A Matter of Style ….

Feedback Tips for Presentations – Be Kind, Be Specific and be helpful.
When pupils are presenting finished work as a drama, a role play, or their research as a presentation, how can we further enhance their learning and that of their fellow students?

  •  Before the presentations begin, divide the class into groups as experts for the key success criteria.

For example, if it was a dramatic presentation have groups for: voice, body language, originality, proxemics and pace.
These criteria are more powerful if they are co-constructed and the evidence for success agreed. Write these on the board to provide a feedback grid for the pupils and ask pupils in these groups to give their area of focus a mark out of ten. Then tell the class the rules of the feedback.

  •  Students giving feedback on the performance need to be kind, specific and helpful.
  •  Students receiving feedback are only allowed to say thank you for their feedback.
  •  When the critique groups are debating their feedback, give your feedback to the group which has just presented, in private, at the front of the class.

This is a powerful way to convey your enthusiasm for the students’ work without it appearing to confer favouritism or humiliation in front of peers. It’s a genuine face to face feedback dialogue off stage. You just focus on these students.
It has the advantage too of placing you in the role of being just one critical friend, rather than the critical friend. Furthermore, when the class feedback begins, more often than not, your words are reinforced, echoed and debated, intensifying their impact for the students.

  •  Start the group feedback and marking.

As a teacher monitor this and gently but firmly dock marks for groups who use feedback for point scoring rather than point rewarding.
The quality of the presentation often improves after each feedback, as each group demonstrates their growing awareness of what success looks like.
You could consider filming them to share with classes in future at the start of the process.
Try it, adapt it, improve it, and critique it. Be kind, be specific, and be helpful.

Smart is not something you are,it is something you become.

smart is
Teaching and Learning Takeover TLT13

What was the first piece of work you remember feeling proud of? When did you write it? Who did you write it for? What impact did it have on you as learner?

These questions began my session at the wonderful Teaching and Learning Takeover this weekend. I think they are essential questions for us to reflect on as teachers, if we don’t consider how we came alive as learners, how can we fully understand the labours of those we teach?

Start there. Start where you were when you came alive as a learner. What did the moment look like to you? Feel like to you? How has it influenced your life since? Have you ever shared it with your students? Start sharing it. It will help them understand your teaching and revalue that teaching: you were a learner once too, you had the same problems and you worked out a way to learn; more importantly, you haven’t buried the discovery. Share the treasure.

• Ron Berger asserts that work of excellence is transformational
• Because it leads to a new self-image
• An appetite for excellence
• Builds pride in excellence
That is treasure worth sharing: the new appetite, the transformation (Frog say hello to the Prince), the new selfie and the rock ‘n roll song of excellence. Now that’s the X Factor. Don’t believe me? Read this article and tell me that I am wrong.


One thing leads to another.

The key message for students here is: smart is not something you are, it’s something you become.
When it comes to the Sutton Trust research on initiatives that most support pupil progress, to help them become a smarter learner, these are some of the standouts.
Collaborative learning + 5 Months
Effective Feedback + 8 Months
Homework + 5 Months
Meta-cognition and self-regulation + 8 Months
Peer tutoring + 6 Months
I would argue that Ron Berger’s  individual and gallery critiques engage students in practising all of these through the same learning ethos: Ron Berger’s ‘An Ethic of Excellence’.

Moreover ,what lies behind that progress? It is not where you live. Or which school you go to. It is the teacher you have. I love that sentence. But it is also terrifying.

So how can we enable this progress? Shift the focus of our teaching and learning  from quantity to quality. Isn’t that the driving force in Jenn Ludd’s latest post? A six week project: time to learn, time to grow a new mind set about yourself as learner? Myself as a writer?

It is about engaging student’s with the learning that takes place inside.


We need to recognise that writing places severe emotional demands on students. It is a thinking task; a language task; a memory task; a problem of what to say and how to say it.
So how can we help them with this? How often do we create environments where pupils can share what they are confident with and what they are struggling with? The pupil to teacher feedback that is central to ‘this is what I am thinking; this is what I need help with – if you really want to help me make progress, let me talk to you.’ If this dialogue comes alive then maybe we are accessing the feedback that is going on inside pupils and, how much more likely might it make them to act on our  other feedback? Teacher to pupil?
Are we using department time to discuss feedback? Or is it all devoted to who will teach what and when? Without a dialogue over that central,developmental, focus on the how to’s of the learning.

Who has had the department meeting to discuss: What makes an ‘expert’ Historian? Writer? Geographer? Scientist? Mathematician? Athlete? Artist? Engineer? Aren’t these the big questions our subjects seek to provide answers to? Shouldn’t these be part of our ethics of excellence?
WE should look again at how we plan our department meetings. Change what we are talking about and in so doing change the learning culture in our classrooms.

Myself as a Writer

If reading is a love affair;writing is a marriage. You have to commit to it and as a wise chiropracter once said to me ‘ It’s true freedom’. Don’t ask! However, I know what she means now.The real joy of writing, once you have battled the demons involved in picking up the pen or traversing the qwerty keys, is the purity of the experience;the precious flow of the words on the page; the liminal play of  words in your mind. 

The response I have had to Myself as a Reader made me consider a simple question. How often do we ask children about their writing? Their experience of the one task that hugely shapes their profile as a learner? What might that feedback provide for us? For them?  So…….

Myself as a Writer

The idea of this piece of writing is to get you thinking about the kind of writer you are at the moment and how you came to be so.

You may write in any way you please and you may concentrate on whatever in the list interests you most.

There is probably too much here for you to cover everything adequately anyway, so follow the direction which holds fascination for you!

What do you write…and why?

What are your thoughts and attitudes towards different things that you write?

fiction non-fiction novels poems schoolwork  books newspapers comics magazines articles chapters books play scripts recipes letters notes leaflets notices advertisements graffiti songs computer programmes apps blogs Twitter profiles and Tweets Text messages on your phone or Kick Facebook entries

Make a list of all that you write in one day

  • How do you write each item?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How much time does it take?
  • By hand or on computer?
  • On your phone or on a tablet
  • What else are you doing as you are writing?
  • Do you re-read every word you write?
  • What do you feel as you write?
  • What do you think?
  • Did you choose this writing?
  • Why are you writing?
  • Does what you write encourage you to read the writing of others?


Learning to write: early memories

Think of some of your early memories of writing. Think about feelings you connect with learning to write.

Can you describe?

The first time you were asked to write your signature?

How and why you chose the style of signature you decided to use?

Have you changed it since, if so why?

The first story, poem or non-fiction piece you wrote?

Did you find writing easy or difficult? How do you find it now?

Which rules for writing do you think are the most important and why?

Do you remember your first proper pen?

Learning how to write in a joined up style?

Think of one particular piece of writing that stands out.

What does it look like to your memory?

Think of the way you organised the words on the page, the title you gave the work and any illustrations or quotations you used to bring the writing alive.

Did you use any new or adventurous vocabulary that you are still proud of today? Who did you do this piece of writing for? What impact did completing this work have on you as both a learner and a writer?

Did anyone ever help you learn to write? Who was that person? In what situation? Do you let others read your writing? Do you enjoy doing so? Do they suggest you make changes?

Do you write for yourself? Do you have a special book you write in or app you like to use for it? What do you like about them? Why? What do they mean to you?

Choosing what to write

How do you choose what to write?

How have your choices changed?

Jot down a list of all the writing you have completed in the last week or two. School work, blogs, texts, poems, song lyrics, books,  webpages , PowerPoints, magazines articles, computer programmes, apps or other texts that you have written recently.

 What sort of patterns emerge? Does one piece of writing lead to another, something which catches your interest and make you want to write on….to reshape, refine your work?

Which writer’s voice or stories did you first love? How have they influenced the way you write? Where are you happiest writing? Do you have a favourite punctuation mark? Why do you like it so much? What is your favourite word? Why?

Do you worry about or love grammar?  Do you know or think about how the order in which you choose to place your words will impact on your reader? Can you ever truly know this? Is this what makes writing exciting?

Which words do you find most difficult to spell? Do you have any tricks you use to help you remember difficult spellings?

How often do you plan your writing? Think about the words you write? Which ones do you love or overuse? Which writing rules do you find the most difficult to remember and why? Do you react to the appearance of writing in a book, on a screen, on your phone? Do you have a favourite font? On Microsoft word which are your favourite options for checking or presenting your writing?

Are there any people who have influenced your writing in some way? Either by their encouragement, help and recommendations, or by putting you off?

What kind of writing materials are you aware of at home and in the homes of friends and relatives? How has that influenced you as a writer?

How does having to write, rather than choosing to, affect your writing? Do you enjoy writing in school? Where, when and why?

Do you write quickly or slowly?  Do you plan the end of a story before you have finished it? Are you willing to start a piece of writing and leave it unfinished or do you have to write it to the end? How much do you write? Are you happy if you write less than a page? Do you take pride in the appearance of your handwriting?

Do you like to write poetry? How? When?

Do you enjoy reading writing by other people in your class? Where and when do you like to write best?

What is your favourite piece of writing in the last week?

Has anything you have written ever changed or developed your view on things? Describe the effect this had on you. Or are there things you have written which have tied in with your view of yourself and world?

If you had to take one piece of your writing with you to a desert island from which you will never return, which would it be?

 There is another blog to come here, Myself as a Speaker, and that will follow next week. Please add questions or ideas to this work – I am sure that my knowledge of writing on digital platforms needs to be added to! Please write back.

Myself as a Reader

Reading is a love affair. Tempestous, disappointing, exhilarating, rewarding or destabilising, it rarely fails to enagage our passions as individuals.It changes the way we see the world;allowing us to be someone else,play God or just to sense the oncoming tide of experience before it finally cascades to the shore. I want to share a resource  that I picked up like flotsam and jetsam in Suffolk as a Head of English, many moons ago, and rescue it for others. I think it’s a superb piece of work and am not sure who to attribute it to but seem to remember it emerging from colleagues collaborative discussions about how to share and extend the dialogue of a reader’s passion for words. One of the most liberating and invigorating aspects of the English teacher’s job is the endless open invitation to play in the priviliged world of words; to the sharing of the experience of reading. This resource does this as well as any I have  used before or since.

It provides for wonderful dialogues about the unique experience of reading,insights that change perspectives around a room and open that world up further to others.

Here it is:


The idea of this piece of writing is to get you thinking about the kind of reader you are at the moment and how you came to be so.

You may write in any way you please and you may concentrate on whatever in the list interests you most.

There is probably too much here for you to cover everything adequately anyway, so follow the direction which holds fascination for you!

What do you read…and why?

What are your thoughts and attitudes towards different things that you read?

fiction non-fiction novels poems school books newspapers comics magazines and snatches articles chapters books play scripts television film instructions recipes letters notes leaflets food packaging notices advertisements graffiti songs

Make a list of all that you read in one day

  • How do you read each item?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How much time does it take?
  • What else are you doing as you are reading?
  • Do you read every word?
  • What do you feel as you read?
  • What do you think?
  • Did you choose this reading?
  • Why are you reading?
  • Does what you read make you feel anything? Give me an example.Did you laugh? Were you shocked,horrified or even disappointed?
  • Did you feel a sense of achievement when you finished it?(Thanks @Gwenelope)
  • Learning to read: early memories
  • Think of some of your early memories of books and of reading. Think about feelings you connect with learning to read.
  • Can you describe:
  • books
  • people
  • places
  • things that happened
  • words from a page
  • Think of one particular book that stands out. What does it look like, smell like, feel to the touch? Think of the print on the page, illustrations, the sound of the words…
  • Did anyone ever read to you or with you? Who was that person? In what situation? Do you read aloud for others? Do you enjoy doing so?
  • Can you remember a story that has had some sort of impression on you? Do you like to have the lyrics which you particularly like. What do you like about them? Why? What do they say to you?
  • Choosing what to read
  • How do you choose what to read? How have your choices changed? Jot down a list of books, magazines or other texts that you have read recently. What sort of patterns emerge? Does one book lead to another, something which catches your interest make you read on….
  • What is the first book you remember owning? Do you buy books for yourself? Do you use the school or public library?
  • Think about how you choose books. How do you react to the appearance of books? How do you feel about a book, thinking about:
  • size                           thick or thin
  • smell                         illustrations
  • shape                        book jacket
  • colours                      blurb
  •  paper                         pop-ups
  •  hardback                   foldouts
  •  paperback                diagrams
  • thick or thin              surprises?
  • Are there any people who have influenced your reading in some way. either by their encouragement and recommendations or by putting you off?
  • What kind of reading material are you aware of at home and in the homes of friends and relatives? How has that influenced you as a reader?
  • How does having to read a book, rather than choosing to , affect your reading?
  • Do you ever enjoy reading school books?
  • Do you read quickly or slowly?
  • Do you like to look at the end of a novel before you have finished it?
  • Are you willing  to put a book aside unfinished or do you have to read it to the end?
  • Do you like to read poetry? How? When?
  • Do you enjoy reading writing by other people in your class? Where and when do you like best to read?
  • What do you like best to read at the moment?
  • Has anything you read, any book, poem, lyrics, play, ever changed your view on things? Describe the effect they had on you. Or are there things you have read which you have tied in with your view of yourself and world?
  • If you had to take one book with you to a desert island from which you will never return, what would it be?

As this work originally emerged through collaboration, it would be wonderful if colleagues could add questions to keep it developing.Please do so and let me know if you have enjoyed working with it in the classroom as much as I do; the sheer delight expressed by pupils as they share their widely differing experiences is always a privilige to host.

As the father of a dyslexic pupil I am fully aware of the frustrations this topic might arouse for pupils who feel like tearing books up in frustation at their exclusion from the party. However the inivitation to focus on what interests you and the addition of questions related to music,films and now digital media opens the word reader up to all.

How would you use these wonderfully open ended questions?

I am going to blog on literacy based themes over the next six weeks and have work to share next week on a whole school literacy marking policy in development.

I would also like to draw attention to Kesgrave and Farlinygaye High School’s Teaching School Conference where we have a superb speaker in Ian Gilbert and several outstanding workshops on offer. If you are interested please click on the link here. If you download the flyer the full variety of what is on offer will hopefully be of interest.

It would be great to see fellow twitterarti and blogging comrades there on the 24th June.



Marginal gains and class presentations…

This is an effective way to increase the learning power surrounding presentations.Presentations are and always have been a vehicle for student voice. Ron Berger’s learning critiques inherently understand this, stemming as they do from the idea of presenting work in progress and creatively exploring,as a community of learners, how to make it beautiful.The learner’s craft voice emerges and evolves through a presentation dialogue.

So,when pupils are presenting their finished work as a drama,or their research as a presentation how can we enhance their learning and that of their fellow students at the same time?

Here again the critique structure plays its part in turning the classroom into a forum for marginal gains dialogues.We see this to some extent in the performance critique structure of television shows like Strictly or The X Factor.

Before the presentations begin divide the class into marking groups for the key success criteria.This provides a forum for success criteria debates,building on the co-construction of these criteria that will have started the lesson, a feedback loop to deepen learning.

For example,if it was a dramatic presentation have groups for:voice,body language,originality,proxemics and pace.These criteria are more powerful if they are co-constructed and the evidence for success explored.Write these on the board to provide a feedback grid for the pupils and ask pupils to give each of these criteria a mark out of ten.

Then tell the class the rules of feedback. Students receiving feedback are only allowed to say thank you for their feedback.Tell them this is to enhance the be kind,specific and helpful environment that the feedback flows within.Those groups giving feedback on the performance need to adhere to the be kind,specific and helpful mantra,too.As a teacher monitor this and gently but firmly dock marks for groups who use critique for point scoring rather than point rewarding.

Here’s the heart of the post for me.When the critique groups are debating their feedback,give your feedback to the group which has just presented in private at the front of the class.This is such a powerful way to convey your enthusiasm for the students’ work without it appearing to confer favouritism or humiliation in front of peers. It’s a genuine face to face feedback dialogue off stage.You just focus on these students.It has the advantage too of placing you in the role of being just one critical friend,rather than the critical friend.Furthermore,when the class feedback begins,more often than not,your words are reinforced,echoed and debated,intensifying their impact for the students.

You have to monitor the feedback, but its transparency can be seen by all as the marks mount building excitement.If this is done within an established critique culture,the quality of the craft debate over success criteria is profound and respectful; everyone has to be involved and the think,pair,share nature of the ‘what’s our mark and why?’ dialogues create a buzz of purpose in the classroom.The level of performance intensifies after most critiques as each group demonstrates their deepening awareness of what success looks like.

Try it,adapt it, improve it, critique it.Be kind,be specific,be helpful.

The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime…

I was lucky enough today to watch Jim Smith inspire,amuse and challenge with his ‘lazy’ teacher approach at Copleston High school. I was sitting next @nwatkin and discussing our shared passion for Learning Critiques when Jim began.He immediately grabbed my attention by describing teachers as dream weavers.It brought to mind that ubiquitous and double edged quote from Henry Brook Adams: ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell, where his influence stops.’ I have brooded over this post recently and Jim crystallised my ideas for me: we are the dream weavers and dream weavers equally need a place to dream and crucially dreamers to dream with. What is the number one shift in UK education I would like to see in my lifetime? More opportunities,time and policies geared to the sharing of professional dialogues between staff from different schools. I loved @learninngspy’s post about the power of Twitter.I was inspired and encouraged by the positive mindsets polemicised by @johntomsett and @pekabelo. It would have been great if they had been sitting around the table to share ideas with and arguably to some extent they were; I could hear the themes and concerns of Twitter as an undercurrent in Jim’s presentation,references to @fullonlearning’s marginal gains and the posts of the @ICTEvangelist. I have heard them too in my own lessons recently like tessellated hexagons of thought connecting the woven dreams of the classroom dialogue.I want more of it for all.

I remember being fortunate enough to attend the Cramlington Learning Conference the year they were preparing to welcome years Seven and Eight for the first time.In a workshop a teacher explored her new thinking and curriculum ideas but bemoaned the fact that she had one week at a hotel for planning whilst other colleagues had two,three or four weeks and I reflected ruefully on how disproportionate the opportunities for learning are for teachers across the country. I had never had a week off to plan,during school time, in my career. When we start our careers we are constantly in dialogue with staff at different schools, during our training placements, but the richness of that experience is withdrawn as we qualify and our learning arguably only accelerates at a similar pace again through promotion or moving schools. If we want that acceleration and to remain in the same schools how else can we achieve it? I would argue that we need to take the Teachmeet model into a Would Like to Meet a Teach zone. I know this has amusing connotations!However, it echoes the desire above to meet with colleagues from Twitter and to move lessons forward with renewed energy in the classroom. I am trying to set up something similar between local schools in our Teaching Schools consortium. The research and development ideas allied to it can be found here.These are the opportunities to meet we are trying to create.

Name: School:

Subjects taught:

Area of interest for development:

Observe good practice
Dialogue with other colleagues to address specific issues
Meet to co – plan and team teach a lesson in another school.
Meet to Co-plan a scheme of work/unit of work
Other, please specify in space below

Area of interest for Research

Meet to start/plan a cross school action research initiative
Work with colleagues from other schools as a triad or pair on a cross school lesson study
Undertake a one day internship/work shadowing programme
Leading or taking part in subject networks
Other, please specify in space below

I fully believe that every member of staff should have an entitlement to a week’s placement at another school, once every two years, to keep their understanding of developing pedagogy fresh. Whether this was taken as a week’s placement or in two/three/one day combinations would be up to the teacher to negotiate. I think it would make a massive difference to our passion for learning,our desire to improve ourselves as we shoulder the burden of helping others and our sense of perspective on our profession.Why are there negative voices in some staff rooms? I think because somewhere along the line they have felt disenfranchised and their cynicism sets in like a plague. If we want a more positive workforce,then we have to keep it in dialogue with that passion for learning,that love affair with the classroom that drew us into teaching in the first place. The more we sense the communal nature of our role within varied school settings,the stronger we will be.For we are the things that dreams are made of.

Blame @thelazyteacher for this serious outburst of professional positivity!

And salute the enterprising spirit of @Edutronic_Net

Da Do Ron Ron

Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence should be required reading on every Teacher Training course in the country;it synthesises the craft of teaching and inspires it in equal measure.A year after reading it,I am still learning from it and still reflecting on its power,honesty and potential. It’s a true game changer.

The ideas are the equivalent of a teaching Trojan Horse.Once its inside a classroom your enemies to learning are corralled, vulnerable and easier to overrun.Excellence,Ron argues , is transformational.It redefines us as learners, changing us forever.It’s the moment when the Superhero/heroine of the future sense their power.It’s thrilling;it’s viral.

One way of harnessing that power is to use Ron’s Learning Critiques.These can be employed in any subject,in any sector.How do they work? Like endlessly,benevolent critical friends.Like the X Factor or Strictly judges urged to focus on marginal gains. I am going to describe a typical critique lesson to try to give you a moorish flavour of the approach.In the book Ron explores this in greater detail on pages 92-98.

Let’s say your class is coming to a lesson preparing to hand in some work.Or, halfway through a lesson, are underway with some work.Or, that you want to start them off on some work using a model of success or one that could be described as work in progress.Whatever stage you are at, you are now almost ready to critique. But one key element remains. You have to discuss or re-discuss your success criteria.The dialogue over these is essential to the quality of the commentary that the critique produces. As Berger himself says: ‘I use whole class critiques as a primary context for sharing knowledge and skills’. I would argue they function as your learning objectives,your what are we looking for;co-constructing success criteria functions as the engine room for empowering expertise. As such,they have to be co-constructed. Let’s say we are exploring for instance what makes a good spooky story possibly employing the learning wheels popularised by @huntingenglish. Here’s an example of one I used recently.Some of these criteria came from suggestions from the front,some were formed from Ant & Dec pupil feedback. Berger suggests this is a core approach to ‘refining our criteria and vision of what constitutes excellence’ Once you have these in place,agreeing what success in this piece of work looks like, then you iterate or reiterate the ground rules for critique.

Preparing the class for critique

These have been highlighted by many other Berger acolytes before me,but they are always worth repeating.This is because Berger wants them to become ‘a habit of mind that suffuses the classroom in all subjects’.

He has three key rules:

Be Kind – the environment for critique has to be safe for it to engage pupils’ trust and respect.Sarcasm and silliness are taboo.

Be Specific – avoid empty praise.Why is it good? Why do you like it? Name the areas of success.Return the trust of the writer by emphasising the impact of their work on you as a reader.

Be Helpful – ask yourself, how will my comments develop the work of the writer and that of the class? What are the most important ways in which this work can evolve? Be better? Write for your reader,not for yourself.Helpful critique is selfless.Begin your helpful comments with ‘To develop your work further you could..’

I have been using these ground rules for a year and they are such a great investment.You cannot get interest rates like these anywhere else. Pupil’s begin to understand these three simple statements as their classroom rules.They suffuse and change the atmosphere.If a pupil misbehaves, you remind them of this agreed way of working and they almost always get the critique of their behaviour immediately. They know they have betrayed the agreed ethics of their classroom.An Ethic of Excellence,as a set of critique principles, plays its part in creating outstanding standards for behaviour.

Once the class have been reminded of the expectations,then decide on the type of critique you wish to employ.Berger suggests there are two key types.

Gallery Critiques

In a gallery critique the work of every pupil is available for critique.The gallery might be their desks or it might be the classroom’s walls. Berger suggests this begins in silence,pupils explore what they like about their fellow student’s work and the class discuss why.They then move onto being specific and helpful suggesting marginal gains for improvement. I have found these critiques can be both oral or written via peer marking,pupils writing their critiques.Afterwards the recipient of the critique might ask in a feedback session,’what did you mean when you said,had I considered trying to write a more enigmatic ending?’ The resulting dialogue can then produce whole class suggestions for the enigma creation.Gallery critiques emphasise the responsibility a class possesses for each other’s development.Another hidden jewel within Berger’s approach is the ‘in’ it gives teachers to the shaping power of peer dialogues.

Individual in depth Critique

In an in depth critique the class look at the work of one child or group and spend time critiquing it thoroughly. This allows for the teaching of key vocabulary and the concepts behind the discipline of the work to emerge from modelling and exploring improvements suggested by the whole class as the work is critiqued.

Four or five years ago I began to explore these ideas with @dalebanham at the schools history conference when we looked at taking the two stars and a wish concept into what we called X Factor Peer Assessment.History and English students performing speeches which were critiqued by a Cheryl/Louis combination ( two stars) who praised kindly using agreed success criteria and a Simon Cowell/Gary Barlow character who critiqued for development.X factor peer assessment was great fun and allowed for critique role playing (It may even be a good way to introduce the concept of critique as it is now so ever present as an entertainment concept from The Great British Bake Off to Strictly Come Dancing) but it was limited to three voices,whole class critiques bring in so many other voices and experts.

An Ethic of Excellence is visible learning in full flight.It is not a lightening bolt but it is a great conductor for learning,which produces real music.Embed it,over a year,and your class will emerge from their cocooned roles into new thinkers,open,receptive and reflective.It’s all about a creative dialogue that builds excellence.
Please see Appendix E when clicking the link above for a full PowerPoint presentation on Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence.
A fabulous example of the power of critique to shape beautiful work is the celebrated conclusion to Black Adder Goes Forth.This emphasises how creativity is a shaping process,an evolutionary dialogue on the road to beautiful work.

A Life in the Day of an English Teacher…

This Friday seemed to sum up for me so much that is both fulfilling and frustrating about our professional lives this Autumn.The mix of Thursday’s Open Evening and an AS Lit lesson first thing was leaving the time to,plan,sleep and mark or eat,sleep,teach as @nwatkin would have it,very thin and I was being observed first thing,too.Ah,well,Twitter to the rescue.

The Kite Runner is a brilliant introductory text for AQA’s A Struggle for Modern Identity course,its excoriating examination of the absurdity of racism is superbly staged.I was planning to look at the text’s conclusion and wanted to link it to issues in Afghanistan today, when I discovered a tweet about Gordon Brown’s piece in The Huffington Post about the fate of Malala Yousufzai. The plain but horrifying statistics quoted in the article allied to the barbarity and tragedy of the attack upon Malala, made me think about a favourite poem.Andrew Motion’s Anne Frank Huis.Its simple,true statement of Anne’s ‘patience missing its reward’ has haunted me since first reading the poem.The ghostly beauty of the final lines have an eternal poignancy.

In class we discussed the article and then moved onto the poem, exploring its FSL through questioning.The connection between the bravery of the two girls,over fifty years apart,in the face of oppression brought some wonderful commentary from the class.There are some days when the serendipity between ideas,like the praxis advocated by @jamestheo,just works.Throughout the questioning process I used the Ant/Dec formula to provide think,pair,share dialogues to allow reflective development of the student’s responses.We moved onto exploring the novel’s conclusion by watching the end of the film and analysing the end of the novel.The final exploration of the novel’s conclusion was enriched by all the prior learning opportunities created beforehand.Opportunities it has to be said enhanced by the nature of the course itself.I knew the lesson had had an impact,both from the students’,’Thanks Sir’ as they left and the response of the trainee teacher observing,with whom I tried,as always now, to share the craft thinking that had gone into planning and delivering the lesson.It was a good start to the day.I had spent an hour finishing marking the class’s work and planning it that morning.Time well spent.I was looking forward to break and the usual banter in the team room to follow.

When I got there,there was no banter.I found several colleagues all reading one exam paper just returned from this Summer’s exams.They were angry.Dismayed.The work was outstanding yet it had received a belittling grade.Our fury and frustration at this outcome dominated our conversation.We decided we had to act.I rang the exam board and got us some time to appeal.Another colleague,pressed for time but determined to fight back began typing up the essays.Others gathered at lunchtime to go through the work and agree on how to approach appealing the judgement.This weekend we have all sent each other our work on it, which we will collate on Monday and send off in hope for the student who we believe has been wronged.Hours of our time will have gone into this process.It’s a fight we have to have but also one that we shouldn’t have to.It has become a depressingly familiar experience.One that I have reflected on regularly over my career.Why when teachers and their pupils work so hard together to achieve real learning,is it not recognised and rewarded by our examination system? Whole lives can be affected by the value judgements our society ascribes to these grades,yet so often they can be flawed or just wrong.We don’t invest enough on the system or in those that toil under pressure within it and then we feign surprise at the result.Paul Giness‘ favoured quote from Einstein seems appropriate here:insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result.

So that was a free and lunch gone.Year Seven followed.The classroom again restored my faith in why we do this great job.We were looking at the poem What is White? by Mary O Neil following on from reading the chapter in Skellig when Mina asks Michael ‘What Colour is a Blackbird?’.It is a lovely poem,allusive and alive with teasing metaphors and extended abstract thinking about the colour white.I wanted to encourage and support the hypothesising within the poem so used an idea that others are probably using but also came to me recently which I called Yahoo Answers.The pupils had to write down as many questions as they had in response to reading the poem and then we played Yahoo Answers.The pupils asked their questions and,using the no hands rule,I picked five students to answer it.At the end of the process the student asking the question had to pick their five star answer and explain why it resonated with them to the rest of the class.We did this for forty five minutes.I hardly spoke.It worked like a dream.The pupils really took to the idea of recreating the popular Internet search verbally in the classroom.It required almost no explanation time.Everybody spoke.We followed it with four Ant/dec sequences around the classroom,using the Countdown Timer to move around.There were so many dialogues taking place,between different students,it was a delight to observe.At the end of the lesson,I said the first pupil to leave will be the one that does the best Gangnam Style dance.They all had to go together.Leaving the room on Friday afternoon smiling.

On my mind was the essay from a student in another class last year.We are working in strange and conflicting times in our classrooms and we need to believe in ourselves as teachers to see them through.