a few “Issues” with adding purchased apps to my department’s iPads at the moment (don’t ask!) so I’m not always able to use them in the classroom in the way I’d like. However, today I ran a successful AFL activity using the built-in camera app and a free app called Skitch. Skitch is basically an annotation, markup and drawing tool which allows work to be integrated with Evernote (who now own Skitch)

The students had been taking photos for an e-safety comic that they will be making in Comic Life, which is also installed on the iPads. Each group of students had all their photos on a single iPad. After each group had taken their photos, I drew the class back together to begin the peer assessment activity.

I demonstrated the basic principles of Skitch – skipping the Evernote sign in – showing the students the basic annotation tools of the app. I modelled a photo taken on my iPad and asked the students for some WWW and EBI comments. We had already done some simple work on “good and bad” photography, looking at the basics of close-ups, the rule of thirds, cropping unnecessary detail etc – (apologies to any cringing Photography or Media teachers out there) so the students had some ideas of what to look for.

There are only a few annotation tools within Skitch, so it didn’t take long to show them how to draw, write and add arrows on top of the photo.

I used the annotation tools to add their feedback to my photo and then showed them how to export the finished Skitch image to the camera roll. It was then the students turn.

I gave the students 3 minutes or to evaluate each set of photos – they viewed the photos on each iPad, using Skitch to add their feedback, before moving on to looking at the images on the next iPad. They had no trouble using Skitch and all the students picked it up in seconds. At the end of the activity each group had time to reflect on comments that had been made on their photos. Each group then mirrored their screens using the Apple TV, and commented on the feedback they had received, using this to identify any changes they would make next week. Sadly I can’t share pictures of their work on here because they feature images of the students.

There are ways I could have improved the activity – we could have agreed on a set colours for the EBI and WWW, to help reinforce a consistent “language for learning”

Had I had time, I would have liked the students to Skitch their own work first before moving on to the peer assessment.

Best of all I would have liked to have NOT skipped the Evernote sync – it would have been a much more ideal outcome to have the annotated work synced to Evernote accounts, so that the students could incorporate it into a notebook set up to for their e-safety projects. Sadly the number of iPads available in school (and the fact that our BYOD policy is still.. shall we say.. under development) means that we are some way short of being able to use Evernote in this way. I hope we will get there one day.

Still I like the fact that a simple activity could be extended in such a way should the opportunity arise in the future.

I also enjoyed seeing the students sharing their work using the Apple TV. I was impressed with the comments they made and they were clearly motivated by this method of providing feedback. There is also no reason why this activity couldn’t be applied to other types of student work (as well as photos), or even carried out in a different way, using different apps. For example, a mirroring app like Reflection could be used instead of an Apple TV, and students could record feedback using Explain Everything.

This would also seem to be an activity that you run on an Android device, since Skitch is available on that platform. You can overcome the Apple TV issue on Android with an app called Twonky and there are other ways of mirroring your Android screen, such as the excellent Double Twist & Air Sync and some more methods given here

Overall a pretty good activity, and I will continue to tweak it and will re-post any new or better. Feedback and ideas would be MOST welcome.

Tweet, Tweak, Teach

Last week I had my first lesson observation for a while, with the Head Teacher. I was very pleased to receive an “Outstanding” grade, the first time I achieved this under the new OFSTED framework.

I had reached the point before this, where I was consistently hitting “Good, with outstanding features” in my observations.  Not bad, and I’m a firm believer that it is better to teach good lesson on a consistent basis, than to pull out the stops when the dude with clipboard is in the room and coast in the meantime. However I felt that I had stopped improving – even worse, I wasn’t sure HOW to improve and I remember coming out of the (very fair) feedback meeting from my previous observation, thinking “that’s the best I can do!”  I had started to think that I was going to have to dramatically change the way I taught.

This post isn’t about high-fiving myself – far, from it (especially on the basis of one observation) Instead I wanted reflect on some of the things that have enabled me to move my teaching forward over the last 12 months or so and share some of those things with you, gentle reader.   I am still practising, changing, learning and failing and picking my jaw off the floor on a regular basis at what I see others doing but I now feel  that I CAN continue to get better at this.  And here’s the thing.  I haven’t radically changed my teaching style.  I’ve just pimped it a bit…

So where did I begin?  My school was in the middle of its 3 year plan to focus on teaching and learning.  There were to be no other “initiatives” and we adopted “the main thing, is the main thing” – as a kind of mantra.   (Though an unspoken one – all of us sitting cross-legged in briefing chanting it, would  be a tiny bit weird) AFL was at the heart of everything, with a huge focus on embedding it in teacher’s practice

The AFL was something I became increasingly interested in and started to focus my burgeoning use of twitter on searching out different practice and new ideas.  I guess I found out quite early that you can start looking for something on Twitter and end up finding something totally different but even more useful.  It was a kind of chain reaction – I was searching for inspiration on sharing learning objectives  and I stumbled across this from David Didau (@LearningSpy)  As a true ideas-magpie, I saw something glittering  in here – the contribution from Kristian Still (to whom I also owe a debt of thanks for Interactive Fiction, more of which another time) led me to Triptico (via a free (can I just repeat that?  Free.) set of downloadable teaching tools that have had a huge impact on my teaching and, I hope, student learning.  I think I must use Triptico every single day.  The beautiful design and innate simplicity of the apps make them a joy to use and exemplify the principle of minimum effort for maximum impact.  I highly recommend trying the software and also following creator David Riley’s blog as there are exciting developments in the offing for Triptio.

I have recently discovered Zoe Elder’s excellent blog, with her fascinating work on “Marginal Gains”. I am finding much of interest here, especially her piece on creating more meaningful learning outcomes by using the words SO THAT when setting objectives;

I have started to employ this technique in my own lessons and while I don’t have scientific evidence to support the view that it is making them better, I  am thinking more about what I want the learning to be when I am planning. It is providing a clear focus for what I want the students to achieve in my lessons.  There is so much more than this that makes Zoe’s blog a must follow and I recommend it highly.

So..  into the final phase of the three year plan and  I am now co-leading a TaLK Group within my school along with my colleague, co-collaborator and friend Mike Gunn and continuing to learn from teachers in my own establishment.  So what’s a TaLK group I hear you ask?  Well for a start they are really TaLC  groups – Teaching and Learning Communities were born from  an idea by Dylan Wiliam and are, in a nutshell, small groups of teachers within a school, working in a mutually supportive group to share best (and develop next) practice.

Russell Plester put these together in my school (and swapped the C for K at the same time)  and they have been running since September.    The principle is, again, that the TaLK groups will enable staff to achieve  the “marginal gains” that would move them forward.  It is still too early in the year to be talking about outcomes, but people are prepared to try things and they are HAVING A GO.  Hearing experienced technophobes talk positively about their experiences of Socrative and listening to head-smackingly fantastic ideas from NQT’s has been inspiring so far.

My school’s  TaLK groups all have blogs of their own (you can find my group’s blog here  and I will also reflect on what we are doing in this blog from time to time.)

I guess what I am saying is that I believe that if you make teaching and learning a real – and I mean real – focus in your school for long enough, you will start to change the culture.  You will make people curious about learning and help establish a climate where sharing best and next practice becomes as normal as leather elbow patches.  And if people become curious they will take that further, seeking new answers and asking new questions, connecting on Twitter, going to Teach-Meets.  People will believe that becoming “better” is important and is achievable by everyone, without the need for binning everything they know and starting over.  In summary, I am a huge believer in Tweak to Transform and will continue to seek new ways of doing so to improve my practice.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some more tweaking to do – I’m teaching tomorrow..