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Over to you … January 26, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Reading, Teaching Idea.
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cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by clive darra: http://flickr.com/photos/fsse-info/6333531699/

I’ve been ‘tagged.’ No, not in the folksonomic sense, but by my good buddy Nick Jackson as part of the ‘11 Questions’ meme. 11 people are each asked 11 questions and having provided their answers are exhorted to do the same for 11 further people. This being the community of connected educators that it is, the questions in this thread tend to be related (even if only loosely!) to education. You can follow the thread back through Nick’s post, then onwards through my answers to his questions as follows:

1. Why are you a teacher?

It wasn’t and isn’t a mission. It’s not a calling from on high. I guess I almost fell into it when, nearing graduation, I began looking in earnest for the means to earn a crust. Rather than drift into the scientific community the breeze was blowing me towards, I decided instead to pursue my interest of working with younger people; something I’d been doing on a voluntary basis for a number of years. I guess the real reason I’m a teacher is for selfish motives. I simply love the naches you get from helping someone to do, see or experience something they hadn’t before and to see the delight in their face as they revel in knowing they’vemoved forward .

2. How do you/would you answer people when they ask to prove that much of education needs to change?

‘Prove?’ I’m not sure that it is possible to prove that education needs to change. We can take a long hard look around at other aspects of our lives – finance, retail, health care, travel, media and see how those sectors are being disrupted and changed by new technologies. Yet there are other areas which maintain their traditional forms: religion, politics? We need to ask whether the system in which we work is still fit for purpose. Does it still serve the needs of our students, given the unprecedented rate of change in society in general, the way we live our lives and the lives they’ll experience as they grow. My own feeling is that historically, the intent of the education system was to prepare students to be ready for the next stage of their lives, whether that be secondary school, further or higher education or work. Perhaps now we should be preparing students to be able to change and to cope with change, to be adaptable and resilient? I’m not sure that’s currently a sufficiently high priority.

3. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?

A ‘rule?’ That suggests something handed down from on high, rather than a commonly accepted and shared understanding. Whilst the former is indeed sometimes necessary (safety of yourself, colleagues and students), the latter is invariably more effective at moving people forward. If I had the powers of a deity, then the rule I would impose would be one of punctuality; being on time to lessons, for meetings and in meeting deadlines. It’s simple common decency in working with others, but something not fully appreciated by all. However if instead a genie had granted me a wish, I’d like it to become universally accepted that as part of the role of being a teacher, you cultivate a professional learning network, through which you’re connected with other educators with similar responsibilities, but also with others from as wide a range of disciplines and fields as possible. I know how powerful that’s proved to be for me and I’d simply like others to enjoy those benefits.

4. What is the important thing you do as a teacher with your students and why is it important?

Help them to learn? Well of course, but perhaps there’s a prerequisite? I’d argue that forging a solid, meaningful and trusting relationship forms the foundation to build an effective environment within which learning can take place. You don’t have to love each other, but you do have to develop respect so that when things get tough and the learning’s hard, you’re sufficiently trusting of each other to be able to work through it to achieve your shared learning goals.

5. If you could set up a dream team of people in charge of education in your state, country, district, etc, who would they be?

Do we have to have people ‘in charge?’ Well for an education ‘system’ I guess we do, but I suspect that the few people I would really trust to do that wouldn’t want the role. I’d much rather think of flipping that around and working towards a time where the learners themselves become sufficiently empowered and capable to be in charge of their own learning. Try as we might, the top-down approach produces a vanilla system which attempts to cater for the student population as a whole, but struggles to really serve the needs of any individual. It’s simply too inflexible. It’s a bit like school dinners where there’s a minimal choice, with perhaps a single option for those with different dietary needs, as opposed to a classy restaurant with a wide selection of delicious dishes. Or ideally being able to cook for yourself and choosing exactly the right ingredients to make precisely what you want. Yes that’s tougher and requires more effort,  but the rewards are worth it. And yes I do see the flip side where some might gorge on fries and ice cream, or be unable for various reasons to access the ingredients they want … but the original question did mention ‘dream.’

6. What do you think the value of ‘celebrity’ keynote speakers at educational conference is?

I suppose the role is to inspire; not necessarily to give practical solutions or ideas, but to set the mental cogs whirring. Keynotes are sometimes wasted where a celebducator is parachuted in, gives their schtick about their latest book or research, then jets off to enjoy the spoils. But where it can and does work is where the topic is closely tied to the theme of the conference and the person speaking has clear interests and expertise in that area. Being able to hold an audience should be a given.

7. What do you think should be taught to young people to make them digitally literate?

Ah you don’t catch me out with this trick question Mr J. Being ‘literate’ isn’t of course a state i.e. there’s isn’t some sort of threshold through which you pass to become literate. What we can do however is help to move students along the continuum that is digital literacy. I’d argue however that you can’t do that in isolation and whilst you might spend some time putting in the fundamentals, continued development  can be achieved in a much more powerful way if it is undertaken in context. To that end, just like it’s the responsibility of all teachers to help students improve their literacy and numeracy, we are all obliged to support and guide students to become increasingly digitally literate. Here we face a problem; whilst most teachers have good levels of literacy and many are numerate, sadly the levels of digital literacy remain quite low amongst many. Resolving that …. well it may take some time!

8. What do you think would happen if students in your school were given power over technology integration in your school for the next five years with only advice from adults and a budget to work with?

I thought the best way to answer this question might be to actually ask them, so I did!

They certainly have a different perspective and and different set of priorities,  though to be fair, I did rather drop the discussion on them with no time to gather their thoughts. Although a couple of things they mentioned about our current provision are factually inaccurate , it matters not because that’s actually their perception and we need to be aware of that and consider carefully how we should act on that information. (Come what may, I definitely intend to do more of these focus groups!)

9. Do you think young people have changed since you were a child?

They got older! But I guess the question is, is the youth of today different from when I was young? I feel that young people are generally more wordly-wise than they were when I was their age; or is that simply because I now come across the spectrum of youth, whereas as a young person I only ever saw the narrow community of which I was a member. I suppose it might be fairest to say yes they are different; neither more nor less intelligent, more nor less aggressive, more nor less sullen and uncommunicative, but given the nature of the world now compared with then, perhaps that’s inevitable.

10. How best can we address the disconnect between different levels of education (primary to secondary, secondary to university)

Another tough one and a concern we’ve been battling for some while. Hard-coded into the very naming of our system (at least in the UK), there are three distinct phases: primary, secondary and tertiary. The term ‘lifelong learning’ is rightly becoming increasingly significant and understood, so perhaps when we in each sector see ourselves as part of the whole, rather than as individual phases within a student’s learning journey, we might begin to address that disconnect. Sadly, concluding each phase with a formal examination on which the performances of the individual, her teachers and their school are judged, does little to help. One small step might be to pursue with far more rigour the notion of young people starting and maintaining a digital portfolio of their learning progress and achievements as early as possible, one which they continue to develop right through life. In their minds at least, the notion of stopping and restarting their education at various ages might begin to blur. Maybe we need to take a(nother?) leaf out of the book of our cousins north of the border and their aspirations for Glow.

<scratches head>I wonder what part the long summer break plays in contributing to the discontinuity?</scratches head>

11. What is the most influential book/article/post you have ever read on education?

I’m going to take the meaning of influential to mean which book has influenced my thinking most. Whilst ‘Punished by Rewards’ (Alfie Kohn, 1999), ‘The Element’ (Ken Robinson, 2010) and ‘Bounce’ (Matthew Syed, 2007) all recently gave me pause for thought, the one which really made me confront my preconceptions was Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken (2011).’ Although not specifically about education,  it challenged me to rethink my views about games and gaming. I’m intrigued by the way in which the best games energize their participants to become engrossed, develop mastery, maintain resilience in the face of adversity, behave altruistically and co-operatively and achieve so much … and for those participants to do so voluntarily and repeatedly. What can we in education learn from the research into games and how can we leverage the potential that they might offer? Don’t we all want our learners to be continually enjoying fiero moments?

The questions I’d like to ask of the next wave of potential tagees are:

  1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?
  2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?
  3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?
  4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?
  5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!
  6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?
  7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)
  8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?
  9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?
  10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?
  11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

With many apologies to those on whom I’ve inflicted this, I’ve tried to draw as eclectically as possible from educators around the globe that I follow on Twitter and who I’d be interested to hear a little more about. If they’re able to spare the time, I’d be delighted to hear from:

Keri-Lee Beasley @klbeasley

Aaron Davis @mrkrndvs

Jen Deyenberg @jdeyenberg

Michael Fawcett @teachernz

John Johnstone @johnjohnston

Kathleen Morris @kathleen_morris

Lisa Parisi @LParisi

Julia Skinner @TheHeadsOffice

Russell Tarr @russeltarr

Nikki Teasdale @KnikiTea

David Wees @davidwees

And all this has got me thinking about how we might use an ’11 Questions’ style activity with our pupils. Maybe ‘Three Questions about …’ as a way of revising or recapping a topic. Hmm, more to ponder …

Diffusion … but not gaseous January 3, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Reading, research, Resources.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

diffusion of innovationsI recently finished Everett M Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, a volume I’d been meaning to get round to reading in full for some while. In exploring how technology establishes itself in education, I’d long been aware of the notion whereby individuals within a social system can be classified into categories, based on their attitude to innovations. The rate at which an innovation is adopted by the members of a system can be plotted against time and the following is produced.

diffusion of innovations

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2564440831/

A little mathematics divides the curve into segments, characteristics of people occupying each of the segments are established and voilà, you have the different adopter categories. You can read more about the categories in this Wikipedia article – which category are you in by the way?

I’d often wondered whether or how the five categories of adopter might be applied within a school setting, but also felt I needed to know more about the background, which is why I bought the book. The cases Rogers uses to illustrate the principles of Diffusion Theory are taken from widely varying fields (no pun intended!) like farming, health care, contraception, cell phones etc. But whenever I’m reading a book of this nature, I’m always wearing my educational specs and looking for ways to interpret and apply the findings or theory for the contexts I experience at work or in my own learning. We have a couple of major initiatives at school at the moment which would be ripe for analysis using a Diffusion Theory framework. But then something else popped into my head …

With unerring regularity, discussions (and I use the term loosely!) on the merits of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) bubble to the surface. Evidence can be seen through blog posts like this or this and  Twitter exchanges or on discussion threads like MirandaLink, the ICT Research Network or EduGeek. Opinion really can be quite polarised! To nail my colours to the mast, I’m fairly squarely in the pro-IWB camp which I guess stemmed from the time I changed careers to work in a City Learning Centre where one of my first duties was to support the roll-out of a major IWB project in primary schools across Sheffield, providing the training for the teachers involved. I guess you don’t become an accredited IWB trainer without developing some degree of passion for the subject? But that was over ten years ago; do I still feel the same? How much have we moved forward now that the technology is more mature and more ubiquitous in our classrooms? Given their age, some of the IWBs will doubtless be coming to the end of their life (I know we’ve a couple in school which are ready for replacement), so do we replace like for like … or consider alternatives like interactive (boardless) projectors, large touch-capable display screens, tablets with screen-mirroring capability?

With all those questions swimming around, it struck me that Rogers might be able to help here. First to provide a lens to look back at how IWBs were deployed originally – what might we learn by considering that deployment from a diffusion theory standpoint? And secondly looking forward to the next stage and whether we replace our IWB estate and if so, with what? So I started by looking back through the research, which is when I realised this will probably merit a bit more than a single blog post, or even two or three, so I pondered what might be a better forum through which to undertake that examination? A wiki? Maybe a Google site? Hmmm … any ideas?

More to follow …

Time to turn the page? February 22, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading.
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cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by jessica @ flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/jessflickr/49361028/

Just had my interest piqued by a post from Dai Barnes (Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?) and having initiated a reply, once I reached 500 words, thought it only polite to retreat to this blog. I have to confess to several similar conversations with students as the one Dai had with his daughter; even the most tech-savvy. In some ways I am perplexed – why on Earth *wouldn’t* someone want to swap lugging several kilos of paper around for a few hundred grams of tablet?!

There are (at least) two things to consider I’d suggest:

1. Workflow. What textbook publishers have done is replicate a paper book, add some extra features that paper books don’t have (interactive content, rich media, links etc) and add the things they think a reader would need (notes, bookmarks, highlighting etc). What it appears they failed to do was observe the workflow of the average teen … or any textbook user for that matter. How do they use a paper textbook? A ‘Go to page’ feature for example will never work the same as riffling through pages and perhaps happening on something useful. Being able to add bookmarks or highlights which you can index, filter and search just isn’t the same as adding Post-Its which stick out so you can quickly return to significant sections. It’s not that these features are worse than their original counterparts; quite the contrary. It’s that they’re different and require a rather different workflow, which brings me to…

2. Expectations. The way we use a book is set at an early age when we begin to teach our youngest how to read, at home and in school. Most current teens began their reading in paper books. The skills they were taught as they moved through school were all paper book oriented: browsing, using an index or table of contents, not allowing them to make notes in the books (for the most part). When they meet digital books for the first time, they become frustrated because they simply don’t work in the same way they’ve come to learn and expect. They can’t deal with them and don’t have the time or see the need to relearn. It’s not just teens; I see the same behaviours in adults. Many love having an ebook reader for fiction or extended reading, but would be horrified at having to use one as a textbook. I remember when I started studying seriously again a few years ago and it became necessary to read vast numbers of academic papers, my first response was to print out the pdfs for later reading and annotation. It was all I knew. It didn’t take too long however before I forced myself to learn to read and work on screen, even in pre-tablet days because in the end it was so much more efficient.

Now what if our youngest were introduced to reading using digital books? What if they weren’t exposed to paper books? What if, as they became older, they were taught the skills to manage their reading digitally and to exploit the features that digital books provide. What would their reaction be when if, as a teen, they were presented with a paper textbook? We’ve all seen surely the videos of cute toddlers trying to pinch-zoom a magazine?

On the other hand what if publishers or authors revisited what a learner needs from a textbook, then threw the notion of a book out of the window and started from scratch. What would the product look like? Perhaps authors brought up in the traditional world struggle to envision anything other than the traditional page-turning format. I’m not sure what the next-generation textbook should look like, but I do know that whatever it is will probably be designed/assembled/crowd-sourced by a young person.

James Clay and Zak Mensah had quite a thorough discussion around some these issues in one of James’ e-Learning Stuff podcasts, as indeed did Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers in Episode 5 of Out of School.

The Art of Explanation … or is there some Science in there? January 1, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Reading, Teaching Idea.
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1 comment so far


the art of explanation

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/8335216680/

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently acquired the book “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever. Impressed by the clarity and economy of explanation in CommonCraft videos, I wondered what lessons there might be for those of us who work in the classroom. I guess the first step is to isolate that part of our teaching and learning environments to which ‘The Art …’ applies and here the early chapters provide a signpost. Specifically the book is about explanations, so defining the term makes sense and for Lee explanation is about making facts more understandable; about ‘lowering the cost of figuring out an idea and inviting people to become customers of it in the future.’ Explanations help people beyond the ‘how’ questions through to the ‘why’ to the point where they are sufficiently confident and care enough to want to find out more for themselves. With teachers I’m sure that will have a certain resonance.

And some fell on stony ground

We’ve all at some time or another looked out over a sea of blank stares, a time when our attempt at explanation was … less than optimal! Lee provides some pointers here and argues that it all begins with confidence; when someone loses confidence that they can grasp the idea that you’re communicating, you’ve lost them. One problem which might lead to this is making assumptions about that level of confidence when working with a group. One-on-one, it’s easier to spot the tell-tale signs when you’re losing someone; with thirty (or more), that’s much tougher and can lead to false assumptions. One cause is the curse of knowledge, that we as ‘experts’ in our fields sometimes suffer from, where we misplace our ability to see the world from another person’s perspective. Again as experts, we’re sometimes guilty of using terminology to which our audience (or some within it) may not be party and as a consequence they lose confidence. One more factor of crucial importance in helping someone to understanding is in setting a context with which they can relate; if an explanation is provided in splendid isolation, people are far less likely to care.

Put a bow on it

To make your ideas easier for other people to understand, they need to be packaged in such a way that they address the audience’s needs. There are six important elements:

  • Agreement – build confidence from the outset by using big-picture statements which will have resonance for all.
  • Context – takes the points on which we can agree, to a new place; one which also lets the audience know why it should matter to them.
  • Story – a narrative woven around a character which experiences the aforementioned journey and resulting benefits.
    • Connections – analogies and metaphors used to support the story by connecting new ideas with something people already understand. The spices added to accentuate the flavour of a dish!
    • Descriptions – provide concrete examples of the desirable outcomes for the character and how they have been achieved
  • Conclusion – summarises what has been learned and provides a ‘call to action’ for the audience to put that into practice.

But at the moment, much of that is abstract. In order to better understand the degree to which ‘The Art…’ can inform our teaching, I perhaps need to consider a more concrete example. Can I apply these observations to a teaching/learning situation? And that’s for the next post …

“Craft of the Classroom” – 40 tips to help you manage your classroom effectively June 17, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading, Teaching Idea.
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1 comment so far
The Craft of the Classroom

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7388684206/

A number of years ago (unfortunately where n>30) as I was awaiting the start of my PGCE, I opted to read one of the pre-course texts. It left a lasting impression on me and despite being a slim volume, became my touchstone as I worked through teacher training and the first few years as a newly qualified teacher. Michael Marland’s “The Craft of the Classroom” provides advice on strategies, techniques and resources for managing a classroom. In some ways dated (e.g. use of the overhead projector), even in the 1993 reprint, the advice nevertheless remains in many ways timeless. The book isn’t about learning theories and pedagogy, progression and performance, assessment and reporting; it’s about how to manage delicate balance of interactions between the teacher, students, resources and the classroom environment itself.

I revisited the book recently following a tweet asking for educational books which made an impact on us. Unable to track down my original, for a few pence on Amazon I picked up a used copy and pulled out forty points, each of which is expanded in greater detail in the book – you could do worse than to pick up a copy for the teachers’ reading shelf in school … which is where mine will now reside.


  • Be yourself
  • Learn your students’ names … quickly!
  • Use ‘duty’ time positively and proactively.
  • Aim to develop relationships with your students over the course of weeks, not minutes
  • Get involved in extra-curricular activities
  • Be consistent in all you do.
  • Praise publicly (when appropriate), privately (when appropriate) and via significant others (form tutor, pastoral leader, parents)
  • Avoid confrontations
  • Use humour when opportunities arise naturally.

Classroom Environment

  • Ensure your classroom (or the one you have just used) is left clean and tidy.
  • Report (and follow up) maintenance issues early.
  • Use display areas imaginatively and keep them fresh.
  • Think carefully about the position of the teachers desk to maximse your ability to orchestrate the classroom.
  • Consider how students’ desks should be arranged (but be aware that others may use the room after you)
  • Where students sit should be decided by you … though different groups may require different approaches
  • Make a seating plan … and use it proactively.

Records & registers

Your markbook (which might be digital) should record:

  • The students for whom you are responsible
  • Their attendance and punctuality
  • The work they undertook
  • Comments/notes about your students

and will help you in many ways including:

  • keeping track of student progress
  • writing interim and summative reports
  • communicating with parents

Conventions and routines

  • Whenever possible, be in the room first and receive the class proactively
  • Use your greeting to set the tone of the lesson
  • Consider carefully how you will accommodate late arrivals
  • Have a starter activity that students can undertake to start the lesson meaningfully, whilst initial business is completed (register etc)
  • Develop an ‘oversight’ through which you maintain a general awareness of everything taking place, especially when you are notionally involved in a 1-2-1.
  • Plan the last five minutes of the lesson meticulously to ensure a businesslike and timely close.
  • Develop an efficient system for collecting in and handing out work. Use other students where possible. (Seating plans can be very useful here)
  • Be systematic in the issuing and collecting of resources.
  • Follow school procedures for allowing students out of the room during lesson time
  • If the noise level becomes inappropriate for the task, address it through individual students rather than general exhortations to the class.
  • As you circulate around the room talking with students/groups, be aware of your position and field of view.
  • Where group work is called for consider carefully the composition of the groups – different curriculum aims and different students will require different arrangements.

The teacher’s performance

  • Consider your appearance and image you portray.
  • If you need to speak to the whole class, ensure everyone listens and hears. If the everyone doesn’t need to hear, don’t say it.
  • Position yourself in the room wisely.
  • Don’t speak until you have everyone’s complete attention.
  • The old adage ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them’ still has much merit.
  • When delivering instructions, be clear and firm, but pleasant, ensuring the instructions are slanted positively i.e. ‘Do’ rather than ‘Don’t.’
  • Using a board (white, black or interactive) requires forethought – why, what, when and how and where you are in relation to it.

There are also sections on Questioning techniques and lesson planning, neither of which I could adequately do justice to in a short phrase … another reason to acquire your own copy perhaps?

Though Michael left us in 2008, he also left behind a ‘bible’ or as he describes it, a ‘Survival Guide.’