Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

October 5, 2014
by Pete Jones
0 comments

The Fear of Failure: Part Two.

Following my previous blogpost concerning self-esteem and the importance of early intervention to allow students to develop ‘success-seeking behaviour’, this post now looks in more detail at what students do to protect their self-esteem. I just thought I’d sum up the previous blog post with Dan Brinton’s tweet about what the post meant to him. This was exactly the point I was trying to make.

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As I mentioned yesterday, “students who think highly of themselves tend to embrace challenging tasks that ultimately improve their skills and enhance their chances of success in future activities and tasks.” The importance of self-esteem to underpin a growth mindset cannot be underestimated.  The students who think highly of themselves tend to invest more effort and persistence in tasks. It’s a fundamental truth. Think of those students with poor self-esteem, they often struggle to embrace challenges and lack the will to keep going in the face of difficulty. As I mentioned previously, self-esteem is exceptionally important to young people. Protecting what they have can have very negative consequences as Andrew Martin points out in detail in his excellent book (plug number 2).

So what do students do to protect their self-esteem due to the fear of failure? These are the signs. I have shared this with my Year 11 GCSE students. They recognised many of the symptoms within themselves, and it did make them think about changing these behaviours, so I recommend you do the same.

 Attributes of students who fear failure.

  1. Self-handicapping.obsatcleStudents will put obstacles in the path of success and use it as an excuse for performing badly. This means that they can blame the obstacle, and not their own competence, thus preserving their self-esteem. Think of the kids who went out partying rather than revising, or those who procrastinate, finding a myriad of other ‘highly important’ things they had to do rather than get down to some serious studying. Social media has a big part to play here too. For some students, they may even turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of handicapping their achievement expectations. So when the teacher, parents or peer asks why they did so badly, they have a legitimate excuse, which protects their competence and thus, crazily, their self esteem can remain intact.
  2. Defensive Pessimism. danger-expectationsStudents set out unrealistically low expectations of themselves to reduce the likelihood of failure. This can also manifest itself as a reluctance to be challenged. Again, this is something we often see, especially higher up the school. Students look to see what the minimum is to get on their course, be happy with this and make this their new target. Then if they achieve their grade, they are happy that they got what they set out to achieve, despite it being well below their expected grades, just to protect their self-esteem.
  3. Defensive Optimism.nStudents can set out expectations which are way too high; targets which no matter how hard they work, will be impossible to reach. This means that when they fail, they fail with dignity, ensuring that their self-esteem remains intact.
  4. Overstriving (Perfectionism). perfectionismThis is where students will do everything in their power to succeed, often at the cost of other things like their health and relationships. This may sound not too bad as at least they are making a positive effort. But what happens if they do fail, despite their extraordinary efforts? Failure can have a really negative impact and students begin to resent their education. Making an exceptional effort just to protect their self-esteem can have dire consequences.
  5. Success avoidance. hThink of the nail protruding from a piece of wood. The last thing you want to do is stand out from your peers because you’ve done really well. They will want to hammer you for being too clever or working too hard. This also leads to pressure next time. It’s much easier, if your self-esteem is inextricably linked to your friendships (which it so often is) to avoid success at all costs and just blend in with being average.
  6. Learned Helplessness.  Now here is the killer. This is where students just give up. Those students who have repeatedly experienced poor performance and failure protect what self-esteem they have left by just saying ‘I can’t do it’. Why try if you know you can’t do it? This is the ultimate self-defeating behaviour.

All of these behaviours can lead to chronic underachievement, which relates to the slide from our growth mindset launch below.

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Share this with your teachers, more importantly, share this with your students. We all have to recognise we weren’t born this way.  It’s our historical experiences and subsequent expectations which mould us into the learners we become.

This brings me back to the first post. These behaviours are rife in many if not almost all schools. We have to make sure our students keep achieving. We cannot let them experience failure and just leave the rails to run out. It’s too important. The consequences of poor self-esteem and the inability to develop ‘success-seeking’ behaviour is dire.

We must encourage our students to expand their view of success to include the process gains- improvement, personal bests, skill development, new understanding, not just the hard data. We must also ensure that we intervene, support and rebuild confidence when needed.

The more I think about this, the more I come back to Dan’s tweet.  “It’s obvious isn’t it? Pour absolutely everything into arresting the first negative deviation from the flight path. Everything.”

Thanks Dan. Thanks Marc for introducing me to this book too. Highly recommended.

October 4, 2014
by Pete Jones
4 Comments

The Fear of Failure: Part one.

I have recently read this excellent book on recommendation of Marc Smith. I was a few pages in when I realised just how powerful this book was going to be on my thinking and I heartily recommend you buy it. It’s a comprehensive discourse on how to support a growth mindset and what stops us from becoming successful- the fear of failure.

 

Its election time in Jersey. As a states employee, I’m not allowed to comment on the current and historical state of play of our educational system, but lets just say it could be seen as devisive as this article about the minister for Education, Sport and Culture comments in his outgoing message to the States as he hangs up his political cap.

My children go to their local primary school. My eldest daughter is in Year 6. Many of her friends will not be going on to their local secondary school, but my daughter, who has the highest CAT score in her class really wants to come to my school (her local comprehensive). I often discuss ideas with her and she gets excited. She hears me speaking with as much energy and enthusiasm as I always do. I’m an edu-geek. She knows it. It’s accepted, a little embarrassing for her, but she sees the school we are and what we want to be in the future, and she wants to be a part of it. Sadly, many of her good friends at primary are not going to join her. They will be going to one of the semi-private, selective schools or one of the faith schools on the island. There has been some pressure by her friends to join the elite as she is ‘so clever’. Here is where the divisiveness begins. Then, at 14, students who get a particular CAT score are again allowed to move to a selective state school. Many do. Those who are left in the state schools, left without their friends and peers do their very best to succeed and us as teachers do everything we can do ensure that these students don’t feel like failures, but it is hard at times. It could be gathered that through this process, they have been told twice that they are not good enough or not wealthy enough to be successful.  The impact on some student’s self-esteem can be demoralising to say the least.

So, back to the purpose of this blogpost. Dealing with the fear of failure.

Firstly, what do you think is the best predictor for next weeks test results with your class?   Well? Revision? Practice? It’s simpler than that- last weeks test results.

Now think about this. What are the best predictors for future enthusiasm and engagement? Topic choice? Use of technology? Agency? Again, it’s simpler than that- what enthusiasm and engagement are like right now.

So, to the crux of the matter. What is the risk of the fear of failure for next week? Next term? A lifetime? Yes indeed, what it’s like right now.

 

This has had more of an alarm bell ringing in my head than anything I’ve ever read before. It’s so darn obvious. And it does ring true. Think of those students who come up from primary with a ‘reputation’, for them, that reputation is often seen as impossible task to shift for the student and more often than we would like, students revert to type. Think of those students who lack motivation by the end of Year 7. Do they all suddenly become super motivated in Year 11? Certainly not all, despite all the interventions, going on report, the great form tutor pep talks, the meetings with parents.. So what can we do? We have to recognise that TODAY’S SUCCESS IS FUNDAMENTAL TO FUTURE SUCCESS. It was at this point I finally gave in and could see a use for those ‘flight paths’ of predicted achievement. If you fail, and you don’t get the opportunity to address that failure and turn it into success, we start to see a different pattern immerge from that perfect line on the flight path.

 

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So if today’s success is fundamental to future success, what should we be doing differently? Well, this is where the C word really starts to hit me. CULTURE. We need to build a culture of ‘success seeking students’ from the moment they enter the door every morning. It’s why we need to ensure that any failures are not just brushed under the carpet or ignored, but we do something about it. And quickly. Don’t let things slip early on. Don’t let students accept failure, don’t let them accept being average or settling for mediocrity. Allow them to fail of course.  But let the students know that they can get there. It may be tricky, it may be painful at times, but they can do it. No matter their starting point, progress can be made, they can be successful. We need to be relentless about this. Every day. Every lesson. No excuses.

We need to ensure all our students are success seekers and don’t fear failure to ensure academic success and well-being.

So what are the attributes of success seekers? Andrew Martin states in his excellent book that they should:

  • Be forward looking
  • Pursuers of challenge
  • Have a  healthy school-life balance
  • See school as a journey, not a race
  • Have a quiet confidence, and a determination for personal excellence
  • A desire to achieve to please themselves, not others
  • See themselves as stars in their own right.

Who wouldn’t want that for their students? Question is, how do we ensure that students grow and maintain these traits? It’s clear that through reading this book, a lot of this is tied up with self-esteem.

self esteem.001

Self esteem is a top priority for our students. Protecting self-esteem is a number one pastime for those pesky teens. They will often go to extraordinary lengths to protect it, often at the cost of academic success. With self-esteem tending to be based on cleverness or competence, it’s hardly surprising that the fear of failure can have such a negative impact on young people.

The more success you have, the higher the self-esteem, so growing and maintaining those traits should be our students and teachers a key aim.  Martin goes further stating that “students who think highly of themselves tend to embrace challenging tasks that ultimately improve their skills and enhance their chance of success in future activities and tasks.” And that “Students who think more highly of themselves tend to invest more effort and persistence in tasks.” Boom! This is why we cannot allow students to not achieve continual progress and feel success. The correlation between prior and future attainment is incredibly powerful. It also means that just telling students about a growth mindset isn’t enough, they need to have the self-esteem to embrace the challenge, to persevere in the face of difficulty, to respond to criticism and to see effort as the path to mastery.

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This brings me back to culture. Does your school and your curriculum develop students self esteem? Do you scrutinise the progress made by each member of your class, and stop, pick up and sort out those who have failed. Do you make the biggest deal ever of those students who have not kept up the same standard that they started with in September? If not, you can expect them to fail more frequently in the future. This is covered in more detail in Andrew Martin’s excellent book. I will discuss what students do to protect their self-esteem due to a fear of failure in the next post.

 

We need to demonstrate to students how failure and poor performance can provide us with important information about how they can do better next time and we need to help students understand that failure and poor performance say a lot about how hard they try, the way they do things and their knowledge AND THAT THESE THINGS CAN BE IMPROVED. IMG_1066

 

August 3, 2014
by Pete Jones
4 Comments

Top Ten Tips for developing a Growth Mindset in your Classroom

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  1. Be Critical. Students should expect and welcome criticism. They must also be given the opportunity to act on any criticism or critique. This will allow students to realise that through improving their work and responding to feedback, they can be better than they were. For this to happen, the culture of improvement needs to feel completely normal. As teachers, we also need to think about how and when we give feedback. We should not always tell students how to improve. What if we gave them an exemplar piece of excellent work and asked them what changes they would make? Or get them to write a success criteria based on this to help students see what was missing? Or maybe just come back to the same piece later in the term and look at what improvements they would make. We need to make our students far more aware that they can improve without us ‘butting in’ every five seconds.IMG_1108
  2. Share the pain! Encouraging discussion about what students in your class find difficult; what they are struggling with can be really helpful for students. It helps students realise that we can all be challenged, no matter our starting point. There may be ways in which students can find answers, but it’s also incredibly healthy to listen to the nature of struggle. We can all overcome challenges or set backs, and together, we can all keep going. As the teacher, we need to let students struggle. Don’t always offer the solution, this way students will realise they are capable of doing it for themselves, through perseverance, reflection and effort.jakub
  3. Question the effort. Questioning serves a pivotal role in nurturing a growth mindset. How could this be even better? What do you need to work hard at to improve on this? Is it time to adopt a different approach or do you need to just keep going? Are you putting in enough effort for you to make major improvements this time? Go and have a look at X’s work. What can you tell me about the approach she has taken with this work? Getting the right answers is part of the battle; the other is insisting that students respond to what they know about how to improve. The proof being in the pudding so to speak.IMG_1150
  4. Make it difficult. What about those students who are producing great work without struggle? Is this because they are working exceptionally hard? Putting in extraordinary effort or is it too easy? As designers of learning, we must ensure that everyone struggles. Without making mistakes, we don’t learn. Without a real sense of challenge, the idea that you can grow as a learner is a fallacy. There is always a sense of struggle for almost every learner. As teachers, we need to help make those challenges explicit for every learner. Students cannot hide away from the things they always find a challenge. Whether that be presenting to the class, handwriting, spelling or something more subject specific. With hard work, every student can improve. They need to know that. They need to be given the chance to find out!Year 10 Critique
  5. Make a big deal about effort. This starts with us posing the challenges, talking about the qualities required for excellence. “I know this is going to be exceptionally difficult”, “It’s going to take a lot of effort”. When those challenges are complete, we need to give space in our lessons to reflect and celebrate on the effort it has taken to get there. To celebrate the struggle, to ensure students realise that it was all worth it. They are now more intelligent and capable than they were at the start of this lesson, project or scheme of learning.erin 3
  6. Acknowledge the effort. Make a big deal of those who are putting in the effort. Those who are spending time on their homework. Talk about their work ethic in the class, and what effect it has on the quality of their work and understanding. Let those who are not putting in as much effort see what happens when you do. Keep persevering with those who aren’t. The more they are surrounded by a strong work ethic and a persistent teacher, they will crumble!jade
  7. Demonstrate that work ethic yourself. Be ready at the door, welcoming the students in for another challenging lesson! Have their work marked when needed. Talk to students about their improvements as they enter the door. Make sure you embody the work ethic you want to see in your students.IMG_0952
  8. Display a Growth Mindset. Make your classroom a place where they can thrive as a learner. Have work of exceptional standard for them to see on your walls. Have examples of great learners in your subject. What did they do to get where they are now? How passionate about their work did they have to be become great? What would the greatest minds say about your work? If Steven King were going to mark your horror story, what would he say about how to improve the suspense in this passage?  If Sir Dave Brailsford were to mark your long answer paper for GCSE PE, what marginal gains would he say you could do to improve? Who are your local heroes? Who are those amazing people who have kept going despite enormous challenge to make a name for themselves? The Catherine Granger’s of this world.IMG_1066
  9. High expectations for every single student. If you know about the Pygmalion effect, then you know about the exceptional power we have as teachers to affect students’ lives through our own expectations for them. Know every student can work hard, can embrace challenge, can develop their understanding and can continually improve.IMG_0324
  10. Provide elements of choice. Allow students opportunities for students to have periods of autonomy and choice. This will lead to greater persistence, productivity, well-being and ultimately better understanding through finding their own path, learning for themselves.

 

Imagine if every classroom, every teacher instilled this culture within your school. Every day, every hour, every minute. It would be transformational. Look to see how it affects the learning culture within your classroom and be prepared to share it with others. Teachers can be the very antithesis of a growth mindset. Having routines and expectations of ‘that bottom set’, which haven’t changed in the last 20 years. This is your biggest challenge. Embrace it!

July 29, 2014
by Pete Jones
0 comments

The Corridor of Excellence

IMG_1212As part of our schools drive towards developing a culture of excellence, you may have noticed me tweeting (once or a million times) about our ‘Corridor of Excellence’. I have long banged on about how we should celebrate learning in schools. In fact, two of my first ever posts addressed this here and here.

In the Spring term, I gave an assembly to the school about how we should look to celebrate achievement and excellence at school and showed them the ‘before and after’ slides of the corridor, amongst other ideas. To my delight, there were many ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from the audience. That week, students came up to me and asked; “Are we really going to do that?” To which I replied, “Yes!” The students were delighted.

IMG_0452Our school is a 60’s build, with not a great deal of space and certainly has some dingy corridors, just crying out for a bit of attention. The “Ethic of Excellence” display was number one on my list of things to do.

Soon enough, the Easter holidays came and the caretakers did their thing. I collected loads of old frames from a local framers in St. Helier (The main town in Jersey). These were from their more affluent customers who wanted stuff reframing. They kept all the old frames and I picked them up once a month until we had enough. I now have enough to cover the wholes school, so if you need some, look no further!  Each one was backed with black painted hardboard and the frames were sprayed bright colours. We approached a local signage firm about the lettering and that worked out very reasonably. The lights were done, frames put up and we were good to go.

 

IMG_1054 IMG_1048 IMG_1067In the assembly, I spoke to the students about excellence and what it means to create work of excellence, so I thought it would be great for the first thing to go in the frames before the work itself was their own understanding of excellence, what it means to them and what advice they would give to other students who wanted to create it.

I set up a questionnaire on our VLE and the answers came flooding in. Their answers were highly personal and incredibly inspiring.  It really made me think… This is what our students think about excellence. They want to be inspired to this level of dedication by their teachers. To commit wholly to their learning, to raise their game again and again, to be the best they can be, to draft, redraft again and again until it’s their own level of excellence. There were literally hundreds of brilliant messages of excellence. 

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I took each one, played around in Photoshop, choosing some cool fonts and printed out, laminated and put the exhibition together.  This was such an inspiring start to the wall of excellence. Each day, as the quotes went up, more and more students and staff came and read and left inspired. I was chuffed!

 

IMG_1150Now, departments have collated what they consider to be work of excellence and we have a mélange of different exemplar work up there. I have to say, it’s not all excellent, but you need to start somewhere. It’s got the potential to be a really powerful resource for our school. I am keen for year groups to take it on, even individual form groups as well as individual departments using it. I know @ShaunAllison’s school have dedicated particular times for departments to use their wall, which is a great idea too.

IMG_1587Many schools are now developing their own ‘Corridors of Excellence’, so it’s definitely an infectious idea. I have quite a few more ideas, such as projecting essays onto the floor and a ‘Letters wall’ where copies of this month’s best congratulatory letters (focused on growth mindset) will be placed for other to see. I would love to create a hall of fame corridor, with Perspex stars, for various great learning attributes or achievements from our students. Ideally, the school becomes a living museum of brilliant ever-changing learning, which sweeps our students off their feet as soon as they enter the doors. One step at a time…But this is a good first step.

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April 14, 2014
by Pete Jones
5 Comments

The Holiday of a Lifetime

This year has been a very tough one philosophically for me. The skills, content dichotomy has been tormenting me all year. I have read countless blogs, read some great books and I totally agree knowledge comes first. Skills cannot be built in thin air. This however does not mean I feel the traditionalist call to arms for me is wholly welcome.

So. Reading all these blogs, plodding my way through my ever increasing reading list and watching at arms length, the continual spats on twitter regarding what really matters, my own standpoint has been shaky at times. I see great merit with learning a body of knowledge to use as a springboard to critical thinking and creativity. But I also see enormous value in project based learning, cross-curricular units of learning and what has been coined ‘expeditionary learning’ by Ron Berger.

There was a wonderful podcast of a conversation between David Price and Ron. On the arguments of learning just a vast body of knowledge, Ron uses the analogy of his parents first holiday. His father had worked hard all his life and on retirement, his mother and father took a trip through Europe, stopping at various places, taking a myriad of photos to encapsulate their experience. They never stopped anywhere for a great deal of time, they never really experienced a great deal of what Europe has to offer. The train swept the couple along, without time to really explore their surroundings and to take in the view, to admire and understand what they were seeing. On their return from their holiday of a lifetime, they showed Ron their photos, arguing which castle was in which province, which grand building belonged to which city. Ron questioned whether their understanding would have been far more profound and valuable if they had got off the train, walked the streets of Rome, stopped for a real coffee, eaten gelato, even dined in an Italian home. The opportunity to ‘Go deep’ as Ron mentioned was such a missed opportunity. The views were intoxicating, a true glimpse of what was on offer, but no more than a glimpse and it left these two weary travellers more than a little confused as to what they had seen and where they had been.

Two days ago, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting one of our feeder primary schools on an open day. As with almost every primary school you enter, the displays were stunning, full of colour, vibrancy and intrigue. But soon, it was more than that, the closer I looked, the more learning I saw. The more consistent excellence I discovered. This was even more evident when I walked into a year 5 classroom. On the tables were all the students work. I opened one book. I immediately felt a deep sense of guilt. The love of learning burst open from the page. Every word beautifully crafted, every page looked like something from an arts and craft manifesto. It was stunning. The teacher came over to me and explained, with intense passion and knowledge, that this was a girl who has consistently struggled with reading and writing. This just didn’t add up. I read her work. It read beautifully. A lovingly explored project on the Victorians was exquisitely choreographed. It belonged in a museum of beautiful work, but here it was, in a plastic tray, alongside 25 other similarly inspired students. The teacher spoke at length about this girl, she showed me the intensive intervention which happens every day on phonics to help her access the curriculum. It was very clear that this girl was receiving every possible ounce of help to develop a passion for learning. The teacher took me round the class, showing me some brilliant project work. A wonderful geographical exploration of the costal erosion after the big storms in Jersey. Students had asked brilliant questions, posed to experts at the beach where most damage had been done. They explored answers with expert geographical language and created some brilliant models to replicate their knowledge. On the side of the whiteboard was the biggest shopping list I’d ever seen. The children had planned, organised and bought the food for an expedition to the scout hut. Brilliant maths work to work out how many packets of sugar puffs were needed to feed the honey monsters. The teacher then showed me a 6 page essay written by one of the students about this trip. It read like a conversation with Jack Dee. Full of dry wit and gave such a wonderful childlike insight to walking for what must have seemed like miles. The longer this barrage of brilliant learning went on, the more I started to think about secondary experience. The more I started to think about Ron’s parents trip. For me there was no doubt that these kids were already on a trip round Europe, but they were able to get off and immerse themselves in the culture of every place they visited. They had become expert backpackers, agile and able to get to know their surroundings, with the help of a truly exceptional guide.

At this point, the teacher spoke about her own daughters experience at a local secondary school. Her child had suddenly drifted on entry to secondary. The primary school body of knowledge was largely ignored alongside those same expectations for excellence now that she had entered ‘big school’. That holiday of a lifetime seemed to be swiftly coming to an end. Instead, the regimented, regular stop-offs at a variety of interesting, yet all too swiftly visited destinations took hold. A number of guides, pulling her in a variety of possible destinations and ultimately her experience was a poor one. Her knowledge of the landscape in front of her was waining. At this point, I could see the teacher was deeply saddened about how her child had lost her way through the diluted opportunities of the secondary experience. I could also sense a deep anger at an apparent lack of challenge given to her by her new school. I started to think how crazy it is that this big jump from primary to secondary is bound up in a few end of key stage numbers. For some, that fresh start is welcome, and needed, but for many those cherished years at primary are soon swallowed up by 50 minute slots of this and that. I have seen some bright faces dull half way through year 7 in my own school.

As I said at the start if this blog, my standpoint on what we should teach, how we should teach has been under considerable strain. Walking into this primary school, seeing the relationships built between teacher and student, seeing the brilliant curriculum opportunities and ultimately the exceptional work, was a timely reminder that school is not all about building cultural capital, passing tests and finding the most efficient mode of transmitting knowledge. I’m sorry, it’s not. We need our children to develop a passion for what they learn, how they learn and what beautiful learning looks like. The difference between reading blogs, hearing the arguments on twitter and being confronted with what was clearly a wonderful primary experience was telling.

A balance must be struck between the content curriculum train Gove is pushing and providing a curriculum which allows us to get off the train and deeply immerse ourselves in experiences which can give us far more than just learning ‘stuff’. From visiting a wonderful classroom, I’ve realised we could learn so much from our primary colleagues. We need to trust that they are doing a perfectly brilliant job and learn to build on what they have done. We need to work much harder at knowing our students, at developing great immersive learning expeditions which challenge and stretch alongside building a body of essential knowledge. We should all go and spend some time in our local primaries, building great relationships with staff and students, ensuring that that holiday of a lifetime lasts a little longer.

March 16, 2014
by Pete Jones
0 comments

Developing Mastery through critique: Stolen Ideas

Cy Twobly, eat your heart out!

Cy Twombly, eat your heart out!

Having two kids of my own and with a bit of useful research under my belt, I have looked at how kids make sense of drawing faces. Funnily enough, for most of us, after inane scribbles, come two distinctive dots. Eyes, like little raisins. Our way of making sense of the world- as eye contact is such an elemental piece of early life. Putting these two raisins down on a bit of paper is a real breakthrough for the early artist.

My family and other freaks

Next comes the head. Again, the eyes are often drawn first, with the head, often a huge ball with the eyes sitting somewhere near the top of the head. Again, as little people, we see these huge people (adults) and looking up we see their eyes at the top. Makes sense eh?

Anyway. Eventually, we all start adding detail. But all of this comes from our memories, not from first hand discrimination. This continues until we are suddenly taught the power of noticing. For most, this is an incredibly difficult habit to break.

 

Last week, I introduced my students to the incredible work of Kelvin Okafor. He works with pencil, graphite and charcoal and has been stunning the art world with his hyperrealist drawings.

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Starting the lesson with an introduction to how we all draw as kids, from 2 to 12, looking at all the habits we develop as we grow as artists. Pointing out these habits really helps students address their current practice. I speak about the fact that these habits will not be broken without deliberate practice, a belief that they can improve and that without significant effort, mastery of drawing cannot happen. Students see that I can draw with relative ease. If their own drawings went wrong in the past, I would be the first port of call. ‘Sir I cant do it’, ‘it’s too difficult’. I would always look at their work and explain what was wrong, often showing them how to correct it, and so prolonging their learned helplessness. Then I read this post from the Learning Spy himself, David Didau, where he states; “ If we insist that pupils annotate every piece of work with the mistake they are able to spot, our clarification can then be applied with pin-point accuracy at the exact they have identified as where they are ready to learn. They will receive feedback only on those areas they’ve identified as containing errors or misunderstandings.”

Get in! I decided to give students about 30 pieces of orange paper I’d cut up. Each time they noticed a mistake, they would write it down, take a photo and correct what they’d done. Within twenty minutes, several students had used all these bits of paper.

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In the past, often students would have carried on regardless and ended up with a seriously dysfunctional drawing that would scare the majority of Year 7s. But now, due to their own diligence and critique they were now constantly and consistently addressing the flaws in their work AND doing something about it.

IMG_0583Having the photographic commentary of their mistakes has been really useful in analysing common mistakes and provides great visual journey of their progress to mastery.

It allowed me to be far more nuanced in my own feedback, commenting on more delicate errors. The path to mastery has just gotten that bit more student driven.

As Paul Klee once said, ‘A line is just a dot going for a walk’, and as Mr Jones said ‘So jog on then kids!’

UPDATE:

Since writing this post, I know a few wonderful teachers have developed this idea and made it their own. I thought I’d share a couple.

The unbelievably brilliant @Jobaker9, developed the idea of using an A3 print out of a brick wall, where students commented on each brick about the mistakes made and developed understanding. She wrote;

The kids (the group I dread the most) were really keen to fill in the boxes, it too no time to explain what I wanted them to do, so they just got on with it – we were drawing out their large composition, ready to start painting next week.  The work is based on Sarah Graham’s sweets.

Tyler said ‘I wanted to alter the little errors, you know, the ones you’d normally just ignore, well, I I wanted to change them’.

Georgia said she felt more confident, like she wasn’t worried about how many times she had ‘gone wrong’, she didn’t feel frustrated, and each time she wrote something down, it was like a worry had gone from her head, rather than bottling them all up, and then saying ‘I can’t do it’.

Others said they liked it as they could see others were refining too – they felt like everyone around them just effortlessly does good work, and it made them feel more comfortable knowing they also have to work at it.

brick 2They said it was nice to SEE others refining their work, as they just assume they do it perfectly first time etc.  Fabulous eh?

And @ewenfields, remarked on a lesson study observation where @rachel_young84 adapted the ideas and made this excellent PPT to develop the thinking of her students.

March 2, 2014
by Pete Jones
5 Comments

A Manifesto for Excellence: Work in Progress

A key part of my new role is to help develop ‘A curriculum of excellence’ at Key Stage 3. When I think of excellence, I think of the most successful examples of excellence I can think of. Being a bit of a food snob, I wrote (albeit superficially) about Heston Blumenthal’s Manifesto for excellence at the Fat Duck restaurant. Being a lover of great football, excellence also makes me think about the Tika-Taka mastery of Barcelona FC. It makes me think about the culture that these giants of the food and football world respectively have worked tirelessly to develop, which has seen them held up as the very best in their fields. Then I look at our school system. The opportunities within our curriculum for excellence, our school day, the expectations of the teachers, the parents and the students. What is it we are here to deliver? What are we here to create? And what should be the experiences of our 10 plus years of schooling? These views differ from school to school, from teacher to teacher, and from student to student.  The national curriculum has little consistent impact once it is delivered into every classroom. We all read it differently; we all have our passions and our beliefs on how it should be taught. There is a big difference between the achieved curriculum and the actual curriculum dictated by the government as Dylan William stated here. There is a mismatch amongst us all. That will never change.

 

The opportunities the curriculum offers is something I care deeply about. I want students to have the opportunity to deeply explore content. To get truly immersed. I want students to be used to redrafting, critique and mastery. I want students to develop an ethic of excellence through the design of the curriculum.

 

This means creating learning which truly involves the students. A curriculum of excellence to me means deepness, responsibility and value. Students should have the opportunity to do something more with the deepness of their learning than just answer questions in their exercise books or making a poster. I want students to be able to create truly valuable products from their learning and this should be recognised further than giving a level or a grade. I want that learning to be celebrated, judged by experts, reflected upon by their communities. I want that learning to be something that is carried by that student for the rest of their lives. A personal trophy cabinet of hard work which reflects their constant struggle for excellence.

 

What do we do with so much of what we learn? The exercise books stashed at the bottom of the school bag, or fester under uneaten sandwiches in lockers. It’s not good enough! We are all so passionate about learning, and getting students to value our subjects as much as we do, but why would we value what seems redundant at the end each year, each term, each topic. You only have to look at the start of a new exercise book and then the last page to see how much value students place on learning in your subject!

 

So what can we do to ensure the curriculum has greater value? Having started to read Ron Berger’s latest book; ‘Leaders of their own learning’, one thing that really struck me as a beautiful idea were ‘Passage Presentations’. Ok so the link to that clip is very ‘Americany’, and I know we cant keep student’s back a year, but the idea of presenting your achievements at school, how you’ve grown as a learner really struck a cord with me. Building a portfolio of beautiful work as we grow through school, talking about our work in front of teachers, members of the community and parents as we pass through the end of an important school age. It just makes so much sense to me. This is what I would like to see happening at my school.

 

 

Passage Presentations

 

  • Collate a portfolio of best work from all subjects to publicly present
  • Students present a narrative of their progress over a particular schooling period
  • Students discuss both academic and personal growth
  • Present to community body; made up of staff, students, their parents and members of the local community
  • The presentation should explain why students are ready to move onwards and upwards, reflecting on their learning achievements
  • Students should pass or have to retry after feedback from the members of the panel

 

Recognising and rewarding an ‘Ethic of Excellence’

 

We have been toying with ideas to replace our ageing reward system at my school. The ‘Q’point has been going for years and seems to be rewarded for the most predictable of reasons. It became a race to be the first to get 50. The novelty soon wears off and students and staff alike tire of having their planners signed for ‘good work’.

My loyalty and excellence cards as requested by Y11

The other week, in consultation with my Y11 class, we came up with this- rewarding true excellence, a star would be gained every time a student produced work of excellence from a starting point of something which may seem impossible. If no more could be done to improve it or that the student had shown a excellence when it came to their work ethic, then students would receive the star. Rewarding the process and approach as well as the content ties in well with Dweck’s Mindset work and reinforces what we should value as learners.

 

the new prototype for departments

the new prototype for departments

Rewarding Excellence:

 

  • Departments/School provide students with an ‘Ethic of Excellence’ card to be stamped or signed at any time a student produces work of excellence or has demonstrated an exceptional work ethic despite level of difficulty
  • Student’s work, which is awarded this ‘stamp’, is automatically recorded in student’s portfolios
  • Students can receive junior and senior ‘Learning Excellence’ awards
  • All students should expect to receive this award by the end of KS3 and 4 respectively
  • Students can request work to be awarded an ethic if excellence
  • Any work which is recognised will have a letter sent home and a copy will be placed in the student’s portfolio

 

This still provides a dilemma. How do we value an ethic of excellence in subjects where there appears little opportunity to develop work of excellence? My answer is simple- we must provide opportunities for students to create work of excellence in all subjects. Developing mastery, depth and real challenge. I do feel that this is something which can be developed through nurturing the culture of excellence with all stakeholders (I hate that word too). Each department needs to question what an ethic of excellence would look like in their subject area. What would students be doing? How might they be learning? What would the expectations be?  Once this has been agreed, departments will need to address how the curriculum will enable this to be delivered. They will need to pass on what excellence is to their students and design learning which helps develop the content and skills needed for excellence. It is a change in culture, and a change which will be quite a challenge for many, students included.

 

Designing opportunities for students to pursue excellence within the curriculum

 

  • All departments/projects should design learning opportunities, which allow students to pursue work of excellence
  • The curriculum should be defined by this, using clear criteria
  • Certain projects or elements of the curriculum should be specifically designed to develop excellence and mastery further than the everyday
  • Work should be expected to be as perfect as the student can create and be publicly displayed
  • Multiple drafts of learning or heavily critiqued work should be the norm

 

One thing which I am hoping will be ready by Easter is the creation of a ‘Corridor of Excellence’. You may have seen the pictures I tweeted a while back with the idea. It sparked a good deal of interest at the time and I know some other schools are taking up the idea too, which is wonderful. If a culture of excellence is to permeate the school, we need to surround ourselves in our best examples of excellence. We also need to display this as inspirationally as we can. Celebrating excellence with excellence in display. No curvy corrugated borders here! The frames came from a Framers in town, which would have been chucked out. A bit of spit, spray can and polish and they look great. The students in my class are buzzing to see this is really going to happen after I mentioned it in an assembly.

IMG_0452 IMG_0450

The ‘Corridor of Excellence’

 

  • Will be somewhere where work of excellence can be displayed by all subject areas
  • It should be a source of inspiration for both students and teachers
  • Departments could bid to use the space to display what excellence looks like in their subject area

 

Imagine what the school would be like if we surrounded ourselves in excellence in everything we strive for. We all say we do it, just look at our mission statements, but what if it really permeated the daily lives of us all. What kind of students would leave us after this kind of experience? The ideas above are the beginnings of my manifesto towards this happening at my school. Some things are happening as I write, some things may take a while, but I for one am determined to create a curriculum of excellence at my school. Fancy joining me?

January 27, 2014
by Pete Jones
6 Comments

Using Critique to develop an ethic of excellence


Quite a few twitter followers have been asking me about how do we get such beautiful work from our students and others have been asking me to share ideas about critique. I have to say, there is a multitude of great blogs and useful videos on this subject, but here is some advice which I live by.

Success Criteria.

Establishing a really clear, co-constructed success criteria for ongoing work is absolutely essential for students to have a platform for effective critique and a view of excellence.

This can be effectively done in two ways.

Exemplar work of excellence.

By using exemplar work of excellence from previous students, you can pick out the key criteria for work of excellence. Address the hallmarks of excellence in the work. What is it that makes this work so very special? How might this help devise a success criteria?

image

DIY

First timers, make sure you know what excellence looks like. I remember reading David Didau explaining how he would often write the same essays as the students in his class, often at the same time to get a feel for the level of challenge, where the pitfalls might be and how to write the essay successfully, I also remember him writing about PBL a while back and recognising the importance of doing the work yourself first.

If it is a new project, then the teacher should create all the elements of the learning themselves to provide a benchmark from which to agree the criteria. Exemplar work from similar projects can also be used to help create a meaningful success criteria.

 Learning on the Job.

As teachers, we are, or at least we should be the greatest exponents of this. We reflect on the quality of our teaching and provide meaningful success criteria for ourselves to judge whether we are doing a good enough job of teaching the little blighters.

For students and the teacher to build the success criteria as the project develops, there is a need to highlight learning excellence as the students develop their work and building a more robust criteria on the work as the lessons develop.

SOLO Taxonomy

The questions are for the teacher to ask the students to help build an agreed format of assessment.

The questions are for the teacher to ask the students to help build an agreed format of assessment.

 

Rather than just critiquing the physical outcomes of learning, we are now using SOLO to critique and question the depth of learning; whether concepts have been explored and understood. Does the work combine elements of understanding together? Does the work demonstrate a more complex analysis of the project concepts? Has the student developed their own conceptual understanding through the project?

 

The importance of talking, demonstrating and exploring nothing more than excellence.

 

I loath Must, Should, Could. The laziest and most pointless way of differentiating a task I can think of. If you want to give kids a get out clause for challenging work; this is it.

I’m really not keen breaking down work of excellence into level descriptors, but this is something my school will not get rid of. So as you will sadly see, this is something we still do.

 

rarely speak about anything below a 6. Always believing they can all reach this.

rarely speak about anything below a 6. Always believing they can all reach this.

Each student has these, armed with their success criteria, look for excellence

 

Never diverting from describing the work of excellence; what are the skills, aptitudes and work ethic for this to happen, what is the language of excellence expected is absolutely essential to accomplish greatness, or at least to understand the path to greatness.

Talk of excellence in your subject; use the language of excellence in your subject, surround your students with excellence, create clear pathways for excellence to flourish, provide the climate and culture for excellence to permeate your students beliefs and expectations. Through building a learning environment which addresses this learning culture, it’s more than likely that students will give critique which allows excellence to be the norm.

 

Gallery Critique.

 

I picked this idea up from a HTH video I watched a couple of years ago and have since tweaked to fit in with how we work at my school.

Each student has these, armed with their success criteria, look for excellence.

 

During a project, where we have developed a success criteria, we ask students to decide on the 3 pieces of work which they feel are closest to excellence. I remind students of the success criteria, and we discuss examples of what each strand of the criteria looks like to ensure they understand. From this discussion, work is displayed around the room; you could use pegs or pins on the wall. I have set up my classroom and played This track (amazing how many kids know what it is) to get the process going. Through careful scrutiny of each piece of work, students decide on their top three; three stars to their 3rd favourite, 2 to their second and one to the piece where they feel excellence is closest. The work of students who have the most commendations from students are then assessed as a group to find why these pieces of work are closest to excellence, what we as a group can learn from them and how even the best work can be even better. This is a great opportunity to use Apps such as explain everything to record the dialogue of assessment. Another string to the success criteria bow. This dialogue allows everyone to see what are the key traits which are creating such excellent work, but also allows the very best to see what they can do to improve further.

 Critique Protocol

I know many people have written about this before and really, you don’t need to go much further than watching Austin’s butterfly to get the idea, but there are other great examples of great critique out there. I often show them clips from ‘Masterchef, The Professionals’ as great examples of giving critique which moves the expectations of the chef closer to excellence. There is often a place for giving examples of bad critique- X Factor style to show how not to do it. Critique needs to be developmental. It needs to be accessible to the learner and grounded in the criteria of what is being learnt or practiced.

Year 10 Critique

So. That’s us. How my department look to explore, understand and make the leap towards excellence with as many students as we possibly can.

 

 

 

October 5, 2013
by Pete Jones
13 Comments

A School in Transition

beachcombing front pageIn my application for the AHT post at my school, I mentioned that despite the best efforts of the head of year 7, our transition program was a bit of a mess, well for me it was anyway. The two days, where the Year 6’s come in to get a feeling for life in a secondary school should be seen as one of the most outstanding opportunities for you to set out your stall as a school; this is what we will give you, and this is what we expect you to be, and there is no better place for you to be than here. This school is a place where we can take your learning to new places, greater heights and open new doors to where your life might lead.

In previous years, whichever teachers had free lessons in lieu of Year 11 leaving, were expected to teach a lesson. No joined up experience, no real point apart from ‘This is French, this is Art, This is Maths’, closely followed by ‘Get used to it’ I would watch students sitting in our gym, feeling just a bit uncomfortable, whilst teachers would arrive, pick the classes up one by one, to give them a 45 minute spiel about  their subject. There was a huge amount of listening involved in some curriculum areas, and not a great deal of inspiring learning happening.  I would look at some rather drawn faces at the end of the day, perhaps with some of their dreams a little tainted by 3pm on Friday. This just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t fair to them; they have just spent the last 6 years of their lives at primary school, just building up to this crucial moment. We as a school have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set out a clear path of expectations and possibilities. Teachers have a chance to grab their new learning customers and get them to buy everything in the shop, but this just wasn’t happening. Not one little bit.

 

I decided to come up with a project based on the theme of ‘beachcombing’ inspired by that amazing grains of sand picture under a microscope. I held a meeting with the head of geography, design tech, second in English, head of Year 7, and two budding young Science teachers to try and set out a plan of action. Now, this was about three or four weeks before the Year 6 cohort were to arrive, so the time was very tight. I gave some examples of how we could approach this from these subjects’ perspectives and explained my worries about how we have always done it. Each department was to have a 2 hour lesson, so that they could make the experience worthwhile, and had to design a memorable learning experience around the theme, with an attached optional homework, for students to explore their learning further over the holidays.

Within a week, I had 4 really interesting proposals of how students would spend their two hour slots, what they would be learning about and how they could further their learning over the summer break. It looked really good, it really did. I put together a homework document for students to take home and discuss with their parents and worked closely with the head of DT to create a fantastic learning experience for them.

English focused on a range of poetry styles; analysing some famous poetry about the shoreline, exploring a sensory carousel, listening to the sounds of the sea and creating some brilliant poetry at the end of the two hours.

Geography investigated why Jersey is the shape it is, how different rocks are formed and were taken on to the dunes to learn how to create a field sketch of St Ouens Bay. In the fog. I kid you not.

If you look hard enough, you may just notice the sea!

If you look hard enough, you may just notice the sea!

In Science, they had a smorgasbord of learning experiences such as ‘how do wetsuits work’ a rockpool mystery’ and a look at cell structure of seaweed and what an individual grain of sand looks like under the microscope.

A who dunnit rock pool mystery!

A who dunnit rock pool mystery!

Not quite an electron microscope, but very cool all the same.

Not quite an electron microscope, but very cool all the same.

 

In design, students were given an impassioned lecture on design classics and explored and commented on a whole range of design movements, from art deco, to Memphis, to natural forms which would then inspire their beach hut panels which were to go on the beautiful Miami lifeguard towers.

    50 kids, one Mr Booth explaining why that red box with a thing called a telephone is such a thing of beauty.

50 kids, one Mr Booth explaining why that red box with a thing called a telephone is such a thing of beauty.

analysing design periods

analysing design periods

Memphis inspired beach hut panels

Memphis inspired beach hut panels

 

I helped teach the design one and managed to get round to see all the other experiences. The students LOVED IT! Being taught by teachers who were passionate about their subject, committed to improving the transition experience and loving the opportunity to spend more than a fleeting lesson to ensure they really learnt something.

At the end of the two days, I had several lovely emails and letters from parents to say what a buzz their children had had, and how they came home full of excitement about learning and doing great things.

Over the holidays, I kept open a forum for students to speak to each other about their homework task and ask me any questions. One student in particular really caught me with her comments about doing too much! I wondered how much students would do. Would they have lost that excitement over the holidays? Would their enthusiasm have waned over the 6 week break? Only time would tell.

We had an exhibition day, where, in unparalleled chaos, we took three hours to put up an exhibition of over 150 students work, with all the kids helping, whilst lessons went on around us. It was a bloody nightmare to be honest, but the children beamed and sparkled with pride as their work went up around us. More and more tables had to be brought in to display umpteen beach huts, scaled models of geographical features, huge posters filled with different types of carefully labelled seaweeds and food chains, books and books of stunning poetry,  and much, much more. My favourite was a hand built website, with links to videos of a student performing his poetry on loads of different beaches around the island and this blog with Design, English and Science work expertly displayed. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat  that so many kids wanted to make such an extraordinary effort to produce something of such wonderful value.

Parents enjoyed being able to comment on the work.

Parents enjoyed being able to comment on the work.

Hand made glass panel made from beach glass, with lots of comments!

Hand made glass panel made from beach glass, with lots of comments!

IMG_8090

A huge variety of homework explorations were on display, including a painted garden shed!

A great use of ICT by some students.

A great use of ICT by some students.

 

There was some unrivalled rubbish in there, but that was a very small minority; I could count them on one hand. Each student had to put a comment sheet next to their work with a ‘Statement of Intent’ where students had to explain what they had done and how they did it.

students loved giving feedback to their peers

students loved giving feedback to their peers

This was just the most beautifully crafted poem, carefully placed onto the lobster pot ball

This was just the most beautifully crafted poem, carefully placed onto the lobster pot ball

 

In the afternoon, I took three groups at a time to critique the work. This they loved, giving delicate, but affirming feedback to students on their comment sheets.  After school, parents came in to look at the exhibition and their teachers had a chance to critique and award a range of particular certificates to reflect the range of skills and understanding on display.

Rock pools in a jar!

Rock pools in a jar!

IMG_3586

Just the coolest beach hut EVER!!

 

I’m sure this sounds great, but it could have been better. It was crammed and it was difficult to give everyone the display their hard work deserved. Many students had explained to me that they had never tried so hard to create something of value, but I’m sure many students didn’t get the feedback their hard work deserved because there were so many outstanding pieces to take the eye away from the everyday. One student lost his work  which he placed in his form room. That was unforgivable.

We had a great deal of parents in and invited in all our feeder primary schools to look round too.

We had a great deal of parents in and invited in all our feeder primary schools to look round too.

Parents were really happy with the start their kids had made. In my heart, this felt a little worrying, because now is when we really have to raise our game. The buzz which the project and subsequent exhibition provided was intoxicating for those children and their parents. But how will this translate into classroom expectations? I guess time will tell, but it won’t be enough. Students will switch off, be disappointed, get bored, feel frustrated and tune out. We are a work in progress, needing a great deal of critique to get us to the excellence our students deserve.

The curriculum and the teachers who teach it need to remember just how brilliant our young people can be when we set the right conditions for learning and expectations. As I said at the new headteachers ‘vision’ talk later that week;  there are three sets of people who don’t realise the potential of young minds; their parents, their teachers and the children themselves. My new job as a director of learning at key stage 3 is to do something about that. The transition project was a small nudge in the right direction.

 

September 29, 2013
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

This is not a classroom

 

beautifulFollowing the beginnings of our PBL course (Pebble-throw a pebble into a pond, watch the ripples etc) I decided to get my students to change the end of the ‘Why are we doing Pebble intro’ and go for something a little more ethereal. I attach some of the results. The one above I read out to parents as an example of what students said they wanted to happen in the classroom this year. There were a few stunned parents, mouthing ‘wow’ to themselves. I also added jokingly, “No pressure then” to a ripple of chuckles. I have a whole bank of these, written by every member of the class. Something incredibly powerful to remind me and them, what we want our classroom, our education to be about and how we will have to act to ensure we reach were we think we want to go.

They were inspired by @Sparky teaching’s wonderful ‘This is not a classroom’ posters and this video as an example of slam poetry. Their poems, which summed up their feelings of what they would get from the Pebble course had to have rhythm (try speaking them with a South London accent, works for me) and some rhyming words to help it flow. There were a couple of kids who tried to get away with ‘You need skills, to pay the bills’, but they were very quickly put in their place and we ended up with a book-full of these beauties. Each student read them out with as much ‘Street’ passion as kids from Jersey can muster, me MCing between each one. Huge respeck. (oh dear god).

Okay, I’m no English teacher, far from it, but their sentiment, their passion for learning exudes out of every syllable. This for me, is my benchmark. Our expectations for learning. Our mantra. What a beautiful start to the term this has created.

I tweeted the poem above last weekend and it was swallowed up and retweeted by educators across the world. When I told the unassuming young Year 8 girl who wrote this poem, her face literally sparkled. Following on from the ‘To praise or not to praise’ debate of recent days, a recognition and celebration of the passion for learning of our young people, I hope is acceptable. What a set of values to hold dear as we embark on a wonderful new mission for learning this year. Better than ‘The Class Rules’?

Most definitely.

Here are a few more to keep you going.

base of operation

this isnt a classroom

 

in this classroom

And I know this one isn’t quite as glossy(she made it on my iPad), but I love what Gina says about believing in yourself and being supportive.

gina