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!



A ‘Built to Last’ Education: A lesson from business?

Having recently finished Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’, on why some companies make the leap and some don’t, I discovered many of his concepts can potentially cross over into an educational setting.

In this post I would  like to highlight one story from the book about Merck, a company that sees its core purpose as a ‘global healthcare leader working to help the world be well’.  I think the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and (hopefully not too many) schools could learn from this story.

Collins states that ‘enduring great companies (schools) don’t exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders (exam results).  Indeed, in a truly great company (school), profits (exam results) become like blood and water to a healthy body: They are absolutely essential for life, but they are not the very point of life’

Collins highlights this theory with a soundbite from  a TIME interview with George Merck II, the CEO of Merck, in August 1952:

‘We try to remember that medicine (education) is for the patients (students)…. It is not for the profits (exam results).  The profits (exam results) follow, and if we have remembered that, they (exam results) have never failed to appear.  The better we have remembered it, the larger (better exam results) they have been’.

In the current educational climate it is important to be realistic; exam results do have a huge bearing on the perceived success of a school.  Good examination results, whether the concept is right or wrong, clear the path for students to get to the next stage of their development, whether that’s a job, an apprenticeship or a place at a college or university.  The vital point here, I feel, is the process by which we achieve good examination results can change dramatically.  It should primarily be led through positive relationships between the student, teacher and parent within a flexible curriculum that promotes authentic engagement by allowing students to discover and pursue their passions, where possible, on a daily basis.  I say, ‘where possible’ because subjects like English and Maths are not everybody’s cup of tea, but students do need a level of competency in both for future success in life.

However, we do not need to teach the test.

The challenging job is figuring out how to do this in YOUR individual school environment.

Although Maths was never my strong point or passion at school or since, I would like to offer the following equation to summarise my feelings on what we should be trying to create for each student in our schools.  We may never fully get there, but we must relentlessly and consistently pursue it:

ENGAGING + (through) EXCTING (learning opportunities) + ENCOURAGEMENT = (students) EXCELLING 

If we do make the above equation our biggest focus in schools on a daily basis, the great exam results, that we’re all under pressure to achieve, should look after themselves AND, more importantly, every student will be leaving school enthused and excited about what their future holds.

Innovation Day: The Gallery & Reflections

Finally, I’ve got round to it!! The school’s Innovation Day I organised and facilitated was nearly a month ago now and I have finally collated some of the students’ creations in this post.  It was very much a team effort with over 15 staff giving up their time to help be a ‘guide from the side’ on the projects.  Basically this meant they only helped if the students asked for it, which by all accounts, they didn’t do much of!

Please check out the video clip above created by two Year 12 students, Oliver Klein and Oliver Cheal which will give you a small glimpse into the day itself. 

The day, as previously explained, was based on Google’s 20% time whereby students decide what to learn, how to learn and who to learn with for an entire school day.  Simply, the 80 students involved (aged 11-15) were captivated by the experience of controlling their own learning and creating their own projects for the day.  They worked solidly for 6 hours, cross pollinating across different projects, ages and abilities where students and the staff assisting were viewed as equals with students organising their own breaks, without being a slave to the industrial bells which signify the end of a learning unit.  All in all, an equally eye opening day for the both the students and staff involved.

A question I have since been asked is ‘Did any students display any disruptive behaviour during the day?’.  The honest answer is NO! Why? I think there were 2 major factors behind this:

1.  Students designed their own learning experience.  This meant they had autonomy over the project and their learning was authentic and closely connected to their interests

2.  We had a public ‘show and tell’ in the school gym at the end of the day with both peers and the Senior Leadership Team in attendance.  I think this gave the students a ‘we must make this brilliant’ attitude

The challenge now of course, is how do we make this type of learning an integral and sustainable part of school’s curriculum? Or as the New York based School of One school intriguingly puts it, how do we create the ‘mass customisation of student learning?’

Below are 4 pictures giving you a taster of just a few of the 30 creations made during Innovation Day:

Manga Artwork

Remote Control Car

Recyclable Eiffel Tower

Jubilee Cup Cakes

I guess Sir Ken Robinson got to the heart of the matter when he said human talent and creativity is incredibly diverse and unique and it is up to us, as educators, to nurture and nourish these individual passions.

For my previous posts on Innovation Day please check here and here

A worthwhile link here is to High Tech High and the Learning Futures joint creation of a Project Based Learning Guide to help any school or educator to introduce meaningful work into their classrooms.  I am not saying this is the sole answer to transforming the student learning experience but I think it could be, along with other authentic learning practices, a vital tool in engaging young people in their education.

For any more information about the organisation of ‘Innovation Day’ at Wilmslow High School please get in contact via a comment on this post, my email (matthewbebbington@hotmail.com) or Twitter (@BebbPEteach)

High Performing Schools: ‘Beyond Outstanding’

Alistair Smith’s ‘High Performers‘ book is a must read for any classroom teacher, middle leader or senior leadership team member looking to take their pedagogy, team or school ‘beyond outstanding’.  It is firmly based in current practice and is based on Smith’s visits to 20 top performing state schools in the UK.


The book shares cutting edge practice that will make you think, and think hard, about your school’s current environment and culture and it emphasises one of my favourite #4wordmottos:

‘Be curious; question everything’

A personal highlight for me was Chapter 18, ‘Challenging: ask the right questions’.  This chapter starts by suggesting ‘hard questions’ to ask about your school in order to avoid coasting and promote positive progression in your school environment.  Here is the list of questions in full:

  1. Are our lessons actually worth behaving for?
  2. Why does our timetable never change? How many different timetables are worth considering in an academic year?
  3. Why does school start at the same time for everyone?
  4. Should specialists take all exam groups?
  5. Would gap year students be a better option than teachers to help with A level support?
  6. Can we create supergroups by combining sets and giving them high quality lectures with follow up support?
  7. What do we do on a regular basis that does not contribute to improving learning? How soon will we abandon such practices?
  8. What’s wrong with mobiles in lessons? Why not introduce them in Year 10?
  9. Should the department have a Facebook account?
  10. Should we all be on Twitter?
  11. Can we put revision tips on YouTube? What about lesson starters?
  12. Do we allow coursework to be submitted that is less than the target grade?
  13. What proportion of PE lessons need a gym? What proportion of science lessons need a lab?
  14. Have we provided parents with a booklet of work  for each subject for when their child says their is no homework?
  15. How useful to a parent is a raw grade or score for effort?
  16. In what ways does a grade for behaviour reflect the students capacity and willingness to learn?
  17. Many schools spend 100 hours per year on registration.  How do we use it?
  18. Why do we do so few lesson observations? 10 observations per year is still only 1% of anyone’s teaching.  Most people can turn it on for an observation but it’s what happens day in day out that counts.
  19. How productive are our assemblies? Why not have learning assemblies or motivational assemblies for different groups in Year 10 and 11?

I have highlighted the questions above that really struck a chord with me (although all of them did!!).  Smith goes onto conclude that:

‘As a matter of course we should be reflecting on our professional practice.  The opportunity to question some of our most cherished practices needs to be positioned as a (key point here) positive collegiate activity otherwise it becomes sniper training for cynics’

It would be interesting to know your thoughts on these questions in your current position and school, whether it be as a classroom teacher, middle leader or SLT member. 

 How often do we honestly reflect on classroom, departmental or whole school practices and traditions?  Do we all get, regardless of our place in the school hierarchy, a say in moving our school forward?  I am fortunate enough to work in a school where the opinion of everyone is highly valued which opens up the door to school development on a continual basis.  I hope you are too!


The Antiques Roadshow Assessment Strategy: The problem with grading…

Come on, let’s be completely honest:  Put your hand up if you watch the Antiques Roadshow for the story behind the ‘old stuff’?  No-one? I thought as much!  Now, who watches it for the price? Yes, yes, as predicted I thought so; you are all culturally shallow and superficial!!

With that bombshell lies the problem with grading student work; you can spend hours giving  your students constructive and specific feedback (the antique’s back story) on where and how to improve their work, however, what’s the first thing they do when they get their work back?  Yep, you’ve guessed it, skip straight to the last page and look for the grade (the antique’s price).

Consequently, if the student is disappointed with their grade they normally have a reacton similar to this poor old Irish gent on the Antiques Roadshow, ‘IS THAT ALL?’

From my experience students tend to focus on the letter at the end of their work rather than the carefully considered feedback throughout.  Does anyone experience something similar?  I would put my house on it!!

So, what’s the solution?  Do we abolish grades altogether and just provide high quality, regular and specific feedback? Or is there a balance to be struck between the two?  Personally, I feel Google Docs could be the answer as it easy to use , with both the teacher and student able to post comments about the work and they are able to have real time conversations if they are logged on at the same time (think Facebook chat).  As well as these features it is also drastically reduces the need to print off 45 versions of the same assignment and any comments that have been posted by the student or the teacher  are printed off on the assignment down the margin.

For more information please check out @jamesmichie’s great 4 part blog post on the use of Google Docs in education.

As ever, thoughts welcome…..