Author Archives: Mike Fleetham

COVID-19: Our Wicked Teacher

Murderous Sneeze
I’m standing on platform 1 at Bristol Temple Meads Station. A young woman nearby sneezes into her hand. The train pulls in and she gets on ahead of me gripping the handrail by the carriage door – with the sneeze hand. Four more people touch the rail after her (I don’t). I see one of them touch his mouth; another rubs her eyes. Later, at my destination, I shake a colleague’s hand and realise afterwards that I’ve touched my mouth before and after doing it.

And so a virus might ride its way around our herd, leaping, sliding and firing itself between us; the ultimate freeloader, the dangerous hitch-hiker; the subtle, invisible, murderous travel companion.

World War Z
I’m writing this a few weeks later. It’s mid-March 2020 and the world is in uncharted, pandemic territory. I’m washing my hands more and not touching my face. Scenes from the films Contagion, 28 Days/Weeks Later and even World War Z, though wildly extreme, are closer to our experience than ever. We have a problem. We have a big problem. We have a wicked problem.

Wicked
A wicked problem is ‘difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and “wicked” denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil.

Think about the diversity of national response to the COVID-19 pandemic: China leverages its communist ethos on mitigating behaviours; Italy shuts down; the US restricts entry and the UK adopts a high risk, contrarian nudge strategy of facing it head on and letting it run its course to a faster herd immunity. ‘Solutions are not right/wrong but better/worse‘… ‘it can take a long time to evaluate solutions‘. Each government is doing the best it can with the data and resources available to it. But none yet knows if their best is good enough.

We don’t always solve a wicked problem. We poke it to see how it reacts and then poke it in a different way to see what else happens. Our focus is on finding out not fixing. It’s frightening and it could be devastating but we can learn at least 3 important things while COVID-19 plays out:

1 Anti-Fragility
When the shock comes, what do you do? Break? Stand firm? Fight back? The scale from fragile to robust does not end at resilience. It extends further to ‘anti-fragile‘: Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fragile breaks you; resilience keeps you strong in the face of adversity, but anti-fragile accepts that life is unpredictable; that in every shock is found a gift. It isn’t about naively embracing a crisis then exploiting the opportunity. No, anti-fragile is an attitude, a mindset, an assent to whatever the world does and a commitment to co-create with it.

Fragile is the shattered pane of glass; resilience the oak; anti-fragile the reed bending in the wind.

COVID-19 can teach us to be anti-fragile.

2 Humanity
People you know may die. Your business may fail or take a serious hit. You might loose your job. Your investments will shrink. You could feel fear, anxiety, dread. None of this is in your control but how you respond to it is.

We’re realising just how connected we are; just how dependent we are on each other; just how much we can influence another human being. If I don’t wash my hands, you might die. I could be your executioner and you might be my father. (He’s over 90, has serious underlying health conditions and I have to decide if or when I’ll next visit him. For now, I’ll phone more and do his online grocery shop.)

The virus shows how linked we are and the links that it exploits can also be the ones we use to understand and care for each other.

COVID-19 can teach us to think beyond ourselves.

3 Creativity
I’m looking at my bookings for the next 3 months. It’s a mix of face to face coaching, training, teaching and e-learning design. Some of it will be cancelled, some rescheduled, some will go ahead.

I’m asking myself, how much of this works if I’m at home, if I can’t travel or if my clients can’t? I sometimes use Zoom and Skype but could I use only Zoom and Skype? Will my clients be at the other end? Will they value that as much as the original plan. I’ll let you know.

If I do find myself with a blank diary and an empty bank account a plan is already in place to create a new offer, a new style of delivering Thinking Classroom. I’ve created a 9-year plan to meet my new goal (enrich the life, work and learning of 10,000,004 people each year).

I might not have much toilet paper, beans or soap, but I’ll have a mission. I’ll have something to create.

COVID-19 can teach us to innovate, to create.


Wicked Scars
The cull of the Black Death eventually lead to urbanisation and the empowerment of the peasant classes. However in the 3rd century smallpox reeked havoc on the Romans by following the same trade routes which had established the empire’s wealth and power.

We don’t yet know what scars COVID-19 will leave on our planet but, as a good friend once taught me, ‘scars tell you where you’ve been they need not dictate where you’re going.’

There will be wicked scars but there are 3 lessons here if we choose to learn. Anti-fragility, humanity, creativity.

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Be Careful What You Measure

Not my legs

You’re making the biggest mistake possible with this, Mike.

So says James, my personal trainer, and he should know: I’ve trusted him with my physical fitness and injury recovery programmes since 2014. Inspired (or egged on) by younger family members, I’ve decided to be able to row 2000m in less than 8 minutes. They can do it in 6 but they’ve a 30 year advantage on me and have much longer legs. James thinks my approach to the challenge is wrong and he’s right.

I’ve been chipping away at my 2k time over the the last few months: 10:10, 10:02, 9:53 (breakthrough, hurrah), 9:30 (encouragement from younger family members), …., and recently 8:51. Then 8:58. Then 9:05. I’ve hit a limit of some kind.

So how are you training for this? asks James. I tell him I’m not, I’m just trying to get faster each time I row 2000m.

You’re not doing anything in between to make yourself a better rower?

I’m not. Mistake. Rookie mistake – which someone whose business is learning should not have made.

It’s so obvious. I’ve been measuring myself against my target and not doing anything to improve. Early gains were me getting used to the test – learning to row – not improving my rowing

James quickly designs a program of interval, cardio and mixed Fartlek training and sends me on my way. He’s good like that. I promise only to measure the 2k weekly.

Of course, driving home I realise the connection to schools. We focus on the test, measuring the outcome, not on measuring the actions that will lead to the outcome.

Lag and Lead Measures
Sean Covey’s 4DX philosophy is an operational-strategic approach to team and organisational success. He says we focus too much on the lag measures – endpoints – things we can’t do anything about once they’ve happened. Like an exam score.

On the other hand there are lead measures. These are different, better and more frequent. Lead scores measure factors that contribute to the goal, before the goal gets measured. Like counting revision sessions and grading them for effectiveness. Or self-monitoring your lessons, grading yourself daily, then using THAT data to spot patterns and improve – instead of obsessing with final pupil scores.

They say you can’t weigh a pig with a ruler. Let me take that further and say if you’re going to try, at least use the ruler to measure how much food it’s eating and how happy it is each day.

And back in school. Don’t obsess about the end point data. Yes it’s important. But more important are the data measuring actions leading up to the goal.

Time for a row. I mean, time to get better at rowing.

Something to think about
What could you measure – quickly, privately and regularly – that would help you improve your performance – and ultimately reach a target?

If you could measure one thing that you currently don’t or can’t what would that be?

What’s the best way to measure a pig?

Resources, training, coaching:
http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk
mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Advice to a Bully

You do realise that 10% of these people will dislike you as soon as you open your mouth, don’t you Mike?

I’m just about to present to 150 senior leaders in education when my co-presenter offers this heartening advice. She’s a psychologist specialising in recruitment. Companies pay her to spot sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours at interview. They argue her fee is far, far less than the price of employing a bully.

Her helplful observation is actually empowering and emancipating. Get over expecting everyone to like you or your message. People see the world in very different ways and that’s OK. My colleague just happens to have put a number on it. It rings true: I have to work a little harder with one in ten, one in twenty people and why would this audience be any different?

Maybe you’d have felt bullied in this situation; a victim of her well-timed passive-aggression designed to destabilise a co-presenter – I was only sharing information with you, I thought you’d be interested!

Maybe she’d have caused her own alarm bells to ring at interview. Who knows her intention. I never asked.

Anyhow the keynote passed off without a hitch and my life carried on. But I’m reminded of this now in early 2020 (Corona Virus, Brexit etc.) as current secretary of state for the home department Priti Patel stands accused of bullying behaviour. Initiated by the departure of senior home office official Sir Philip Rutman, who is suing the UK government for constructive dismissal, the story is playing out around the issue of bullying. Is she a bully or a strong and focussed leader? Are her behaviours appropriate? Misunderstood? Effective? Is this just someone’s hissy fit in response to Patel’s poorly executed ‘difficult conversation’. And would my colleague have nailed her at interview? We won’t know for a while, if ever.

I once set up an anti-bullying program in school. After much research I chose the ‘No Blame’ approach.  Although vilified by punishment-hungry traditionalists, the system worked. It seeks long term solutions by presenting the full impact of the bullying behaviour to the perpetrator – but without blame. For once they are not judged. They have a chance to assimilate the consequences of their actions. The victim gets an equal voice and healing happens. We found most times the bully was themselves a victim, their skewed actions a cry for control and esteem.

But that was children, learning to navigate power. These are adults who should know better. And what is better? I’m not suggesting the No Blame approach for the UK government. I am mooting ‘Radical Candour’ to anyone who finds themselves in a bullying scenario.

Conceived by entrepreneur and CEO coach Kim Scott, this approach to strong leadership is deceptively simple:

1. Care personally

2. Challenge directly

Missing 1. you are abrasive and bullish, without 2. weak, unwilling to speak necessary truths. If both are in deficit there’s toxicity and manipulation.

No, for strong and effective leadership Scott argues we need to say it like it is to a person who we continue to value.

Maybe, way ahead of Scott’s thinking, that’s exactly what my co-presenter was doing all those years ago.

Something to think about

What features of radical candour do you see in yourself, your leaders?

Bully? Bullying behaviour? Sociopathic or sociopath?

What’s the best way to speak truth to power?

How do we teach pupils Radical Candour?

http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Forgotten Gifts

What’s the connection between this:

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water House

And this:

Fröbel’s Gifts (19th Century educational play materials)

You can go here (until 13th April 2020) to find out:

Or read on if you’re not in London before then…

All play means something.
Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens

In 1938 Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga published Homo Ludens in which he argued for the importance of play in society and for its role in generating culture. He gave play 5 characteristics:

  • It is free; freedom.
  • It is not real life.
  • It is distinct from real life by where it happens and for how long.
  • It creates order.
  • It is not connected to any material interest; no profit can be gained.

Huizinga’s thinking made play central to human development and to society’s success. But decades before, Friedrich Fröbel, a German educator, whom we can thank for the word ‘Kindergarten’ – and for a set of eponymous educational toys – firmly and formally embedded play into early childhood experience.

Fröbel’s Gifts

The active and creative, living and life producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active.
Friedrich Fröbel

Fröbel’s 20 gifts are a progression of play materials helping children to understand their environment and their relationships. For example Gift 3 is a cube made from 8 smaller ones designed for the hands of a 2-3 year old who can assemble, destroy and reconfigure the original shape. Under expert facilitation, the child is given opportunities to represent their experience, to make connections, to gain new knowledge and to develop a concept of beauty.

So profound was the effect of the gifts that it directly inspired abstract art, the Bauhaus movement and several modernist architects – all of whom had experienced Fröbel’s materials as young children.

The smooth shapely maple blocks with which to build, the sense of which afterwards never leaves the fingers: so form became feeling.
Frank Lloyd Wright

So there you have the connection. Fröbel’s gifts in part inspired Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural thinking. But where are the gifts now?

I recently visited the Wellcome Trust’s engaging and superbly curated exhibition. From Fröbel to Huizinga to Barbie to Fortnite it tells the story of play and includes some surprisingly forward-thinking historical artifacts – and also some culturally awkward ones.

I left inspired but then reality dawned.

I see superb practice in the ‘Kindergarten’ settings in which I work. I see play and laughter and frustration and resilience and failure and success. I see humanity nurturing humanity with skill and love and intelligence. I see adults playing ‘for’ young children. But then these little bundles of curiosity and furious, furious creativity turn 6, then 7, then 8. They are made to sit and to write and ‘behave’. They are tested on the thinnest sliver of the world’s rich knowledge and judged, labelled, condemned because of it. Play becomes playtime and equates to ‘running around a bit’ and ‘not working’.

When play is designed out of curricula, health is designed out of society.

Something to think about:
How did you play as a child?
How do you play now?
Where is play in the lives of the children that you teach?
What are your gifts to the next generation?

The 3Rs are Dead; Long Live the 4Rs

29th December 2019 was just another Black Friday in Carnaby Street, London. But unlike its neighbours, the Raeburn clothes store was closed. A sign outside read, ‘Buy Nothing Repair Something’. The sign is now a poster inside the shop,

Today we are closed for business and open for creativity. We’ve disabled our online shop and closed our physical stores.

Raeburn’s design lab up the road in Hackney stayed open and offered a free community drop in repair service – of any brand or no brand of clothing.

Why is it that Timberland, The North Face, Disney and many others seek out Raeburn and, more specifically, founder and lead designer Christopher Raeburn? Why do they want to collaborate and co-create? The answer is simple: it’s the company’s integrity; approach to design and because of its care for our precious planet. Christopher says,


I think as a designer you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why; ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices…

Companies want his thinking. They want his why and his how more than his what. He’ll help them remake their own what (their product) into something that’s far, far more than it was before.

The Raeburn philosophy comprises 4Rs – the first eponymous, the rest world changing and we’ll look at them here in turn:

Raemade, Raeduced, Raecycled garments

RÆMADE

There’s a great deal of excess military clothing and equipment out there – unused, unusable or unsafe – and Christopher Raeburn hunts it down with archaeological rigour. It’s then taken apart and rebuilt.

Imagine a bomber jacket that was once a fighter plane’s parachute air-brake; a silk dress cut from a cold war battlefield map or a jacket that used to sit poised and packed as a Chinese air force parachute.

It’s all about value, about thinking in lifetimes not days. Each garment is numbered so you know you’ve bought one of a small run. You also know Raeburn will repair it free of charge forever, and when it’s beyond repair will remake it again: jacket to cushion to handkerchief to wallet is a wholly probable evolution over decades. Put simply, less clothes, lasting longer.

The principle: seek out the surplus, find the excess, bring it out of storage and make it into something new (but with a design nod to its heritage, its provenance).

An air-brake, RÆMADE
Cold War silk maps. Archived, stored, found, RÆMADE

RÆDUCED

RÆDUCED products come from new natural fibres; generally (GOTS Certified) Organic Cotton items, but also wool and silk. The RÆDUCED ethos looks at decreasing impact through addressing CO2/water/transport issues.

New, digitally printed silk (from Moving to Mars)

The principle: think long term across a product’s whole lifetime – its birth, life, journey, changes and death – and only then judge its value and its cost. And ask, just how many clothes do I actually need?

RAECYCLED

If it can be used again, use it again. Wool can be respun, cotton can be respun. Plastic can be gathered and reformed. Raeburn sell a cashmere sweater. Not quite 100% – a mix of Tencel (from wood pulp), Polyamide (reused plastic) and reclaimed cashmere. They argue, why use new when used can be reused?

The principle: Why is it sitting there in landfill? What can it become instead and how can this transformation best happen?

Raeburn brand thinking is inspiring, necessary, and scalable. Its transformative and transferable. That’s why, from this learning designer’s perspective it is so compelling.

In an educational environment veering dangerously close to a retro and reductive 3Rs ethos, we desperately need this kind of 4R thinking.

The Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic will take care of themselves – these skills are functional, foundational and easily acquired through systematic proven programmes – which will become ever more effective once we fully commit to and trust machine learning and artificially intelligent products.

But currently that’s all we seem to do – drill the basics – especially in primary schools. Children loose their childhood, their play, their chances to create. Design has been designed out of the curriculum; the future hobbled by a mis-remembered ‘golden’ past and troubled by an overloaded, anxious present. We must design and produce a transformation of learning through principles like Raeburn’s Rs.

Something to think about:

In your day to day teaching, what can be remade, reduced, recycled – practically as in actual materials and objects, or pedagogically as in ways of teaching and learning?

What are your 4 principles of teaching and/or learning?

Thanks to Jake and Marina for talking me through the brand ethos.

I’ll be creating a series of resources this year linked to ethical design and principles like Raeburn’s. Look out on the website and in the monthly mailing.

http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Contact Raeburn direct for lab tours and workshops.

https://www.raeburndesign.co.uk/events/?catId=workshops

A Better Accountability for Schools

The Window

Wednesday. 12:01pm. A collective sigh of relief from headteachers across the land. Ofsted won’t be coming this week. If you’re currently in ‘the window’ you’ll know all about this weekly crescendo and crash. It’s a bit like a very slow, ominous wave, creeping up the shore (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday), breaking all over you (Wednesday) – cold and full of seaweed – then sliding back down the beach (rest of Wednesday-Sunday), ready for another go. Ridiculous. Pointless. Inefficient.

Here’s a proposal for a better system for the national accountability of schools. It has three parts:

  1. An MOT
  2. Jury Service
  3. Economics

 

1. MOT

CARThe MOT is an annual assessment of vehicle safety and road-worthiness. Introduced in 1960 by Minister for transport Ernest Marples, it checks 21 features including tyres, brakes and the ever useful horn. If you own a car, you know the test is coming, you know you’ll pass or fail it and you know exactly what to do to prepare (make sure your washer fluid is topped up, for example).

I propose a school MOT, once a year, to check that the basics are in place. It costs around £58 and is administered by a friendly, if untalkative, team of eduneers (educational engineers) who drive about in a van stopping off wherever an MOT has been booked. (This model is preferred over taking your school to the test center).

Features tested would be inspired by the actual MOT but relate directly to the quality of educational provision, for example, steering, (i.e. leadership),

2.1.1. Steering gear condition
To check the condition of the steering gear:

Turn the steering from lock to lock and observe the operation of the steering gear.

becomes,

2.1.1. Leadership gear condition
To check the condition of the leadership gear:

Ask senior leaders how they successfully direct the school and accept 2 pieces of illustrative evidence.

2. Jury Service

GavelPeople between 18 and 70 years of age have a civic duty to serve on a jury if called to do so. Roughly 35% of citizens are invited to take part, so there’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll get asked. Jury members (usually 12) check facts impartially. They are not experts in law – that’s the judge’s role – but they do provide a commonplace view of a legal scenario. They bring reality to bear on an abstract system, they pursue truth based on their life experience and in doing so make our legal system practical and authentic instead of abstract and out of touch.

You know where I’m going with this don’t you. Teachers inspecting teachers (like Challenge Partners already do).

I propose that part of progress to UPS includes an increasing requirement on experienced teachers to inspect, advise and hold to account their colleagues. I’d much prefer tough empathy than uninformed punitive condemnation. Teachers know what it’s like to struggle with pupil behaviour, to wrestle with competing demands and to shoulder target-driven workloads. At UPS, a teacher-inspector wouldn’t accept excuses but they would fully understand reasons.

3. Economics

HandIn 1776, Scottish Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In this definitive work he introduced The Invisible Hand, an economic concept suggesting that a free market will organise itself without the intervention of government.

He argued that individuals pursuing self interest, in a market where they are free to produce and consume, will cause a natural flow of prices and trade. The market moves as if directed by an invisible hand – which is actually the emergent behaviour of millions of individual decisions about what to buy or sell and millions of judgements about what has value.

I propose that schools should be left alone (apart from an annual MOT and UPS jury service inspections) to get on with the business of teaching and learning. The invisible educational hand will soon get to work. It’ll emerge from the children, their parents, the local community, the media and even the teachers in school and in nearby ones. If a school is failing its pupils, it’ll loose value and pupils will go. If a school is succeeding, it’ll gain value and pupils will arrive. And (heavens above) if we actually attached funding to number of pupils, the invisible hand could really get to work.

You might say this last idea is in play now. That educational capitalism is a travesty which undermines authentic learning and values-driven teaching. Maybe so. But to really see what cards the invisible educational hand will play, we must first remove the very visible and unnatural foot of Ofsted. Mr Gove unleashed market forces into education, but they are not yet free to become fully efficient.

There you have it. My proposal for a better way to hold schools to account for their pupils’ futures (remember, most children in school today will be alive in the 22nd century):

  • An annual basics check (MOT)
  • An expert self-inspection (Jury Service)
  • Market forces (the educational invisible hand)

After all, does anyone loose sleep over an MOT; worry unduly about someone who knows their profession, helping them out; or complain excessively when the price of apples goes up a bit?

Something to Think About

Is there actually any research to show that inspection systems like Ofsted’s help raise progress and achievement? (I’ve not found any yet)

How would you best hold schools and teachers to account?

What is the most effective way to help a teacher become even more effective?

mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Becoming a Mediator

Conflict 1

Becoming a Mediator

I’m involved in a workplace disagreement today. My partner (business and life), Lucy (above, top, bearing down), wants my input on finance and marketing jobs; I’d planned to write resources. We’re not on task because we’ve got the extra job of arguing. Five minutes of sulking (me); justification (her); and a coffee in the kitchen fixed it. After 20 years of occasional working from home we’re good at the swift resolution of minor misunderstandings.

But I’m not making light of the serious stuff; the scenarios where interpersonal conflict undermines confidence and diminishes productivity. These are workplace ‘disagreements’ that really hurt and cause lasting harm. Professional relationships sour into manipulation, harassment and bullying where one human being willfully (or even accidentally) damages another. It might be a difference of opinion, banter gone too far, unhealthy competition or even sexual and physical abuse. All are commonplace; none need go unacknowledged or unresolved.

As a coach I see a lot of this second hand. 90% of my coaching work includes  ‘people issues’. My clients are either involved or trying to sort things out, and are often wholly unprepared to do so.  As well as this, coachees sometimes have internal conflict, battling with themselves, beating themselves up or judging themselves against some irrelevant personal criteria. You could say they have a longstanding workplace grievance against themselves. I can work with that, it’s my job, but I can’t reach beyond and into their workplace unless invited to do so.

So I’ve decided to invite myself, by training as a mediator. I’ve decided it’s a natural and necessary development of my professional offer and my training starts in March. I’ll share the journey with you here and I hope it helps you in some way too. You can even join me on the training if you like – details here

Starting Points

Conflict is a fact of life in the modern workplace; against a backdrop of tumultuous political and economic change and highly pressurised work environment.
Managing conflict in the modern workplace, CIPD 2020

CIPD Workplace Report
If you want to know the scale of the challenge – and what to do about it – start here. This report from CIPD describes the good, the bad and the ugly of the contemporary workplace. One finding (from over 1000 respondents) suggests that, “people managers are at the forefront of identifying and managing conflict, as well as often being a cause of it.” Conflict arises from differences in personality and working styles and the most common associated behaviour is lack of respect.

The potential impact is stark:

Our findings show how devastating the negative effects of conflict can be on people. Stress, a drop in motivation or commitment, anxiety and a loss of self confidence are the most common effects on people, but some individuals say the impact is felt for years, and their confidence will never be the same again.

However there’s good news, which is part of the compelling attraction of mediation,

Respondents to our employer survey are significantly more likely to report a number of tangible outcomes in their ability to handle conflict where they have invested in people management skills training for their managers. 

Learning to Mediate

Obviously nothing replaces actually doing it under the guidance of experienced trainers, but I’ve found The Mediator’s Handbook an inspiring and practical read. It’s a ‘what/how’ book rather than a ‘why’ one, covering the principles and practice of successful mediation. I think I’ll leave it laying around next time I’m working from home.

Mediators Handbook

Something to Think About

  • What kind of situations cause workplace conflict?
  • What’s your experience of conflict or grievance?
  • What, exactly, is conflict?
  • Is one person’s conflict another’s lively debate or bonding chat?

Website: www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Contact: mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Ofsted says learning is…

fredy-jacob-764477-unsplash…a change in long-term memory. Other definitions are available but let’s explore Ofsted’s, starting with three questions I ask children in class and finishing with advice and a powerful memory technique.

Try asking children these questions:

  1. When you’ve finished, what will be different?
  2. How will you make sure that you always know this?
  3. Why can you do this?

The first question has three kinds of answer:

  1. A wild stare; a furious mental scrabble for the correct thing to say.
  2. A shrug.
  3. A clear articulation of what’s being learned, usually with reference to success criteria stuck in an exercise book or displayed on a whiteboard.

The occasional child will say, ‘I’ll be at play time’ or, ‘having lunch’.

The question is powerful because it’s vague and ambiguous: Finished what? – this work? today? school? this question, word, line?

Different? – for me? in my book? in my head? in my life?

Each child brings their own meaning to the answer which is why it’s valuable to us. They reveal what they think is happening and what finishing it means to them. They have to think for themselves, about their learning, and about how things will change while learning is happening. They can’t look to the teacher for help and there is no ‘right’ answer.

Once a child can describe what will be different; what is being learned, then I’ll ask the second question: ‘How will you make sure you’ll always know this/always be able to do this?’

It stumps most children. ‘Write it down again.’ they say, or ‘do it another time.’

And the final question really hurts. It requires a child to reflect and connect. ‘Why can you do this?’ Some say, ‘because I work hard’, or ‘because my teacher helps me’. It’s rare for a child to refer back to previous learning as a foundation for current success.

I’m hoping Ofsted will take a broad, deep and authentic view of what a change in long-term memory actually means, and that its inspectors will value curricula that include lessons on memory skills and thinking skills. If not then it’s missed its own point.

A change in long-term memory is more than knowing the capital city of Iceland because it was drilled in to you 3 months ago. A change in long-term memory means that you can drive a car without referring to an instruction manual every time you sit in the driver’s seat. It means you can remember what to do, how to do it, and actually do it in different contexts (that’s called lateral progression).

So may I offer you three ways to develop long-term memory (Ofsted-defined learning):

  1. Design learning around the Curve of Forgetting.
  2. Ask pupils the three questions.
  3. Teach memory skills.

And here’s a premium Thinking Classroom tool based on an ancient memory technique:

Memory Theatre Thinking Tool

Thinking Classroom

New Ofsted in 10 Bullet Points

sec cameraDo you remember at school when you were getting on with group work and the teacher was roaming around the classroom, having a look, giving a nudge here and there? (we call it assessment in the moment now).

And do you remember that when she came within earshot of your table, you and your friends would seamlessly switch your conversation on to what it was supposed to be about. It was a psychic, unspoken and effortlessly coordinated move between you all which sadly involved raising your voices a little too much; speaking a bit too clearly (so she could hear you) and sadly, James looking right at her as the final giveaway that you hadn’t really been on task.

But never mind, your teacher had done exactly the same thing when she was at school.  And you still do it now in hands-on, experiential training sessions.

It’s one of the great complicities of education (and quantum physics): the observer affects the system (like those cameras in the picture). We all know it but we don’t talk about it. It’s like Ofsted. We are the tables chatting about the whole child; they are the teacher, expecting us to be discussing data. When they enter our orbit, we shift our focus. At least we did. At least they did. Hopefully, from September, we’ll all be on the same page.

I’ve read the final, sorry, proposed new inspection framework and it makes good sense. Not too sure about paragraph 227 but all in all, if those using it genuinely understand its intent, I’m sure their implementation of an inspection will have huge positive impact on teacher well-being and children’s future success.

Disclaimer: I am not Ofsted trained. I just pick up the pieces after they leave or help schools enact their recommendations or support the interpretations of their findings.

However, for what it’s worth, here is a 10-point summary of what you need to do when they roam your way:

1.      Know your subjects

2.      Have and articulate a whole-school ‘shared why’

3.      Stay legal

4.      Be able to justify choices and rationale

5.      Know your curriculum end points

6.      Sequence learning well

7.      Be flexible and design for pupil need and context

8.      Ensure the basics are really, really embedded

9.      Emphasise authentic long-term memory

10.   Show impact

I genuinely would like to hear from any inspectors using the new framework to see if and how they might adapt this.

Oh, and on another note:

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www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

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Active Learning and The First Kiss

omar-lopez-716653-unsplashFirst memory? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember where you were; what happened; how it felt. Or at least you remember remembering.

First lecture? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember where you were; what it was about; the lecturer’s clothes. Really?

First film you ever saw at the cinema? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember the cinema, the film, the story?

First day of school…first this first that first other. What do we learn from firsts? And what have they got to do with Active Learning?

Our firsts, our lasts and our interesting-in-betweens are memorable because they are different; they involve a significant change. A first is a change from not having/being/doing to having/being/doing. When you start something there’s a change, a difference; when you end it there’s another change; something weird in the middle is a change as well. Change is difference; difference is noticeable; noticeable is engaging; and if you are engaged you are active. Firsts, lasts and interesting get your brain involved.

Active means involved – like you were with your first kiss. You noticed that, right? Remembered it? Learned it. Replayed it.

In formal learning, you’re active when you have control, ownership, when you can affect things. Sitting and listening to someone else’s choice of topic delivered in someone else’s style is not active. You make it active by acting: by walking out to go and find your own curriculum presented in a way that suits you more.

Passive is great for the teacher. Bad for the student.

Going active with learning is a risk. You have to trust your students to act well; act in their best interests; act for their learning’s sake. Much easier to control them than share the ownership.

Why don’t we do active learning? Top 3 answers:

  1. We don’t know what it is and why it’s better than what we do now.
  2. We’re scared we won’t cover the curriculum.
  3. We don’t trust our students to share ownership of the learning with us.

And the top 3 reasons why we should do active learning:

  1. Students deserve it – their future demands it of them.
  2. Research justifies it.
  3. It’s more satisfying for everyone.

And finally, 3 ways to do active learning:

  1. Ask students about really effective lessons (and do more).
  2. Ask students to prove to you that they’ve learned. Challenge them. Push them.
  3. Make students accountable for their success. It’s up to them, not you.
  4. Embed the unexpected and the surprising. Plan in firsts, lasts and interestings.