Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Critical Thinking

Last year I wrote a 6,000 word assignment on the importance of teaching critical thinking, reasoning and argument skills. I wouldn't dare try to subject you to all those words but here were my concluding thoughts.....

Claxton (2007, 132) argues that ‘trying to find a form of schooling that enables all young people to get better at learning – to come at life venturesome, imaginative and questioning – is the most important task that faces education’ Whilst written seven years ago this is very much the challenge increasingly facing education today. Indeed, Kincheloe and Weil (2004) have argued that during this time of unprecedented opportunity, increased challenge and accelerating change we must take seriously the challenge of preparing children to be critical thinkers.  The birth of the cyber/ technological revolution means that children need to possess the skills to allow them to weigh up evidence (which is so readily available) and make reasoned and informed decisions. This metacognitive process is so important as it allows one to develop one’s own thinking and reasoning.

Teaching critical thinking skills not only means increasing informed participation in the democratic process but generally providing young people with skills that will allow them to prosper regardless of their chosen occupation. I would also argue that these skills do not need to be taught as separate entities. Indeed, critical thinking activities can be easily embedded or infused into the existing strands of the National Curriculum. However, for this to be truly effective requires passionate educators across all phases willing to embrace the teaching of critical thinking skills. Indeed, ‘when teachers understand and value thinking, they naturally create thinking dispositions in their children, to become aware of their thinking, a condition for learning how to learn and becoming life long learners’ (Salmon and Lucas, 2011, p. 373). In conclusion I would argue that teaching critical thinking, reasoning and argument skills is essential if we want our education systems to develop critical, creative, thoughtful and reflective young people.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Back from the MEd

This is my first blog post since February 2014. It's not that I've ran out of things to say or lacked any desire to write about education. No, it's had more to do with (a) the arrival of our second child in January 2014 and (b) the demands of studying for an MEd. The latter has been extremely taxing at times, especially back in May when I was working towards a 6,000 word assignment deadline, marking endless Controlled Assessments, trying to write a best man's speech AS WELL as trying to raise two boys. Anyhow, this post really isn't a 'woe-be-me/ my life is so tough' plea for sympathy. Hardly, I'm very fortunate to have a job that I love (most of the time) and a family I adore including a partner who is always hugely supportive of my ridiculous endeavours. This post is more of a reflection on my first year as an MEd student and what I believe have been the pros and cons..........


(a) Becoming more reflective - holding a mirror up to my practice.

Since beginning the MA I have consciously endeavoured to become an increasingly more reflective practitioner. This, I believe, is important as using reflective practice allows teaching professionals to increase confidence and become more proactive in improving teaching quality. 

(b) Research/ academia

I am not only interested in teaching and learning but I really enjoy researching and reading academic papers on areas of education that I believe can and should be improved, for example, peer-to-peer feedback, critical thinking skills and teacher reflection. 

(c) Collaboration 

Lastly, I have really really valued the opportunity to work with colleagues from different phases and indeed different sectors. For example, there are MEd students from early years, primary, secondary, FE, Adult Learning and the Youth Service. Having the opportunity to discuss ideas and share practice has been been invaluable. 



Overall, I've really really enjoyed studying for the first year of my MEd. However, the only downside is time. You see, if I'm researching/ writing for my MEd assignments then something's got to give. This has admittedly had an impact on my school workload. There have been evenings when I've been 'torn' between marking a set of books or reading academic journals. I suppose my greatest concern is that if the MEd is taking time away from the pupils then how is it really having a positive impact on my development as an educational practitioner. I have, however, come to the conclusion that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term losses. 

Also, as I have to attend university for (roughly) one Saturday per month it means that I'm getting to see less of my family - this is especially difficult as my eldest child attends his Rugby Tots class on a Saturday morning and I feel as though I'm missing his first steps towards playing international rugby for Wales :) 

So, it has, admiteddly, been a tough first year studying for my MEd but I'm glad I'm doing it. I feel as though it is having a positive impact on my practice and my development as a practitioner; something that I've been quite obsessed with over the past few years (see here)

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Historical Handbags

Firstly, I must confess to 'magpie-ing' the idea for this project from here. However, as I teach in a Welsh school we decided that our Year 7 project should focus on Welsh heroes rather than heroes in general. The project involved pupils choosing a Welsh hero, researching their importance and then creating a historical handbag to educate people about their chosen icon. The project details were outlined in this document which was given to pupils:

It is also worth noting here that before undertaking this project pupils had spent 4 weeks (6 lessons) learning about key historical themes/ concepts such as sources, bias, interpretation and chronology. The idea was that they could use their skills/ understanding and apply them to their Welsh heroes project. 

The response from the pupils was absolutely brilliant. Not only did they take complete ownership of their projects but they kept stopping me on the corridor to ask if I knew this or that about their chosen hero. It soon became apparent that I knew very little about Lady Charlotte Guest (technically not Welsh), John Charles and Saint David, amongst many many others! 

Some of the finished articles looked like this:


Whilst I was really pleased with the both the process and the outcome of the project I would make a few changes for next year:
  1. Be a bit 'tighter' with the success criteria. There were, admittedly, too many Tom Jones' Katherine Jenkins' for my liking. I might even change it to include people who are no longer alive. 
  2. Ensure there is enough time at the end of the project to allow for some meaningful feedback/ feedforward. Originally, I had planned to create a 'museum' with all of the handbags where pupils would walk around the class and leave constructive feedback for their peers. As they are placed in sets after half term this didn't happen which was really disappointing as I know the pupils were really keen to do this. We did create a display of the pupils' work though to showcase the best handbags. 
  3. Work more closely with the ICT department and my wonderful colleagues (@skophillips and @sddavies24) on the multimedia element of the project. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Feedback to the Future

Feedback is important. Very important. Just ask John Hattie, his extensive research on what has the greatest impact on learning and progression put feedback right at the top of the list. I highly recommend reading Hattie's Visible Learning, however, if you're stuck for time (as we all are) then you could always read this article he wrote back in 2007 on the power of feedback. With feedback playing such an important part in pupils' learning we (me and my brilliant colleague @SarahHennessey4) decided that our departmental feedback policies needed a complete overhaul. Working closely with Sarah we developed a model of feedback which we believed would be workable and ultimately have a big impact on pupil learning/ progression. So, here it is:

FeedBack and FeedForward

Having considered lots of different models for providing feedback we decided to go for FeedBack (what was good about the work) and FeedForward (what they can do to improve). With regards to the latter we found that posing a question rather than writing a statement has had a greater impact on moving pupils on. 

The pupils have also responded really positively to using FB & FF in their peer assessment and actually the quality of peer feedback has improved significantly. More of that later. 


Giving the pupils time to actually respond to their FB/ FF also means that not only are they reading the comments but also acting upon the guidance. I find playing Wheatus' Teenage Dirtbag (on loop if necessary) helps with the Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time.

Pupil Response (PR):

We now make sure that all pupils write a PR to any FB & FF they are given by either their peers or teachers. Again, we have found that not only are responding to the comments but the feedback between teacher and pupil has become increasingly conversational in inature. 

Peer Assessment - Kind, Specific and Helpful

Having identified peer assessment as an area which desperately needed improving we decided on a model which we thought would be pupil friendly and really easy to for our pupils to embrace:

The overall impact of this policy has been quite substantial. Not only is the feedback provided far better than before but the way in which pupils are acting upon it has improved significantly. Plus, I got to create a feedback wall inspired by my all time favourite trilogy which you can download here.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Creating Tableaux in History

After reading Hywel Robert's brilliant book 'Oops! Helping children learn accidentally' I decided that I really really need to incorporate more drama into my history lessons. Yeah, I've done the odd battle re-enactment but not a great deal beyond that.......

I decided the best way was to go with something quite easy so I opted for a lesson where pupils create a tableau of the moment when Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. A tableau is a still image which pupils create to capture a moment in a story or in this case a significant historical event. The pupils were allowed to act out the scene leading up to the assassination but they had to capture the moment Franz Ferdinand is shot by Gavrilo Princip in a freeze frame. This then allowed me to question their work and to get them to explain the key moments in the scene. 

The pupils absolutely loved working in their groups to create their tableau, especially some of the more challenging pupils who I sometimes find difficult to engage with written tasks.The standard of the tableaux produced were variable but asking the pupils to give some FeedBack (what they thought was good about the work) and FeedForward (what they think would improve the scene) helped to constructively guide pupils on how to enhance the quality of their tableau.   

As a plenary I chose one pupil to act as Princip and answer questions as if he was at a news conference. This, again, worked brilliantly with the pupils asking and Princip providing answers to some really good questions. 

We used the drama studio for the lesson which really helped to highlight the significance in the drama being created. If you have access to a creative space then I strongly recommend utilising it. You can download the copy of the lesson (including the objective and success criteria) here

I'm already in the process of planning my next visit to the drama studio..........

Monday, 30 September 2013

Creating Speeches through the Medium of Mime

I love it when pupils collaborate on a piece of work. I love it even more when they are given the opportunity to showcase their efforts. So, with this in mind, I created a lesson that would (hopefully) culminate in a paired one minute speech (partly) through the medium of mime. 


As part of the History GCSE pupils learn how medicine has changed through various periods of time. The focal point of this year 10 lesson was to introduce pupils to the Renaissance, not just medical advances, but also an overall sense of the main features of this extraordinary period of history. By the end of the lessons (two in total) I wanted the pupils to:

  1. Investigate the main features of the Renaissance.
  2. Collaboratively create a one minute speech.
  3. Communicate their work both orally and through the medium of mime. 


To get them started I played this brilliant Horrible Histories clip and told them they needed to remember (not write anything down) two facts about the Renaissance: 

The Investigation:

To enable pupils to carry out their investigation I placed information about the Renaissance around the room and projected these instructions on the whiteboard:

Once pupils had collated their information they were given time to write up their speeches and additional time to 'rehearse' their pieces. 


Some pupils were initially reluctant to share their work, however, after the first pair delivered their self proclaimed 'sick speech' the rest of the class seemed eager to follow suit. I think it helped that the person delivering the speech got to use the inflatable microphone! I made sure that after each speech pupils were give some FeedBack (what was good about their work) and some FeedForward (how they could improve) about their work. 


Overall this activity worked really well. Admittedly, the quality of the speeches varied and there was some questionable miming (Renaissance Man?!). However, the pupils did manage to to meet all of the learning intentions and, more importantly, seemed to have some fun in the process. As for me, I loved watching the pupils collaborate, create and perform their work and effectively educate each other. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Schools History Project Conference 2013

This was the third time I have attended the SHP Conference since 2009 and once again it exceeded my (high) expectations. If you've never been before then go to whoever is in charge of CPD at your school and beg them to book you onto the conference next year (11th - 13th July). It really will be the best history related professional development you'll get all year. For those of you who have been before, you know what am on about. 

It would, of course, be impossible to incorporate all of the brilliant ideas I heard over the weekend so instead I've decided to choose five which I am going to develop over the course of the next year. 

1. Enquiry Questions

We always use overarching questions in our Schemes of Learning which are then broken down into smaller questions. You can see an example here. However, rather than using 'what was life like in the Middle Ages?' it would be better to use 'were people in the Middle Ages stupid?' (as suggested by Dave Stacey). I've realised that the questions we have been  using are not necessarily the the right ones and that we need to rewrite them. As Rachel Foster said in her brilliant workshop 'good enquiry questions should become more and not less problematic the more it is studied'.  

2. Socrative

'Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.' (So says the website). I signed up to Socrative a while ago but haven't got around to using it with the pupils yet however after hearing Lesley Ann McDermott demonstrate how she has used it with her pupils I will most certainly be embracing it next term.  

3. Why? 

After attending Jamie Byrom and Michael Riley's session on The Mughal Empire it dawned on me that I don't tell pupils why they are learning about a given topic. I always tell them what they will be learning but not why it is important to learn about it. This is going to change. 

4. SOLO Taxonomy

I have done a fair amount of reading around SOLO and was hoping to introduce it earlier this year. That was until I realised that Lesley Anne McDermott and Sally Thorne were doing a session on SOLO. Not only was the workshop brilliant but it also made my research 'click' as lots of history examples were shared and plenty of resources given. If you've never heard of the taxonomy before then this video is a good place to start:

5. Feedback

Firstly, I need to read Ron Berger's 'The Ethic of Excellence' as it was mentioned by a number of people at the conference. I like the idea of teaching pupils that peer assessment should be kind, specific and helpful. Also, during Dale Banham and Russell Hall's session that shared some wonderful examples of how open dialogue with pupils improves the quality of feedback and ultimately the quality of learning. 

There were SO many other ideas that I could share but I'm trying to write this whilst watching the Wimbledon Final so I'll leave it there....