Front Page of the Sun?

My Year 10 class came into my room the other day to see the screen above on the whiteboard.  “They can’t do that,”  “What,”  “No way,” were just some of the comments.  I’d got the reaction I wanted.

Next, they were asked to come up with reasons why people might think that it would be a good idea for young people not to be able to access the internet at home.  They responded really well and they did come up with many valid reasons, for example, to stop young people accessing inappropriate content and to make them less vulnerable to cyber-bullying.

Then I asked them for reasons why this was a bad idea.  Once more they came up with a good list: entertainment; keeping in touch with friends and family; and even doing homework.

On to the main task.  I told them that if they did not want young people to be banned from accessing the internet at home they would need to launch a campaign.  I asked them what they would need to do.  They decided that a big publicity campaign would be a good idea and they set to work making posters, leaflets, PowerPoints, etc.  They were very keen to put forwards the benefits to young people of using the internet and minimising the dangers.  Their writing was pitched appropriately and their writing was very persuasive.  The ICT skills that they were applying to the task where at a pretty high standard.

At this point I spotted one young man who was demonstrating excellent Photshop skills.  He had found a photo for the Home Secretary on the internet and he was turning her into the devil – with horns and a tail.  The Photoshopping was exceptional but in my mind’s eye I was seeing the front page of the Sun with the story “Teacher Makes Pupil Turn the Home Secretary Into Devil” on its front page.

The lesson succeeded brilliantly in getting the objective across to my learners because I succeeded in getting them emotionally engaged.  At the end of the lesson I remembered to tell them that the original story was a hoax and, to be fair to them, they weren’t very surprised.  But my biggest relief was that the Sun did not get hold of the Photoshopped Home Secretary Devil.

Front Page of the Sun?


I have just finished a rugby coaching course organised by the RFU.  I’ve found it quite refreshing to be at the receiving end of some tuition for a change and to reflect on the philosophy that the RFU embed in their programme.

The player is placed at the centre of coaching.  This might seem obvious but it isn’t.  It is too easy to coach by rote: this week we are doing handling, next week is contact, the week after is kicking, etc.  For some players and teams that might be fine, for others it won’t be.  So, it is always the player’s needs that should be considered when planning a coaching session.  All players should gain from every session although some players may benefit from a session more than others, depending on their starting points.

There is an emphasis on coaching people through rugby and not simply coaching people to play rugby, which is a really enlightened approach.  We were made aware that most of the barriers to player’s improvement are due to social, personal and emotional issues but rarely due to any rugby related skills or talent.  The RFU encourages coaches to actively nurture these aspects of players in their sessions.  This should not only make them better rugby players, but in some sense, better people.  They acknowledge that only a tiny percentage of players will ‘make it’ but that it is important to encourage all players to stay in the game as long as possible whether as players or in other roles.  There is certainly no elitist agenda at work.  I have to say that this emphasis on nurturing the individual can be lost in British schools today; I have never heard anyone advocate nurturing people through English, or Maths, or Geography, or…

Players should be encouraged to solve their own problems and create their own solutions which will give them greater confidence, more ownership and give them a greater understanding of the game.  The days when the coach is the seat of all wisdom and the players are his minions should be over.

Most coaching should take place in a game environment – but not full contact 15 man rugby.  The games should be devised to bring out the skill or tactic that is the objective of the session.  The game environment will encourage creativity as players will have to solve problems as they arise in the game situation.

To sum all of this up, coaches are encouraged to coach less but to get more from the players who are the focus of the process.  Coaches are expected to create an environment where players can grow as individuals through playing rugby.  All players are valued no matter what their ability but the coach should enable all players to improve from their own starting points.

As a set of principles, I think that these are just as applicable in the classroom as they are on the training pitch.  Learners should be at the centre of their learning and they should all be able to make progress.  I want my learners to solve their own problems and to create their own solutions.  I really want to concentrate on developing people through my subject rather than simply getting the best exam results out of them that I can – and they are really not the same thing at all.  If I can do this, then the course will have been worth it – and I might be a better rugby coach too!


Digital Bloom’s

I’ve had Bloom’s taxonomy on my classroom wall for a while.  To be honest, it fills up a display board but I doubt very much that students look at it and I don’t refer to it as often as I might – so I decided to give it a make over and make it more relevant to my subject which is Computing/ICT.

I decided that I would associate applications or websites with the different levels of the taxonomy.  It was easy to find websites concerned with Knowing – Wikipedia, BBC News, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Huffington Post – the list could go on.  Equally, it was easy to find applications that are designed to be used when the user is Creating: Adobe Flash or Photoshop, Scratch from MIT, any programming environment.  Again, the list could go on.  The levels in between were far harder to fill.

Perhaps this is a reflection of the subject.  Some of the thing that we do, particularly in ICT are at a fairly low level and others are at a very high level, with little to bridge the gap.  Maybe this is why some people regard ICT as a ‘Micky Mouse’ subject whereas Computing is often regarded as appealing to a niche and looked on as being inaccessible.  Perhaps this stems from the thinking required in these areas.  Having said that, some of the applications that I have mentioned as requiring high levels of thinking belong in the ICT domain, but most people will not encounter them.

Anyway, here is the finished product.  You could argue whether I have associated the correct applications to the correct level, but for the time being I am happy with it.

Digital Bloom’s

Learning Lifecycle

The system life cycle has a central role in ICT.  It describes the evolution of a product.  First of all the features of the product have to be identified; there has to be an analysis into how it will be used and its precise requirements; it has to be designed in detail; the product must be made; it must be tested; then it must be evaluated to see what its limitations are, what extra features could be incorporated in an upadted version and how the existing features could be improved.  Then it all repeats – over and over.  Microsoft Word, for example, has been through this cycle more than ten times.

This systems life cycle takes up a big display board in my classroom and I refer to if fairly often in my teaching.  It is helpful to remind learners where their current work fits into the systems life cycle.  For some time I have wanted to replace it with a learning life cycle so that I could show learners where their current task fitted into a learning life cycle.  I have thought long and hard about it but I could not really get anything to fit.

Eventually I hit on the idea of a learning spiral which I could make to fit the idea of a learning cycle, however, ICT is coming to the end of its life and will be replaced with computing so it seemed more fitting that instead of a learning spiral, I should have a learning flowchart.

The learning flowchart could be applied to many, if not all subjects and soon it will replace the system life cycle – or at least a horizontal version of it will.

Learning Lifecycle

Process or Outcome?

Have you ever felt like a bus driver who has just got to the end of his route – when he stops and changes his destination sign?  This is what many teachers do with their objectives; when one class leaves they rub the old ones off the board and write up the new ones for the next class.  They know fine well that they would be marked down in an observation if they do not ‘communicate their objectives’ – but why?

There are times when communicating the objective can kill a lesson stone dead.  I have teach a lesson about trusting information found on the internet.  I dress it up as though it is a straight lesson about research into endangered species.  I start off by telling the students that they are going to research a particular species, giving them specific questions to answer and some websites to use.  Then they repeat the process for a couple of other species, but one of them is the North West Pacific Tree Octopus.  Most students do the research without questioning the task and it is only when I go through the answers with the class that they realise that something is not quite right.  They fall right into the pit and then they start to put the clues together and it dawns on them that this species does not really exist.  It is important that they go through the process in order to come to a fresh understanding.  Putting the objective on the board and communicating it to the learners up front would lead to more superficial learning, which would be counter productive to say the least.

Most Sunday mornings during the colder months of the year, you will find me on a muddy windswept field coaching rugby.  As you can easily guess, the objective of a rugby match is straight forward; it is to win.  To some coaches and some teams winning is everything.  They concentrate on the objective too much.  When these teams fall behind in a match they try too hard and make mistake after mistake and usually end up losing by a bigger margin than they should.  They are fixated on the outcome.  In the team talk before a match I never mention the objective; I concentrate on the process.  The players must concentrate from the first whistle until the last, execute the skills that they have learnt and work for each other.  If they carry out these processes correctly then they have the best chance of achieving their objective – but they have to focus on the process.  Sometimes they come across better teams than they are, and they lose.  I don’t have a problem with this providing that their processes are right.  As a coach, the performance is everything, the result – the objective – is a poor second.

Carol Dweck’s work on mindset has found that praising the outcome will lead to a closed mindset which will ultimately limit achievement.  This closed mindset will mean that someone when faced with real difficulty will not be able to work through it.  She shows that it is the characteristics that lead to achievement that need to be brought to the fore if a learner is to develop a growth mindset.  This growth mindset will allow learners to grapple with difficult problems and it will give them a better chance to overcome them.  Again, it is the process that is important.  Indeed, focussing on strategies that learners use is confirmed as a a sensible way forward in this post, which includes a thorough research based analysis.

By now you might be getting the impression that I think that objectives are, at best, a waist of time.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The teacher must be very clear about the objectives for an activity, a lesson and a series of lessons.  The teacher must plan with the final outcome – the objective – clearly in  mind.  What I am questioning is asking the learners to concentrate on the objective.  I am certain that if they concentrate on getting the process right then they are far more likely to achieve the objective.  To be fair, higher ability learners often do get the process right, but even they are prone to taking inappropriate short cuts.  It is lower ability learners that more often than not, do not get the process right.

In the classroom there are definite characteristics that successful learners share: resilience, adaptability and determination are a few of them.  Too often teachers emphasise the outcome – the objective – with too little emphasis on the process.  There should be far more emphasis in classrooms on making the process of learning explicit and making learners far more aware of the characteristics that successful learners share.  I am certain that many of the students who do not succeed in education fail because they have not developed the characteristics necessary to be successful learners, and they don’t engage with the process of learning fully.   In fact, sometimes these learners do not realise that there is a process for learning, and if they don’t know that there is a process then they have little chance of getting it right.  You could construct a powerful argument that lower ability learners are only low ability because they have not grasped the process of learning and have not developed the necessary characteristics sufficiently.  If there was more emphasis on process rather than outcome then lower ability learners are the ones who will benefit the most.  If we spent more time in school developing the characteristics of successful learners, and making the process of learning visible, especially with the less able, then they would be far more likely to achieve the objectives that we set for them – even if we don’t always make those objectives explicit.

Process or Outcome?