As teachers of art and design, I think modelling is one of our real collective strengths. Not because of our good looks and catwalk prowess(!) but because like other practical subjects, it’s really important for pupils to see techniques demonstrated by an expert in order that they can learn and master these themselves. So this blog will unpick some of my thinking around why modelling is so important not just in Art and Design, but across the curriculum.

This time last year I’d heard of a visualiser, but had never actually used one to demonstrate techniques. Now I wouldn’t be without it. A year ago, I’d never made an instructional video for my pupils, but always wanted to. Now we have a YouTube playlist with over 50 asynchronous video resources modelling key concepts in Art and Design.

Despite the huge number of difficulties we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has magnified the need for excellent pedagogy. And in art and design, it has really shone a light on modelling and explicit instruction.

Great art and design teachers do this every lesson. It may now seem like a distant memory, but pre-pandemic, our lesson ritual involved gathering all pupils close around a table to demonstrate the lesson. Sometimes, we might have done this at numerous points in the lesson to break down the task into stages. I remember the worry back in August when we returned to school but were having to teach from the front. How would we recreate a demonstration using a visualiser? How would we assist pupils, without sitting right beside them to help?

But we managed. And I would argue that the use of a visualiser actually improves our ability to demonstrate. Because it allows ALL pupils to see ALL stages of the learning. They can see our demonstration in close-up. It allows us to demonstrate our meta-cognitive process as we model and, (and this is a biggy in a practical subject such as art and design!) it means that there is zero disruption to learning because pupils don’t need to leave their seat. The modelling is now not just limited to the short time around the demonstration table. Instead techniques, concepts and common mistakes can be viewed by learners at multiple points throughout the lesson on the whiteboard.

So what are my top tips for modelling in Art and design, or indeed any subject.

Provide an example

I think this is really important for so many reasons. Firstly it lets learners see what they are aiming for. It helps boost motivation because usually the exemplar is impressive and pupils like the challenge (especially when I then go on to give them the steps to achieve success.) I often call it, what a good one looks like. In a frantic, busy timetable it can often be tempting to wing it and just go without but it really is an important part of preparing for your lesson. In many cases an exemplar, helps me as a teacher because sometimes practical processes take too long and it’s a good idea to have ‘one I made earlier.’ This avoids wasted time during a lesson. Finally, it’s a really important process for me to go through as it helps me identify the difficulties, mistakes pupils may make and helps me to think about to breaking down the modelling into steps. It also builds teacher confidence because especially in the early stages of teaching, it can be hugely daunting to demonstrate live in front of a class of young people.

Explore thinking

Whilst demonstrating I am asking questions. Constantly. I am probing pupils to check their understanding and guide their thinking. ‘What kind of line should we be using here?’ ‘Where is the light coming from?’ ‘How dark should this side be?’ This engages learners throughout and builds their confidence. It means they are not passive, but gaining the meta cognitive thinking to guide them through the process. I often think that in art and design, we are teaching pupils not, ‘how to draw’ but ‘how to see.’ This requires prompts to encourage them to see things in a way which will help them. I also want to give them the thinking process to ensure that when they get stuck, they have the tools and thinking skills ways in order to get back on track.

Ongoing demonstration

This is why visualisers are really useful. Pre-pandemic, there might have been a tendency to cram everything into one demonstration to avoid disruption to learning and having pupils constantly stopping and starting out of their seats. I’ve seen pupils become really frustrated because they are just getting into the task and then they are being asked to get out of their seat to watch something they can already do. They want to get on and make progress. And as teachers, we don’t want to break that flow of success. Visualisers mean that learners who need to can watch. Learners who are confident can continue working.

Demonstrate the process

Sometimes, as an early career teacher, demonstrations are the most daunting part of the lesson so the thought of having to demonstrate multiple times may be off putting. However, if we reframe ‘the demonstration’ as ongoing modelling throughout the lesson, it becomes a lot less high stake and pressured. It allows us as teachers to model the process and the stages which learners need to go through to achieve success. We can also use this to address difficulties identified as we scan around the classroom. Working together through the process is also really useful. I use the modelling process ‘I do’ (pupils all watch me) then ‘we do’ (pupils work alongside me – I guide the stages, pace and structure.) And finally ‘you do’ (as pupils build confidence, I set them free to work independently.) This structure really helps pupils to progress at their own pace and allows me to support those who need more practice.

Provide an opportunity for pupils to work themselves

This can often be difficult for teachers. It’s a fact that we like to talk! But the ‘you do’ stage of modelling is really important. We need to give time for our pupils to demonstrate their knowledge snd understanding of the learning too. So this is our opportunity to circulate, to check everyone has grasped the technique and stand back and let them go. It’s this bit which builds the motivation. As pupils realise that they can actually do it themselves, they are motivated to achieve more.

Identify the key learning.

When planning demonstrations and modelling I think it is useful to think of the learning and the knowledge pupils need, rather than the task itself. This helps to identify the aspects which we need to reinforce and concepts which a transferable. It can be tempting to become a Blue Peter presenter and create demonstrations which become a set of instructions taking through procedures in order to achieve a finished piece. Yes we need to model in a way which breaks down the learning into steps, but it’s important that we aren’t just telling pupils what to do. We need to explain why we are doing things, model the thinking and the visualisation required to see things in the way an artist would.

As many of us return to our physical classrooms this week, I know that modelling will be a real focus of excellent learning and teaching in classrooms across the country. And I hope this post will highlight many approaches which I know so many of us already do everyday in art and design, and beyond.

Have a great week everyone – I cannot wait to have all our pupils back in the building!!


noun n.
a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

In life, few things are black and white. It would certainly be easier if they were. And yet as educators, we tend to separate many of the apparent issues into extremes. Our views become polarised. We fit things into neat little boxes and sometimes become unable to open that box up and examine the real nuance of the debate.

There seems to be a tendency in life; in education but particularly on social media, to label and categorise, to sit firmly at either end of a continuum unable to see other perspectives, which at best is narrow-minded, and at worst is divisive bullying. I wrote a bit about this here in a blog exploring knowledge and skills.

It’s great to have strong opinions on things. I believe it’s really important. Especially when they amplify the importance of issues which directly impact our young people. However, there’s a difference between passion for something you believe in and conversely a firm reluctance to shift your stance or see things from another point of view. I would argue that as educators we need to be more skilled at examining the shades of grey and finding the best viewpoint, not just the one which people are shouting loudly about.

Personally, I sometimes struggle to find a strong voice because my arguments are never usually either/or. (As someone who is known to do a lot of black and white thinking in my personal life, this in itself is a strange dichotomy!). I find it’s not always as straightforward in schools. Especially when it comes to the incredibly complex, wonderful individual young people in our care. For a while I somewhat downplayed my educational values because they seemed to cross too many extremes. But I’ve come to realise that it is entirely possible to believe two things at the same time – it’s not a weakness to be want the very best for young people through high expectations, boundaries and routine, teaching behaviour as a curriculum of its own, and yet at the same time demonstrate compassion and understanding for the individual circumstances. Often it’s precisely because of that strong sense of care and duty to the young person, that you want the best for them. It is possible to believe that excellent learning and teaching, high standards and nurturing classroom environments are not mutually exclusive.

‘’Dichotomous or black-and-white thinking can be dangerous and is often based on the premise of achieving perfection. It gives you only two alternatives, one of which is usually neither attainable or maintainable. The other then tends to be the black hole in which you inevitably fall after failing to get to the first. You set your sights so high, constantly chasing an ideal that you can grasp only moments at a time. When the standard for being okay is this lofty, you’re destined to feel lousy most of the time.’’ Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

Often if we examine approaches more carefully; if we look beyond the attention grabbing headlines or the 140 character tweet, we come to realise that there are many subtleties, and it is absolutely key to understanding these if we are to learn as professionals and develop the best systems for our young people. Most of my educational views have been formed due to a professional learning ‘pick n mix’ of theory, research, practice and experience. Yes we can veer more towards one approach. It is quite possible to believe that a particular way of doing something is the best. And as leaders of learning, I think we need to ask ourselves if we have the conviction and direction to lead with purpose, yet the humility and integrity to adapt and be flexible within our approach to meet the individual circumstances of of our wonderful young people and their families.

And likewise, as human beings we need to accept that our feelings are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly acceptable and indeed quite normal as teachers to feel absolutely exhausted, and still be hugely resilient. We can very much be independent, and yet still need others to support us. It is entirely possible to feel apprehensive about returning to school after the holidays, yet at the same time be very excited to see the young people and teach them face to face once more. It’s entirely normal to know that others have it way worse than you, but accept your own pain and hurt – something which has been a huge learning curve for me.

Let’s cut others, and indeed ourselves, some slack. Let’s realise that it’s ok for two opposites to exist in harmony. Let’s have a voice but use it for good, to shape things for the better and take people with us rather than knocking others down. Let’s practice what we preach to our young people, and be tolerant of other viewpoints. By all means challenge others’ thinking by sharing our views, but accepting that context is key. We may all be teachers, but no one knows your school and your pupils quite like you.

The problem with black-and-white thinking is that you never get to see the rainbow. Omar Cherif



Have you ever thrown a stone into a glass-like pond and noticed the ripples spread outwards long after the initial impact? One tiny pebble, breaking the surface tension of the water, and causing the water to spread, influencing the water around the initial point of contact, and the water around that.

In any organisation, we all have the power to make an impact. It doesn’t matter the role you hold – your actions, your words, your smile – can effect someone in ways we simply might not be able to imagine. I’m sure lots of people will have heard of the story of the caretaker working at NASA headquarters. According to the popular legend, during a tour of NASA HQ in 1961, John F. Kennedy encountered a janitor mopping the floors. “Why are you working so late?” Kennedy asked. “Mr President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

This commitment to a cause, this determination to do our best and make an impact no matter how small, really resonates with me. Especially when I think of education and schools. Like the smallest of pebbles hitting the water, no matter what part we play in the life of a young person, we have the opportunity to make an impact. It might be the canteen staff, office staff, cleaning staff, janitorial staff, teachers, support staff, middle leaders or senior leaders. I think of my own P1 boy who talks so highly of the friendly support assistant who always talks about sweets at interval. Or the kind dinner lady who gives away cakes at the end of lunch time or stops for a chat at breakfast club. Or the lovely office lady who always has a wet paper towel to fix any playground injury. Our interactions matter.

I’m the teacher who will happily volunteer for lunch duty; who will sign up to help at the school dance; who will go along with my own boys to support the fundraiser. And all of those things are so important because we should value the community in school and beyond. These aren’t ‘duties.’ Instead they are opportunities to make an impact. To positively effect someone’s experience outwith the classroom. To show ourselves as human first, teachers second.

I love this quote by Haim G. Ginott,

‘’I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.’’

Our impact as educators can be positive or negative. We can choose the adult we want to be and how we respond to our young people. It won’t always be easy. We will experience disappointment. We will feel infuriated. There will be times when we feel like giving up on a young person because we are so frustrated by their choices. It can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. That we aren’t making any difference. But those are the very moments we are having the biggest impact. We might not see it at the time, but your reaction in those testing times won’t be forgotten. Young people are learning to be grown up, by watching you.

Unlike the ripples in the water, our impact as teachers isn’t always quite so instantly visible. And often that makes it hard. As performers at the front of a classroom, we can seek instant gratification. But often we don’t come to realise our impact until long after our pupils have been sitting in front of us. Yes the assessment will tell us instantly whether we’ve done our job in terms of the teaching of knowledge, but it might be years or even decades before we understand the impact of our kindness or our determination not to give up on a young person. Pupils are incredibly astute. Your interactions never go unnoticed. In fact, positive or negative they will make a very definite imprint in the hearts of those on the receiving end.

This week, news of my new job and imminent departure from the school I’ve been at for 10 years, was made public. The messages and kind words I’ve received this week have confirmed to me that our impact as educators is very real. We just don’t always hear about it day to day. But never forget the impact you are making. It may be months or years before a young person looks back and realises just how much of a positive influence you were. You might never find out. But know that you were.

Most of us are now on holiday. Please use this time to recharge and reset in order that we have the patience, and resilience to make that positive impact when we return to school. Have a fantastic break.



As I reach the water’s edge, I see the boundary where the safety of dry land ends and exploration into the unknown depths of the sea begins. The security and comfort of the land visible, yet being washed over repetitively by the strength and power of the waves. The sand shifts therapeutically beneath the foamy, crash of the tide. Here, it is familiar, reassuring and known. How will it feel to cross over into this unfamiliar territory? Am I brave enough to push through this boundary?

If I stay here I’m safe. No currents to sweep me into the unknown or take me off in a different direction. Feet planted firmly on the beach, I’m in control. The luxury of the familiar, soft white sand beneath my feet. Walking one foot in front of the other, moving forward but seeing the world the way I’ve always seen it. The water calls to me… blue and refreshing. A new perspective. But full of risk and challenge. If I allow myself to trust in nature, to feel the water carry my weight, what do I gain?

I like boundaries. I like the rules I create for myself. I like the familiarity of being in control. I like to stand on a firm foundation. And sometimes it’s essential to have these boundaries. They protect us and keep us safe. They allow us to understand what we will and will not tolerate. But life isn’t always predictable. Or tolerable. Or without waves. And sometimes the boundaries we set ourself can be damaging, by limiting our experience. By keeping us too comfortable. And not giving us the opportunity to develop the resilience to cope when things aren’t We all know the saying ‘growth happens outside our comfort zone.’ So when do we push ourself to break the boundaries? To do things differently, to tolerate the discomfort? I’ve learned there sometimes need to be some short term pain, for long term gain. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Often the outcome is worth it.

I’ve learned that sometimes, boundaries need to be like the shoreline. Changing with the tide, moving in and out and flexible enough to accommodate feelings, situations and growth.

And with that, I place my paddle board into the water, bathed by the orange glow from the sunset. Kneel onto the board and find the courage, (and the balance) to stand up and float towards the horizon.

Motivated learning

It’s been another week of adapting to change and I’ve spent the weekend recharging. Both my boys have now fully returned to nursery and P1, and I am eternally grateful for the early years staff who have been nothing short of heroic in their care of my wee ones. I’ve been in school four days again this week with senior phase pupils, supporting them with the completion of practical work. And as well as this, I’ve been engaging with learners at home.

For me, it’s been a joy to be back face to face teaching, despite the challenges, and pupils have made really great progress in a short time. For some, possibly more progress in a couple of in-school sessions than throughout the whole home learning period. Which I fear is not for want of effort on the teacher’s (or learners!) part, but perhaps a lack of my own understanding of this really complex issue of motivation to learn. As well as the challenges we are all facing at home during lockdown. To me this highlights the importance of the connection with their teacher and the need for the teacher to be there to guide the learning. Something which I’ve been reminding my team this week to take comfort in – learners really do need their teachers – never underestimate the value you have.

And it has really got me thinking. About learning. About motivation to learn. About assessing learning. And about what we prioritise in our return to school.

Reflecting on my 14 year old self and how I myself might’ve coped with learning from home, I most likely would have been studious, timetable colour-coded and worked as hard as I possibly could to do my best. Was this a pressure from my school? Not particularly. Did my parents put pressure on me to do well? No. I think they only ever asked me to try my best. And I suppose, my ‘best’ was what motivated me. And that achievement, spurred me on to want to do better and to continue to improve. But I know others for whine that wouldn’t have been the case.

So I want to unpick this through my blog this week.

What is it that motivates young people to learn? What drives them to become more knowledgable or be better than they were yesterday? And what can we do to understand this in an effort to increase the motivation of our learners? In every school across the country, I reckon there are huge numbers of highly motivated students, and also those who could do with more motivation. How can we help motivate those who need it most?


A huge part in this, is my belief that as teachers we are there to support all of our pupils to achieve success. Success was what motivated me as a learner. That feeling of accomplishment was the drive I needed to continue to improve. It feels good when we ‘get it.’ Yet, often this desire for pupil success translates into making tasks too easy. Not challenging learners, when indeed pupils love a challenge. Our job is to support and scaffold the learning to make it achievable. And whilst simplifying tasks will allow students to experience success, I fear that this is at the cost of not allowing the young person to experience a feeling of pride. Instead we should aim for ‘High challenge, low threat.’ As Mary Myatt @MaryMyatt talks about.


This low threat aspect, highlights the need for trust and a strong relationship between the novice learner and the expert teacher. I would suggest that we can’t do learning on our own.

No significant learning can take place without a significant relationship.’ James Comer tells us.

I’m a strong believer in this. Pupils must trust that we are there to support them and have their best interests at heart. Young people can very easily tell when this is not genuine. They need to feel safe in order to take risks in their learning. We want them to make mistakes so that we can learn from them. Misconceptions are often the best opportunities to learn. We want them to struggle so that they feel accomplishment. And a good teacher builds this relationship to ensure that learners feel like they ‘belong’ in a learning situation in order for them to thrive. Is the online classroom simply too unfamiliar to students despite our best efforts to ‘dissolve the screen’?


A contentious issue is obviously the assessment aspect. Whilst our education system in Scotland is still entrenched in, and values summative assessment, within an arguably flawed model, there is always going to be the motivation of exam results. But I would argue that for many, this just isn’t a positive driver in motivation. Because we all know that learning doesn’t equal performance on any given day. Learning is much more than a snapshot assessed by an exam. Learning is a change in long term memory. It’s moving the thinking from the working memory to the long term memory so that it becomes automatic and understood. So exams don’t always accurately reflect learning. Think of those who often ‘cram’ the night before exams. Or those who fall apart on the day of an important assessment.

The last two weeks in Scotland, have seen learners return to school to complete practical work for assessment evidence. Whilst I welcome the opportunity to work with the young people in school, and feel it’s important for pupils to have these opportunities to work in school, I do worry that this suggests a panicked decision by the government, in which the focus is on the destination and the tick list, not on the journey and the progression. ‘Getting stuff done’ as opposed to embedding real routines for learning. It again highlights the obsession for evidence. And yes, evidence is important but is this our priority right now? And how can we address this?

I feel that if we were to focus on motivating pupils to learn, not just to pass exams, we would be making huge in-roads with this. The passing exams would be a by-product of this. But this is no mean feat. It is a huge undertaking to shift the mindset of learners and teachers, placing a focus on deep learning rather than ‘getting through it.’ Have we become obsessed with what Mary Myatt describes as the ‘curse of content coverage?’ Read here I would argue that whilst we are still rushing to gather evidence and get ‘through courses’ rather than a long term goal of highly motivated learners, then yes we will struggle to close the motivation gap.

This week I finished reading Peps McCrea’s @Pepsmccrea wonderful book ‘Motivated Teaching.’ Read a blog post about this here. This gave me lots to think about and I would really recommend this to anyone who wants to explore motivation in more depth. It really is a fascinating area and one which Peps discusses with much more clarity than I am able to do justice.

So as we focus our attention on the return to school over the next few weeks and months, I really hope that we don’t all rush back into ‘covering the course’ to get stuff done. And instead return to school mindful of the factors which drive motivation. Is this an opportunity to pause, consider what our learners really need in order to ensure they are in a place which maximises the opportunity to learn? I hope we will consider well-being, connection, success and motivation. Because my thinking is that if we get these elements right, and continue to focus on ‘learning,’ everything else will fall into place.

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Knowledge AND skills??!

Can we have our cake and eat it?! As a hungry art and design teacher with a sweet tooth, I really hope so.

There has been much debate about the idea of knowledge or skills, of knowledge preceding skills and whether a skill is simply procedural knowledge. This week a brilliant conversation took place on EdClub (I missed it because I fell asleep fully dressed putting little one to bed and woke up at 3.30am!). However Pritesh Raichura @Mr_Raichura captured his thoughts and summarised the nuanced debate brilliantly here. I won’t even attempt to compete with Pritesh’s knowledgeable and fascinating read (he’s far more experienced than I am on this) but I do think it’s interesting to consider how this impacts me as an art and design teacher.

Firstly, I don’t think it it has to be one or the other. I’m learning that so many things in life are a strange dichotomy of extremes. But they can exist in harmony. I’m anxious about the return to school next week, but I’m also hugely excited to welcome back our young people. I’m extremely passionate about learning and teaching, but at the same time I hugely value relationships and nurture. And so it is with knowledge and skills. In my opinion, we need both.

Secondly, I’ve not always thought this. At fact at one point I was very against the notion of a practical subject being about knowledge. My thinking on this has most definitely been challenged. But the more I read and learn, the more my thinking evolves. And this is based on my experience in the classroom. It’s ok for our practice to adapt as our understanding increases.

Ten years ago I might have been sceptical of the part knowledge would play in Art and design. After all, we are a practical subject. Hands on, often hugely subjective and very skills-based. Much of the learning which takes place within an art and design department features at the top of Blooms Taxonomy – high order thinking skills such as creating, evaluating and analysing artworks and design. And in my opinion, that is exactly how it should be. So I’m not about to suggest removing all creativity within the subject and making pupils spend periods writing and memorising facts instead of drawing and designing. Our subject will always be practical.

However, back then, my inexperience and lack of understanding might have caused me to write off the need for strong subject knowledge. Perhaps this was because I worried it would distract learners from developing creativity or experiential learning. But having done lots of reading and seen the benefits firsthand for learners in both my Art and design and photography classes, I’m now convinced that to achieve success in the high order skills, learners need the strong foundational knowledge and understanding to support their explorations. Knowledge plays an important part in improving learners’ ability to successfully recall knowledge and in doing so, aid their creativity.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard young people tell me ‘Miss I can’t paint.’ It’s always a challenge to me to show them that everyone can learn to draw and paint. But I understand that young people come to us with different skills and for some, drawing and painting does come far more easily. For the young people who struggle with painting, breaking the skill down and giving them chunked knowledge to help, is absolutely vital for them to experience success.

The knowledge that when we add water to watercolour paint, the colour lightens, is so vital to being able to use this art material. By explicitly teaching this, young people can use this to improve their practical skill. I think this has always been the way I’ve taught, and in fact I’m sure many other art teachers do. But it’s not been until recently that I have really considered the explicit knowledge I was teaching young people in order for them to build a skill. And I think this is more important than ever to give all young people the chance to succeed. It’s our job!!! After all we are the experts.

This has been amplified during home learning. And something all tired teachers at the moment should take comfort in. Yes we are vital for the connection and the relationships we build, but also in skilful way we can break down learning and knowledge in ways that young people can make use of in their practical work. Consider the confident, skilled artists who have coped well regardless of whether we are in the physical classroom beside them. Then consider those already facing challenge, who find drawing difficult, who lack confidence, can’t simply experiment to become a better drawer. They need the expert knowledge which their teacher imparts. They need the foundational knowledge of how to measure, how to see, and how to record. They need taught this and then for it to be modelled. Yes, there is the argument that this is not creativity but I would argue that by giving the young person a step up the ladder, their confidence and motivation to experiment creatively is enhanced and leads to a greater chance of them wanting to experiment. Young people are often very reluctant to explore artistic freedom if they already lack confidence in their ability. I see this as the way to foster creativity by giving them the tools and knowledge to have the best chance to succeed. The desirable difficulty concept is highlighted here. Once confidence and knowledge is established, they are best placed to move into the realms of creativity and often

It’s important to point out I am all for creativity, expression and individuality. But I do think learners find that increasingly challenging. If we are able to give them the building blocks of knowledge about seeing, observing, measuring and recording early on, in my opinion they are far better placed use that knowledge to develop their own skills.

Maybe I’m too easily influenced, maybe I need to have more conviction in one theory or evidence base, rather than sit mid way between two differing viewpoints. But I’m not sure that having such a fixed mindset that one or other is best, really benefits our young people. Surely we should be tapping into all evidence out there to provide the very best experience and learning for all young people? I’m always learning. And happy to be challenged in any of my thoughts. Because ultimately it will help me to get better. And that is what we should all be striving towards.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week ahead, especially all the practical subject teachers in Scotland returning to our classrooms.

Pride #MonthlyWritingChallenge

Pride is the small, quiet voice whispering ‘I actually did it. I made it.’

Pride is sharing an authentic sense of self.

Pride is celebrating our imperfections and honouring our achievements.

So at what point does pride become problematic? When does the quiet voice of authentic pride celebrating personal success, become overshadowed by the harsh, dark clouds of voices, bellowing, ‘Look at me. Look how brilliant I am. I am better than you.’

I find it fascinating how this word can be such a dichotomy. For me, pride is a really personal thing. Only we know what makes us proud. Authentic pride comes from a struggle, the challenge faced, the working hard at something. That is different for everyone; we all face different challenges. I’d be proud of myself if I ran 10k in under an hour. But for someone fitter than me, there would no pride in that achievement if they were used to running a sub50 10k. When we are proud of our authentic self, we genuinely want to share the success with others. This could be for lots of reasons – to give hope, to encourage others or to thank those who lived and breathed the struggle alongside us. It might be a text message to a friend, or a phone call to say ‘I did it.’

And it’s so important to acknowledge the accomplishment and the feeling it gives us. The feeling of personal success spurs us on and drives us to go further. True pride builds resilience and strength, which comes from the understanding that you made it through the difficulty, and you will make it again.

As a teacher, one of my goals is to help students to take pride in their own learning. To communicate to them that learning knowledge and skills, is difficult. That it’s ok to make mistakes, and to not get there straight away. For many young people, I think it’s easier to look lazy than to show themselves as finding something difficult. But instead encouraging them, acknowledging the struggle and motivating them to persevere are some of the toughest challenges of being a teacher. But the feeling of accomplishment and pride (both theirs and my own) when they master it should be celebrated, and be the driver to motivate future learning.

So when does Pride mutate from a perfectly acceptable form of self actualisation to something more damaging? At what point does pride transform into arrogance and egotism? And who is it that decides when pride is problematic? The sharer of the pride or those sharing in someone’s pride?

This quote from CS Lewis, for me highlights the darker side of Pride and a reminder that being proud of our achievements alone is not the issue.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”

CS Lewis

The idea that pride becomes destructive when it no longer becomes about self is, I’m sure something we can all relate to. How many of us have seen a post on social media which is less celebrating personal achievement and more the pleasure gained from having more than, or being better than? It’s a fine line. When our accomplishment is compared to others or shared for the benefit of others, pride becomes less about personal best and by contrast is more to do with an inflated sense of self. This is not authentic pride.

But how often is this about our own reaction to others achievements? The problem is we cannot be truly content if we are in competition with others. Either seeking others approval or judging others actions. Often this about our response to others pride, rather than those simply sharing their own pride. Our interpretations of others’ achievements can impact our own ability to feel content and magnify our own insecurities.

We are all unique. We all have our own skills and qualities, strengths and weaknesses. And being honest about these is the best way to experience true pride in ourselves. We need to be our own cheerleaders. And we need to encourage and support our tribe too. Assuming goodwill. We (mostly!) all want the same thing. Or very similar things.

I love this philosophy. And always try to see the best in everyone which is not always easy. I know Gavin Oattes shares this quote often and I think it is originally taken from the all blacks legacy: ‘It’s not about being the best in the team. But being the best for the team.’ Correct me if I’m wrong Gav!

So let’s not swallow our pride. Let’s share it far and wide. If it’s authentic, and if others view it in the way it is intended, without comparison but assuming goodwill, pride can be a positive vehicle to drive improvement, personally and collectively.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week everyone.

Are multiple choice questions effective as retrieval practice? a) yes b) no c) maybe d) not sure

So four weeks into another phase of home learning and I’m pleased to write that not much has changed about my practice during lessons. Except perhaps the practical aspect. Every lesson still features a retrieval practice task. Pupils still need to think hard every lesson to recall knowledge. And pupils are still applying this knowledge creatively to their own personal projects. In Higher photography, this has involved quite a few multiple choice tests – partly because of the ease of setting this kind of task remotely and partly due to MCQ being the format of summative assessment by SQA.

Kahoot, mentimeter, quizizz and Microsoft forms are just some of the ways in which teachers are using MCQ to test recall remotely. Personally for me, forms have been such a game changer for this. Self-marking, instant feedback for learners in relation to why their response is right or wrong, instant grades imported into class grade book, ability to integrate images – the list goes on. Because it’s been my go to, this week, I started thinking about how effective this strategy was in terms of retrieval practice. I was inspired to do some research and it me got thinking about how we as teachers can make the most of this low stakes, high impact testing. Is using multiple choice quizzing really promoting true recall if we are providing the answers for our students? How possible is that learners just guess the correct answer? Are typed short answer quizzes more effective in forcing actual retrieval? And if there is evidence to support MCQ, then how can we use MCQ to promote deeper thinking amongst students? I am a huge fan of MCQ, but I have definitely become more knowledgeable about how best to use them. I hope this post might be useful to consider as we make up our next multiple choice quiz for students.

There has been a great deal of research done into the effectiveness of retrieval practice and the testing effect. Even if you are unaware of the term retrieval practice, you will most certain,y have used quizzes or low stakes testing in your classroom. Both are considered highly successful ways for students to move knowledge from the short term to long term memory by working hard to recall the information. This week marked the launch of @KateJones_teach second book on retrieval practice which I was so honoured to have been asked to contribute to. Like Kate, I’m so glad that the academic research on this is finally becoming more readily available to teachers in wonderful books such as hers. So, delving further into the strategy which I’ve embedded with pupils I was keen to understand if there were ways I could improve.

Firstly, I’ve discovered that part of the reason retrieval practice is so popular with students in my class, is because of the desirable difficulty with the task. The Goldilocks effect. Not too easy, not too hard. It’s achievable for all of them as it covers key knowledge we have learned together, yet tricky enough to engage and challenge them. I try really hard when developing questions to consider common misconceptions, challenge common errors and use easily confused knowledge to be tested. If it was too easy, there would be no sense of satisfaction. I would say that the average score in my recap quizzes is around 60-80% with some pupils consistently achieving higher. For me, this is important because if all pupils were achieving 100% then my quizzing would be too easy. Pupils would soon lose interest because there’s no challenge, no sense of accomplishment when they succeed. Likewise, there needs to be a sense of achievement, so similarly if my quizzes were too hard, there would be a lack of motivation, pupils would switch off because it is too difficult. Balance is key.

The argument that multiple-choice tests rely primarily upon recognition processes seems, on the surface at least, to be a reasonable critique of multiple-choice testing. Multiple-choice questions do, in fact, expose the correct answer to the learner by presenting it as one of the alternatives, which could obviate the need for retrieval. Not all multiple-choice questions, how- ever, can be answered through recognition processes alone.

Optimizing multiple-choice tests as tools for learning Jeri L. Little & Elizabeth Ligon Bjork.

Link to research paper here

This is where some understanding of how to best compose multiple choice questions is really useful.

Consider the answers to this MCQ.

Which camera control is used to effect depth of field?

A) sausages b) aperture c) sunshine d) chocolate.

Now hopefully this question quite clearly illustrates why MCQ might get a bad press. And I’m pretty sure that the most teachers wouldn’t use this way of quizzing, but it illustrates the point. This particular question is not a good example of recalling information for learners. There is only one plausible answer with several obvious red herrings, therefore students can guess the term they know is something to do with photography. For me, this is not effective retrieval practice. Instead, using plausible answers forces students to have to consider their schema around certain knowledge in order to choose the correct answer. Consider this as an alternative:

Which camera control is used to effect depth of field?

A) shutter speed b) aperture c)iso d) exposure

For me, this is far more effective. All answers contain knowledge we have covered in relation to photography. Students should recognise all of the terms, so they need students to be clear about which term is correct. Students need to understand the information in order to select the correct answer. Yes they could guess but it hopefully forces them to think in more depth.

Finally, generating answers which really force learners to think, to recall and to join the dots are some of the best multiple choice questions I’ve used. By using common errors, misconceptions and easily confused knowledge, I can as a teacher, really drill down into the learning of my pupils and work out how much they know. Consider this as a question:

A photographer increases the size of the aperture to change the depth of field. Which statement is correct?

A) the photographer has used a lower f number to create a wide depth of field

B) the photographer has used a lower f number to create a shallow depth of field

C) the photographer has used a higher f number to create a wide depth of field

D) the photographer has used a higher f number to shallow depth of field.

Without getting into too much of the detail of photography, the correct answer is B) However to get this right students need to demonstrate that they first know that using a lower f number gives a larger aperture, and secondly that the lower f number also gives a shallower depth of field. By using knowledge which they often mix up, I am able to rally force them to think. Any one of the possible answers is plausible and uses correct photographic terminology. What’s more there is a deeper level of understanding required in order to achieve the correct answer. Yes these types of question all assume that the learners know aperture is related to depth of field, but hopefully I would have used that as an earlier question to determine who knew that. I might use a mix of questions, layering the level of complexity of the question to really dig into depth of learning.

In which case, I think it’s also important that as teachers we are able to analyse the results. Too often we may perhaps be lured by the self-marking aspect of a quizzing tool however it’s valuable for us to go through pupil response to get a handle on where the errors have been made, so that we can identify next steps to clarify this for individuals. Purely recording scores is unlikely to move learners forward, whereas understanding the areas which need more work will hopefully continue to build on the success of retrieval practice for learners.

I’m sure this isn’t rocket science for many educators out there but I hope this post has been useful in highlighting some ways I’ve found it easy to improve this strategy for young people and my formative assessment of their learning.

Life is like a multiple choice question. Sometimes it’s the choices that confuse you, not the question

Plant trees you’ll never see

I don’t think any of us chose to enter the teaching profession to sit at a screen all day. It’s a very different existence to that which we are used to. And it’s tough. Really tough. It makes me realise just how much our day to day lives consist of interaction. And whilst we are doing all we can to emulate the connection with our young people, nothing beats being able to teach them within the same physical room.

Think back to life in our physical classrooms. The subtle expressions of confusion which allow us as teachers to check for understanding. The nods of agreement when learners finally ‘get something’ you’ve explained. The look of frustration when a task is tricky. The pleading eyes which beg for assistance without wanting to outwardly communicate that in front of peers. The snippets of gossip the S6’s tell me. The silly comments between peers. The under the breath moans when a task is particularly difficult.

These interactions are what build relationships. The respect you gain for pupils when they honestly admit to needing help. The trust they gain for you when you quickly swoop in to offer support in a way that doesn’t single out one particular individual. The belief you have in them when you see them persevering with learning. The confidence which they take from your expert subject knowledge and your demonstration of skills. The faith which grows when they know you want the best for them and will do anything you can to help them achieve their potential. This doesn’t happen overnight. Building a relationship takes time. And whilst the foundations for strong relationships have already been laid in the physical classroom, the move to online platforms for learning, somehow force us to rewind and reset. It’s like being back to that start of term in August. It will take time to build that trust again.

For me, this week has gone relatively well. I’ve had good attendance and positive interactions at live check-ins. Some brilliant work submitted, and opportunities to assist and support lots of learners online who are having difficulties. But, in the interests of honesty, it’s not all been brilliant. I’ve really missed our pupils. It may seem the ideal teaching situation to be sat with a room full of silent learners – indeed I’m sure many of us during a particularly difficult period with S2 have wished for this exact scenario. However, despite how much we may have moaned about how vocal pupil A was, or how frustrating the low level chatter might have been late one Tuesday afternoon, I don’t think any of us would swap it for our current situation.

There is definitely much less of a need to a focus on behaviour whilst teaching remotely – no one pupil distracting others and no-one wandering out of their seat. But, talking to a teams meeting of 15 pupil icons, with no familiar faces and no idea of what is going on at the other end, is a somewhat different challenge. Are they listening? Are they focussed? Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they even there or have they just logged on, then gone back to sleep? Last week I wrote here about some of the ways I’ve been working to increase participation of pupils in live lessons. I found the strategies really useful for encouraging pupils to ‘think hard’,’ participate and check for understanding. This week, this has definitely given me confidence that there are most definitely effective ways to take the pedagogy in school and transfer this to a remote situation.

As a profession in which self-reflection is so important, it can be so difficult to know how we are doing. Reflecting on my lessons this week, I’ve pondered many ways in which it might have been better. Did that questioning go as well as it could have? Was that task structured in a way to support understanding? Did I remember to ask everyone to make sure there is active participation? Are we having an impact? Are the kids ‘getting it?’ Is the way we are doing it working for learners? It can be frustrating when students whom we know are brilliant learners in the physical classroom, don’t submit work. Or don’t even appear online. It can be soul destroying to have spent time making resources and a only a small number of pupils engage. But this situation we find ourselves in, is unknown – we haven’t taught like this before. And there are so many more variables which will impact engagement and online learning. We need to be compassionate for the individual situations our learners find themselves in. Just like we as teachers are learning, so are our pupils. And it’s a huge, steep learning curve for them.

I’ve never met a teacher who doesn’t want the best for their pupils. That’s why so many are exhausted right now. They are constantly trying to improve the online learning experience for our young people. To support them in the best way possible. When we can’t be beside them in person, we try our very best to be there for them virtually. But it’s definitely not the same, and it perhaps doesn’t give us that instant gratification that comes from a successful face to face lesson.

I want to finish by saying that whatever you are doing, you are making impact. Young people and families appreciate the connection with teachers. They might not admit it, but in their lockdown world, these online interactions and opportunities for learning are more important than ever. Like everyone, young people are facing huge challenges during COVID. We need to be mindful of this and communicate our support. Whilst there might not be the instant satisfaction of productive period spent in school with learners, don’t underestimate the positive influence you are still having on your young people. We might not see it visibly in the same way as we would in school. It might be a while before our young people look back and realise the dedication you had to their learning by teaching a live lesson with a toddler sat on your knee. Or the late nights you committed to, to ensure the voiced over powerpoints were recorded. They might not understand initially that you encouraging them to respond in the chat or unmute to give answers might have been worthwhile learning and not just an attempt to embarrass them. But someday they might.

As the wonderful Gavin Oattes often reminds us, ‘plant trees you’ll never see grow.’ It’s often years before young people look back and realise how thankful they were to have you as their teacher. Don’t let that stop you doing your best for them this week. You have huge impact and what you are doing during this period of online learning is important and appreciated.

Hang in there if you are finding it tough. Reach out to others if it’s been a difficult day. Take confidence from the small wins. You have got this.

Learning about home learning

This week I’ve cried. I’ve felt elated when tech worked. I’ve felt overwhelmed. I’ve felt proud of myself. I’ve felt exhausted. I’ve laughed. I’ve met up virtually with colleagues. I’ve seen smiles on some of my S4’s faces for the first time in months! I’ve worried. I’ve connected with new people. I’ve been inspired. I’ve stayed up late. I’ve fallen asleep. I’ve given my own kids way too much much screen time. I’ve learned lots. Mostly by making mistakes.

But I’ve kept going because of our young people. And connecting with them to help, support or feedback makes it all worthwhile. So what are my takeaways from this week?

1. Structure works. Structure of lessons. Structure of tasks. Structure of instructions. Structure within the week. I think my own boys, and my learners respond best when we provide that structure for them.

2. Work smarter not harder. I’m trying hard to make sure the resources I’m spending time making, last longer than lockdown. Focussing on the threshold concepts, pedagogy and skills and making videos or voiceover powerpoints which can be used year after year makes investing qthe time worthwhile. Avoiding mentioning specific information which may change (SQA assessment etc) and instead instructional coaching of the knowledge, skills and process which will support pupils. The key subject knowledge and skills which will always remain important.

3. At the start of this week’s lesson, I asked learners what would make home learning better. Feedback from my learners was that they would like more quizzes and more live lessons. I’m pleased that the habit of retrieval practice in class, has been useful to them and they recognise how useful the testing effect is. Whilst part of me feels flattered that they appreciate our time online together, part of me wonders if there’s another reason they would rather attend a live lesson than go off and work independently. Is it because it’s easier to sit and listen to me than having to go off and discipline themselves to think hard? With this in mind, my lessons this week have attempted to get pupils working harder than me. Lessons involved cold calling pupils to give responses in the chat, asking pupils to unmic to answer, voting for answers using symbols in the chat, incorporating Menti tasks to build wordclouds and collaboration on tasks which make them think. So this week I’m going to try more of this. And some brief support check-ins at the start of periods to connect and set pupils off on task with a view to scaffold their independent learning before leaving them to work on their own.

Infographic by @unleashing_me Sufian Sadiq @chilternTSA

3. A toddler entering a live lesson asking to go ‘pee pee’ sometimes is more of an icebreaker than any game! And I think my pupils appreciated this visible act of being human. I hope it put them at ease. I’ve accepted that my own kids will join in with lessons, or meetings. They are being ignored and left to their own devices so much that when they do need cry out for attention, I’m going to try my best ‘to see them’ and give them what they need. And not beat myself up about it like I did last time round.

4. I have the best colleagues. When we’ve been unable to nip back and forth into each other’s classrooms as we do in person, the chat function on teams has allowed us to ask those silly questions and check things with each other easily. Everyone has just got on with our new way of working with a smile. Our online meetings are a chance to laugh and share a cuppa whilst supporting each other and working through issues together. On Friday afternoon after a tough day, I literally hugged my laptop when I heard the voice of my work bestie – and after a chat with her felt so much better. On Friday night a group of colleagues met on Zoom to laugh and it was exactly what I needed. It’s very easy to become an island during this whole period of lockdown. And with that isolation brings uncertainty, lack of perspective and worry. Connection is key.

5. This is a marathon not a sprint. We need to look after, and pace ourselves. Wellbeing is absolutely vital if we are to be the best for our young people. And it’s important that we encourage them to do likewise. The lines between work and home have blurred significantly. It’s been too easy to work through lunchtime or keep working late into the night. I’m going to try harder this week with boundaries. I need to get outside more. I need to set aside some time for me to read, watch tv or switch off.

Have a great week everyone – remember my mantra. ‘We can only do what we can do.’ And that is enough. You are enough.

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