Learn More Stuff

Bridge learning again but it is learning that is of interest.

As those of you who have read my blog I have been learning the card game bridge for the past 7 months. As I am doing so I am thinking hard about how my understanding of this complex, but fun, game is developing. I am at a stage where I properly realise that there is so much I do not know, but I am finding new ideas are far more easily assimilated than when I first started learning. I still make loads of mistakes but I am also mostly recognising the mistake and I think I can probably avoid the same mistake in the near future.

I explained a particular part of the bidding system to a fellow bridge player when he asked about why a particular bid was made. I think the desire to teach is strong within me – perhaps use that line in a film somewhere. I also think that wanting to explain to others is a sign of the stage of my own understanding and growing confidence. It also very much helps me to clarify my own understanding.

But I want to think about how new ideas are assimilated or not. There is stuff that better players explain to me that I just don’t get. Why are some new things understandable and others not?

I feel a diagram coming on. Perhaps a couple.

learning new stuffSo this is it. There are 2 new things to be learned. The blue area represents my current bridge knowledge.

The red areas are some new knowledge I am trying to learn. The red ovals represent the features, some of the content of new stuff 1. As you can see there is no real overlap with my current knowledge.

To give you a simple example let’s imagine the new idea is the bid “One No Trump”

Each red oval represents one idea. I know what “one” means. I know it in the context of numbers. I know what “no” means. Can I eat the cake? No, said my wife who checks my weight. I certainly know about Trump – the president of the USA. Enough said. But can you see why “One No Trump” is so difficult to understand? Not only do the elements not overlap my bridge knowledge, but I know each part in a different domain.

The green shapes do have a degree of overlap with my current bridge knowledge. One part is well within, one is overlapping and a third is currently outside my knowledge. I am likely to be able to understand the green idea. There is enough overlap. And having learned the green idea my bridge knowledge has expanded and other ideas may then be learnable.

More knowledge is better as it allows more learning.



Meet me three times.

Knock three times

Three times a lady

Meet me three times

More of me learning bridge but this is about learning much more than it is about the card game, bridge.

There is an idea, a very good idea which teachers should try to make happen, that we need to meet an idea at least 3 times and in three different contexts. We then need to take part in activities that allow this newly “learned” idea to be well practised. For our thinking to be challenged as a learner. This structure is what we mean by “planning the learning”.

In my bridge career, all six months of it, so far I have been taught stuff, read the same stuff and watched youtube videos about the stuff. I have experienced it on three different occasions in 3 different contexts, heard, read and watched. Each has presented the material in slightly different ways and these differences are part of the challenge we need to learn well. I have to “marry up” these differences – are they important? Making that “importance” decision is what allows our brains to link the “new” learning to what we already know. Just knowing stuff is of little value. What makes knowledge worth having is the kinking of that knowledge to other knowledge. We begin the journey to understanding.

I keep finding stuff.

Sorry but this has a context of bridge, the card game I am currently learning, again. But just trust/ignore the bridge specific stuff. As always I am writing about learning.

I learn bridge in a number of different ways. I want to explain two of these.

First, I watch YouTube videos and pause the video to think about what I would bid before seeing what the experts would do. I feel no pressure to choose a bid/pass when the video is paused. Why do I say such an apparently silly and obvious thing?

My second way is by playing live in the bridge club. When the cards get dealt and I check and think about my bid I am very aware of the other three players waiting for me. I feel a bit more pressure to come to a conclusion about bidding/passing when the game is “live”. This pressure is good as it changes the context of the learning.

We need to change the context of learning for our children in school. It presents what appears to be the same challenge but because of the context change, the thinking is, at least, slightly different, in each context.

Small changes, seating position, live presenting or video of the teacher, even questions from a textbook or from a worksheet can be enough for very new learners.


Notes, not quite clear enough.

Again, this is not really about bridge, but is about learning. This is about how to set challenge.

I just re-read some notes I had made on a bridge bidding that my personal bridge tutor had talked me through. My personal tutor is a really good player at my current bridge club. He is a great bridge player but does sometimes present me with a challenge too far. I am not sure that his teaching technique is intentional but my attitude, I really want to learn, and his less structured teaching provides challenge.

As teachers, I think we can use what happens intentionally to better support learning in our children.

The notes I re-read had gaps, were not linear and were hard to read and understand. Not so hard that I gave up but hard enough, because of their lack of clarity, so that I hard to think a lot about what they meant.

Think hard – that should attract you as a teacher. If we can make our children think hard, about the stuff that matters, then we will be supporting their learning.

So the trick is to provide children with notes that are not complete, are a little less clear than one might believe, and have them work on those with a highly positive attitude to learning.

That might also apply to our teaching. Make the explanations a little less clear so that children have to think hard to make sense and make meaning.

Minor challenge for you to get the clarity balance right.

Not a novice now. A bit better.

A bit more about bridge, but I want this blog to be read as about learning, and particularly moving from knowledge to understanding.

Understanding is a 3 stage process. In very simple terms it is about first, knowing more. Having more “bits of knowledge”.

The second stage is recognising the linkage between those bits of knowledge and how those bits of knowledge interact.

The third stage is the one that makes me feel joyful. Recognising the significance of that linkage. Realising the meaning that the previously somewhat disparate knowledge items has. It is about beginning to see the knowledge as a whole, within a system.

You could leave it there but my example is a bridge example as I have recently recognised this process in myself. When I explain it you may well say that it is obvious. That is because it is but I am making the linkage apparent to you. Once we recognise the links and the system elements then we are understanding. I am shortcutting that part for you. But my shortcutting is really only giving you a rule which you need to obey. Just obeying the rule will work but understanding the significance will lead to a deeper understanding.

So two bits of bridge, which all bridge players know.

To open one needs 12 high card points, HCP.

To respond to that opening bid one needs 6 (or more HCP)

WHY 6???

Well, the opener opens one of a suit with 12 to 19 HCP. So 19 plus 6 makes 25 HCP. And with 25 HCP the partnership can go to game. Obvious as a rule but by recognising why 6 points not as a rule but as understanding is both more powerful and easier to remember. It also, significantly, means that there are other understandings to be sought. The why of bridge bidding and not just the rules.

The question for teachers is how might we support learners in this move from knowing to understanding? Do we ask the question “Why do we bid with 6 HCP after a partner opens?” Is a response, “Because opener might have 19 points and 25 is game” evidence on understanding? How do we know it is not just a statement of a rule?

Should we not ask the question as that can prompt a rule-response? Should we just leave the learner with the knowledge and let the “discovery” happen?

Can we move the understanding process faster?


What is it like to be a novice?

I have recently joined a Bridge club. The card game rather than the fans of suspension variety. I have played a few time before this but I did not have much idea of what I was doing in the bidding process. I had played whist, another trick-taking card game, so I get playing the bride hand more that I get the bidding.

But I am essentially a Bridge novice.

The folk at the club are very welcoming and are generously supportive to new players. They do use a “look” when one makes a major error but I am fine with that. I can’t really be too concerned about making an error when it is outside my Bridge playing expertise.

Being a novice means there is a load I don’t yet know. Note the positive nature of the word “yet”. I know I can learn and I am confident in my abilities to be able to become a reasonable Bridge player. That attitude is not present in every one of our novice learners – the children in our class.  They will not have had as much learning success as I and you have had. I am also quite learning resilient. I can cope with the inevitable setbacks. Make a mistake, of which I will make loads, shrug and note to check out what I needed to do back at home.

I have many advantages over most children who are novice learners.

But… let me say it is very challenging to know so little. There is so much to learn. I have used YouTube, books, websites and the kind folk at the Bridge club to help me learn. But while I can get the specific Bridge bid right when the practice area is well defined, for those who know my response to partner’s one no trump bid is fine, I am rather lost with many other bids. I just don’t know enough and in particular, I have little understanding of the “why” of bids to make it make sense.

This is not really about Bridge!

We play hands and on the Friday sessions it is allowable to ask questions, take bids back etc as it is a learning process for most of the players. Such behaviours would not be possible on the “proper” Bridge evenings! The Friday players claim that playing is one of the best ways to learn bridge. Secretly I disagree but who am I to question their wisdom? The problem is that while I might be picking up some elements of Bridge I know too little to put these snippets into any cognitive map of Bridge. Hards are random so we may never come across more than one of a particular type of hand so understanding and repetition are not featuring.

But what is happening, after 4 weeks, is I am beginning to understand the things that do repeat. How to count cards before we start bidding. WEhat the bidding boxes are for and how to use them. Simple but n=mysterious until one uses one. Actually how to lay out my cards when I am dummy. No comments please!

What is happening is I am building up enough knowledge to start building a cognitive map. I now don’t have to spend too much time thinking about such matters and I can concentrate on deciding what to bid after my partner’s one no trump bid.

The idea that you learn by playing is probably true but this is a form of discovery learning and as a novice, it is very difficult. I just don’t have enough knowledge to be able to benefit from playing so much Bridge. Once I have built a significant amount of knowledge I will be able to learn what to do when my partner bids two no trumps.

Until a learner has enough knowledge discovery is a poor learning process. When they do have enough prior knowledge discovery becomes more useful, although I would argue for explicit teaching and then using the Friday sessions as practice of my Bridge knowledge.

I have now started attending Thursday sessions where we are specifically taught Bridge. Love it. This works for me.

Teach them enough and then practise. Best way of novices learning.

An Action Plan Programme.

DTP Triangle (6)


  • To give leaders the techniques, tools and strategies, to create effective school improvement action plans.
  • To support the leadership of the implementation of action plans that raise the quality of teaching and learning to ensure every student benefits from quality teaching and learning experiences and outcomes.
  • To value action planning as a critical leadership skill.

The AAP has been designed and is led by Peter Blenkinsop, the ex-headteacher of an outstanding school. The programme gives leaders a set of high-level skills and strategies that enable them to act effectively on the information collected on what really happens in their school. This programme is a directly supported activity which takes place in your own school.


To provide leaders with the ability to:

  • plan for implementation
  • set milestones, success criteria and identify the most appropriate person(s) to be taking the action
  • monitor the progress of an action plan and take appropriate actions
  • support a school culture where the improving the quality of teaching and learning is openly observed, discussed, challenged and enhanced

Leaders who have taken part will have increased professional satisfaction and will have opened up opportunities for further leadership and career progression.


The main features of this programme have been used in schools across the country. Leaders who have been trained in the process report being enthusiastic about what it has revealed about the actual learning taking place in classrooms, the atmosphere and operations in places such as dining halls and playing areas. When twinned with the Know Your School Programme teachers see the process as very supportive, particularly with behaviour management.


Typical Content:

  • Coaching support for the team writing the action plan
  • Understanding the issue in detail
  • Taking time to consider all aspects
  • Identify the main actions that are needed
  • Clarify what makes good success criteria
  • Date the end point for each action item
  • Create quality success criteria
  • Plan the communication strategy
  • Involve all those affected directly
  • Focus the plan on improving teaching and learning
  • Use of PSTB to brainstorm and develop aspects to consider
  • Use a variety of tools to help develop a vision for the action plan
  • Create a “brown paper” timeline which is visible to all
  • Become known as a leader who is dedicated to improving teaching and learning
  • Discuss the sharing of the action plan
  • Identify any threats to the effective implementation of the plan
  • Plan to manage these threats
  • And much, much more…


The style is very open and will engage with participants’ experiences and knowledge.


The Programme:

  • is facilitated over a full school day. Half the day will be a taught session. The rest is the supported development of an action plan.
  • clarity over the aims before setting up the action plan is critical.
  • identifying the equivalent of a Gantt diagram will be used to timeline the activities.

Which Teachers?

Leaders who have a need to implement an improvement plan. The discipline of thinking hard about the outcomes sought and the creation of a detailed action plan are themselves, helpful in the eventual successful outcomes of the action plan.

The programme is most effective when schools are able to involve all those affected by the plan and especially those directly involved in the delivery, monitoring and implementation of the steps in the action plan.

Applicants need to demonstrate:

  • a strong commitment to improving Teaching and Learning
  • valuing planning for improvement
  • willing to spend time creating and modifying a plan
  • a significant area identified which needs improvement

Cost is per day, usually one day is sufficient, plus VAT.