Classroom Strategies for Growth Mindset, Pocketbooks and Dragons at the #NPATConf

Today, I spent 7 hours in a hotel room with 152 other teachers from the Northampton Primary Academy Trust at our annual conference, learning more about Growth Mindset with Mike Gershon, co-author of the widely popular Growth Mindset Pocketbook and highly renowned for his work around Growth Mindset in schools.

In teaching, things can often be discovered and celebrated; lauded as the next ‘thing that makes a difference’ in education. Then they get adopted into practice (or not), criticised, occasionally dismissed and gradually find their way either woven into the fabric of school life or cast aside for ‘the next thing’. Growth Mindset as a concept has now become so popular in schools that it has hit that point where it has started to attract a small minority of critics and those who are keen to find satisfaction in categorising the approaches as ‘trendy’.

In defence of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck’s research and work spans over 35 years (I’m sure she certainly wouldn’t describe it as new or revolutionary) and underpins much of the work that many schools have been doing in recent years, particularly around feedback and assessment for learning. Lots of the good stuff that works from our educational heroes such as Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and Ron Berger is either built on Dweck’s research or links very closely to it.

The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer...
The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer…

Books and resources which package Carol Dweck’s work for teachers are now a-plenty and the internet is awash with ‘Growth Mindset’ quotes and images from a wide range of individuals such as Henry Ford, Gandhi, Michael Jordan and Yoda for enthusiastic types (including me) to post, like and retweet in various online networks. Amidst this backdrop, the staff and school leaders across our trust are convinced of the importance that Growth Mindset can bring to schools and have put this at the heart of our curriculum development plan for the next 3 years. Today was a great opportunity for us all to hear it from a real expert and I had the pleasure of spending the day as pupil, taking on board the messages that Mike Gershon delivered expertly to us.

What Mike did today was both clever and useful. He gave us all a comprehensive introduction to both the Science and Research around Growth Mindset which was informative and thought-provoking, even for those amongst the audience who have done all the pre-reading. He also did what we often cry out for within training in schools, made it simple and gave us practical approaches and strategies to take away and use which were in the following six areas:

  1.  Trial & Error
  2. Targeted Effort
  3. Feedback
  4. Metacognition
  5. Language
  6. Embracing Challenge

Throughout the day, we worked through a range of different strategies to use in the classroom which related to each of the above six categories. Some were new but many were those which staff were familiar with – the learning here was less about revolutionary new practice and more about how they all linked together within the context of Growth Mindset and related areas of pedagogy such as feedback, challenge and pupil talk.

We also enjoyed wrestling with the biggest question of the day, would you rather ‘own’ a dragon or ‘be’ a dragon, given the choice?  This was posed by one of the Weston Favell staff – I think it’s what comes from working in an outstanding school!

Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf
Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf

Some key messages for us to take away? Here are mine:

  •  Avoid trait-based feedback and celebrating outcomes – instead celebrate the processes and application that led to success.
  • Diminish the cost of failure in school (both for staff and students) through a range of activities that encourage trial and error or ‘trial and improvement’. Speed debating was one which we enjoyed today.
  • Work hard at getting feedback right across school.
  • Create a common ‘Growth Mindset’ language which is shared and used throughout the school community – work with parents to share this work and engage them as much as you can.
  • Work harder at getting feedback right across school.
  • Develop scripts for reframing fixed mindset language that you hear in the classroom. e.g. ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’.
  • Growth Mindset storytelling – providing examples, models and drawing on children’s own ‘Growth Mindset’ stories as reference points for staff and children.
  • Work even harder at feedback.
  • Never give out grades or levels alongside feedback if you want anyone to listen or act on the feedback!

One that I want to unpick further is about ‘targeted effort’ which is the beautifully simple premise that ‘If we focus our attention on improving something specific, we’ll get better in that area’. I’m conscious of the amount of different feedback and targets that we provide children with and wonder whether this helps provide clarity or confusion on their next steps.   We’ll look at this one a bit closer in the next few weeks at school.

A thought provoking and enjoyable day but I still  can’t draw… YET.

TR

 

 

Computers Do Not Improve Pupils’ Results – and what the OECD report actually said…

This post was originally published in the September edition of #TheFeedUK, a monthly online publication of blogs and stories about technology in education from schools.

And so another school year is underway, bringing an autumnal mix of both fresh and well-trodden challenges to schools.   Assessment. Curriculum. Technology. Behaviour. OFSTED. Safeguarding – just a few of the many challenges that will be occupying the thoughts of teachers and school leaders this September.   Another week, another headline around the use of technology in schools, this time not calling for more industry-ready skills or computing in the classroom, but announcing that ‘Computers do not improve Pupil Results’ – a loose interpretation of the recent OECD report, ‘Students, Computers and Learning’ which is well worth a read in its entirety at http://www.oecd.org/publications/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm

Well no, on their own and without the right approach, they don’t. And neither do pencils, uniforms, books, assemblies, paintbrushes, letters home, furniture and other vital threads of a school’s rich tapestry. Technology as a tool for learning, is only as effective as the quality of teaching that accompanies it (I’ve been banging this drum for a while now). So before we all gather up the devices and ask the digital leaders to list them on eBay to raise funds for textbooks or Latin teachers, it’s worth digging behind the headline a little further to understand the real messages.

WHAT DOES THE REPORT ACTUALLY SAY?

In short, the report highlights that education systems that have invested heavily in technology, have not yet seen a noticeable improvement in academic attainment as a result.  Whilst this may provide a concern for some, these findings are consistent with previous research such as that by the Sutton Trust and John Hattie which indicate only a ‘moderate effect size’ where technology is used. This comes as no surprise to those of us who see schools grappling with the implementation of technology in the classroom, still searching for the right route in this still relatively new labyrinth.

OECD findings were no surprise and reflected several other reports and research projects...
OECD findings were no surprise and reflected several other reports and projects…

A key message from the report is that teaching approaches (not devices and software) must change to make effective use of technology. I believe this is essential, but not just for the sake of leveraging the potential of technology; traditional instruction remains the default pedagogy in classes across the world and this is another indicator of how many miles there are still to tread on the march to develop more widespread contemporary practice in order to develop a generation of learners, fit for the modern world. As Andreas Schleicher (OECD Education Diectoriate and author of the report) says:   ‘We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Changing practice is the crux of the issue; for a variety of reasons, there still remains the misconception that the ‘magic bullet’ of technology can be dropped into a school and will solve problems and raise standards. The 2013 paper ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’ (Fullan & Langworthy) cuts eloquently to the heart of this issue:

“In much of the language and thinking on technology in education, there has been a quest for a “holy grail” that would transform education through technology. By now, it is clear that no holy grail exists; rather, technologies used to enable and accelerate specific processes can dramatically improve learning, but its impact depends on how it is used.”

HELP OR HINDRANCE?

In a sense, it’s reports (and headlines) like this that contribute to the slow evolution of schools and education systems by awarding success or failure on the basis of the PISA tests and their narrow academic focus. Never has the case for developing a wider set of skills and competencies been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all joining the clamour for 21st Century skills, competencies or habits to be the focus of children’s education. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning); the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools and the OECD’s own paper, ‘The Case for 21st Century Learning’ (authored by Andreas Schleicher), all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the academic ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But still governments and the world’s media dances to the tune of achievement in the 3Rs. This too, must change if the world is to move beyond rhetoric.

21CLD is a great resource which we are using across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust to develop key competencies including an academic focus.
21CLD is a great resource which we are using across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust to develop key competencies including an academic focus.

Helpfully though, the report also highlights some areas where the potential impact of technology is now clear. It also provides us with the following call to action:

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

WHAT DO WE DO?

Having been fortunate to work with many teachers and schools where technology IS making the difference to learning, I’ve pulled together some ideas and suggestions that might be useful when planning how to develop technology further in your school this year…

 

      1. Create a Digital Strategy that is understood by everyone and sets out why and where technology is used in your school and what the plan is for further adoption (I’ve written about how we did this at Simon de Senlis earlier this year).
      2. Stay up to Date with school technology so that it is current and remains appealing for the school community to use. It costs money and time-heavy to implement and maintain but as soon as it becomes dated, usage stops in school. In too many situations, it just doesn’t compete with what’s at home (or in pockets).
      3. Think Learning not Tech. An infinite number of shiny possibilities present themselves as we start to use technology more in the classroom.       Continually asking ‘What makes Learning Better?’ is important to avoid waste time and energies into things which are cute or clever but don’t make learning richer or deeper. As John Hattie tells us, ‘Know Thy Impact’.
      4. 21st Century Learners need 21st Century pedagogies – This point is already made heavily above but researching this area or using approached such as Building Learning Power (by Guy Claxton) or 21st Century Learning Design provides a framework that helps develops the ‘stuff that matters’ in children
      5. Switch it Off and Put it Down – Whilst an essential and powerful learning tool, knowing when not to use technology is a critical 21st Century skill. The OECD report also tells us that a high percent of the school day spent in front of a screen is counter-productive.
      6. Empower leading teachers to champion the use of technology to make learning better.       It’s the best teachers (not techies) who will see where the impact on learning really is. Invest in developing expertise and make sure that things work and are effective in these classrooms before transforming these ‘islands of excellence’ into common practice across the school.
      7. Embed non-negotiables about the use of technology into daily routines. Many schools have this in place for administration such as online registers, email and logging behaviour; do the same for learning as long as it’s the stuff that makes a difference (see points 3 & 4).
      8. Manage expectations amongst staff around new hardware, systems or upgrades – it won’t change their life in the flick of a button; it will almost certainly require troubleshooting and snagging before it runs smoothly; it might make learning deeper, more relevant and more engaging.
      9. Nurture a growth mindset amongst staff around the introduction of new technologies in school. New hardware or systems are a great place for us to develop more of the resilience and problem solving that the Carol Dweck posters in our staffrooms promote.
      10. Share your successes and failures with others through platforms such as educational blogs, twitter or other social networks. Only a wider network of educators prepared to innovate and share in this way will help us gather momentum and establish the reformed and contemporary approach to learning that the 21st Century is so deeply in need of.

 

I’ll be using the column in #TheFeedUK column to write more about how schools I’m fortunate enough to work with in the UK are facing up to these challenges throughout the academic year. We’re also hosting a series of #RedefineLearn events at Simon de Senlis to continue the debate and create opportunities to support schools through this transformational time in education.

The next #RedefineLearn conference is free and will take place at Simon de Senlis Primary School on 9th December. You can sign up at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/redefining-learning-free-9th-december-2015-tickets-18989441932

Paying Attention in a World of Attention Deficit: Selfies, The Mona Lisa and #FranceTrip15

Staying in the moment. Being mindful. Listening to understand; not waiting to talk. Detaching from online devices and the digital world. Making space to think. Just a few of the mantras that many (including me) are trying to learn from.

And it’s difficult. In a fast paced world where instant responses are expected once message is sent and ‘Did you get my message’ has become a acceptable greeting (for some), our brains are constantly wired. We’re fighting to keep our heads above water against the tsunami of daily information which engulfs us from a multitude of devices, screens and targeted marketing.

The side effects of constant distraction and connectivity took centre stage when I visited the Louvre in Paris this week as part of our annual school trip, #FranceTrip15. Leading a party of 43 children through the world’s busiest and most famous art gallery can be a stressful experience and so I certainly can’t claim that I took in as much of the history, art and architecture as I would have liked, but what struck me this year was the number of people who didn’t have 43 children to headcount, but still couldn’t pay attention to what was on show.

Headsets, audio/visual guides, devices, phones, cameras, tablets – all forming a wall of digital filter between the visitors’ senses and the paintings which hung heavily and unappreciated on the historic walls. Statues who used to flex their chiselled muscles as they were admired for minutes at a time by the throng of international visitors, now sigh wearily, as another iPad or phone quickly appears, clicks, and then disappears with perhaps an occasional giggle at their naked torsos.

And the selfies; those inconsiderate selfies which have risen to new heights of self-indulgence with the latest piece of fiendish 21st Century engineering: the Selfie Stick. Leading the children through the grand corridor now held an added layer of danger as we ducked, swerved and hurdled the selfie-sticks, wielded with the proficiency of a 3 year old boy with his first light-sabre, as their oblivious owners would pout, take, retake and filter their self-portraits, blissfully unaware of the works of romantic Italian artists that looked down, unloved, from the walls.

Our party pauses as a large man bustles into one of the children without noticing. He points his iPad furiously at an oil canvas, then another, and another before continuing his march through the corridor. A date with social media presumably awaits where his photos will join an infinite number of others on the internet and he can sit back and relax, enjoying ‘the moment’ as the beeps and vibrations notify him of the likes, retweets and comments that his online friends will reward his efforts with.

And then we find a peaceful moment. In a quiet and less-trodden corner, sits a young French artist, painting on canvas. We stand with the children and watch as 15 minutes pass. The teacher urge takes over and I quickly round up those with a real interest in art so we can look more closely at his palette and admire his patience, mixing and careful use of several brushes. A man, free from the pressures of time, deadline or distraction who achieves no quick-win, measurable outcome, metric or impact but who models the power of mindfulness, with an air of timeless ease. I stand still, quietly fighting the inner urge of impatience to ‘press on’ until it is no longer bearable and, after another frantic headcount and reminder to stay in pairs, we make for the main event, The Mona Lisa.

A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era...
A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era…

This experience is as unique as the painting itself and we join the throng of amateur paparazzi who inch forward in a trance-like pack until they are close enough to hold up their phones and cameras. Selfie-sticks not allowed here apparently; some relief but this doesn’t deter the self-portraiters.

Mona Approach
The throng approaches, viewing Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work only through the lens…
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa

People used to travel to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa; then they visited to take a photo of the Mona Lisa; today they stand with their back to Leonardo Da Vinci’s most intriguing work, with the world’s most famous painting consigned to the background of their very own masterpiece (there’s even a blog post I found online which gives advice on the best way to take a Mona Lisa Selfie).

The question, ‘what is she smiling at?’ has never been more appropriate…

mona Lisa Selfie 2

Assessment without Levels: Links to useful information…

To try and help navigate through this important issue, I’ve collated several useful links to announcements and publications that I’ve found useful give information on how assessment is changing in schools.  The most recent are at the top.

September 18th 2015 – Government response to the report on assessment without levels:  https://t.co/8djbS36EnA

September 17th 2015 – Final report from the Commission on Assessment without Levels published:  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461534/Commission_report_.pdf

September 17th 2015 – Interim Frameworks for Assessment published by the Department for Education for both KS1 and KS2.

KS1: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/interim-frameworks-for-teacher-assessment-at-the-end-of-key-stage-1

KS2: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/interim-frameworks-for-teacher-assessment-at-the-end-of-key-stage-2

September 17th 2015 – John McIntosh talks about the opportunity that developing new assessment brings 

September 2015: 2016 national curriculum tests and assessments information released:

Will Emms (STA) gives a summary of the key changes being introduced to tests at key stages 1 and 2 in 2016: https://registration.livegroup.co.uk/efa/ContentTabs/Embed.aspx?dfid=15057

17th September 2015 – Sean Harford talks about what inspectors will look at when considering a school’s assessment system:

July 2015 – Information for headteachers, teachers, governors and local authorities about scaled scores and the national standard from 2016: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/scaled-scores

March 2015 – Dylan William’s post on Assessment without Levels: https://thehub.walthamforest.gov.uk/news/planning-assessment-without-levels-article-dylan-wiliam

May 2014 – Here’s the Tim Oates video that articulates the case for removing levels so clearly:

February 2014 – The NAHT release the report from the NAHT commission on assessment:  http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/news-and-media/key-topics/assessment/profession-takes-lead-on-assessment-after-the-end-of-levels/

June 2013 – Announcement that Levels will be removed as a measure of attainment and progress by the DfE:  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130904084116/https:/www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum2014/a00225864/assessing-without-levels

Change is afoot: Assessment, New Beginnings & 21st Century Learning…

And so September comes again with its fresh autumnal winds and shortening evenings reminding us that change is afoot. Each new school year brings us new challenges but this one does so in spades. After several years of discussion, consultation and piloting, the rubber is about to hit the road in the world of life beyond levels and, for the first time in many years, children’s achievements in Year 2 and 6 will be reported in a new (as yet undefined) currency. Anyone who still belongs to the ostrich camp must now remove their heads from the sand, at least long enough to read the new sample papers, and appreciate the difference in challenge that children will face in their end of Key Stage tests and the significant implications this has for classroom practice. The goalposts have moved; the game has changed, and rightly so. Repeating what has worked in the past will not bring success in the future.

A brief (and over-simplified) examination of ‘success’ within that retro age of levels gives us two contrasting possibilities. Were schools sitting pretty in the league tables because their children had acquired deep and meaningful knowledge, skills and understanding through a rich curriculum which meant that they were able to sail through formal assessments with ease? Or were ‘successful’ outcomes bought at a price of intense test preparation, coaching and booster groups which had children jumping nicely through the hoops of Year 6 assessment, only for this shallow and quickly acquired knowledge to be lost without trace by the time they arrived at secondary schools four months later? And were OFSTED astute enough to see the difference between these realities or brave enough to report on it? This dilemma, of course, is part of Tim Oates and co.’s compelling case for removing levels that was argued for so eloquently last year which has led us to this new dawn.

Either way, the removal of National Curriculum Levels provides us with a chance to think differently about what, how and why we teach and assess in our schools.   I believe this is an important opportunity for us to fundamentally reform and evolve our approach to classroom practice to ensure that we are teaching children the right things in the right way so that they are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in the turbulent waters of the 21st Century; it is one that we should grasp with both hands.

But our window of opportunity is likely to be brief so seize it quickly, as the OFSTED wheels are about to start turning again and will quickly reveal the inevitable (and probably preventable) problems with inconsistency on inspection that declaring a free-for-all on measuring pupil progress will bring. Odds are surely now very short on the re-introduction of a common ‘in-school’ measure by either OFSTED or the DFE which may then return the debate to annual percentage gains and KPIs rather than learning and children.

But September is no time for scepticism or pessimism; it’s a time for us to be inspired by the latest leg of adventure in making learning more irresistible for children in our schools and to be optimistic about what the year might bring. I believe it’s the time for us to find the conviction and courage to evolve our schools away from the narrow academic focus that our paymasters demand, legacy of a bygone era. Rather than simply finding a new way to measure the 3 Rs, surely this is now the time to establish a progression around the wider range of skills, competencies and habits that young people need to succeed in the modern world.

Never has the case for taking such an approach been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all talking this common language. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning) and the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But what are these skills? Hasn’t everyone been talking about 21st Century skills for so long it feels out of date? And now we’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years, isn’t it about time we got this one nailed down?

There are several models that schools can reach for when looking for a starting point. The Campaign for Learning has championed the ‘Learning to Learn’ approach for many years and the ‘5 Rs of Lifelong Learning’; Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ is used by thousands of schools and the recently formed ‘Expansive Education Network’ offers resources and CPD/networking opportunities for schools. School Leaders within our Multi-Academy Trust have spent a great deal of time over the last 12 months researching, exploring and discussing which strategy to take and have adopted 21CLD (21st Century Learning Design) as a model to drive this broader approach to education. 21CLD is an approach built on the ITL Research Project and authored by Maria Langworthy which offers the following six dimensions of global learning. Helpfully, this model has also developed a series of rubrics and resources for teachers which unpick progression through these areas to support planning and assessment. This resource is also a product of the must-read ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ paper, authored in 2013 (Fullan & Langworthy) which is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the status quo in education system is OK as it is.

 

21CLD
The 21 CLD app available in the Windows store is a great resource for helping teachers explore the different dimensions of 21CLD.

My teaching staff at Simon de Senlis have all read ‘Educating Ruby’ over the summer, by the inspiring Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, which provides a robust and well-informed argument that there is a bigger picture to education than just chasing the numbers in academic subjects and is a call to action for us all to do more in this area. We spent part of our September training day talking about the implications for this and how we will use 21CLD to drive our planning, teaching and assessment in the future. This is a big change for teachers and school leaders who will, over the course of this year, plan, teach and assess these dimensions of learning more explicitly. The professional conversations were rich and we consolidated our collective belief that each of these areas of child-development should be viewed as equally important, with ‘Knowledge Construction’ encompassing the academic focus but encouraging the deeper approach to learning and greater cognitive challenge that is now explicitly required within the National Curriculum and demanded of children within end of Key Stage testing.

Twitterdeb26c1
We had some great discussion as a staff who are committed to ensuring we develop the right skills in children for their futures.
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading...
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading…

Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with  are meeting the same challenge.

TR

Simon de Senlis Primary are hosting an event on the 15th October to look more deeply at aspects of the 21CLD approach as part of the Microsoft Showcase Schools UK tour.

This is free and you can sign up online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/developing-a-schools-digital-strategy-free-15th-october-2015-tickets-18532702813

The Architects of Tomorrow are in the Sandpits of Today…

‘The architects of tomorrow are in the sandpits of today’

A colleague Headteacher once shared this quote with me as he walked me around the early years setting at his school. He was passionate about children learning through exploratory, first-hand experiences – as are many of us. Too often, he argued, this approach to learning is one which is limited to the Early Years setting and children soon lose the opportunity to learn independently and through enquiry once they make the transition into more ‘formal’ instruction in Years 1 and 2.  More time in the sandpits perhaps?

In November, I travelled to London for the launch of the Microsoft Showcase Schools programme. I’ve written previously about how this experience contributed to our revised digital strategy at Simon de Senlis; it was also the catalyst for a project to develop a new learning environment at the school which we were pleased to open last week.

Microsoft have worked closely with ISIS Concepts to create a stunning ‘Showcase Classroom’ at their London offices. It’s a really interesting space – hi-tech and hi-spec whilst remaining thoughtful and playful.  As you would expect, the room is packed full of technology and flexible furniture and this surely played its part in helping to inspire and open minds throughout our day there, where we got to grips with new devices and technology. It includes lots of different break-out spaces and we were able to work in different ways together at different times during the day, in different size groups, with and without technology – some of which is captured on this YouTube video.

Showcase Classroom
Microsoft Showcase Classroom – Cardinal Place, London.

Whether or not this type of design would ever be replicated in schools in scale is a great discussion, but not really the point. The point (as I see it) is for spaces such as these to challenge and provoke us to think differently about ‘what might be’ back in our own organisations. For me, it was a similar experience to visiting the RM ‘REAL centre’ 5-6 years ago or the Silverstone Study Centre, Northamptonshire which expanded my thinking and led (in part) to the classroom refurbishments that we have made at Simon de Senlis in Years 1-4 so far.  For further provocation around learning environments, read the excellent ‘Clicks & Bricks: When digital, learning and physical space meet’, by Ewan McIntosh (or listen to Ewan present it here).

The big question for me when reflecting on all this on the train home was simple: Why not have one of these resources in a school?

Yes – a school! This would mean that children and teachers would be able to use it every day and evaluate its worth, shape its future. Instead of a ‘showcase’ or ‘classroom of the future’, rather a perpetual prototype which we can tinker with, carry out research in and learn lessons from with real children. We could share it; invite other teachers and their children in; other people who have nothing to do with school and see how they learn?

The Sandpit
The Sandpit. Mark 1.

And so, with thanks to ISIS Concepts, BENQ and Microsoft Education UK, the concept of ‘The Sandpit’ was born – and without a grain of sand in sight.   As well as the flexible nature of the room – designed to allow different types of physical spaces dependent on the learning, it’s also equipped with a  one to one Windows 8 (soon to be 10) deployment and two moveable screens

We were delighted to launch the space in its first iteration last week, and look forward to the tinkering, the prototyping and the learning that will come in the future.

There will be opportunities for other schools and teachers to come and visit and more information including dates will be published shortly; follow the school’s twitter account to keep up to date.

TR

 

PS – For those interested, this next section is taken from our teaching handbook which sets out some of the vision and also the ‘nitty gritty’ around learning environments and display at Simon de Senlis.

Learning Environments

“Environment as the third teacher…”

Reggio Emilia

 We believe passionately that the learning environment plays a crucial role in enabling high quality learning.  To be happy, we need to have bright, welcoming spaces that promote community; to be creative, children need clean and collaborative spaces to get messy, explore and generate ideas; to achieve mastery, children need individual quiet spaces to consolidate, apply and reflect.

At Simon de Senlis, our learning environments are:

  1. Decluttered
  2. Flexible and Functional
  3. Designed to Make Learning Visible

Decluttered Spaces

  • Cluttered rooms clutter thinking.  Surfaces should be clear. Bookshelves should be neat and organised. Everything should have its place.
  • Walls should be clear and free from ‘wallpaper displays’.  Space around displays is as important as the content of them as it draws attention and avoids not seeing the wood for the trees.
  • Glass is glass – it was designed to let light through and shouldn’t have notices, posters or prompts covering it.  This applies to doors and both internal/external windows.

Flexible and Functional

  • Furniture should be minimal to allow as much space as possible for movement, creativity.
  • Furniture should be flexible in its layout to allow for different configurations at different times for different size groups/ways of walking.
  • All core learning resources should be clearly labelled and accessible to children inlcuding pencils, pens, rulers, paintbrushes, paint, maths equipment (including rulers, tracing papers, protractors etc.)

Making learning visible…

We have three types of learning based displays:  

  1. Celebration Displays
  2. Working Displays
  3. Virtual Displays

Celebration display are where high quality work is presented.  This is displayed using the following guidelines to ensure that it its the quality of work, not the frills of the display that draw the eye:

  • Muted colour backgrounds and clean crisp backing and borders ensure that the eye is drawn to the work.
  • Only work of the highest standard (in relation to the child’s current ability) should be displayed.  This is to model what good work looks like in our school.
  • Each final showcase display should be labelled with an engaging title and a brief insight into the process behind the finished piece.

Working displays are used to make learning visible.  The following displays should be evident in each room:

  • Maths working wall
  • English working wall
  • Project wall
  • Art display

Virtual Displays allow learning to be shared, presented and interacted around through online spaces which add another dimension to traditional display.  Use of blogs, social media and online tools can increase engagement, make learning more visible, give an authentic audience to final work and give parents opportunities to engage in learning where they otherwise may not.

Each class will keep a blog as a way of offering an insight into their working week as well as being a place where communications take place with parents. Each class blog should be updated at least once a week with post sharing some of the learning that has taken place in the class that week.

 

Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

I’ve been going to the BETT show as a Headteacher for 7 years now. Each year there’s been a different focus and reason to go, as well as different themes that seem to run across the show as the technology and research develops.  I wrote before this year’s show about the lure of the ‘shiny things’ on offer there and my aim to look for the learning beyond the technology.

To start with (about 2008 for me) it was very much about learning platforms and websites; then mobile devices took hold and we all went looking at iPads or alternatives and apps and storage solutions etc.  There’s always the presence of online resources which are  updated depending on curriculum changes and a walk around the ‘fringe’ stands is always worthwhile to look at the new ideas from startups and smaller companies.  It’s worth planning what you are looking for, but plans can often go out of the window; two years ago, I went there looking for different laptops and notebooks for school and came back inspired by the different furniture on offer which led to us refitting classrooms in the school with ISIS concepts.

One question I often consider is whether I actually need to go down to London to update my thinking and knowledge of the market.  Couldn’t I just stay at home for a couple of days and research the world of ‘Ed-tech’ without the travel, expense and unfiltered noise that a trade show creates?  Looking back, this was may have been possible some years but the networking opportunities wouldn’t have been there and neither would there have been the chances to listen to some of the real stories from classrooms and schools across the UK which are always enlightening and sometimes inspiring.

2015 was really worthwhile and I found lots of inspiration both in and around the show from colleagues, speakers and technology.  The biggest shift in my thinking was around the role that ‘gamification‘ can play within schools; this was brought to my attention in Anthony Salcito’s keynote on Day 1 and I’m still pulling together my thoughts on this for a future post and thinking about the way we might explore the possibilities around gamification further in school.

Lots of people I met shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘there’s nothing new this year’.  I feel that this was a reflection on how the technology is now maturing, meaning that there are more conversations about teaching, learning and impact, and less excitement and prophetic talk of how holographic projectors or robots might transform the classroom.  As someone who is trying to see past the shiny things in order to get teachers to take small and sustainable steps forward with their use of technology in the classroom, this is helpful.

Is ‘Ed-Tech’ moving out of its troublesome teenage years that were so full of bold and brash decisions, false promises and expensive lessons learned, and into a more sensible (possibly less fun) adult existence where effectiveness, value for money and future-proofing are the way of life? Possibly.

Spending most of the week on and around the Microsoft stand, it certainly felt like the technology is growing up. Tools such as OneNote and Yammer now allow teachers and classes to easily achieve what many of us have laboured painfully towards in terms of student collaboration and online engagement in the past. The reality of Office 365’s long-anticipated potential has certainly arrived which finally allows schools to get into the cloud in an inexpensive, straightforward, safe and effective way.  For me, O365 has now graduated from ‘possibility’ to ‘no brainer’, offering schools free storage, email and online Microsoft tools which are accessible across all devices.  Wymondham High’s story is a great example and case study to follow. Continue reading Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

What I Think About: Shiny Things, The BETT Show and Buying Devices for Schools…

One of the most common questions I often get asked by colleagues in other schools is which devices should a school buy.  Laptops or Notebooks? iPads, Chromebooks or Windows 8?

My answer:  I’ll tell you what we’ve chosen at Simon de Senlis and why but I’ll also tell you why in almost all cases, I think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

The only example I can think where the choice of kit defines success is in Formula One, where the manufacturers seem to influence the eventual winners of the championship more so than the drivers.  In every other example I can think of, it’s the vision, commitment, mind set, execution and resilience of the individuals/team that makes the difference.  Cristiano Ronaldo would still be one of the word’s best ever footballers whether clad in Nike or Adidas, Ian Botham would still have taken the Australians apart in 1981 whether he was wielding a Duncan Fearnley, Gray Nicholls or Slazenger Bat and I’m willing to bet that outside of the sporting world, today’s most successful individuals and companies would have achieved equally highly, regardless of which car manufacturer, brand of clothing, deodorant, laptop or mailbox provider they chose to use. You get my point.

Moving this back into the educational world, my view is the same around a choice of phonics scheme, curriculum resource or data tracking package.  It’s never about what you choose; it’s always about how well you use it, how this supports the overall vision for learning and the leadership that follows.  With technology and in particular devices, this is critical as the stakes are high, both from a cost and time perspective with any new implementation.

I’ve written recently about the process that we have undertaken to create our vision for learners and digital strategy at Simon de Senlis and this has been crucial in supporting our implementation of Windows 8 devices and combination of Yammer/Office 365/LP+ SharePoint learning environment.

We have chosen Windows 8 ahead of other technologies because it offers us a combination of hardware and infrastructure, at a price that we can afford to implement with low ratios of student to device.  I believe that Microsoft offers the most manageable, cost effective solution to a school with  a (growing) range of quality educational tools that support our vision for learning.  Creating the environment for classes to be able to work 1:1 with mobile tablets and also the full functionality of office and an online/app environment gives us the platform and flexibility (we think) to support our vision of creating curious, industrious agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe.

Moving on to the BETT Show, this week thousands of teachers will descend on the Excel centre in London for the biggest educational technology show in the world.  Going to BETT always reminds me of this scene from Red Dwarf.  For those who didn’t watch it, the Cat is a humanoid who has mutated from the ship’s cat over several million years.  In this clip, he gets completely besotted by ‘shiny things’, like kittens do with balls of string.  Similar uncontrollable excitement will be available at BETT – but will we be able to articulate what it is that the shiny things will do to make better learning and teaching?  Or will our kitten-like enthusiasm forget to watch out for the vision, strategy and pedagogy that will inevitably sit behind any genuine school success story?

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My goal this year is to look for the learning not the technology; look for questions not answers and enjoy the shiny things!

TR

PS – One of the markers of aging in a school is when the NQTs start and declare their Dates of Birth.  Mr Prosser’s admission that he was born in 1991 was a cat amongst the pigeons last year and brought both hilarity and sheer panic to the staffroom.  The other arbitrary measure is how many people remember the comedy programmes that are referred to within conversation.  It used to be me who smugly shook my head and made jokes about UK Gold when well-respected staffroom elders talked about Monty Python; now it’s me that gets a bewildered smile and nod when quoting Blackadder, Ferris Bueller or The Fast Show.

Last week when we were planning our visit to the BETT show this year and I showed this video of ‘Cat’ from Red Dwarf, several teachers revealed that they were far too young to have ever seen it.

#gettingold

 

 

Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…

Recently, I’ve spent some time revisiting our school’s vision statement, looking in particular at the digital vision and strategy for Simon de Senlis.  Around 18 months ago, in my first year as Headteacher, we engaged in a process with all stakeholders called ‘Simon de Senlis Reimagined’ where we redefined the vision for the school, setting our sights on developing ‘curious, industrious, agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe’.  This helped give our school a real sense of character and belonging and has been the cornerstone of the improvements that the staff, children and parents have worked so hard to achieve in this time.  Now, with many good things embedded and the useful stamp of approval from OFSTED under our belt, it’s time to set our sights on how we make the jump from ‘really good’, to ‘really special’.

The image which our vision is built around is 'Dent' by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.
The image which our vision is built around is ‘Dent’ by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.

A key driver in our school vision is technology  and we have enjoyed some great projects such as the ‘Our World; My Future’ presentations at Northampton and work using Windows 8 and cloud technology which have resulted in our participation in the Microsoft Global Showcase Schools Project in 2015.  I reference these achivements not as bragging rights or to create an impression of us being the finished article with regards to the use of technology; more because I want to illustrate that however well developed a digital vision may be in a school, it is always the time to keep renewing our sense of purpose around WHY and HOW we use technology.  In a ferociously busy school world of conflicting priorities, implementing any new initiative, process or technology must be thought through carefully with a clear rationale and continually pitched well to staff in order for it to become part of common practice.

In November, I was privileged to sit round a table with Headteachers from the five other UK Microsoft Showcase Schools and get a taste for what goes in their organisations.  Their commitment to technology and high achievement was outstanding and  obvious but more powerful, was their sense of moral purpose: a commitment to sharing their journeys and ideas with other schools for the benefit of schools and teachers in the UK and further afield.   I came back from this meeting inspired to be a better Headteacher and to give children at Simon de Senlis even better opportunities to become digitally fluent – an essential competency for their future success.

In order to help this process, I called upon my friend and mentor, Peter Ford, who had worked with us (alongside his Notosh colleagues) through the reimagined process and has an incredible craft for transforming  these painful ‘can’t quite see the wood for the trees’ moments into (no less painful)  creative processes which help us to generate meaning into the inevitable actions that follow.  Peter has been instrumental in the Design Thinking influences which now run through our school, both in the curriculum model and as specific practices and tools which have made our creative processes more disciplined and effective.  Returning back to the vision statement was in order to unpick what it was about technology that would enable us to develop curious, industrious and agile learners and empower them to make a dent in the universe.

Below is a SlideShare of the Digital Vision which will develop further in the next few months as we talk, test and prototype our thinking .  I share this in the spirit of co-operation or collaboration so that others can have an insight into the process and ask that, should you choose to do something similar, you borrow the process but make the words specific to your school’s unique challenges, vision and community.

  Continue reading Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…