Tag Archives: Methods and Theories

Kaizen Network and Collaboration

Tomorrow it’s our annual Kaizen Inset Day. Each year we agree one common training day for all our staff. We pool our resources to bring in the best people to lead a day in one of our schools. This work can then be further developed in our own settings with collaborative approaches informed by a shared message.

Kaizen means small steps to continuous improvement. The name of this Japanese business model suits our aims perfectly. We set up this informal network as a group of new (ish) head teachers around ten years ago. Our initial aim was to support each other in our burgeoning leadership roles. We shared a common set of values and beliefs and we were all keen to work closely, to develop a school to school support model that would help our schools grow, and help us grow as school leaders.

Initially our network was a leadership support mechanism but it quickly grew to a body which included pupil teaching and learning groups, digital leaders, debating societies and subject leader clusters.   Recently children from each school visited Houses of Parliament.   This followed a joint pupil teaching and learning day looking at school values.   Before half term the teaching and learning groups shared presentations based on findings amongst pupils in their own schools on ‘what makes the ideal teacher, the ideal learner?’  Debating societies at the same pupil conference debated whether the government should pay for homes for the homeless (this topic was chosen by the pupils from a number of options).   The work the pupils are engaged in is shared back in their own schools via assemblies and school council meetings.   A focus on speaking and listening is developing the confidence and understanding of those involved, and the more we can involve, the better!

Staff work together on key aspects of their roles and this is something we will be developing further this year with our focus on collaborative improvement and lesson study.  Subject leaders find it useful to moderate beyond their school and local clusters (Kaizen involves schools from across the region and internationally) and in this new age without levels, such sessions are more important than ever.  Last year our Kaizen Inset Day was led by Professor Barry Hymer, we looked carefully at the research into Growth Mindset and how such work could impact on our schools’ approaches.  This year the day is being led by Dr Pete Dudley, to build on our approaches to Lesson Study.   Plans are already afoot for inter school research using the Lesson Study model.   The afternoon will be given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange, where staff from Kaizen partner schools share a range of pedagogical approaches that they are having successes with in the classroom.   These practitioner led workshops provide a ‘warts and all’ view that is refreshingly honest and helpful to colleagues in developing their own practices.

The Kaizen network grew organically.  There was no top down initiative, no external funding and no outside agenda.   The strength of the partnership is the shared belief that by working together, supporting each other and collaborating, we can improve the teaching and learning in our schools and provide a better all round education for our children.


Ping Pong or Basketball? Effective use of questioning

One of the key areas of AfL development in school is questioning.   We have been looking at effective use of questioning for some time and staff have embraced the work of Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and, more recently Bill Thompson, who has been in school working with our AfL group.   The introduction of Lesson Study this term has enabled us to really progress this work.

We made questioning the overarching area of Lesson Study.   In addition to the focus on three pupils representative of different learner groups we decided to look closely at questioning.   This enabled us to observe Bill’s recent input at close quarters and also gave us an area that would allow for repeated research regardless of subject or theme.  With each Lesson Study we have been able to learn from the questioning observed in the previous one.   We began by looking carefully at wait time.  Many teachers were surprised by how little time they left after asking a question.  Following Lesson Study, staff are consciously making an effort to pause for longer, to give children more time to consider their response rather than rushing for an answer.   We have also looked carefully at the ping pong v basketball argument, questions and answers that bounce back and forth between pupil and teacher as opposed to being passed around the room by the children to their peers for a range of responses.   As with the ‘no hands up’ sessions this approach ensures all learners are alert and ready to respond rather than only the confident few.  Through Lesson Study we have been able to observe learner response and have noticed that in some cases, if children put their hand up and are not chosen, they become more passive in their learning.   We have also observed that many will not put their hand up and simply ‘opt out’ seeing this selective process as optional participation.   Where ‘no hands up’ has worked best staff have been explicit about the session, explaining to the children that for this particular session they will be using lolly sticks or a name generator.   Where this has not been clearly stated some children will continue to put their hand up as a kind of default for each question asked, regardless of whether they will be asked or not.

A recent research lesson gave us the opportunity to look at pre questioning.   The teacher told certain children that after a film clip he would be asking them specific things about what they had seen.   The questions were targeted to key children and differentiated accordingly.   This gave the children a focus and time to consider their responses.   The class were also told that those answering would be able to chose peers to help them, using the basketball technique thus engaging the rest of the class.    Asking a question and giving the children time to discuss responses with talk partners before answering has also enabled pupils to give more thoughtful and considered responses and again, the opportunity to observe this process through Lesson Study has furthered our understanding of how such an approach to questioning can have a positive impact on learning.  As with all aspects of Lesson Study, the conversation and professional dialogue generated around the use of open and closed questions, wait time, learner response, talk partners and more has been powerful and positive, leading to changes in approach that we hope with have a lasting impact.   None of the techniques and approaches are new, some have been used to good effect in school already, but Lesson Study has enabled us to really get beneath the surface of questioning and support each other in developing and furthering classroom practice in a way that no other form of professional development has been able to.

Bridging the gap

Lucy's out of school business!

Lucy’s out of school business!

The countdown to the animators next upload!

The countdown to the animators next upload!

I visited a partner school a while ago and as I walked through the Foundation Stage I looked over at a group of children on the class computers. The teacher laughed as he explained to me that when the children had started school in September they went immediately to the computers, picked up the mouse and pointed it at the screen! Their pre school experiences with gaming platforms clearly dictating their understanding of how to approach this new experience. I recently recounted this story to a friend who explained that his three year old had stood in front of their television, put his hand in the air and attempted to ‘pinch’ to control its content as he was already comfortably doing with his iPad!

These two incidents illustrate the stark difference in experiences with technology for our youngsters and older generations. They also highlight the need for us as educators to understand the out of school experiences of children in order to bridge the formal and informal learning gap. For many pupils their out of school experiences with technology and their inquisitive, exploratory approach to each new device only serve to widen the learning gap. Celebrating their skills and developing understanding in school provides us with an opportunity to build on their out of school interests, benefiting their learning and sense of achievement.

In the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the children’s out of school hobbies with their peers in assemblies. Lucy from Y5 has her own business out of school which she advertises on her website http://www.yummycupcakes.webeden.co.uk/
Adam, Josh, William and Regan make their own animations and upload these onto their website http://theanimators1.weebly.com/animation-page.html Such enterprise and innovation are celebrated, supported and where possible, these out school interests encouraged within the school setting. We plan on ordering staff cakes from Lucy!

Our older children now bring their own devices into school to use as learning tools where appropriate. The technology they so often hold in their hand while out of school has such potential in the classroom that it makes sense to embrace it and explore its learning potential.  The challenge is for us as educators to find ways to blur the children’s formal and informal learning, to bridge the gap between in school and out of school experiences in order to support their development, and where appropriate using the tools they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.


On Monday we are taking a group of pupils to visit one of our partner schools, Robin Hood in Birmingham. The visit will go beyond pupils meeting their peers, being given a tour of the school and discussing teaching and learning. On this visit the children will be donning the uniform of Robin Hood and spending the day as a pupil. This small scale piece of ethnographic research is intended to give our teaching and learning group a real understanding of how different schools operate. Following the visit, the children will present their findings on how our schools are similar, how we differ in our approaches and what we can learn from each other. A reciprocal visit is planned for later in the year and ongoing online collaboration via class blogs will aid communication.

Over the years, our teaching and learning groups have enjoyed looking at a range of approaches to classroom practice, the use of effective questioning and the work of educators such Guy Claxton, Chris Quigley and Dylan Wiliam. They have visited partner schools, made videos, led assemblies, given presentations, collaborated on projects and even organised a teaching and learning conference. The groups have furthered their own understanding of teaching and learning and regularly share their findings to support developments in pedagogy across our schools.

Through our networked approach to teaching and learning we have facilitated opportunities for staff to visit partner schools and experience the day to day practice in a colleague’s class. This is always hugely appreciated and staff benefit from such an open and collaborative relationship. This will be the first time we have undertaken such a venture with pupils, the outcomes are eagerly awaited.

The Pupil Passport

This year we are launching our Pupil Passport.   It is based on the work of Guy Claxton and Chris Quigley, who put together a set of ‘Learning to Learn‘ skills in his booklet ‘Planning a Skills Based Curriculum’.   From Guy’s original work on the four Rs (itself a response to the traditional 3Rs) Chris developed the 5Rs of learning (reflective, resilient, risk taking, resourceful and relationships) and carefully put together a pupil friendly set of standards for the children to meet.   I have used the 5Rs for a few years now and the children have come up with some great ways of developing these learner qualities however, in the past the impact has been limited to small groups and classes.   I hope the passport will impact on all learners across the school.

Each pupil will have their own passport which contains bronze, silver and gold standards for each learning to learn skill.   As a school we are going to focus on a different one each half term.   The teaching and learning group will introduce the skill in assemblies and staff will talk with the children about them and sign their passports as they achieve each descriptor.   We have a STAR week at the end of each half term when longer pupil conferences are held to talk with the children about their learning and we are going to incorporate discussion around the passports here as well.

We hope that using the pupil passports will give the children a real understanding of how they are developing as learners, what they need to do to become more resilient, reflective, risk taking and collaborative and how such qualities will help them in all they do.   Rather than looking at these skills discretely we feel this approach will permeate all the children’s learning, in the many different areas of study.  We are currently finalising the passports, ensuring the wording and progression make sense for the children.   We are launching them next week when our new teaching and learning group give an assembly on what it means to be a reflective learner.   I would love to hear from any colleagues who have come up with different ways to develop learning to learn skills across their schools.   It is early days for us but we are excited about the possibilities of this approach.

Primary Curriculum-Models and Design

In my last post I talked about the need for a curriculum that helps prepare children for the future.   There are some key qualities I believe should be at the heart of a new curriculum rather than left to chance outside of it.   These qualities are not easy to measure in any tangible form and this may go some way to explaining their absence from many classrooms.  In his book ‘Building Learning Power‘ Guy Claxton explores some different reform models from around the world that are helping children develop their ‘learning power’.

The Golden Key Schools in Russia operate along the lines of extended families.   They follow Vygotsky‘s philosophy and an understanding of the process of interaction is implemented within the Zone of Proximal Development by placing children from 3 – 10 years in family units of 15 – 25 rather than traditional, age grouped, classes. Staff attend training to develop a ‘community of learning’ and parents are also active in school events with the emphasis placed on learning as a community.   Amongst the other examples Claxton looks at as models for developing collaboration and communication are Ann Brown‘s Communities of Inquiry in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the PEEL project in Victoria, Australia.  Bellaire Primary School in Victoria allows older pupils to take a more active role in planning their learning by running skills workshops which the children attend before taking part in application classes where they put the skills they have learned to practical use.  The children very quickly learn to plan their own timetable and learning, making it relevant to their own interests.  This brave approach develops independence and lifelong learning skills that can only help the children as they move into secondary education and beyond.

Others, such as Ralph Pirozzo and Lane Clarke have explored curriculum design and come up with practical ways of using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Mutiple Intelligences to create active learning experiences.   INSET training with both these educators and  research into other curriculum models such as the International Primary Curriculum and the International Primary Baccalaureate informed our own work on curriculum development.  Our own design has also been influenced by the work of Chris Quigley who has developed a progressive skills based approach that puts key learner qualities centre stage.  Chris takes his lead from the work of Claxton but he breaks down ‘Learning to Learn‘ skills into Bronze, Silver and Gold stages to help plan for progression.   The children easily understand the breakdown of Learning to Learn skills and Chris goes into detail, creating ‘I can’ statements for each of the following key learner qualities:

Reflective – planing, revising, reviewing

Relationships – collaboration, empathy, listening

Resilient – managing distractions, ‘stickability’

Resourceful – questioning, imagining, making links

Risk Taking – have a go, not scared of being wrong

The Skills Based Curriculum developed by Chris Quiqley not only gives pupils more ownership over their own learning but helps with planning for progression.  It would be great to see the work of these and other educators such as Sir Ken Robinson and Mick Waters, being considered by government as they look at the Primary Curriculum.

Curriculum in a Coma

We live in a world of contradictions and uncertainty. Children have instant access to a world of knowledge around the clock yet their access is restricted in the very place you would expect it to be most readily encouraged. For many, school is still a place where you go to have your head filled with ‘certainties’, a core knowledge base which grows increasingly irrelevant to the world we live in. According to New Brunswick Department of Education, Canada, the top 10% of jobs last year didn’t exist in 2004!  Is the best way to prepare our youngsters for this level of uncertainty to continue feeding them a diet of shallow learning experiences dictated by political presumption?

There is much discussion around what the curriculum should look like but one thing is clear, more of the same won’t lead to different results.   Einstein stated the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we’re in danger of doing just that with the curriculum.   While Geographers and Historians argue for their subject’s importance and Gove tries to convince the nation of the relevance of learning Latin and the need for the English Baccalaureate, those in education look on in disbelief as traditional themes and learning paths are revisited once more.   As a nation we appear to be depserately trying to climb up the down escalator.

No one would argue against the need for every pupil to leave school literate and numerate but to function in an uncertain future society we also need to ensure all are resilient, resourceful, creative and able to adapt and change as required – a core set of skills that many are left to pick up by chance.   Rather than leave these important learner qualities outside of the curriculum, it would mark a real shift and recognition of what children need if they were be placed at the heart of any reformed model.   The problem is, such qualities are hard to measure and no goverment will be brave enough to release the stranglehold it has on the nation’s education system.   As we prepare for ‘greater flexibility and freedom’ it is important to note that the current crude measures by which a school stands or falls are unlikely to disappear any time in the near future.  Mick Waters makes a relevant and poignant observation about the impact of testing on learning:

‘One of the dangers is that the winning post of examinations has untold influence further back down the age range, so the real purpose of learning is lost in the quest for exam success.   When children are only learning how to sit exams, other vital things are squeezed out.’ 

Our current national curriculum suffers from a lack of response to the changing world around us.   Its compartmental approach to traditional subjects and exam fetish makes real, significant change unlikely.

The new currency

‘The principle goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done – people who are creative, inventive and discoverers’



The use of new technologies in education enables us to move beyond traditional boundaries, to do things we’ve never done before and to do things we have,  in a faster, more convenient way.  It has helped us blur the distinction between home and school, between formal and informal learning and to empower learners, using their preferred tools for learning rather than those dictated by tradition.    In a short few years ICT has moved centre stage.   From a discrete subject, taught in IT suites – much like science in science labs – to something that permeates every aspect of the curriculum.  Children see technology as an essential, natural tool for learning.   Indeed they are learning constantly, testing the capabilities of any device they use, not necessarily in our presence but learning all the same.   In certain areas of new technology many of us have to accept that our linear approach to learning might be at odds with children’s more experimental approach.  I often share a story from a few years ago (pre iphone!) when I was with a group of Y5 childen at a dance festival.   One of the pupils asked if she could have a look at my phone.   I gave it to her and within minutes she had returned it to me with a stangely morphing animation playing across the screen.   ‘That’s amazing Chelsea,’ I exclaimed.   ‘Have you got a phone like this?’  ‘No’. she replied!

Prakash Nair states ‘creativity is the new currency’ and its up to us to develop this key quality in learners.   As Piaget stated ‘the principle goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things’ our job is to bring out the creativity, to encourage children to take risks, to explore, discover and get excitied by where their learning might take them.   They start out in life with such an inquisitive nature, its up to us to make sure it isn’t knocked out of them by the system.

Into tomorrow-getting geared up for the future

Anyone doubting the power and importance of technology over our lives doesn’t have to look too far to see how it is shaping the world. Recent political events have shown that social networking can’t be seen as a fad, it is affecting change on a huge, global scale.

The innovative and creative use of technology can be a force for positive change in our schools and the way we learn. As educators we ignore this at our peril. In a world of such rapid growth and change standing still is not an option and indeed, is tantamount to moving backwards. We owe it to children to embrace new technologies as this is the closest we can get to the future world they’ll function in.

The pace of change in recent years has seen many schools develop their pedagogy to incorporate new thinking and learning tools. Interactive whiteboards, visualisers, laptops, handheld devices– some or all of these are now seen as the norm in classrooms as teachers look to blur the distinction between formal (school) and informal learning.

It isn’t easy to predict the future but it would be fair to guess we’ll see an advancement in some of the areas currently emerging in schools. As mobile devices grow in capability and connectivity it is going to be important for schools to ensure they can cater for the ‘increased traffic’ going through their servers. Schools won’t be in a position to meet the demands of pupils to get online with the systems originally built for an IT suite and a few class computers. It might not be the exciting, shiny end of the new technology revolution but it is the foundation we need to put in place if we are to accommodate the needs of learners.

What are your predictions for the future of new technologies in schools?   I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Standing still is not an option – Reflections on the 18th SSAT Conference.

Last week the SSAT hosted their 18th annual conference – Excellence for All,  in Birmingham UK.   The conference asked us to consider what children learn, how children learn and how we can remove barriers to learning.   A central tenet was the changing role of the teacher and many of the key notes and workshops I attended challenged the traditional view with persuasive models that are working both locally and globally.   A conference such as this really does give you the chance  not only to hear great speakers expound on new approaches but also enables you to attend workshops to see what that thinking looks like in the classroom, to hear warts and all accounts of how new approaches have been embedded and the difficulties that have had to be overcome.

My highlights

There were some fantastic speakers and practitioner led workshops and I couldn’t do them all justice in this brief post so I will simply share a few of the many highlights over the three days.

Sugata Mitra (@Sugatam) gave a fantastic keynote on Wednesday that showed just what children are capable of given the opportunity, his’hole on the wall’ work in the slums of India is an inspiration.   Both Sugata and John Wood have taken their experience, ideas and enthusiasm to different parts of the world to the benefit of millions of children.   John left Microsoft to set up the charity Room to Read which has provided books, libraries, learning and schools for children across Africa and Asia.

My twitter timeline will have betrayed to anyone reading it, the effect both Dylan William and Andy Hargreaves had on my thinking, and not for the first time.   When I listen to these two voices of academic authority sharing their thinking on education, based on extensive research, I find myself wondering why on earth a group of politicians (with little educational experience other than their own privileged one) would believe they know better.   Dylan’s research into how we move beyond current teaching levels is common sense –  improving teaching practice involves changing habits not simply adding more knowledge, something successive governments seem to have missed.   Dylan shared some startling facts about the national strategies that support his argument that for teachers to get better professional development has to be suited to individual need.   His recipe for a successful school is simple:

1. Become a Catholic school

2. Move your school to a leafy suburb

3. Get rid of all the boys

I’m not sure the academies programme will stretch this far!

Andy Hargreaves shared some of his extensive research from education, business and sport about leadership which forms the basis of his forthcoming publication ‘Beyond Expectations’.   There is something decidedly down to earth about Andy’s presentations, maybe it is his sporadic references to his beloved Burnley!   He made some fantastic points during his keynote and again, you can’t help but think the government would be wise to listen:

  • Education measures what is easy to measure, not what we value
  • Quick wins don’t reflect authentic improvements
  • If you want to be average, prescribe and standardise.  If you want to be excellent, be flexible and creative, innovate and take risks.

Andy’s research into successful business and sporting organisations could be a powerful catalyst for education change.   Let’s hope those in a position to affect such change are listening.

I could go on but many have already written about the conference and shared how passionately Tanya Byron spoke about integrating new technologies into the classroom, how Professor Erica Mc William introduced us to ‘the meddler in the middle’ as a key element of 21st century pedagogy and how Professor Barry Carpenter‘s research will help us meet the needs of children with complex learning difficulties in the future.

My final words go to Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) another inspirational key note speaker who challenged traditional approaches to learning and shared how we can motivate learners to prepare them for the future.   Daniel began his presentation by highlighting the three key elements of a successful speech; brevity, levity and repetition.   The three key conference questions, of how we learn, what we learn and how we remove the barriers to learning were explored repeatedly throughout the three days, sometimes all too briefly, often with levity, ensuring the all who attended the conference left with some possible answers, some further questions and a clear understanding that, as we always knew, standing still in education is not an option.   As Dylan William remarked when discussing teacher development; ask your staff if they think they think they can improve.   If they say yes, give them all the help and support you can.   If they say no, ask them to leave!

For further reading on the 18th National Conference see:

Bob Harrison’s post http://www.agent4change.net/events/event/749-ssat-conference-learning-genie-out-of-the-bottle.html

SSAT Blog http://ow.ly/3ga08

The conference was made all the more enjoyable this year by the growing presence of  the twitteratti!   Among those I had the pleasure to meet and tweet with were:

@chickensaltash @DeputyMitchell @DianneSpencer @andreacarr @LibWithAttitude @tonyparkin to name but a few of the many!