Changing how teachers teach.

This is a brief piece about changing the way teachers teach.

Not a difficult thing to attempt but likely to go wrong, and sometimes, very wrong.

Here is a step by step guide to improving teaching.

First, get the teacher to identify how they think children learn. Although they may not have been clear about this, all teachers have a theory about how learning happens. It may be based on what they were taught at training college. Perhaps they have read a blog or two. They may claim they do not have a theory, but they will have. Do they believe that children are born with talents and that our job as teachers is to draw out those innate talents? Perhaps they have a behaviourist view of learning, or they object strongly to children being thought of as learning in the way Skinner taught his pigeons to play table tennis.

Who are the theorists they hold to be true? Dewey, Frier, and there is a long list.

Do they believe in ‘active learning’, where doing itself will lead to learning? Are they a guide on the side or a sage on the stage? Perhaps a mix of both.

What I hope is that in the words of Dylan Wiliam, “Every teacher can improve.” How can we support and continue that improvement? And who will support you in your improvement?

Relationships matter. We all know that but how many of us have sought the original? My bet is, very few. And my second bet is that you think relationships are about teacher-student relationships. Other relationships may well matter more, and the original was not about personal relationships but the relationship that the learner has with the material to be learned.

There is a lot more to improving teachers and the learning in their classrooms.

Change requires a learning framework, a desire to change, evidence, suggestions as to what to do, support with planning and tolerance of a temporary lower performance.

If you want to know more then I’d be happy to talk via email –

Charging Schedule for my Electric Vehicle

I have had a Kia e-Niro for a few months now. Because of lockdown I have only driven a few hundred miles. Just wait until it is all over!

I have been thinking about my charging schedule for the car. I used to put it on charge each night so it would be full in the morning. Just in case… Just in case I needed to go somewhere. Perhaps to drive the 150 miles to my brother. Or somewhere else far away.

But as my understanding and trust in charging has matured I now am very willing to let the car charge drop to around 50%, which takes quite a while given how few miles I am driving, before I charge my e-Niro to full.

How long will it be before I wait for the car charge to drop to only 20% before I put it on charge?

Have to see…

Electric Car Charge for Free

I am not sure how often this happens and even though charging at some places can be free, which feels very nice – free energy – you are not really saving a great deal of cash.

But where are these free chargers?

Near where I live there is a free charger in a pay-car-park. BUT the parking for a charging electric car is free as well. It is next to a supermarket that we use. Park up, plug in and go and do your one hour shop.

Another supermarket has free chargers while you shop for as long as you like.

Many chargers get put of free charge for a while after they have been maintained. I guess they do this to check the charger is now working properly.

Social media is good as folk will note when a charger is set to free vend. A very useful app is ZapMap which shows the location of public chargers and if you click on a location it tells you whether the charger is working, what rate(s) of charge it provides, when it was last used successfully and if it si free.


Driving my Electric Car

In the first post I described how much I liked my Kia e-niro. But what is it like to drive?

The e-niro fully electric car is simpler to drive than a conventional ICE, internal combustion engine, car. It has a keyless start system – just get in the car with the key in your pocket and foot on the brake and press the ‘start’ button. The car goes through a system check with a pretty graphic and a few bleeps. By the time I have put the seat belt on the car is ready to go. It insists you agree to drive safely by confirming with a touch to the touch screen. (You can ignore this agreement.)

The first thing is that the car is silent. It is an odd sensation as it does not feel as if it is ready to drive – but it is. The drive selector has three settings. Rotate to the left and we are in reverse, to the right and drive is selected. The middle position is park.

Select reverse and the really clear rear camera shows a good wide view of the rear behind the car. It is tempting to rely on this too much and at the moment I also check by looking left and right. The car drive is completely smooth – there are no gear changes as there would be on a conventional automatic transmission vehicle. The electric motor has amazing torque which is the same at low speed as it is at high speed. The same acceleration from start as there is at 60 mph. It really does move. The only car noise is road and wind noise and the first thing my wife commented on was the smoothness of the ride.

At low speeds, up to about 30 mph the car has a generated sound whooshing noise which is meant to warn pedestrians as there is no engine noise. It works and I frequently see the puzzled looks of pedestrians as the space ship type noise accompanies the car’s travel.

My Electric Car

I have owned a fully electric car for a couple of months. Driven just over 1000 miles and I thought it would be good to write a brief piece about how I feel about it now and how the charging works etc.

Buying an electric car is not cheap – the battery costs a big chunk but this is expected to dramatically drop as more are produced and technology usually makes such things less expensive. But I also have a small desire to cause less environmental damage. There are other reasons for changing to all electric from ICE, internal combustion engine, cars and other vehicles. You can even buy electric <name any transport>! The cost of the fuel – kilowatt hours for an electric car compared to diesel or petrol. I can fill my electric car for just over £3. 64kW x 5p/kWh = £3.20. That will take me at least 250 miles. My previous SUV cost way over that to fill, something like £70 and that took me about 500 miles. Pretty easy to see how the cost advantage is with the electric car. Something like 10 times cheaper per mile!

Charging, fuelling, an electric car is not the same as fuelling an ICE car – and I don;t mean the type of fuel it uses but the way one adds kWh over time. With an ICE car I used to run it until it was about one quarter full and then I’d fill it up at the garage. Took about 5 minutes plus the drive to and from the garage.

But with my electric car I plug it in at home. It charges overnight using low cost electrical energy. I use a company called Octopus energy who, I must say, are delightful. Great customer service. You have to have a smart meter installed,type 2. And you need a device which channels the electricity to the car. I use a device called a ZAPPI from Myenergie. All pretty simple.

I have also charged for free in a local car park while my wife and I go shopping for an hour. She shops and I trail along behind. Where car you legally get free petrol?

I have not yet travelled on a long journey. Lockdown etc. But if I was going to travel to, say, Bristol where I work with some schools how would i do it? Charge the car fully overnight and drive the 150 miles or so. I’d then have to stop on the way back at one of the increasing number of chargers for 30 mins or so to top up the battery to be able to get back. As far as I know all motorway service stations have chargers, more expensive than my home overnight charging but still cheaper than petrol. There are some really fast chargers that can fill my Kia E-Niro from empty to 100% in just over an hour. But one does not need to fill it up, just put enough energy in to get home with some to spare. There really are chargers all over the place and the network is growing. Just take a look at YouTube where folk take you through journeys across the UK.

Looks Like Bridge, but it is Really Learning

One of my bridge, the card game, partners recently made a bid which was correct but in the wrong context.

She has the knowledge of the bid and what it means but was using it in the wrong place. She had 2 pieces of knowledge but did not have the required understanding to realise what her bid meant in that circumstance. She had the knowledge but not the understanding.

I have been thinking about this difference, knowing and understanding, for a while and how one moves from knowing to understanding. Checking understanding is reasonably easy – in the bridge context we just see if the bids are correct in the context of the bridge conversation, which clearly describes the cards one holds. Understanding is best checked in context, by application – by doing. Preferably in as close a situation to the “real” context as possible.

So in thinking about how to move from my partner’s current knowledge to understanding three things are needed:

Additional knowledge – what is the context in which the bid is the correct bid?

Additional knowledge – why is the bid she made no accurately describing her hand in the context she made the bid?

Additional knowledge – that bidding is a conversation and she needs to think about what her bid says to me,not just remember, misremember, a rule for bidding.

And to secure that understanding we need practice in a real bridge game.

That’s a good model for learning, I believe.

Virtual Reality in School

I have recently purchased a virtual reality headset – an Oculus Quest. I previously owned an Oculus Rift. The clarity of the Rift was ok, but not great. Reportedly the Quest is a level up.

I have been wanting to explore how virtual reality and augmented reality could improve learning in schools.

One issue is the same one that was apparent when secondary school were given one Pet computer. How on earth would one make use of one computer for many hundreds of pupils? It was not great and it meant that computing became an activity for a few self-selecting pupils.

The big breakthrough was with the government scheme introducing BBC micros into schools in decent numbers. Computer rooms sprang up and computing and Information and Communication Technology became a subject. ICT co-ordinators were appointed. Lost of cash was spent.

I enjoyed these ‘toys’ and moved from Science and maths teaching into ICT teaching. I also became the Principal Moderator for the largest ICT exam in the country.

Virtual reality seems to open up a whole world, literally, of experiences for children – BUT the headsets are expensive, cumbersome and do you really want someone else’s sweat on your head using the VR headset after they have been playing Beat Saber? (Google it.)

It is hard to see how VR becomes a school ‘thing’ with the current hardware but once experienced it is unbelievable.

Is VR like the old Pet computer? Does it just need more headsets? Is there a new ICT revolution coming?

Think about being able to experience anything. Literally move around inside a nuclear reactor and take a look into the core. Transport to the moon and anywhere…

Do really really dangerous things in complete safety but in such realism that the shock might… No, don’t go there.

A Great Teacher

I tweeted:

“A great teacher is not only interacting, knowledgeably, with the learners but is also interacting with the content. What is the best way to present the content to this group of students? How will you know what they have learned? Misconceptions?”

This was in response to reading a blog, an excellent blog by Tom Sherringham – which I can’t find to link to – about lesson observation. He has a focus on what the teacher knows about the learners. It struck me that one needed great teachers to also have a high level of understanding of the curriculum and how that curriculum is best taught.

So I would want to ask the teacher about what they were teaching.

Why is this being taught now? I want to hear more than just it comes next in the scheme of work.

How is this being taught? More than just the particular resources. Why these resources and not alternatives?

How will you know when this has been learned? Testing now and, critically, after some time has elapsed. What kind of tests,  what time scales, what success rate?

How will you know it is time to move on to the next content or that you have to reteach this one? Some sort of staged testing. Carefully constructed quick mid-lesson quiz.

What are common misconceptions for this content? How have you planned to deal with them?

There are other questions to ask. I would want there to be a set of these which are transparent to the observer and the teacher. They are not here to catch out the teacher but are here to support and structure the lessons.

One of the very real challenges in teaching is trying to deal effectively with the range of learning in any class. Those that are set up as mixed ability will have a larger range than those set up as set by ability. Both classes will have some children who have understood well and some who are still not getting it. There are benefits to both ways of organising classes. But in both one needs to know where each child is. The checking what each child has currently taken from the lesson is important. Probably more important is how much they have learned which is only possible to check after some time has elapsed.

Questioning – more thoughts

We all know that Bloom’s triangle/pyramid is pretty well debunked but I’d like to take a look at two different types of questions. If I was a Bloom’s supporter I’d call the first part low-order questions and the second high-order questions.

I will not do that in the way Bloom’s is often presented. The value in knowledge-based, low-order questions is two-fold. They provide a mechanism where the teacher can check if children have got what has been taught. I would place this second in value. Questions of this nature are needed to check that learning has happened and to revisit if there are significant gaps in students understanding

The second value is to support learning directly. Knowledge-based questions require the student to retrieve the information. I assume we are all well aware of the learning value of recall practice.

Ok, higher-order questions. These are not simply innately difficult but what then makes them higher-order? I suggest that such questions are ones which need the learner to connect together more than one piece of knowledge in a way they have not yet done. Hard to be sure that has not already happened as some children do go home and think about what has been taught. In that thinking, they may be linking what they have just been taught with what they already know. This is what we want our higher-order questions in class to do. Make them have to connect different pieces of information to be able to answer our questions. We are supporting their making meaning, which is what makes learning memorable.

I think that one would have to plan such questions in advance.

SLT Driven Behaviour Management

This is the third blog in the behaviour management series. Blog 1 here. Blog 2 here.

What’s in it for me?

I am assuming you are considering an SLT run behaviour management system and moving away from the, common, expectation that each individual teacher is responsible for managing the misbehaviour in their lessons – common in secondary schools.

What advantages are there and why should we add to SLT workload

  • Massive reduction in teacher workload and stress. Teachers are not handing over the behaviour of the children in their lessons to some remote behaviour management system. Each teacher is responsible for delivering lessons that enable all children to learn as well as possible.

  • There is a common and consistent system of behaviour management across the school. It does not depend on the capability of individual teachers to entice their children into behaving. There is no need for 3 strikes and you are out type systems. Though I do like the “names on the board system” for recording low-level disruption. It works!

  • Teachers are trusted. They simply have to identify misbehaviour that is stopping others learning and they know it will be dealt with and they do not then have to weigh up their need to be planning and giving a detention.

  • Children know they are in an organised system where the expectations are clear. They will have heard them in an assembly and had good as well as poor behaviour explicitly modelled.

  • SLT has a visibly direct link to what happens in a classroom. They are seen every day showing how important classrooms are in the school. Actions speak louder than words. Schools are fundamentally about what happens in lessons, not what goes on in offices and in meetings!

  • Central detentions work. A child who does not attend knows that people with time, SLT, will catch up with them the next day. Kids know teachers are busy teaching and non-contact time for teachers is precious.

  • Corridors are supervised by touring SLT. And SLT gets to see all classrooms. A real plus.

  • Misbehaviour reduces dramatically! That benefits all and learning increases. Who does not want that? Surely, that is the core of your mission statement? If not, why not?!!

  • It is a very easy system to implement. Announce and explain in assemblies then just get into the corridors and classrooms and do it.