Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

January 23, 2013
by Pete Jones

Living up to your vision statement. The Universal Panacea.

These ring any bells?

“a place of excellence where children can achieve full potential in their academic, creative, personal, physical, moral and spiritual development”

“We will equip children for the demands and opportunities of the twenty-first century by offering a differentiated, effective and rigorous curriculum as an entitlement to all.”

“A professional and highly motivated staff, in partnership with parents, will encourage each child to achieve his full potential.”

“A disciplined and caring environment, based on mutual respect, each boy will be valued as an individual in his own right and his moral and spiritual development encouraged.”

We all have them. The good old vision statement. So much promise. So much positivity. So much potential to move a school forward. A vision which has at some point on an inset day a year or two ago, had been ‘written’ by the whole staff, maybe the students had their say too.

On the day, we all feel pretty good to have some say in the vision of our school. But it doesn’t take long for that vision to become a bit clouded. Usually after 9C Thursday period 5, or after a stressful break duty. Before you know it, the vision is long forgotten and when we revisit it in a year or twos time, well, it’s time to write it again isn’t it?

So my question is; do YOU know what your schools vision statement is? No, I don’t mean your one sentence strap line, I mean the meaty bit which we all invested so much thought and energy on that inset day back in September? No? Me neither.

So if the teachers who day in, day out work in that school can’t remember, let alone buy into our shared vision, what is the point?

I am a believer in having a shared vision. As a teacher, I feel like someone with vision. I think you have to. You have to see how you can get the very best out of every child. You have to think about how you will guide them to being the best they can be that year. You have beliefs. You have a holistic view on the purpose of school. Don’t you? Good.

A school can be a very different experience for every child. It can be a very different experience for every teacher. The Vision statement should help develop a shared sense of purpose and belief in what our schools should be. I think you could look at any vision statement every written; they pretty much all hold aims and values which we wouldn’t sniff at. Ok maybe the ‘21st century learner’ would get a few of us thinking fingernails on the chalkboard, but they are often full of stuff which we would find it difficult to disagree with.

But what should we do with these statements which hold such promise? Well let’s start by adopting them wholeheartedly shall we? If we really, really agree with them? A vision held by all of us, including parents and children will fundamentally influence the direction of the school. But how do we do this? How do we all live up to the vision?

Firstly, don’t put anything in there, you cannot live up to! ‘Where every child will reach their potential’ is a classic non-starter. The last thing I want the students I teach is to reach their potential by the time they are 16!

Don’t get me wrong. I am the most idealistic teacher I know. Well, knew before I joined the twittersphere and realised there’s a whole heap of outrageously optimistic teachers out there. But I want my vision statement to be realistic, to be achievable, to be held dear to all who work and learn at my school. And every day, I want that vision to be seen and experienced by the students and staff at my school.

It is up to all of us to ensure this vision is met. We all have to do our bit. So my Panacea is to live up to our vision statements. And let’s make those statements incredibly idealistic, but let’s make sure we really do live by them. And where we fall short, let’s ensure the right support is there to fix it. A vision statement, if it is to have any worth, should be something we are challenged to live up to every single day. Otherwise, what’s the point?

So.. For what it’s worth,  here’s my idealistic, achievable mission statement for me. Let me know what you think.

  • I want every student I teach to be known by me; what makes them tick, what I can do to motivate, support and encourage them to be the very best they can be today and tomorrow.
  • I want every student I teach to feel incredibly inspired and challenged by what they are learning in my classroom.
  • I want every student I teach to see effort as the path to mastery. Nothing will be gained without a lot of hard work.
  • I want every student I teach to understand what beautiful work looks like and what they need to give to produce it.
  • I want every student I teach to talk passionately about their learning to their friends and parents.
  •  I want every child I teach to know what they are doing is really valuable and important.
  • I want every child I teach to learn to be resilient enough to keep going when things get tough.
  • I want every student I teach to leave my classroom wanting more.
  • I want every student I teach to know they can become truly brilliant.

Idealistic? Yup. Achieveable? I bloody hope so.

So, a vision statement should hold us to account. It should make us question our teaching, our relationships in the classroom. It should make us question our values and it should allow our students, our parents and our community to be inspired and excited by the purpose of our institution. And maybe, just maybe, we should ALL know what it is!

You can read more Panacea posts here





January 6, 2013
by Pete Jones

Learning from the Fat Duck. Developing a manifesto for excellence in schools.

It’s been a long time since I first started thinking about writing this blog post. In fact, it was the final week of Masterchef the Professionals, which was mid-December, but you know what it’s like. Things get in the way, namely 11 for Christmas and all the cooking, drinking and eating that involves. So it’s new year, but this post is really important to me so I didn’t want to rush into it.

Zoe Elder and Alex Quigley among a hatful of others, including my outgoing head teacher have spent a lot of the academic year analysing the extraordinary success of our British Cycling Team and more importantly, the thinking of Dave Brailsford and his Marginal Gains work. The way that the very best thinking has been utilised has been incredibly inspiring and I recommend you soak up their ideas here and here.

I have often looked at Masterchef and felt a real affinity with the approach to learning the young chefs and amateurs always demonstrate. At the start of the programme, they always have quotes from the contestants saying such things as; “I’ve learnt so much, this has been an incredible experience, I don’t want to leave now, I just feel I’m beginning to find myself on this incredible journey.” You know the sort of thing. I have long felt that this is the exact response I want students to have in the school I work in. This is MY holy grail. Gulp.

Anyway, back to the episode in question. It was the semi-final of Masterchef. The three remaining contestants were about to get their first taste of working in one of the best restaurants in the world, the restaurant which has changed the face of gastronomy; The Fat Duck in Bray.

What grabbed me straight away, was how extraordinary, exciting, creative and beautiful each of the dishes shown at the start of the programme as the narrator introduced the new challenge.

As James “Jocky” Petrie explains, “ We want to try and take our guests away from an average, run of the mill experience meal. We’re taking them out of their comfort zone, places that they’ve never been before or places that they want to revisit and these dishes hopefully conjure up that experience.”

The chefs created some of the dishes in front of the budding Masterchef finalists and were taken around the different parts of the restaurant. It was just so inspiring. I kept thinking. This is what I want my school to be like. Creating work of quite exceptional brilliance, through many levels of exploration, analysis, critique and always searching for absolute perfection in an environment which encourages everyone working there to stretch what they think is possible. I was completely immersed in my holy grail. Except this was a three Michelin star restaurant, not a local comprehensive. So readers, you may ask where this is going…

Well just like Zoe and Alex have with marginal gains, I wanted to see what schools can learn from the best.

Heston’s Cooking Statement (available on the Fat Duck Website) gave me all I needed to begin to put my own manifesto together.

Three basic principles guide our cooking:
excellence, openness, and integrity.


“We are motivated above all by an aspiration to excellence. We wish to work with ingredients of the finest quality, and to realize the full potential of the food we choose to prepare, whether it is a single shot of espresso or a multicourse tasting menu.”

Now as soon as I read this, my affinity bell rang loud and clear. This is how I would take this for my school:

We are motivated above all by an aspiration to excellence. YES! We wish to work with a curriculum of the finest quality and realise the full potential of each child we work with, whether a high flying polymath or a child who needs all the help and encouragement needed to flourish. And, with more than a nod to marginal gains, from the ground up, we need to analyse the potential impact on learning that every experience gives the children in our care. From the subjects we teach, to use of lesson starters, to the canteen experience.

“We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet’s ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating. This is not a new idea, but a new opportunity. Nearly two centuries ago, Brillat-Savarin wrote that ‘the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.”

Paramount in everything we do is integrity. Our beliefs and commitments are sincere and do not follow the latest trend.”

You can see where this is heading can’t you. A commitment to excellence requires us all to continually scour the world, for what we can discover to improve our practise to ensure that what we are doing is giving the very best experience to every child who enters our school everyday. In the past, lessons were constrained by the limited understanding of how we learn best, the facilities we had to deliver our lessons and a profession that was isolated from sharing the very best of what we do. Today, there is tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can develop our pedagogical thinking from every corner of the world. We can draw upon all the expert knowledge needed to develop teaching and learning to create a curriculum  which gives every child an extraordinary experience of what learning can be.


Our cooking values tradition, builds on it, and along with tradition is part of the ongoing evolution of our craft.

“The world’s culinary traditions are collective, cumulative inventions, a heritage created by hundreds of generations of cooks. Tradition is the base which all cooks who aspire to excellence must know and master. Our open approach builds on the best that tradition has to offer.

As with everything in life, our craft evolves, and has done so from the moment when man first realized the powers of fire. We embrace this natural process of evolution and aspire to influence it. We respect our rich history and at the same time attempt to play a small part in the history of tomorrow.”

Hello? Sound good or what? Yes we must endorse the very best from the past and use the techniques and models of knowledge which have served us very well. But, as the world continually evolves, so must we. We must all attempt to play a part in developing what we value as exceptional learning experiences. We all have a stake in becoming the history of tomorrow so it’s up to us to help write the future in our own classrooms.

We embrace innovation – new ingredients, techniques, appliances, information, and ideas – whenever it can make a real contribution to our cooking.

“We do not pursue novelty for its own sake. We may use modern thickeners, sugar substitutes, enzymes, liquid nitrogen, sous-vide, dehydration, and other non-traditional means, but these do not define our cooking. They are a few of the many tools that we are fortunate to have available as we strive to make delicious and stimulating dishes.

Similarly, the disciplines of food chemistry and food technology are valuable sources of information and ideas for all cooks. Even the most straightforward traditional preparation can be strengthened by an understanding of its ingredients and methods, and chemists have been helping cooks for hundreds of years. The fashionable term “molecular gastronomy” was introduced relatively recently, in 1992, to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our approach, and the term “molecular gastronomy” does not describe our cooking, or indeed any style of cooking.”

Uh huh. You are getting on board now aren’t you? We won’t pursue every ‘Learning Bicycle’ that gets thrown our way, but anything which can make a real contribution to improving the learning experiences of the children we teach, we must, if we are striving for perfection, investigate, learn from, adopt and reflect upon. A continual cycle of improvement. The(once) fashionable term, personalising learning was coined in the mid 90’s to describe an approach away from mass education to a more bespoke curriculum and pedagogy. This should not define our approach. Like Heston, I prefer a curriculum in search of perfection.

We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential.

“The act of eating engages all the senses as well as the mind. Preparing and serving food could therefore be the most complex and comprehensive of the performing arts. To explore the full expressive potential of food and cooking, we collaborate with scientists, from food chemists to psychologists, with artisans and artists (from all walks of the performing arts), architects, designers, industrial engineers. We also believe in the importance of collaboration and generosity among cooks: a readiness to share ideas and information, together with full acknowledgment of those who invent new techniques and dishes.”

Need I say anything? If I was to write a manifesto for what I want learning to look like in my school or any school, I think the very best, most successful organisations and institutions in the world would be a very sensible place to start. So that, instead of a dog’s dinner of a curriculum we seem to be heading towards with Gove levels, we head toward unforgettable learning experiences which challenge, excite and leave the children in our care desperate for more. So just like those Masterchef finalists, I want the experience of learning to feel like a journey that you never want to stop being part of.

So what is it that we want our children  to be digesting every day?

The future is always ours to shape. It doesn’t matter wether Gove gives us the 50’s or not. Our classrooms can be our own 3 star Michelin restaurant if we so desire. It would certainly help if we are given the best ingredients and conditions to work with, but amazing things can be created from the most humble of ingredients.

So next up… Skills development at Barcelona FC? Or Teamwork at PIXAR? A Manifesto for excellence in schools is beginning taking shape. In my head anyway.




December 2, 2012
by Pete Jones

Meet the Ancestors!

It had been coming for a long time. The Pebble course, which we have been running for several years had always been missing public scrutiny- something which all good PBL aficionados have been banging on about for years. Berger, Fuller et al.


It was during the Summer holidays, I first thought about using this amazing empty shop front in Jersey’s newest, swanky shopping centre; a beautifully rennovated old abbatoir. And here I am now, writing up my blog post in the shop on the first Sunday Christmas shopping weekend, whilst Boney M, Chris De Berg and… for my sins, Cliff bloody Richard is being piped out down the frozen walkway. There is no heating and it’s 5 degrees outside and the same inside. Has it all been worth it? The organising, the fret, the panic, the bone numbing chill? Hell Yes!

On Friday night, after a long week….

Hang on… Oh God….. George Michael’s unmistakable wail. Last Christmas. AAAAAAAAAAAAARGHH!

Sorry as I was saying, after a long week, we put up the exhibition of incredible family trees, beautiful, painstakingly made memory books and diary entries. It looked amazing. The huge glass window had some great group photos of our students dressed up as their ancestors, A1 exhibition posters and ‘Pebble’ shop signs. It looked absolutely stunning as darkness fell and the spotlights glowed on the fabulous work.


It was all ready for our big launch the next day. We had done our bit. Now… Would anyone turn up? Would the students performing their ancestral monologues give Alan Bennett a run for his money? Would my feet turn to ice? The answer to all was a resoundingly affirmative YES!

From the moment we opened the doors, parents, visitors and shoppers came flooding in to see the exhibition and at 10.30, with the ring of an old school bell, the monologues began. 30 students performed their little hearts out for an hour and a half of nostalgic drama of the very highest order. We heard of stunt drivers from the 1950s, a wife whose husband was in jail for owning a radio during the occupation, a famous Chinese writer and illustrator living in Edinburgh in the 1940’s, an hilarious chef on board a warship in WW2, even Scott of the Antarctic was brought back just to tell us that Amundsen had got their first. The audience were stunned by the quality and confidence these young people had brought to their performances. The huge empty shop was full of an incredible buzz which had been shaped by their learning experiences at school. This day, if I ever needed proof that what we were doing has helped shape keen, young learners into highly skilled, highly motivated, passionate learners, this was the day.

So as David Essex waxes lyrically about a winter’s tale and I have lost all feeling in the tips of my fingers, people are still pouring in to marvel at our little geniuses.

Our young people spend an extraordinary amount of time at our institutions, often not getting the recognition for their hard work, not getting a voice for their achievements and not being able to shout about the brilliant creations of exceptional value our students are capable of.

Public exhibitions of students work certainly stops teachers ‘accepting’ work as what students are capable of. Every student in Year 8 had a piece of work at the exhibition. Spelling, punctuation, presentation from every student was near perfect. It’s funny how teachers look at these things with a more critical eye when there is more at stake than a level, a tick and a shelf to put it on.



We now have moved on to ‘Pan Pipe Christmas Moods’ album. Thankfully a mother and child are taking it in turns to read out some of the diaries on display. That… And only that is giving me a warm feeling inside as the ice block formally known as my nose starts to drip.

So what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that students are far more passionate about learning when we design meaningful ‘joined-up’  projects which encourage students to shine and stretch their thinking. Projects which question rather than accepts a student’s ability. Projects which explore, nurture and develop the fundamental skills needed to be successful learners. And finally, projects which give students a chance to publicly show what they are capable of.

There have never been so many empty shops in towns and cities across our nation. Adopt a shop. Fill it with what’s great learning in your neighbourhood and just see what happens to the public perception of your school. See what happens to the faces of the students you teach when you show them just how much their learning means to you. The profit you make will be priceless. Just make sure your shop has heating. And no bloody Christmas music.

September 23, 2012
by Pete Jones

What is Pebble and Why are we doing it?

The title for this post, refers to the students first two weeks of our project based learning course, where students analyse:

  • What is learning?
  • What helps us learn?
  • What skills and dispositions do we need to be effective learners?
  • How does a project based approach learning help us?

To begin with, we asked students, what skills are needed for;

  1. What you are best at?
  2. The 1, 2, 3 game?- played with increasing difficulty then reflected on..
  3. Your dream job?

After asking each question, lets say a student said they were good at Fifa on their PlayStation or playing the Violin, they wanted to become a racing driver or a vet, it became clear to students that the skills needed to be successful were evident throughout these different questions. It also made them realise that these skills are inherent in pretty much everyone, its our ability to practise and nurture these skills which perhaps separates us as ineffective and effective learners. What was clearly evident was that to be successful, we needed a group of skills which would allow students to improve as learners, to get them from where they are now to where they want to be.

These are the skills/aptitudes came up with:



I asked students to consider from this bank of skills, which would be our most important 4 that we feel shape us as learners and that perhaps we most need to develop this year. After a few rounds of voting, this focus was whittled down to:

Our ability to be: Confident, Passionate, determined risk-takers when learning. Not a bad starting point for successful learners I think you’ll agree. These skills were placed on their avatars for the WHYA scale? with a space for scoring and re-scoring as we go through the year.

Our next task was to explore what helps us learn. We use a traffic light and a long list of words which need to be placed in order of what is really helpful (green) what can be helpful (amber) and what stops us (red). Some are obvious, but some require a deeper level of thought, such as A LACK OF RESOURCES. at first hand, students will always place this in the red, but what happens when we have a lack of resources; we have to think differently, adapt our plans and improvise to make the best of what we have- Now how important is this?

This is done in groups of 4 or 5 and creates a lot of debate and disagreement about what’s helpful for learning!


Students gain greater understanding of why we are doing Pebble by attending seminars, ranging from ‘What Employers Want’, to watching Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Educational Paradigms’. My seminar was on ‘Developing the growth mindset.’  Students had to write down the key points, share their findings with others from different seminars and then figure out what these seminars had to do with our Pebble course.

Distilling understanding.

From all this information, we had to distil their understanding to finally create one sentence which sums up the entire class’s understanding of we are doing Pebble. To start this discussion, I gave students a load of hexagons to write down their key bits of understanding. Then (as SOLO teachers know all too well) asked them to connect these bits of understanding together. I have to say, the quality of discussion this provoked was exceptional for Year 8 students.

Connecting understanding through the use of hexagons

After the hexagon maps were completed, students had to finally agree on and write down their sentences starting with.. ‘We are doing Pebble because….’ and try and sell their vision to the rest of the class. We then voted on a top three and put there words into our class sentence which, in my case was….

Pebble helps us to get the most out of our brain, whilst learning new life skills by taking on challenges and achieving our goals. It helps us move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, helping us discover our full potential!


Each Pebble class printed, drew, painted and created these sentences on a large scale and placed them on the walls of our classrooms to help students recognise the importance of the year ahead and where, with passion, determination, confidence and risk taking, they will end up. It builds momentum for both staff and students to ensure this statement of intent is met and, when things get really challenging, as they do quite often in Pebble, it serves as a reminder of why we are here.

 For homework, students created a 30 second animoto video, using words and statements to sum up their feelings and understanding about Pebble. A few of these can be seen in the links below:



http://static.animoto.com/swf/w.swf?w=swf/vp1&e=1347639029&f=I8PrnmyraV09DCqw1HxOmQ&d=35&m=b&r=360p&volume=100&start_res=360p&i=m&options=” .


August 5, 2012
by Pete Jones

Creating the Olympic spirit in schools

Olympic athletes are given a very tough time, excruciatingly tough at times. But every day, they get up and train to be better, everyday they reflect on their progress and push themselves to become better, faster, stronger. From first place to last place, every athlete that takes part has striven for perfection; to perform at the highest standard they are capable of.

As teachers we need to be designing learning which give students the opportunities to make students better, faster, stronger. We also need to find ways to support, encourage and at times make them pretty uncomfortable to move students from the also-rans of this planet to becoming the best they can be.

In my head I’ve just broken the world record for being bored at school

Victoria Pendelton has one more race before she bows out of cycling. After all the pain and rigmarole of training day after day, week after week, year and year, she can look back on her Cycling career knowing that she has done her best on the biggest stage. How many of the students we teach leave school with the same sense of satisfaction as her? I have a feeling it wouldn’t be that many.

We need to get our students to consider that each year is their ‘biggest stage’ and that training to be the best they can be is worth every single ounce of passion they can draw upon.

The crowds have been one of the most amazing ingredients which has created such an incredible atmosphere at the London 2012 Olympics. The rowers have commented it’s made them push that little bit more than they ever felt they could, the athletes have certainly be spurred on by the fervent crowd, the cyclists have been breaking record after record in the ‘pringle’ thrusted forward by the passionate cauldron .

It can certainly be said that having an audience really encourages you to push yourself that little bit harder. How often do your students have an audience of more than one for their efforts? How often do they have a crowd of passionate people recognising their search for excellence? As I have wrote in previous posts, my ambition for the next academic year is to recognise students in their search for excellence in ways which I hope will give them their ‘Olympic moment’ to help students recognise the importance of the quest for excellence and to push them further forward.

I’m not advocating that every maths exercise book being placed in a guilt frame nor an English essay should be read  in a national newspaper, but when something really is the best that they can do right now, how should we give them recognition and inspire our students to be even better?

High Tech High school in San Diego creates opportunities to have their work recognised publicly; through designing learning experiences which encourages excellence. Through professionally publishing books and exhibiting work they create ‘a culture that values beautiful work’.  It has seen students become highly motivated knowing that they have an audience; students strive for perfection recognising that their work has purpose and value.

All too often in schools, we ask students to do their best; all for it to be marked with a grade and a comment and given back or worse still, left in a cupboard somewhere as an example of a 5c. How does this allow students to revel in the purpose and value of learning? How does this entice them to strive for better? If a red pen tick and a grade is how we respond to their efforts, do we need to reflect on what we are teaching students and look at crafting learning opportunities which recognise the value of their work in a more profound manner?

If we want students to make an ‘Olympic effort’ of their time at school, we need to place a huge emphasis on what we see as excellence in our subjects, in our learners, in our schools. We also need to back those who are part of the race with as much encouragement and challenge as we can throw at them. We also need to create those podium moments to recognise students when they begin to reach their potential.

First week promise…


In September,  I want that first week of lessons to demonstrate to students the potential they have to become brilliant through an extraordinary level of commitment, determination and resilience. Is that too much to ask?


August 2, 2012
by Pete Jones

QR codes and documenting brilliant learning

One of the most powerful influences on a student’s passion for learning is how others notice their efforts. To notice what they have done; the hard work, the progress made, the energy used, the mistakes learnt. This is going to be my number one priority to work on developing this year. I have always been a teacher who gets ridiculously enthused about what students are capable of creating (I am an Art teacher after all), but apart from letters home, praise in lessons for genuine hard work and creativity and displaying of work in it’s most traditional form, I don’t exactly push the boat out.

The  passion which students have to develop, improve, to search for greatness can be seen as an intrinsic quality. If you looked around your class, you probably only think this quality relates to some of the students you teach. As I have spoken about before, this may have a lot to do with the mindset of that student.

A fixed mindset; where people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. How many times do I hear ‘I can’t draw’ (to which I usually quote Paul Klee about a ‘line being a dot going for a walk’…now jog on…)

Do our schools make students believe that through determination anything is possible? That the sky is always the limit? How do we get the message across that ONLY through hard work can we possibly get better. It was the film producer, Samuel Goldwyn  who famously said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ Wise words.

I look back at the awe inspiring opening ceremony of the London Olympics, devised by the remarkably grounded Danny Boyle. It would take a thesis or two to unpack the depth of creative thought and sheer determination which made that happen, but it is a great example of the sky being the limit in terms of making an extraordinary vision come to life.  What can we do in schools to help celebrate our own ‘history of learning’? What would make students think every day that I can do more? Be  better? Aim higher?

A growth mindset; where people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.  Me thinks Danny Boyle must have this in spades.

So how do we talk about, display and celebrate and nurture the growth mindset to make sure that when students leave our school, they still believe anything is possible, with dedication and hard work?

There were times watching the Olympic ceremony where I felt passionate about my country. Passionate that we can create such a remarkable vision. The visual feast created on that evening makes me think about how my school should celebrate the culture of learning in our school. Celebrate the achievements of every worthy student and essentially, to get students to notice what hard work can bring by making a ‘big deal’ of achievement.

Since writing my last post ‘Judging a book by it’s cover’, several tweachers have clearly had similar ideas about the vision of learning and how to recognise the learning culture within their schools. (Particular respect to @ICTEvangelist, @Davidfawcett27 and @karen_macg).

So here is an idea for celebrating and archiving brilliant learning. With massive thanks to Mark Anderson’s recent post on this, the use of QR codes could be such a revolutionary method of spreading the brilliance of learning at a school. Take a look…


Imagine seeing this at your local bus stop..

Now.. Imagine this poster put up in your community.

Imagine posting a link to a brilliant poem written by a Year 7 or a French conversation on ‘sound cloud’ or bench designs for the local park, the persuasive letter writing examples to the local MP (and the responses?!) The possibilities are phenomenal. By getting your local paper or free posh magazine to run a feature on it, how to get a QR reader onto your smart phone etc. You can immediately engage students learning with the outside world. Documenting the history of learning within you your school. You could also engage lifelong learning by getting the community to question their own approaches to learning; take this example and use your QR reader!

Scan this with your phone

So as an Art teacher, I can see two ways of using QRs straight away. The sketchbooks I order for school have a free foil stamp on.. Now If I put a QR stamp on with a link to our virtual gallery or examples of excellent sketchbooks…

Or again. How about students recording what’s inside their sketchbooks and creating their own QR which documents it. Again, just an example, but you can use your QR reader below….

So. Like said, just how amazing is this idea? With a bit of head scratching about logistics and permutations, this could be a wonderful way of publishing the learning of great minds. In Ron Berger’s book, the ethic of excellence, he speaks about the importance of public displays and this could be another powerful tool for schools to publicise the brilliance of learning happening within their walls.

As Danny Boyle gave us his extraordinary vision of Britain, what can we do to create an extraordinary vision of learning in our schools? This is one idea which I will be developing next academic year. Oh and for those who like Banksy, I know this could get me into trouble, but I am an Art teacher..

Next blog… ‘Pop-Up learning shops’ and Guerrilla marketing…

July 25, 2012
by Pete Jones

Judging a book by its cover. Ideas and thoughts on how learning is displayed in schools.


When students, staff and visitors walk into your school, what is the first thing they see?

What about your department area?

What is the purpose of display in your school and what does it say about the curriculum in your school?

How often and why are displays changed?

If you asked a student from your school to close their eyes and talk about your classroom, what would they say?

Is your school a lighthouse for learning or a sterile space full of clean corridors?

If we imagine the curriculum is not just the subjects we teach, but the ‘glue’ that binds the school together, a major part of that is the indirect experience students have every day; where they spend their free time, what kind of welcome greets them as the trundle through the gates, how they feel about your classroom, what their school ‘says’ about their learning.

In some parts of my school, we have those insipid inspiring posters, we have displays about what jobs you can get with certain GCSE’s, we have tired, worn out displays of outdated learning frameworks and we have a lot and I mean a lot of space which reflects very little to do with learning. This really frustrates me, because at our core, we are a forward thinking school, which is encouraged to take risks and innovate. It’s just the spaces we have are not nurtured for learning. They’re there to be wiped clean every evening, to be walked through at pace, on the left… I SAID LEFT JENKINS!!  and ignored by the masses.

It certainly doesn’t have to be like this. One of the key factors for improving attitude for learning is recognition of hard work. But how often do we recognise (apart from the grade, comment, well done, pat on the back) the wonderful things that our young people produce?

The walls of your school are part of the curriculum, the glue, the very fabric (obviously), but they could have a really important role to play in how a student feels about learning. So what does your school say when you enter the door? Welcome to blah blah blah, will visitors please report to reception? What percentage of students have work/evidence of learning on the walls? How does your classroom create an enquiring, active mind?

I have had some ideas about this. Let me know what you think….

1. I want the entrance to my school to say, “Welcome to the most worthwhile day of your life so far” and in small print, “and if it hasn’t been, tell someone why!” or something along those lines. Too often, I see schools in which signage is designed for visitors, not students and why they should come here each day.

2. I want every student to have an A3 clip frame or similar, which once a month, during a form time, they have to get down and replace with evidence of their best work; could be a photo. This will be placed on the “My greatest achievement so far” corridor. Every student, every month. Display and celebrate. Can you imagine teachers using this as a tool. “Joe, would this piece be good enough to go in your frame? Why not?”, “what can we do to change your opinion about this?”

Once a year, the ‘greatest achievement’ had to be something outside of school too.

3. Every teacher had to do an audit of the purpose of display in their rooms.  This must include student input. If anything hasn’t been used within the past month, bin it.

4. The staff should agree on what classroom/corridor display is for (as long as it really hits the mark, look at good examples ) and write a policy, which can be used on ‘learning walks’to make sure it’s reflected.

5. Some kind of constantly changed ticker-tape or quote display as you enter the school.

A constantly changing list of learning moments from students and teachers. Famous quotes for Risk Month, Explorer Month…

What we are often faced with is a veneer of greatness; copious quotes from the Ofsted report stuck onto the entrance sign “This is a good school, which provides well for all its pupils”. SO F***ING WHAT! How about we look at what the Americans do outside their evangelical churches. With those letters that can be changed regularly or a LED ticker tape of up-to-date using quotes from staff and students about learning. Imagine first thing you see is a excerpt from your poem you wrote yesterday on the entrance, the red dots running across with exuberant pace, reminding you why this school is such an exciting place to learn. You could end each day texting your valuable learning experiences to the SLT in charge of (something or other) and they can choose which go up(or a great registration activity in forms)- great to get to know students and which departments are providing valuable learning experiences. You could have Eureka month, where students save up their best ‘I’ve got it’ moments to share. The ‘Fail, fail better month’, there is plenty there to fire up the passion for learning.

These are basic aims. Personally I want to see illuminated learning sculptures glowing at night around the school grounds. I want hidden speakers with recordings of brilliant learning conversations hidden the bricks, I want an authentic French market once a month in the MFL corridor. I want the whole place to scream out loud that learning is what this place is about, but I guess its one step at a time.

So now, ask yourself those questions at the top of the list and then think about what it could be like if we really wanted it to all be about the L word not the O word?

Students often say the most enlightening things about learning (if you ask the right questions)and do the most incredible work. We need to capture, preserve and celebrate this, at least for a while before it disappears into the aether. Making it part of the glue that binds the school together.

July 13, 2012
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

Developing the growth mindset in schools.

There is often an uneven balance between lessons which provide a platform for instruction and information, and allowing students to explore the characteristics of the mindset needed to be an expert in a subject.

The ability to notice, analyse and record are a group of skills which feed into many subject areas.

In my subject, Art, the key skill of the artist is to notice. Notice the contour of shapes, the subtle nuances in colour, the way light affects a subject. Think of Monet’s fascination with light. He created many series of paintings exploring the subtle differences in light at different times of day. Henry Moore’s ability to notice analyse and record the human form to create his masterful sculptures. Or Rothko’s immense, uncomplicated abstract paintings, noticing the ethereal effect placing one colour next to another can have. This is part of the mindset that we must teach to allow students to truly engage and respond to a subject.

As a student, the teaching I received in Art was superficial. I remember learning how to make a slab pot, with a clay bow tie stuck on to it, I created an imaginary landscape and painted fireworks. I achieved a C grade at GCSE, which for me was pretty embarrassing. I didn’t take A level Art, because I didn’t really feel good enough, but Art was always my passion and I went to do my Art foundation at the wonderful Art college in Weston-Super-Mare, with some really positive tutors, who allowed us to explore and develop our skills in a manner which was completely alien to me. The one issue I had was life drawing. Every Friday, we trudged up to the top of the beautiful Victorian building to the life drawing class where ‘Andrew’ was always waiting for us in his full glory. I have to admit, there were a few winces from me, being a rather young 18 year old.

We had 2 to 3 hours to work on this. Every time, I could hear furious scribbling, huffing and puffing and discreet steps back from all the other students. I would stand there, wince a little and put together a few meaningful lines and hope for the best. I was considered one of the top students for many aspects of the course; the teachers loved my enthusiasm and the quality of all of my work. Except that was, for my life drawing.

Week after week, we turned our drawings round and there would be 20 or so strong, confident and fairly accurate drawings and then my, well.. Jelly baby. I was incredibly frustrated but seemed clueless why this was going so wrong.

Interviews for universities were coming up fast and I knew how important life drawing was seen by the colleges I wanted to apply for. The coming week, I decided not to look at gangly Andrew, and focus on my class mates. It was then, I realised what I was doing wrong. Students were spending absolutely ages looking at Andrew, thinking about it, then putting marks on their paper, then stepping back, looking again and changing it if needed. This was a revelation. For the first time in my life I had been opened up to the mindset of the artist. The ability to notice, analyse and record had finally been explained to me. From that point on I looked, I mean really looked at each angle, the contours of the torso and the relationship between each part of the body. My drawings rapidly improved and I got into my first choice for Uni.

An artist has the ability to notice. Notice how the light falls on the sea, the composition through a window pane, the beauty in the letter ‘S’ scribed in a tag at Peckham Rye station. As Cezanne said about Monet. ‘Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye!’ The artist has the ability to let others see the world in a way others cannot. This is their gift to the world; to notice and reflect the world in a way others don’t recognise.

Now, back to the growth Mindset bit. Carol Dweck has spent her life investigating achievement and success. In her recent book,  Dweck implies that there are two types of mindsets- fixed, where people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

Then there’s the growth mindset-people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. ( I must be in this bit)

So, there are two things to consider here, when teaching your subject. Firstly we need to open students to the idea that great accomplishment, whether writing an essay, running a mile or drawing a still life comes from having a difficult time, where we have to be resilient when things get tough and that with hard work and reflection, we can improve.

Secondly, designing learning experiences within your subjects, which open up the opportunity for students to analyse the expert approach to your subject can help students develop the growth mindset for your subject.

The ‘where’s your head at scale’ is a great catalyst for encouraging students to consider their mindset for a task. Students with high ability or talent could place themselves high on the scale- but what does that mean they will do differently to encourage their growth mindset? Similarly, a student with less ability may place themselves high up on the scale due to the nature of challenge for them.  This often demonstrates to students how much of a growth mindset they have. How much they are willing to push themselves, to be resilient, to take risks and consider the approach they will need to acquire to succeed in a task.

Allowing students to discover the mindset for growth and for expertise must surely be our priority when thinking about learning experiences. Who are great examples of great learners within your subject area? What is it about their approach to learning which has made them so successful? What can we learn from them to build mindsets for growth?

Getting students to investigate the ‘heroes’ for your subject or even the teacher talking about their own experiences- like my life drawing story helps unravel the key skills which are needed to allow students to think and learn like the professional, rather than think within a fixed mindset.

Moreover, students can build evidence of these skills through their investigations, develop their expertise of what skills and attributes are needed to become great at something. ‘This much I know has been running in the Observer for many years, where famous people or experts in their field pass on their wisdom to others. What a great thing to do for Year 7’s to pass on to Year 6’s and so on about the mindset needed for success in your subject.

As teachers, we must ensure that every student can access the mindset of the expert in our subject areas, to nurture and encourage the growth mindset for all.

July 12, 2012
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

What’s your recipe for the perfect lesson?

Warning! There are more metaphors and analogies here than you can shake a stick at. Read on at your peril!

So how should a lesson be organised? Back in the dark days of inset before Personalising Learning and neuroscience discoveries, the idea that all lessons had to have a starter(what are we going to learn today), main course (the doing bit) and dessert (plenary) was how every lesson plan was expected to be designed. There were no questions about whether a knife and fork were the best way to eat the starter or whether the main course was suitable for students and do we always need a pudding? Reading The Learning Spy’s post on schemes of learning last night led me on a whirlwind of discovery (ok maybe a breezy path of thought) where he examines the importance of structure within Schemes of work and just how rigid or not they should be. “we need to be able to dip a finger in to ‘taste’ the learning if we are going to serve up something truly outstanding.” Says the spy, inferring that we may need to alter the seasonings or sometimes change the ingredients to ensure that learning hits the spot.

The one hour lesson can be a very difficult vehicle to deliver a really worthwhile lesson. Learning really doesn’t fit into neat one hour slots. And certainly, if you add three courses in that time, it can be difficult to stomach, especially 5 times a day (an obese nation?)

If something is really enjoyable, yet challenging to learn we need to allow students to digest their understanding properly. Just like a good meal, we should allow students to savour every mouthful of learning and give them the time to reflect and digest their understanding.

So where does this take me? Ah yes, after a late night tweet with a couple of stalwarts who were digesting over the learning spy’s musings, I eventually came up with a great idea for a meta-learning lesson.

Ready steady cook- the meta-learning way. Ok, so the title needs a bit of work.

For homework, ask each group to watch a clip from YouTube on neuro stuff, lesson planning etc. Add to this, discussion about their favourite/memorable/challenging lessons- what were key features? You could throw in the Ofsted framework if you really want to.. Make notes and share findings in groups. Then… hand out the lesson ingredients!

So inside a plastic bag is a load of ingredients which may or may not come together to make the perfect lesson. Things such as a bottle of instruction from the teacher (decent vintage), a can of ripe discussion, packet of deep reflection,.. you get the idea. Students have to come up with a recipe card, with timings and amount of ingredients and how to use them. Then act out the recipe using a bowl or pan to put the ingredients together. A great thing to film and share at a Staff meeting! Some teachers might find it painful viewing to realise their recipes are not really up to the palettes of their students, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. (I did warn you about the metaphors..)

A few years ago, I worked with the magical Paul Ginnis, training students to become lesson observers- the empowerment it gave those students to understand the structure of effective lessons and what good learning looks like was inspiring, though many staff refused to take part. Allowing students to understand a bit about outstanding lessons,what is needed for effective learning- what ingredients are needed to create michelin star cuisine rather than McDonald’s happy meals can only be a good thing. Teachers too, need to think about their own recipes. How many of us still just open the can and heat it up?

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