Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

October 23, 2016
by Pete Jones

Beautifully Dull.

It’s now half term, and I have had a chance to filter out the real gems from last week’s exceptional pedagogical party that was TLT16. John Tomsett kicked things off with some salient reminders of being careful not to be a magpie. I have to say, for many years I was one such teacher who would always being looking for the next shiny new thing, which I could adapt to my own practice and in some cases being a new assistant head, looking for shiny new things I could share with staff. The great thing about the shifting focus towards evidence is that people are moving away from just accepting, to becoming far more scrupulous. The evidence may be there, but how grounded and worthy is that evidence? How can that evidence now be translated into tangible and practical steps for planning and teaching? One such gem which JT was keen to share (and has been for some time) was teaching students the metacognitive process of tackling an exam paper. This was no radical agenda, this was just talking about something which Huntington have been working on. Over a long period of time. The results shared were dramatic, but being really good at explaining the thinking behind tackling an exam takes great skill and deep thought. This is no shiny thing, in fact it’s pretty dull. It takes a lot of spit and polish to make it shine- to extend the metaphor a little further.


Explicitly modeling the mental process involved in learning is something we as teachers can often take for granted. We accept that our students should know how to think about an exam. But how often do we look at exam papers and ask; ‘What the hell was she thinking?’, ‘I know she knows all of this, but this is completely the wrong way of answering it.’


JT also shared that great and very funny clip of Dylan Wiliam saying that ‘Sharing Practice’ is a bad idea. Just because you think something has worked in your classroom, doesn’t mean you should think it will work for others. Teachmeets beware! Share knowledge, share planning, share research, but shiny ideas? Maybe it’s time to consider where these ideas belong. Share them after several years of trying them out, refining the practice, evaluating the outcomes. That sounds good to me.


Thanks John. You smashed an arrow into the middle of the target for me. Grounded, sensible and respectful of the expectations of the profession.


From the brilliance of JT, I then went to see Chris Moyse, whose workshop was about ‘Loving the one your with’, a passionate, focused and deliberate discussion on raising teacher quality. I don’t think I have ever nodded my head so much. There was a great correlation between the improvements a dedicated sports person can make and that of the teacher. The better you get, the harder it is to improve. Chris’s mission is to look at how that next 5% will be found for improving the teachers under his wing at Bridgewater Academy. Chris referred to the iceberg illusion. When we look at someone who is a master of their craft, we see that excellence and wonder “how can they do that so well and I struggle, even though I plan and work so damn hard?” Teachers, athletes, musicians, we all have something in common. Practice. Hours and hours and hours of it. The difference is that as a teacher, we engage in the performance every day, whereas an athlete or musician can engage in deliberate practice for hours at a time, get useful feedback and advice about how to raise that performance level so that on those occasions where they compete or play their instrument, they leave very little to chance, they are primed and ready for that moment. So how do we provide this quality of practice, feedback and reflection in the hectic life of a school? Chris discussed the model of appraisal, of coaching and observation which enables his school to move into that next 5%. It was a revelation. Again, sensible, practical and wholly respectful of what teachers need in terms of knowledge and support to enable continuous improvement.


What theory do teachers really need to know to get better? And from the teacher’s point of view, what do I need to get better at which would most benefit the students in my classes? We all see the shiny stuff, but all too often the shiny stuff clouds our judgement. Quick fixes, fun, engagement, activities don’t improve teaching. On the surface, for a moment they may look like they do, but when we look in the books, when we see the outcomes of a project, when we see learning over time, when we speak to students, or we see their test papers it’s often the fundamental principles of great teaching which we really ought to want to get better at.


Chris shared their schools model of improvement. It is a model which I know we could all learn from and I hope that my school does. It’s a model that focuses on the positives, focuses on drilling down to manageable and purposeful targets of improvement for each teacher, each year. The focus for improvement is shared on the door of each classroom, reminding students that we are always learning, always wanting to be better than we are. I was utterly sold by the dullness of this model. It shone like gold when Chris explained the system, but the fact is, this is no shiny plastic coated BOGOF model, this is born out of years of experience. Born out of discarding the shallow thinking which often surrounds us when we have so much to improve. I came out of that workshop full of belief about how best to grow a truly great body of staff. Thank you Chris.


From here, I moved on to listen to the fizzy and boundless energy of new headteacher, Chris Hildrew discussing his first 100 days as a head. Again, Chris made some really sensible points about everyone having the capacity to be a head. We lead every day in schools. How we lead does come down to some key skills. I loved the fact that Chris spoke about asking his new staff ‘If you were me, what would you be working on?’ It was clear that Chris had made the time to speak to all staff. They were very candid about what needed to improve, which was interesting for a school labeled outstanding by Ofsted. Peel back the veneer and there are always things to work on, despite the outcomes of an inspection. Your staff, students and your headteacher will always know far more about what is not so good, and what is great than any inspection team surely?


Another beautiful dull thing Chris spoke about was that he had banned ‘intervention lessons’ in his new school. If a student gets 8 hours over two weeks to learn a core subject, the students need to be responsible for ensuring they make the most of that time. Why on earth would they need more time? Were they not listening, making notes etc. when that topic was taught the first time round? It was a good point and this is about addressing teacher workload. It’s a brave thing to do. JT banned revision classes this year too. It is about time we allowed our students to become independent learners?


Chris spoke about the importance of culture within his school. Sinek’s stone mason story was used to good effect. You don’t know it? Ok. Quick intervention class… Consider the story of two stonemasons.  You walk up to the first stonemason and ask, “Do you like your job?”  He looks up at you and replies, “I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember.  The work is monotonous.  I work in the scorching hot sun all day.  The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking.  I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime.  But it’s a job.  It pays the bills.”  You thank him for his time and walk on.

About thirty feet away you walk up to a second stonemason.  You ask him the same question, “Do you like your job?”  He looks up and replies, “I love my job.  I’m building a cathedral.  Sure, I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous.  I work in the scorching hot sun all day.  The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking.  I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime.  But I’m building a cathedral.”


Forget that shiny new tool that’ll get that job done in half the time too. This is long haul stuff, just like most things that are worth working for. Ensuring that we all consider our jobs as part of building that wondrous Cathedral rather than being part of a church with no foundations, or the tile that helps stop the leaking roof, or being the beautifully painted door whilst the rest of the walls around crumble away is a huge task for the Headteacher of any school. One not lost on Chris; that was made imminently clear. It’s a huge focus for our school as well. You would be very welcome to see our journey here if you are interested.


Chris also spoke about amplification. It’s so easy when you hold responsibility; as a teacher just as much as a headteacher in many ways, that what we say, how we act and how we react can move well beyond the classroom walls. Be wary of what we say, expect and ask for. From what I could see of Chris’s first 100 days as a head, this was someone who believes in patience, perseverance and leading by example. No shiny new ideas, just knowing that we are all equally important in building that Cathedral. Brick by beautiful brick.


Third on my list was Stuart Lock who spoke about his school’s assessment model. This was clearly routed in the work of Hirsch, Christodoulou and Koretz. I didn’t agree with everything that Stuart said, but he made me think, I mean really think and question my own beliefs. Nothing ever wrong with that. The job of any great teacher in fact. One point that really struck a chord was that of entitlement. What every child should know should never be dictated by the exam board. I was inspired by Stuart’s belief in his own staff, their knowledge and competence to deliver the curriculum he wanted for the children his school served.

Finally, before the closing words, the graveyard shift was filled by the wonderful Learning Scientists. Like many of us, I have long been a fan of their no-nonsense approach to explaining how we learn and how this should affect how we teach. They shared some sound ideas about how to disseminate best practice on spacing, interleaving and retrieval. No shiny gems here, just some erudite use of lego, good discussion and the fundamental basics of what works when storing understanding in long term memory.


By this point, I was equipped with enough to keep me going for the rest of the year. Things to implement over time, things to reinforce and things to just get better at. How dull is that? And yet the day made me feel like I had just stolen the crown jewels. The passion, the dedication, the knowledge and most importantly the sense that this was real and really useful. It’s so easy to get swept away by motivational speak, shiny things and quick wins. This day for me was about people who really care about education from the ground up. No selling, no ‘I’m kind of a big deal’, just people who gave up their Saturday to talk about what matters. No-one did this more brilliantly than the extraordinary Lindsay Skinner.


Linsday rounded the day up better than I could have ever hoped for. The passion of her teaching and what the job meant to her filled every atom of the entire auditorium at Southampton University at the end of a hectic day. For the first time, someone spoke to me about something I hadn’t really given much time to thinking about. How we talk as teachers. The speed in which we talk compared to newsreaders was a revelation. If we want something to be listened to, make sure we speak slowly and eloquently as we can. Savour every word, craft it like a presidents inaugural speech at congress. Think about the formality, consider- as Chris Hildrew stated, the amplification of our words and actions. If we give instructions, consider the clarity. Think Airfix kits more than Ikea wardrobes. Think about how much we can remember from teacher talk and choose our words and our speak carefully. Dullness never looked so damn shiny.


TLT was such a lift for me. It’s broken me out of my blogging drought. Not through having lots of shiny stuff to talk about, but it reminds me how wonderful our job is, the dull beauty of honest teachers sharing their love and passion for learning, for teaching and for children.


Finally, a couple of words for the two people who brought this entirely dull and beautiful day to life. David Fawcett and Jenn Ludgate. They have made this day into one of the biggest and brightest events on the UK educational calendar. It is my go to event of each year and I cannot thank them both enough for their efforts.





May 23, 2015
by Pete Jones

Learning in the Social Age

Ok. There are going to be a huge amount of dissenters to what I’m going to write in this post, but write it I must, just to get my head round an extraordinary talk I listened to yesterday by some guy who looked like he must live in Totnes or Glastonbury, living on Goji berries and green tea and doing an awful lot of Yogic flying in his Solar paneled Yurt. He was talking to business leaders in Jersey. You know the sorts, bankers, IT; the sort of people I have a hard time justifying their wages and what they do for their money. Anyway. It was weird. This guy was here to talk about Social Leadership. To be honest I had no idea what this was. And I had no idea what this had to do with educaimagetion.  I guess we can always see connections between anything we learn or engage with. This was no exception, but my head is a bit weary after a long half term, and I have a feeling that this post will not be the last as I unravel what this means.

Back to the talk. Social leadership is about working for and with your community. It’s about the stories your organisation tells, its reputation and how it connects with its community. You can see the Yogic Flying thing now can’t you? But wait, this actually means something. It means a great deal infact, because as the talk meandered on, a myriad of examples were used to explain just how powerful this is. We live in a social age. We are connected with each other like never before. We have extraordinary access to information about just about anything you can imagine. This information gives us the power to be far more discerning than ever before. Julian gave a great example at the start of his talk about his local record shop in Amsterdam. He asked the audience whether they had bought any albums recently, some guy piped up with ‘Coldplay’. He didn’t look that impressed. Well.. It was a room full of businessmen. On entering the shop, he can make a whole range of choices about what he chooses to buy. He can ask one of the workers in the shop- the local experts, with their biases for particular styles of music who might lovingly send you down an alleyway of thrash metal or symphonic suites or he could just get out his phone, peruse the Internet, look at what’s new, look through band websites, listen to albums before choosing, look at comments, look through Wikipedia. In minutes, we can become highly informed about our choice. We can also choose where we buy it from. The world has changed. I remember buying TDK tapes and recording the top 40. This was how I got my information, this is how I developed my taste in music as a spotty teenager. Making mix tapes and listening to them on my Sony Walkman. Kids these days can watch videos, follow their favourite bands on Twitter, interact with fans across the world. Make their own versions of those songs, write blogs about it, read blogs, make vlogs, online fanzines, DJ from their iPad, share, like, favourite all within minutes. You see, it is a different world! There is no discussion about this. Kids learn and interact socially in ways many educational institutes just don’t want to engage with.

In addition to this, as Julian kept telling us, is that how we work, learn and become successful now, will be deeply transformed 5 years from now. He gave the examples of how Uber, AirBnB and PayPal have changed the face of how we choose to enage with particular services. There are now more rooms on Air BnB than there are hotel rooms in the entire world. I had only heard of this a year ago, now it’s just accepted as the most interesting and easy way to stay somewhere for a huge amount of the global population.


copyright @julianstodd https://julianstodd.wordpress.com

He spoke about how businesses will have to be far more agile and socially conscious to become businesses where people will what to work. As I stated earlier, the ‘story’ of any company or institution or individual will be its most meaningful currency in the future. Employees will look at what the companies social story is, what it stands for, how it communicates with its community rather than what the wages are or the pension plans. Those things will always be important, but the social aspect of ourselves and those of who we work with and for are becoming inextricably linked to who we are as people. And before you say this is mad, this guy is working with global corporations in Singapore, the. U.S. Even Saudi Arabia, the NHS, the NYPD, Facebook… All of these companies want his expertise on how to be agile in the social age. How to tell the right story. How engage differently with communities. How to work with completely different social structures to make their companies and employees successful in the social age.

What was really interesting is he started to talk about our moral and social responsibilities as leaders. He said that it’s not the naughty people we have to worry about, it’s about how we react to this. What sort of culture permits this kind of behaviour to be the norm? The transparency of our actions is there for all to see in the social age. Social leaders lead through influence, not authority. We lead through our actions, the stories we tell, what kind of respect we have with our community. It’s was at this point I started to think about schools. The stories we want our students to tell as they learn in our institutions. Is the currency of a handful of GCSE’s enough anymore? What is it that our students need to leave with? Can schools adapt to give them more than exam qualifications?

We have to be honest with ourselves. Is the model we have regarded as the only way, the only way? Is it obsolete? After this talk, it made me question this. For me, the juries out. There has to be a space for collaboration, working in communities, building a story for our young people that reflects the world we live in. Cultural capital has to have a space within this world, but after this talk, I have come to the conclusion that there has to be something else alongside this. Social capital. We are different people, our young people learn and interact socially in ways I never thought possible when I took my PGCE all those years ago, but the story of education remains the same. I’m starting to sound like Sir Ken, but there is no getting away from the fact that what the world looks like now, will be significantly transformed 5 years from now. Will education follow suit? Will we be able to cling onto the traditional structures of how we learn and what is important to learn? I have no idea. I do believe however, that a tipping point may be coming sooner than most of us would desire.

March 22, 2015
by Pete Jones


What constitutes effort? Effort can have negative connotations with today’s youth. The word effort is often used as a one word phrase ‘uh EFFORT!’  meaning ‘can’t be bothered’ or CBA(TBH!) Effort; hard work, commitment despite the level of difficulty, keeping going, putting in the hours… We know effort is what allows our students to make the most progress, no matter their starting point, but there is a trap. We all know really hard working students who always try hard, attempt to do their best, but still don’t make the significant progress their significant effort should reflect.

At my school, we have adopted a new aspirational set of effort grades, championed by Huntington School. When I read @Johntomsett’s blog about how his school were immersing themselves in a growth mindset orientated approach to everything they did at the school, I was equally inspired and determined to impress upon my school how important the changes they were making are. If we are going to take a growth mindset approach to developing our school, the definition of effort was a vital cog in the machine which needed to be addressed.

Sharing John’s effort descriptors with staff, some staff got it straight away. They knew the expectations for students had to change, or at least needed greater clarity. Effort had to mean something more than a number, more than getting by, staying quiet, getting on with it and expecting to get a ‘good’ on the next report. The criteria had to provide a aspirational benchmark for our students to thrive on. Some staff exclaimed that the criteria was too demanding, too unfair on students who struggle. It was for a school who had ‘this type’ of student and that for us, it was a step too far. This shocked me at the time. It demonstrated that some staff held a view that we were a ‘particular type of school’, perhaps one where expectations had to be regulated due to our intake. It was a really useful and healthy discussion, but also demonstrated that we have a long way to go before all of our staff really buy into a growth mindset, that any student is capable of making significant progress with significant effort.

Weeks later, we pretty much adopted Huntington’s approach word for word, with a few changes. Students received their first effort grades in their next interim reports. Those who did well, were so pleased that their effort was recognised, those who didn’t, questioned why; we had a few parental queries as to why we we’re changing to be so much more demanding of our students. The question answers itself doesn’t it? Anyone who got ‘insufficient’ or poor effort was expected to have a conversation with their teacher as to why and what to do about it.

We now have 5 interim reports a year which, (amongst other things) comment on effort. Every student who gets all goods and excellent for effort is recognised on our ‘Wall of Honour’; a rolling slide show with all those students who have worked hard are recognised. It’s a lovely thing to see students waiting around to see if they are on the list, with whoops and hollers if they are. For the most improved students and highest mean effort scores in each year, are also recognised with a certificate and letter home. We also have some rather cool (well I did make them) effort plaques which are written on and wiped off with every new interim, and now, due to the deputy head mentioning it wasn’t fair that some just missed out on this accolade, all those students who are topping the effort and most improved effort grades have a plaque in a main corridor.

Top effort grades

effort 3effort 2

Assemblies are regularly taking place to talk about the importance of effort and year group assemblies are now being organised so that we can celebrate the effort grades. Every child who makes significant improvement or is getting all ‘goods’ and ‘excellents’ is mentioned by name. That simple recognition is so important. Those who are working hard should never be just a statistic.

Sounds great? There are still many holes to plug..

I have recently been seconded to a Year 10 form group. I asked them about their recent effort grades. Many of them still hadn’t looked the criteria, discussed their interims with their parents. It was clear that many of these students had no ownership of their own data. I thought about this. Students, now at the serious end of their schooling, not referring to what good effort looks like? Did they realise that this aspirational set of criteria is exactly what will give them the grades that they are aiming for? Did they realise that this criteria is just what employers want to see in their young new recruits?

I analysed the data for this form group and decided to dig deep to see who in the form needed to raise their game, where and how and who had been doing wonderfully well and see the effect it has had on their progress at school. I spoke to the three who had the lowest scores. After speaking to their teachers, it was clear that one of them needed greater resilience- they all mentioned that he would give up far too easily if he was given a task that he though was too difficult. One student needed to use his time better, get straight to it rather than getting into the task half way through the lesson and the other, his teachers recognised that he could be doing far more, that he was coasting.

I relayed this to the three students and key bits of information to the whole class. They were truly interested. On the whiteboard, I put up the whole classes effort grades for the year so far, who has made improvements, who has been consistent. I’ve never been over excited by data, but this was clearly not the case for this group of students. They ALL wanted to know what they would need to do to become better, what was it that would make the difference to their effort and resultant achievements.

I started to think about the feedback I received from staff; needs to be more resilient, use time better, and the classic, needs to work harder! Hmmm. But what does this actually mean? How can that student learn to become more resilient? What support does he need to be more resilient? What strategies does he need to employ specifically for Maths, History or Art? It is clear that the journey to ensuring that effort is truly going to impact our students achievements, we are still only on the first few steps and that we need as a staff and as a learners to know what self-efficacy truly looks like in our subject for that unit of work, in that lesson, with that student….

I have devised some effort booklets for students to take far more ownership of the effort grade process, but finding the time to implement this has been tricky so far, with so many new expectations and initiatives being given to our staff at this time.

The students are up for it though (quelle surprise) that was clearly evident from the fervent discussions with students in that Year 10 form group. Interims are clearly just a formal way of feeding back to students. And we all know that feedback is useless unless it makes the students think and make the improvements to get better. So we must build in time to discuss and reflect on effort as a whole and in individual lessons. What does excellent effort look like as a mathematician, as an athlete, chef, designer, historian? There will of course be common traits to all, but our role as teachers is to give students the strategies and skills to make effort make a difference.

There is some brilliant work currently being done in schools up and down the country on the importance of effort. I am always learning and stealing from others so below are some of the resources I have made (work in progress) which you could adapt to work with your form. Let me know if you think they are useful or need tweaking. Any feedback is always appreciated and acted upon!

Effort booklets  Using the booklets  certificate example

Questions I’m hoping to answer this year:

1) How can we develop a common and subject specific language of effort for staff to feedback effectively to students?

2) How can we continue to ensure every student knows the difference effort can make beyond assemblies etc?

3) Where excellent effort does not reflect excellent progress, what strategies and structures should we put in place to ensure effort does make all the difference?

4) Boys and effort. Yeah, I know right??

5) If I spoke to a wide range of students in my school after one year of our new effort grade structure, would there be a common understanding and respect for their purpose?

6) If I looked at mean effort grades for students year on year, would their progress clearly reflect their effort?

n.b. I know that progress aint learning. But you get my drift…



November 23, 2014
by Pete Jones

An Education Worth Having


Thoughts from the Whole Education Conference Part One.

image“There is more in us than we know if we could just be made to see it; perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less,”  Kurt Hahn

It was this quote, which was shared at the end of the XP session, which exemplified the theme of the second day of the Whole Education Conference for me. How can we get students to understand what they are truly capable of through a curriculum, which is entirely driven through a set of narrow judgements of what leaners should be? The answer is we can’t.

Actually, the answer is YES! We can provide students with experiences which provide exceptional depth, a real sense of agency, an opportunity for students to engage with the real world, creating a sense of awe and curiosity as standard, a chance for all students to engage with work which is intrinsically valuable and truly beautiful.

Having been at the Cramlington Festival last June, I remember coming back, with such purpose. Then the doubts starting creeping in, just as the new national curriculum was being dug in, the constant threat of exams becoming more and more challenging. The amount students have to remember. Teach like a Champion. Seven Myths about Education. The bashing of progressivism. Sequencing and spacing.. My sense of purpose was preoccupied the narrative of raising standards and traditionalism. The verve I came back with after the conference was being eroded daily. The pressures of improving exam results, teacher quality, quick fixes, progress 8. All of these pressures took me far, far away from the distant galaxy that was Cramlington.

The Whole Education Conference came just at the right time for me. Just before I hung up my coat of dreams for a different kind of education. An education where a child’s character and work was as important as the pieces of paper they leave with at the tender age of 16.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for students having a body of knowledge which will serve them well. I’m all for cultural capital, but I also have a yearning for the students in my school to be great producers as well as consumers. To create beautiful, meaningful work. Work which transforms who they are. Work which gives students an opportunity to ‘go deep’, not just see learning though the train window as the curriculum train rumbles on ever faster.

Ron Berger stopped me in my tracks…. Well when he entered the auditorium really. He has an extraordinary presence, for such a short guy with a mullet. But he really made me think when he stated that people in the real world are judged on the quality of their work and their character, not on their ability to recall facts or perform well in tests. He said that we should focus on the quality of what students do and who they are. He then shared some of the extraordinary work produced by students in two Expeditionary Learning schools. He shared with us one child’s beautiful work. ‘The Fer-De-Lance Viper’ by Gavin Briggs. On the screen was a beautifully drawn, anatomically correct snake, and the words of Gavin talking us through a day in the life of this snake. The words spoken by Gavin were extraordinary. His understanding, not just of the snake itself, but the habitat he dwells in, the other animals who share the riverbed of the Amazon, his deep understanding of how to put this scientific and geographical knowledge and the craft of his writing were exceptionally impressive. There is also a soundtrack accompanying his spoken words, created by the class with a variety of traditional instruments. Here was a project combining Science, Geography, Music, Art and English. It just filled me with awe. The awe of high expectations, the awe of rigour, the awe of resilience and simply the awe of incredibly hard, commited and beautiful work.

Ron then explained that Gavin was 8 years old. His work wasn’t a one off. I have since read and listened through the whole e-book online. They are all of a similar extraordinary quality, all beautiful drawings, all carefully crafted scientific stories about snakes. I seriously recommend that you look yourselves. Then look through the process of how they got there. It’s all online, ready for inspiration. I defy anyone not to be moved by the sheer immersion, pride and perseverance on display in this classroom. I defy anyone not wanting their own children or of those they teach not to be exposed to this depth of excellence in the classroom. This is learning which deepens the knowledge not just of what they know, but what they can do and who they can be. I found it incredibly moving to see what students are capable of when you dramatically change the culture and approach to learning , it transforms the expectations of children, teachers and parents.

This second clip of an older group of students who researched local civil rights heroes, a project called ‘Small Acts of Courage’ brought most of the audience close to tears. The work these students had created was shared in a public celebration of the lives of these ordinary heroes. A book was made, speeches delivered, eyes were wiped. A truly moving learning experience which gave extraordinary value to those who worked on the project and those within their community.

This talk by Obi-wan, of the Rebel Alliance, sorry I mean Ron Berger of Expeditionary learning will live long in the memory. It was one of those moments that reinforces what side of the fence you’re on. It has helped me refocus what my role is (at least part of it). It has given me hope. A new hope (YES to the Star Wars references) that a whole education will not be lost in the mire of higher standards, Ebaccs and Progress 8. Yes those things are important. Hugely so, but so are the countless missed opportunities to do good work which reminds our students just how incredible they are and what they are capable of when we design learning to go deep. EL Schools are hugely successful, beating all their fellow district schools in the Common Core test scores, but they also have students leaving their school full of a deep sense of who they are and what they can achieve to do good in their communities.

If proof were needed that an education worth having is not just about passing tests, the EL model provides evidence that there is a real alternative to what works and what matters.



October 5, 2014
by Pete Jones

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.

dan tweet

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.


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

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.



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.


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

Top Ten Tips for developing a Growth Mindset in your Classroom


  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

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. 


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.


April 14, 2014
by Pete Jones

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

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.


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.


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!’


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.

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