My first PE SOLO experiments…

After reading David Didau’s The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson and scouring the world wide web for teachers using SOLO, including Tait Coles, David Fawcett and Darren Mead to name but a few, I have finally started experimenting with utilising SOLO taxonomy in my GCSE, BTEC and A level PE classes.  The next few paragraphs will just explain, step by step, the process so far…

Step 1

I introduced the 5 levels of understanding and the language and verbs associated with each through a Tait Coles poster with supporting information from Pam Hook and Julie Mills’s great introductory SOLO book. Essentially, I explained that SOLO provides the students and the teacher with a ‘common language of learning’ so both understand the quality of learning that students are producing.  A great starting point can be found by watching David Didu’s explanation at a TeachMeet Clevedon earlier this year which can be found here:

Step 2

I created 3 rubrics for GCSE PE,  A Level PE and BTEC PE to give the students a clear picture of the grade equivalents and types of questions at each of the 4 levels (not including prestructural):

1. Unistructural

2. Multistructural

3. Relational

4. Extended Abstract

Step 3

Using post it notes A Level PE…

SOLO post it notes

…and hexagons for BTEC PE…



I asked the students to build up their knowledge (= uni and multistructural) first and then find relationships between these bits of knowledge and apply them in a new concept (= relational and extended abstract).

The A Level PE lesson revolved around the popular recreations of both the lower and upper classes in 18th century Britain and the socio-cultural factors that shaped them along with any common ground between the two class society.  The BTEC PE lesson involved students researching and learning the correct technique for the grip, catch and flat pass in rugby and any links between the three.

To break it down to its simplest components:

  • 1 post it note or hexagon is the equivalent of having 1 relevant idea (= unistructural)
  • 3 or more separate post it notes / hexagons represent many relevant ideas but NOT being able to  link these ideas or knowledge together (= multistructural)
  • Overlapping post it notes / side by side hexagons represent links between different relevant ideas (= relational level of understanding).  You can see lots of these in the pictures above.
  • In the future, for students to reach an extended abstract level I will ask them to find where 3 or more post it notes / hexagons met ( a node if you like  – stolen from David Didau) and create a high quality question to investigate further.  This is the deepest form of learning and extremely hard to reach.  A vital point to remember here is that once a student has generated one extended abstract concept, it is not an end point in their learning.  They must continually revisit, or LOOP back to, the multistructural phase to find new, relevant information and build the quantity of knowledge which will subsequently produce new links (relational) and potentially generate more high quality questions and concepts (= extended abstract).

Step 4

A number of students, using the post it notes and hexagons as guides, articulated their understanding verbally to the class.  Both the hexagons and the post it notes instigated such prolonged explanations that I was slightly shocked at their length and coherence given their minimal prior understanding of both subject matters.  I then allowed all students to take pictures of their work on their phones so they can use this information next lesson when we will be reinforcing their understsanding through various learning opportunities.

Hopefully all this SOLO information makes some sort of sense?  I feel, as a teacher using SOLO taxonomy, I’m only operating at a multistructural stage at the moment but with time, practice and with a lot of stealing from the SOLO community on Twitter I’ll be able to up my game for the students’ sake!

A more suitable way to judge a school’s long term success?

Let’s start with the obvious question: how is a state school judged? There are two major methods:

1. An Ofsted inspection every few months or every few years dependent on the outcome of the school’s previous level of inspection, or

2. The school’s annual examination results which are organised into league tables and openly published to help parents, in advance, choose (if they have a choice) or move to a different area so their child can receive the best education available to them.

I am, of course, discounting private education from this discussion because parents with enough disposable income can choose to send their children to a wide range of private schools in the region, country or, indeed, the world.  What I am offering here is a potential solution that will not act to replace Ofsted or league tables, but act to supplement them and add another layer to the perceived success of a school.

Do you think it would be possible for an agency, or the school itself, to conduct a comprehensive investigation into what their past alumni, from individual schools, are currently achieving 3, 5, 10 and 20 years on from leaving compulsory education and, furthermore, how well the school prepared them for the real world?  These students could be asked about their career path and trajectory since leaving school or even the happiness of the family they have subsequently created and nurtured since leaving.  Even more importantly, they could be asked what would they change about their educational experience now they are (hopefully) contributing citizens; would they work harder? Were some parts of school unnecessary and not needed? Would they have preferred more flexibilty and autonomy in the subject choices and did they receive ample support in order to move onto the next phase of their life?

This is of course is an incomplete and partial argument.  Please forgive me as these thoughts have only just made themselves known to me and I thought I would scribble them down before they were flushed away to the gutter (perhaps where this idea belongs?).

Any thoughts, as ever, are welcome.

The state of school sports: Guardian blog

Here’s my article for The Guardian’s Teacher Network on the government’s current stance on sport in our state schools:

If you feel strongly about this or would like to share your school sport experience please leave a comment on the following link.  Spaces for comments are below the article, just scroll down…

Oh dear David and co, what a can of worms you have opened. The simple message from Mr Cameron seems to be “teachers, get off your backsides and make state school sport brilliant”. But David, will we receive the relevant amount of funding and support to accommodate this dream?

One question springs to my mind given the government’s stance on state school sport – do any Olympians leave their sporting success to chance? Of course not. Athletes invest in years of sustainable, long-term planning and dedication in order secure the best possible future outcome.  Unfortunately, it seems the government’s (lack of a coherent) plan for state school sport seems to be heavily reliant on chance, luck and individual circumstance.

On the surface, the scrapping of the compulsory ‘box ticking’ two hours of PE per week could be considered as a positive move: giving school leaders and and PE teachers local autonomy over their sporting curriculum. However, as we dig deeper, a complex web of factors come into play:

  • The level of importance given to PE by the school’s leadership team – is it held in the same regard as mathematics, English and science or is it considered to be a burden that eats up valuable time from the exhausting task of climbing up the league table ladder?
  • What is the size of the PE department and how much funding is available for it?  There is now less opportunity to ring fence funding for sport in state schools now the sport college movement is slowly grinding to a halt.  Therefore, some school leaders may decide to redirect funding to enhance other curriculum areas in their school.

However, what is evident is that PE is a fertile melting pot where teamwork, personal discipline, resilience and grit are all skills that can be developed in abundance and transferred into other areas of a students’ academic career.  The effect of these transferable skills should not be underestimated. We must also consider more human factors. Thousands of teachers around the country willingly give up their free time on a daily basis to provide high quality sporting opportunities for their students.  What is the commitment of teachers in your school like?  I remember my old boss telling me how he got his school’s Saturday morning rugby programme off the ground.  Every Saturday morning he had to sweep the local town to pick up the students and some cases knock on front doors to get them out of bed just to get them to home fixtures. Now, this was clearly going above and beyond his mandatory commitments but, 15 years down the line, the school now successfully competes nationally with the big private schools in the country.

Sport should be at the very heart of every school’s curriculum, it should be in the same league as mathematics, English and science and schools need both funding and the dedication of its teachers to ensure the long term, country wide success of state school sport. Of course the Olympics will have an immediate impact on participation rates in school sport, however, I fear, in the current educational climate, the impact will be short term and rely more on chance, luck and the schools’ individual priorities and circumstance rather than an intelligent, well thought out national model that could have positive reverberations for generations to come.

The element of surprise: a primary school perspective on their ‘Innovation’ Week

After seeing my article on the blog on Wilmslow High School’s ‘Innovation Day’, Jess Strang, a very recently qualified primary teacher offered up her experience of an ‘Innovation’ Week during her placement in a primary school in Cleethorpes on the East coast of sunny England.

Sounds absolutely brilliant if you ask me……

Giving students the freedom to learn is not only beneficial at secondary level; children at primary level are also able to take control of their own learning.  Although faced with challenges, such as how much guidance to give to the students, giving children the opportunity to become actively engaged with their own learning is extremely valuable.

Whilst working with a Year 1 class (5-6 years old) I was involved with a creative and unique week adopted by the school to encourage children to think for themselves and take their learning into their own hands. Each class was given 3 gift wrapped parcels on the Monday morning with an assortment of objects in. The class teachers were unaware of the parcels’ contents so were unable to plan or arrange any activities in advance thus enabling the students to fully take control.  The class were excited and drawn into the idea from the outset, un-wrapping the parcels to find a scarab beetle, a didgeridoo and some parchment. The learning was now in the students’ hands and their ideas would lead to a week of creative learning. The class adopted a cross-curricular approach linking the objects to a range of subjects throughout the week.

The students quickly identified the countries of origin, the type of object we were dealing with and put together ideas for activities throughout the week including-

  • Building Sydney Opera House in the role play area and making musical instruments to form a band with the didgeridoo and play a concert for the opposite class.
  • Creating a treasure hunt in the sand box with papier-mâché ‘artefacts’ they had researched using ICT from the Egyptian period including the Scarab beetle given.
  • Practicing hieroglyphics on parchment in co-ordination with the Egyptian theme.
  •  Going on a Beasty Hunt in the school grounds looking for bugs and insects in our own environment.

The students were highly motivated and driven learners throughout the week sharing personal experiences from the countries investigated and researching at home the topics. The students, without realising, created opportunities for learning across the curriculum and to  learn outside the traditional classroom base; something that every Primary teacher strives for within their lessons. Throughout the school, from reception to Year 6 the students were fully immersed in their learning giving them the opportunity to show teachers the ways in which they liked to learn.

After participating in such an exceptional learning event I feel allowing students to have a ‘voice’ in their education and, showing teachers how they want to learn, is incredibly beneficial for everyone involved.  Although challenging (especially at KS1) I believe the outcomes were successful and the idea of enabling children to take learning into their own hands should be one teachers should increasingly take on board.

I would love to hear of other expriences like this in schools…if you know of any, please get in touch:


What’s wrong with more lesson observations?

I have two lesson observations per year.  One as part of an internal ‘mini Ofsted’ and another linked to one of my performance management targets.  Are these two observations enough for me to improve my teaching and therefore the students learning? I would say it is not.  I always self review my lessons and offer students the chance to offer open and honest formal feedback on a termly basis but sometimes I want another professional’s ‘outsider’ perspective.

From my knowledge, I believe we are only legally allowed to be observed once per term per academic year (= three altogether).  Does anyone else find this insufficient?  The majority of full time teaching staff at my school are timetabled for 26 out of 30 lessons per week which, over 37 school weeks (I think!), amounts to 962 lessons.  Even if we are observed just ten times over the course of a school year that is still only 1% of our lessons being observed during that window.  That’s not over doing it is it?

How would you feel as a parent if your son or daughter was only offered constructuve feedback from their teacher on three occasions in 37 weeks of school?  Would you deem that to be unsatisfactory practice?  I would guess that you would!

I think the current structure of so few lesson observations needs to be transformed quickly for both the teachers’ and students’ benefit.  I understand some teachers do not like the whole observation experience but that could be due to experiencing so few?  Some of these observations could be more informal ‘conversations’ with no Ofsted judgements awarded. Instead, the real focus would be on a two way professional dialogue on why parts of the lesson were successful or unsuccessful.  You could use the  ‘what went well’ (WWW) and ‘even better if’ (EBI) tactics here.

So, what do we all think?

Why do you write a blog?

I have been trying to summarise my thoughts on this question for a few months now.  I have written, re-written, deleted and re-written this post on at least 4 occasions but now, having just read a passage in Seth Godin’s ‘Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?’, I am ready to finally commit my thoughts to the question.  Well, not my thoughts exactly, but Seth’s, as he seems to have read my mind for the umpteenth time in his book.

So this is why, whether my posts are good, incompetent or somewhere inbetween, I write a blog.  Cheers Seth.

”I don’t write my blog to get anything from you in exchange.  I write it because giving my small gift to the community in the form of writing makes me feel good.  I enjoy it that you enjoy it (hopefully).  When that gift comes back to me, one day, in an unexpected way, I enjoy the work I did twice as much” 

I hope you all of you feel the same way when you blog.

A thought on lesson design…

‘Every lesson you create represents an opportunity to design something that has never been designed, to create an interaction unlike any other’

Adapted from Seth Godin’s ‘Linchpin’

How many original lessons of value do we actually design for our students? Or, do we find it easier to repeat mediocre lessons from standardised schemes of work? Indeed, do we have time to design brilliant lessons that have a positive effect on student learning and motivation on a consistent basis?  If not, then maybe we are asking the wrong questions.

Maybe the question should be:

What unneccesary parts of our jobs, as educators, need to to be thrown out and stopped immediately so that we have the time to design the best learning experiences possible for our students?

Any answers on  a postcard please!