Category Archives: Teaching

Do You Let Your Pupils Doodle?


Doodle by Mike Fleetham during briefing about new Ofsted inspection framework. October 2018

The Guardians of Doodle

The 24th September 2011 was an important day for doodlers but it may have passed you by. That is, unless you happened to be reading volume 378, issue 9797 of The Lancet, in which an article by G D Schott mentioned that,

Those in the “doodling” group performed better on the auditory monitoring task, and on a subsequent memory test.

G D Schott (thanks by the way, I doodle a lot) was referring to work by another doodle guardian, Jackie Andrade, whose original article puts a figure on this doodle-benefit,

The doodling group performed better … and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.

****Popular press bad science alert warning watch out think first message****

This is one piece of research on a very small group of humans which concluded that for some of them, in a staged experiment, recall might be better by 29%. On this basis, DON’T yet put doodling on your curriculum; DON’T buy everyone in school a doodle pad, doodle pens and DON’T by any means write an Ofsted-ready Doodle policy. Can you image what the margins of that one might look like?

Doodle Research

However, DO think about your own experience of doodling; DO consider its possible benefits for your pupils, how you might include it in lessons and DO plan a small piece of class-based research that might help you to explore the idea a bit more.

Or to get started, maybe you’d like to try this:

As a teacher or leader, it’s likely you’ll be going on a course before too long. Might even be one of mine. If you are, try out a bit of doodling during the input. Maybe you’d do this anyway but if not, have a go. Circles, squares, squiggles, blocks, loops, patterns, people – whatever flows out of your pen. Then, during first coffee, whip out your doodle and see if it triggers memories about the session content. If you’ve been allowed out in a pair (rarer these days) do this with your buddy. If not, try it with a stranger. Your opening line (and safeguard if you’re called to task by the course leader for not paying attention) might be,

Andrade, from 2009 proposes that doodling might stabilise arousal at an optimal level -keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom – and also, more particularly, that doodling might aid concentration by reducing day dreaming. That’s why I appeared not to be listening. Do you like my tessellation? Learn this by heart.

Do let me know how you get on. That doodle of mine at the top of this post is an interesting one. When I look back at it, I can recall the room I was in, who I sat with, what the presenter was like – even a few words from the PowerPoint – and a melancholic irony framed by my imagined words, ‘here we go again.’

December 2018 – New resources for Visual teaching and learning at





Why British Values Are Not Enough


4 British Values

‘Necessary but not sufficient’: something I learned from my A-Level Maths teacher, the wise, modest and rigorous Mr Rooke. We were learning to prove things. With Maths. And to do this, certain conditions had to be met. They were needed – essential – but on their own were not enough. Other things were required – sufficient things to prove the theorem.

In order to write it’s necessary to have something to write with but that’s not sufficient. You also need something to write about and something to write on. For a car to move it’s essential to have fuel but not sufficient. You need a driver (or an AI) and somewhere to go. The minimum number of necessaries defines the sufficient.

Likewise, these British Values are necessary,

  • democracy,
  • the rule of law,
  • individual liberty, and
  • mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and

but not sufficient for a successful, future-focused, 21st Century economy.

Not a Critique

I’m not going to use this space to critique statutory requirements imposed without consultation.

Nor will I point to the irony that this imposition is undemocratic. I won’t dwell on the difficulty in actually defining ‘a value’ (is it a belief? or a quality? neither? both? something else?) never mind the challenge of any two people agreeing about what a specific value might mean in practice. No, this is not the place for that.

Or the internal contradictions: does individual liberty extend to rejecting British Values? Does mutual respect and tolerance welcome people living by a different rule of law? And is a rule of law actually a value, or simply a rule. Of law?

That’s for another time, another article.

I’ll suggest an alternative, or maybe an augmentation, or even an improvement.

6 Virtues

Positive Education proposes 6 virtues comprising 24 character strengths:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Transcendence
  • Justice
  • Moderation


It’s a fruit of the Positive Psychology movement founded by  Martin Seligman. For Seligman psychology, and its associated interventions, is not about deficit (I’m broke – please fix me with therapies and self-improvement). Rather, it treats each individual as a wonderful mix of  strengths which can be ranked and applied to their challenges. It’s not about whether you are strong or weak. It’s about discovering the different ways in which you are already strong and using this knowledge to grow.

Positive Global British Values

British Values read like restorative announcements. The virtues present as aspirations brimming with possibility.

But one can contain the other: it’s straightforward to map values onto virtues. For example, the virtue of Humanity includes kindness; Justice has fairness; and Moderation cites self-control and forgiveness.

kindness + justice + fairness + self-control + forgiveness = law, liberty, tolerance, respect and democracy.

The British Values are necessary but they are not sufficient for this (or any) country to successfully navigate the 21st and 22nd centuries. The world is changing fast: shifting political landscapes; the rise of AI in law, healthcare, weapons, coaching and more; environmental challenges; new skills for work and the need for enhanced ethical thinking. Being tolerant is not enough.

We need values which give us purpose in an unknown world; virtues that inspire us to be more; and character strengths that empower us to do more.  We need British Values and we need Positive Global Values too.

If you want to hear more about Positive Education in practice listen to this podcast where I talk to Amanda Burnell who has embedded the approach into her London school. I’m sure you’ll want to know your range of character strengths – try this free survey. And find out more about Positive psychology at the positivepsychologyprogram.

(Photo by Ethan Kent on Unsplash
Ethan and many others on Unsplash provide free, high quality photos for personal and commercial use. What virtues and character strengths do you think are present in this kind of transaction?)

Where to Speak 600,000 Words

bus inside

Which part of a bus is the most important? The engine? The driver? Wheels, brakes, fog lights? The passengers? No. It’s the Literacy Alcove.  The Literacy Alcove is usually towards the center, or at the front on the left. It normally has fold-down seats, is often filled with push chairs, babies, toddlers and their mums.  The buggy-baby-toddler-mum area. Where wheelchair users go too.

I propose that it’s here where a nation’s future is forged; where economic success is made or broken and where personal fulfillment begins.

Bold claims for a bit of a bus. Let me explain why:

I travel a lot. I choose public transport when I can, walk if it’s sunny and fly if I have to. I use buses a great deal. I see what goes on in the Literacy Alcove. Things like this: a mum and her baby boy get on. The baby is about 11 months old and strapped in a pushchair. He is big-eyed and alert. This is a bus for goodness sake; what’s not to get excited about. He’s looking around making eye contact with passengers, taking in the sounds, the colours, shapes, smells; seeking out something to connect with, something to learn, to do, to grasp. His brain must be crackling with electricity. He is full on ready to learn.

Mum parks the buggy so she can see him. She smiles, he smiles back. I’m anticipating a beautiful moment filled with the to and fro of a proto-conversation. Then mum takes out her phone, turns away and spends the rest of the journey on Facebook. Baby looks around for a while then zones out.

Sometimes you don’t see the first bit. The part where the buggy and its child get to face the mum. Once in a while the baby gets the phone and the mum pulls out another, bigger one. If you’re lucky (like I was this morning) nan gets on. She has her grandson for the day and there are no phones. I saw nan entertain baby for 20 minutes with a single bus ticket. She gave it to him and he scrunched it up, she straightened it out, then he examined it, licked it, flapped it, dropped it and waggled it. Then nan rolled it into a ball and played guess where it is. All the while talking to him and asking questions. Inspiring use of the Literacy Alcove.

More inspiring would be a bus company (First Bus, Arriva, whoever) that put poems and rhymes and songs there – instead of  serious lists of imperatives about buggies, wheelchairs and travel-based behavioral priorities. There could be books on strings, jolly cartoon characters talking and reading, big magnetic letters, textures, bells. A giant sensory alcove. Anything! Anything to get mums talking to their children. Lists of questions. Jokes. Funny pictures. Half finished sentences. Just something to start a conversation.

Some kids aren’t born with a silver spoon. Or any cutlery for that matter. They are poor in experience, opportunity and outlook (but not potential). They start school very much behind and many never catch up. One cause is scarcity of language in their first years. Some children start school with a 3000-story deficit and even the most effective teachers struggle to compensate.

We can fix this in the Literacy Alcove. Imagine a 20 minute journey taken 5 times a week for 40 weeks of the year. If mum speaks to baby for half that time at 100 words per minute, that’s 200,000 extra words a year. 600,000 more before they go to school. And that’s just in the bus.

First Bus, Arriva: free rides for mums who have a conversation with their child. The driver can check in her mirror. A fiver every time they sing a song to their baby. Vouchers for asking questions, pointing out interesting things. Rewards for language.

We can do the sums but I guarantee the cost of not doing this is more than fitting out every bus with a couple of posters and a book on a string.

Photo by Matteo Bernardis on Unsplash

Why You Must Lose Control of Your Class


You’ve Been There, Right?

Teachers – here are three classroom experiences that I truly hope you’ve had:

  1. The absolute-rock-bottom-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-toolkit-horror of being in front of a class as control slowly and surely slips from your fingers.
  2. The absolute ecstatic joy of finding the class fully engaged with the task you set them when you return from a 10-minute trip to the photocopier.
  3. The heartwarming, yet sometimes funny feeling of being called ‘mum’, ‘dad’, or even ‘nan’ by one of your pupils. Or all of them.

And why do I wish this (and other similar feelings) upon you? Because they’ll help us to think about effective learning relationships.

Horror, Joy & Humour

You really know the value of classroom relationships when they fall apart (see 1. above). I once had a Year 4 class. Tough kids; poor, wily, wiry, streetwise, emotionally honest and very big-hearted. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t spend time getting to know them – really getting to know them – as individuals or as a group.  The pressure was on for results; the focus on delivering content not developing connections. And so they slipped through my fingers. I tried valiantly to teach them how to spell instead of first teaching them how to care.

With my other classes I did take the time (see 2. above). Trust was there; mutual respect too, and a clear understanding of boundaries. We could do more and achieve more. When I left the room the children kept learning; they stayed on task. And from time to time they would make the slip of calling me ‘mum’. (I did once dress up as Widow Twanky for panto day but that is another story. With photos.)

Take the Time

Quality learning relationships underpin quality teaching and learning. But building them takes time – time which gets pinched by packed curricula and a relentless drive for publicly endorsed results. What if we took the time to get to know our pupils and helped them get to know each other? Do you think time invested like this would actually lead to more effective learning and better results? I believe it does. I know it does. It’s implicit in respected educational research. Relationships built well, build better learning. So how, with the future in our hands, should we develop quality learning relationships with, and between, our pupils; and with/between our colleagues?

Quality Relationships

An ongoing process for starting, developing and sustaining relationships:

  1. Get to know yourself;
  2. Get to know the other person;
  3. Communicate well; and
  4. Troubleshoot when needed.

And some suggestions for getting started:

  1. Know yourself. List three words that describe you; three things you like and three things you’ve learned in the last week.
  2. Know the other person. Find out three words that describe them; three things they like and three things they’ve learned in the last week.
  3. Communicate well. Share the above. Listen. Only think about what you are going to say next once the other person has finished speaking.
  4. Troubleshoot. When relationships break down it’s usually trust or communication in the spotlight. If things go wrong, seek help, own up, be honest, forgive, apologise, move on, learn.

So next time you feel rock-bottom-horror; ecstatic joy; heartwarming humour or any other feeling that’s linked to your educational relationships, ask yourself: What is this telling me about the quality of those relationships? How effective are they? What might I need to stop doing, start doing or simply continue doing to make them the best they can be?

(Thanks –  Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

Three Essential Teaching Questions

white cruise ship on the sea


Who Taught You?

I am in the middle of Portsmouth Habour in a 4.2 metre Laser Class dingy. A 128 metre, 6000 tonne ferry is heading towards me. It sounds five short blasts on its horn. This means danger or doubt – I don’t understand your intent. I can sense the captain pulling a cord or pressing a button with her big thumb. Each pull or push (or whatever she’s doing up there on the bridge) is just long enough and hard enough to communicate total and utter incredulity that I am in her way.

Then I hear my Navy instructor shout, ‘Who the f**k taught you to sail?’ I decide not to reply with, ‘You did mate,’  because I’m actually very scared. Then he shouts at me again, helpfully, with information detailing how I might avoid a collision. I survive and the ferry is un-dented; though I sense it rolling its eyes and shaking its head in disbelief as it heads off to dock.

Several weeks later I’m out on the water again this time in the Lake District. Wind conditions exceed my skill and experience. A gust takes hold of the hired boat and it begins to flip. I’m scared. But then, without a thought, I somehow follow the same Navy advice and get back in control. I survive one more time.

Learning with Fear

I’ve not served in the military but the Navy Sailing school in Portsmouth, UK taught me to sail small dinghies. And it taught me well. The instructors did a superb job using a teaching style that combined fear, ridicule and humour. It worked (see above). What I learned when I was frightened was triggered again by fear.

What is your first memory? Getting lost? Being found? Love? Pain? A colour? A smell? Chances are it’s linked with a very strong emotion like fear.  Emotion triggers memory. Memory is learning. So why don’t we see emotions referenced on lesson plans?:

  • Use humour to develop a practical understanding of fronted adverbials;
  • Cultivate the absolute horror of a grade U to motivate your revision this week;
  • Expand vocabulary through an ethos of ironic melancholy.

If only effective teaching were this simple.

What is Effective Teaching?

I want to ask this question and keep asking it. In fact I’m going to ask it twelve times this year; once a month until July 2019. I absolutely guarantee that I won’t find a definitive answer by then. It’s a wicked problem anyway: the only way to approach it is to poke it and see what happens. But the process of trying to find an answer is where the learning value is found.

So far I’ve come up with eight features that might, in some small way, possibly, start to hint at the likelihood of a proposed draft answer to the question. Maybe.  I’ll talk about the first one next time. I’ve also been looking at the diverse views and research of other people – educators, academics and people I meet at BBQs.

Three Questions

So why bother investigating effective teaching at all? For me, it’s down to three questions. I can’t think of three more relevant ones for educators. Here they are:

1. What do your pupils need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors?
2. Which teaching practices work best?
3. How can we learn to use 2. to provide 1.?

1. gets very messy. Politicians, business leaders, parents, teachers, futurologists, journalists and historians each have a different take on it. Quite often they debate it loudly and we don’t get anywhere new. 2, we can do something about so why not make a start:

What, for you, is the most important feature of effective teaching?