Saturday, 2 January 2016

Growth mindset goal setting and reflection

The New Year is an ideal time to reflect on goals that were set in September and the progress that has been made against implementation plans, both for staff and pupils.  It’s a good time to refresh a commitment to a growth mindset and consider what needs to be achieved in the coming terms.  Keeping a positive, aspirational outlook is challenging.  Having recharged the batteries over the Christmas break, it is a great time to engage in some motivational self-talk.  Banish those negative thoughts and look to the future.

On occasion we are too focused on the mindsets of the pupils, rather than on the mindsets of all adults in the school.  We forget how much our mindset influences our everyday actions, our classroom ethos, the way we design learning opportunities, the way we structure our curriculum, how we reward and praise, etc.  Our values permeate through the school, both those we intended to promote and those we didn’t.  Some growth mindset programmes in schools have limited impact because staff don’t really address their own mindsets and fail to change the way they teach.  Their words to pupils say one thing, but their actions tell a different story.  It is sometimes hard for us to see the real truths in our own classrooms and spot when a fixed mindset has invaded our classroom.  This is especially true in the current climate of immense change.

Why not take some time in January to reflect on the following statements.

Consider with pupils:

·        Why do we need goals?

·        What is good practice in setting goals?

·        Why is a goal without a plan simply a dream?

·        How do you make a great plan to achieve a goal?

·        Why is monitoring against a plan essential?

·        Why do you think you sometimes have to adjust your plan as you progress towards the goal?

·        What are your goals?  Short term?  Medium term?  Long term?

·        Reaffirming your commitment to a goal.

Why not try some of these activities that have been gathered from classrooms around the globe via Pinterest.

Download PDF file of goal setting activities
Goals setting sheet available on:
January is also a good time to reflect on the characteristics of good learners.  How have pupils developed as learners over the autumn term?  What do they need to work on to become more effective and successful learners?  Maybe it is their team work, listening skills, resilience, homework commitment, or accepting help from others?  Why not create a recipe for a successful learner or consider how to build a recipe for a specific skills, such as listening.

Alison and Lynsey, two teachers working in the Midlothian, have created an excellent blog sharing some of their work on growth mindset which includes creating recipes.
Download PDF of recipe card ideas
Why not join us for an half day introduction to Growth Mindsets Thursday 17th March 2016 download flyer

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Peer and self-assessment

Peer and self-assessment is integral to learning and maximising progress.  Particularly with the increased demands of the national curriculum, peer and self-assessment can be vehicles for helping pupils to reach more demanding standards.  It starts with pupils having a really good idea as to what they are aiming for.  Exploring examples of good work, playing ‘detective’ to identify good features and creating/using success criteria are all essential elements that need to be in place before pupils can use peer and self-assessment effectively.  Teachers need to develop a culture that focuses on ‘crafting’ high quality work, which often includes creating more than one draft or extensive review and editing processes.  In these classrooms you often find the journey of creating work displayed on walls, rather than just finished pieces.  These teachers celebrate the improvements and the approaches pupils have used to develop work.

For peer and self-assessment to have real impact, pupils need to be taught explicitly how to critique their own and others’ work.  They need to see the process modelled and be provided with sentence starters and structures that will allow them to give meaningful advice to others.  They need time to be analytical and time to make the improvements.  Pupils should be encouraged to consider what makes a good ‘critical friend’ and what type of advice helps someone to make changes to a piece of work.

Schools can increase their success with peer and self-assessment by considering how it develops from Early Years right through to Year 6.  It also helps to consider why structures and tools are being used in different year groups to help pupils get to the level of depth and detail which leads pupils to make progress through peer and self-assessment.

Please find below a selection of tools that may be of use.  The picture links should open PDF files.
Audit tool
Progression map
6 traits editing station cards
Editing cards
Advice cards

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Metacognition : Jumping off the high dive board into a sea of ‘thinking about thinking’

Metacognition : how do we grow our knowledge and expertise?

For the last eighteen months I have been growing and developing my knowledge and understanding of metacognition, and how it can utilised across both primary and secondary classrooms.  My passion for metacognition is based on a conviction that it can deliver superb improvements in outcomes for pupils and enable them to become ‘leaders of their own learning’.  Of particular interest to me is how metacognition links to developing growth mindsets, aspirations and learner beliefs.  Recent research has shown that raising aspiration is often not enough to enable disadvantaged pupils to close the attainment gap.  In fact, it can lead to great frustration as their desire to improve increases, but is not matched by a rise in their ‘learning skills’ to enable them to achieve their goals.  Metacognition is the missing key for many pupils. Improving metacognition raises attainment for all pupils, but has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged pupils, therefore being a proven method of closing the attainment gap. Developing metacognitive practices is needed if pupils are going to achieve the higher demands of the national curriculum, perform well in more challenging assessments and respond to the emphasis Ofsted places on children having ‘ownership’ of their learning.

Metacognition is a critically important, yet often overlooked, component of learning. In recent years there has been increasing interest in how metacognition can increase pupil performance, but harnessing metacognition in the classroom, and across the school as a whole school ethos, is not an easy task and as educators we still have a long way to go in utilising this powerful research and set of theories.  It raises three important questions : how do we develop solutions that are effective in large scale secondary schools, what does metacognition look like at different phases from birth onwards, and how do we share the emerging practice in schools?

Successful learners are highly metacognitive. They have an ‘internal dialogue’ that operates as they learn. They ask themselves questions such as ‘what am I trying to achieve?’, ‘where should I start?’, ‘do I understand this?’, ‘do I need to re-read that last paragraph?’, ‘am I on the right track?’, ‘do I need to change strategy?’, ‘if starting again, would I approach the task differently?’ They think about their own thinking. They take control of the learning process. They are reflective, self-monitoring and self-correcting. Luckily, we can teach pupils how to be more metacognitive. We can support them to make progress in how they learn and in turn help them to become more independent learners.

One way we can start to tackle metacognition is to break it down into more manageable chunks.  Schools, teachers, departments, etc., can focus on an element of metacognition, either with all pupils or perhaps particular year groups.  The majority of research leans towards metacognition being entwined within subjects as being the most effective way to develop pupil skills, but separate programmes can complement a  whole school approach.  The best way to train pupils is to provide them with challenging situations, tasks and learning activities that would naturally require pupils to engage in deeper thinking.  Metacognition is especially needed when faced with a task that requires planning beforehand and evaluation afterwards; where actions are both weighty and risky.  This is why metacognition has a higher impact when explicitly taught through naturally occurring learning activities within subjects, as pupils can see how and why metacognition helps them and there is a genuine reason to deploy metacognition. 

The long term goal is to ensure all teachers in the school fully understand the principles and theories of metacognition and weave this into their daily teaching, lesson design and curriculum, but this is perhaps too much to chew all at once. 

Metacognition: internal dialogue and self-questioning.
Metacognition and its role in supporting independent learning, e.g. increasing the impact of homework.
Metacognition and listening : improving skills
Metacognition and its role in plan, monitor, check.
Metacognition, beliefs, mindset and goals.
Metacognition and mathematics : e.g. problem solving
Metacognition and how it relates to accurate self-awareness, self-assessment and judgements of learning.
Metacognition and its link to using strategies for learning.
Metacognition and task variables: increasing independence, learning about learning, equipping pupils to take on greater challenges
Metacognition and reading : learning from complex texts
Metacognition and exam performance : e.g. exam wrappers, revision plans, revision knowledge and strategies.
Metacognition and person variables.


Focusing on individual aspects of metacognition provides a more manageable starting point for schools, whilst still acknowledging metacognition as a whole and its interlinking nature.  From the broad and fascinating field of metacognition research we need to hone in on specific aspects that are more likely to provide improvements to short term and long term outcomes for pupils.

Each of these segments has a body of research behind it.  One that can be linked to other important developments in areas such as cognition research, a growing understanding of why some pupils fail to make academic progress, neurology and wider aspects of psychology, such as Carol Dweck’s amazing work on growth mindsets.  Fitting the pieces together from a range of areas provides a comprehensive set of actions to support learners and increase the effectiveness of teaching.  We literally break up metacognition in order to dive down and get depth into each of these aspects.  I think the question is ‘what type of whisky would you like to drink?’  Too often schools are addicted to the quick fix rather than a quality, long term and sustainable approach.

There are a number of practical actions teachers can take to develop and emphasise metacognition.  For example, using ‘think alouds’ and modelling, providing scaffolding prompts and questions, giving pupils the opportunity to discuss their learning, and having structured, high quality reflection opportunities.  It’s important to turn research into very real tasks, resources and ideas that can be used in the classroom, providing a jumping off point from which teachers can develop their own solutions as their expertise grows.

This ‘jumping off point’ is exactly what I have been working on with a number of Leeds schools. The last twelve months have been very exciting, as part of my work as a freelance consultant has been working on a large scale initiative designed to expand expertise in the field of metacognition in Leeds secondary schools. The local authority offers the ‘Leeds Learning Partnership’ that enables subject and senior leaders to access a range of training and development opportunities.  The partnership is delivered by a team of local authority officers and school based practitioners.  A key theme this year, and for the next two years, is metacognition. The Leeds Learning Partnership is a brilliant model for growing expertise in this important area of educational development and enables there to be ‘many minds’ working on the same problem, trying out ideas, carrying out action research and sharing findings.  I am sure that not many cities in the UK are engaged in such large scale projects which considers how metacognition can be used to improve the performance of pupils and close the gap for disadvantaged learners.

The Leeds Learning Partnership engages over 28 school based practitioners, representing over 14 subjects, as ‘Learning and Teaching Specialists’.  As a freelance consultant, my work has involved creating and delivering training to this team, alongside key local authority advisers and consultants.  The Learning and Teaching Specialists have then used the metacognition training sessions to consider how it can be applied from a subject specific perspective.   This is a key ingredient in developing the city wide approach, rather than one message there is a growing body of teachers and leaders working together to develop and share subject specific metacognition knowledge and understanding.  This is a brilliant multiplier effect, like particles being heated, generating ideas as they move and collide.  The Learning and Teaching Specialists have used their expertise to develop subject training sessions that have then been delivered across the city, cascading knowledge and ideas, and encouraging school subject leaders to experiment.  This has led to some exciting trials in classrooms and fascinating ‘sharing practice’ sessions.  This year we aim to capture some of this amazing subject specific work to further expand school success with metacognition and start to get a depth of understanding that will lead to significant improvements. 

As metacognition is such a broach and complex area, it is essential that groups of teachers pool their findings and add to the growing base of published materials, resources and educational research.  I look forward to continuing this journey of development working with primary and secondary colleagues.

For those who like a more visual representation of how we might break metacognition into chunks, please see the ‘Tree of Metacognitive Thinking’ I have created.  In addition, I have created a jigsaw of basic ideas and subtle twists teachers can use as a starting point for exploring how they might develop pupils metacognitive skills.  I hope they provide a ‘jumping off’ point for your own exploration of metacognition.  I would love to hear from others about their work on metacognition.

For more information please visit

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Assessment without levels

A major issue schools are currently grappling with is how to assess, monitor and track pupil performance and progress now that levels have been removed.

A central question schools will need to address is ‘to what extent are pupils meeting the expectations of the National Curriculum in different year groups and by the end of the Key Stage?’

Currently Year 2 and Year 6 are being assessed and working with the ‘old’ national curriculum and as such, teachers can still use levels to assess pupils and monitor progress for these year groups.  The year 2014/15 is considered to be a transition year where schools may be using more than one system or may in some cases be using levels and looking to move to a new system of assessment.

DfE Assessment without levels

“Teachers will continue to track progress and provide regular information to parents.  How they do so will be for them to decide.  We will not prescribe a single system for ongoing assessment and reporting.” DfE

“Schools will be free to design their approaches to assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression.”

In the Ofsted framework inspectors are expected to consider the question ‘how is assessment being used?’ 

        Ofsted want to be assured that judgements about pupil attainment are accurate.  That assessment draws on a range of evidence of what pupils know, understand and can do in the different aspects of subjects in the curriculum, for example through regular testing. They want to see that marking, assessment and testing are carried out in line with the school’s policy and that schools are using assessment data to help teachers improve teaching and the curriculum (both on a day-to-day basis and reflective use of data to drive forward school improvement).

Inspectors will not expect to see a particular assessment system in place and will recognise that schools are still working towards full implementation of their preferred approach.

However, they will:

        Spend more time looking at the range of pupils’ work in order to consider what progress they are making in different areas of the curriculum.

        Evaluate how well pupils are doing against relevant age-related expectations as set out by the school and the national curriculum (where this applies).

In arriving at judgements about progress, inspectors will usually consider how well:

        pupils’ work shows that, where possible, they have the knowledge, understanding and skills expected for their age as set out by the curriculum and assessment system

        all pupils are set aspirational progress targets and that they are on track to meet or exceed these, and where possible, expected standards by the end of each key stage

        assessment, including test results, targets, performance descriptors or expected standards are used to ensure that all pupils make the progress their teachers expect and that more able pupils do work that deepens their knowledge and understanding

        progress in literacy and mathematics are assessed by drawing on evidence from other subjects in the curriculum, where this is sensible

        pupils’ strengths and misconceptions are identified and acted on by teachers during lessons and more widely to:

       plan future lessons and teaching

       remedy where pupils do not demonstrate knowledge or understanding of a key element of the curriculum

       deepen the knowledge and understanding of the most able.

Reporting to Parents

“In evaluating the effectiveness of reporting on pupils’ progress and achievements, inspectors will assess the way the school reports on the progress and attainment of pupils to parents and carers. Inspectors will consider whether reports help parents to understand how well their children are doing in relation to any standards expected and how they can improve.”

DfE guidance on effective assessment systems

For any new system you are considering - compare it to the statements below and ask does it deliver on these aspects

Give reliable information to parents about how their child, and their child’s school, is performing

a. Allow meaningful tracking of pupils towards end of key stage expectations in the new curriculum, including regular feedback to parents.

b. Provide information which is transferable and easily understood and covers both qualitative and quantitative assessment.

c. Differentiate attainment between pupils of different abilities, giving early recognition of pupils who are falling behind and those who are excelling.

d. Are reliable and free from bias.

Help drive improvement for pupils and teachers

a. Are closely linked to improving the quality of teaching.

b. Ensure feedback to pupils contributes to improved learning and is focused on specific and tangible objectives.

c. Produce recordable measures which can demonstrate comparison against expected standards and reflect progress over time.

Make sure the school is keeping up with external best practice and innovation

a. Are created in consultation with those delivering best practice locally.

b.  Are created in consideration of, and are benchmarked against, international best practice.


Innovation Fund Winners

Eight schools were awarded £10,000 by the DfE to develop assessment systems.  Each school has to share free resources as a condition of being awarded the funds.  The TES website has a blog and resources produced by the schools.

Hillyfield Primary

Westminster Academy Secondary

Trinity Academy Primary & Secondary

Swiss Cottage Special School

Hiltingbury Primary

Sirus Academy

South Farnham Teaching School

Frank Wise School - special

What systems have they produced?

Below are some screen shots which may help you to get an idea of what the innovation fund winning schools have produced. 

Hillyfield Primary

Hillyfield primary have produced a passport system where pupils collect stamps for mastering particular skills.


Durrington High School


Swiss Cottage Special School

Trinity Academy : Three step assessment system


West Exe Technology College : Learning Ladders based on Blooms taxonomy

Hiltingbury Ladders

There is also an electronic version see

Sirus Academy Design and Technology

What is happening with commercial systems?

Schools and commercial companies have to decide:

  • What statements will be used to evaluate performance against?

  • What words or numbers they will use to describe differing attainment between pupils?  (This allows they to calculate progress and create statistics.

Quite a few commercial assessment systems are using four judgements such as:

         ‘beginning, developing, meeting, and exceeding’ 

        or three judgements such as ‘entering, working within, and exceeding’

        or ‘not yet taught, taught but not mastered, mastered’.

        There is no nationally agreed system.

Ten schools were given funding earlier in the year to create assessment systems and strategies which could be shared.  One of the secondary ‘assessment innovation fund’ award winning school is dividing all assessments into four : Excellence, secure, developing and foundation (see illustration).

Some commercial systems are referring to ‘stages’ that correspond to the statements in the National Curriculum for different year groups.  E.g. a pupil in Year 4 can be said to be ‘meeting’ expectations in ‘stage 4’ or a pupil could be currently ‘beginning’ in ‘stage 3’ (even though they are in Year 4.  This would mean that they are currently operating more than 1 year below their age related expectations).  Having ‘stages’ and putting pupils into sub divisions allows the commercial systems to then calculate progress in a way that will draw graphs, highlight pupils and give numerical values.  

Some commercial systems are trying to create ‘frameworks of progression’, as are some subject associations.  The question here is one of quality assurance as to how these statements are being arrived at. There are going to be different statements being used by different schools to judge the performance of pupils in different year groups.  What ‘expected progress’ might look like in one school could be different in another school.

Some commercial systems are advocating ‘standardised tests’ to aid teachers in assessing current attainment (E.g. GL Assessments, CEM).  For example, CEM provides reception base line tests and follow on tests.  Both companies providing a range of analysis tools to go with the tests.

It’s not an easy process to decide how to move forward and the best advice is to take time to consider all the options.  Documentation on new systems is still a little sparse on many of the commercial sites as they prepare for new systems.  Contacting the companies for demonstration dates would be useful.

Links for some of the commercial providers

Links to resources from the Innovation Fund

Links for TES resources provided by innovation fund winners

Swiss Cottage progression planners 0 to 100 continuum

Durrington High School Solo taxonomy system

Trinity Academy 3 step test system

Hillyfield Primary skills passport

West Exe learning ladders based on Blooms taxonomy

Sirus Academy design and technology

South Farnham Teaching School – standardised testing

Frank Wise Special School


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Creativity : thinking inside the box and embrace the shake

What would you think of someone who said, "I would like to have a cat, provided it barked"?  'The common desire to be creative, provided it's something that can be easily willed or wished, is precisely equivalent.  The thinking techniques that lead to creativity are no less rigid than the biological principles that determine the characteristics of cats.  Creativity is not an accident, not something that is genetically determined.  It is not a result of some easily learned magic trick or secret, but a consequence of your intention to be creative and your determination to learn and use creative-thinking strategies.' Michael Michalko (one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world who, amongst other notable aspects of his life, was contracted by the CIA to facilitate creative thinking.  His book 'ThinkerToys' is an interesting read.)

One of the strategies is summed up beautifully in Phil Hansen's TED talk : Embrace the shake. I could watch this time and again - fascinating.