Learning and Teaching newsletter

The focus at our school is on learning. Every focus at our school is on learning. If we aren’t focussed on learning then what are we doing? We have had some very successful training sessions delivered in-house – Full day INSETs, twilight training, top tips in staff briefing. We also have the very successful Learning and Teaching Communities – every member of staff belongs to one and can share good practice through them and have the chance to carry out peer observations. I felt that something was missing and wanted to have something that was more of a constant presence that joined much of the training together. I set up a blog as a newsletter with the idea of slowly introducing new ideas, reinforcing things we have looked at already and sharing the fantastic stuff that is going on in the school. Here its is:

A little more collaboration, literacy and web 2.0

I was fortunate to spend time with the very talented Tim Rylands this week. Tim ran a session I attended on using ICT to enhance learning. As with any session of this kind, there will always be ideas I’ve already come across but there were some very useful ideas which I could see working well in the classroom. Although many of the applications and ideas are probably more useful in a primary classroom (his incredible use of the game Myst made me feel that I’ve missed out by not teaching primary). The main ideas I will be trying are as follows:

linoit – a virtual post-it note board. I am going to use this for a couple of homeworks this week and will experiment by setting up an on-going board for ideas. This is collaboration at its most simple.

taggalaxy – you really have to see this to appreciate it – you can enter and combine tags to produce a ‘planet’ of images – creative teachers will think of many uses for this. The app pulls the images from flickr.

Tim also spent a fair chunk of time looking at apps that would help with literacy. Some, I have been using for a while but there are others worth mentioning here:





If you like and use Wordle, then you will definitely find the above useful.


Outstanding progress



I ran an inset session this week about moving learning from good to outstanding. I only had an hour which meant I had to think hard about my focus. I decided to base the session on planning an outstanding lesson (not writing an outstanding lesson plan.) The focus was the issue of progress. Nobody is going to be outstanding if they don’t ensure that all students in their class make excellent progress.

Staggered learning objectives have a huge role to play in this. There is nothing worse than seeing a learning objective that reads ‘LO: to complete tasks 1-5′. The ‘All, Most, Some’ approach has been criticised for encouraging students to aim low. This isn’t the way staggered learning objectives should be used – they need to be seen as a ladder – all students should be aiming for the most challenging objective. Some may not reach it but the mistake the teacher needs to avoid is to treat them as individual objectives for different students. I’ve developed the staggered learning objectives into a more detailed ‘ladder of progress’ (see the presentation for an example) for a particular topic (or key question) thus giving more steps for the student to work through to achieve the highest point. What this does is base the whole lesson around the language of progress. Discussions about progress between the teacher and student is far easier when the students have the language of progress in their books as objectives and self-assessment grids. I’ve put the presentation I gave below.

I also used the idea of progress checklists which was taken from John Tomsett’s excellent blog. With some inspiration from Dylan Wiliam (whose book – Embedding Formative Assessment is probably the best book on education I have read this year) on questioning, I focussed on the importance of planning questions in advance of the lesson. Planning good staggered learning objectives and effective questions are the most vital things a teacher can do before the lesson.

[scribd id=112734124 key=key-i94xafinuqpla7ar3kl mode=scroll]

A summary of what staff will hopefully take away from the session:


Independent Learning – what doesn’t it look like?

What does independent learning look like? What it doesn’t look like is students working quietly on their own. What it also doesn’t look like is giving students a six week project and saying “off you go, hand it in in six weeks time.” This post is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to independent learning. It is really a way of me collecting my thoughts and ideas that came from the NQT training session I ran this week.

Many schools are attempting to create independent learners while at the same time seeking to maximise attainment without spoon-feeding the students (thus undermining their ability to work independently.) This is a long battle that must begin in Year 7. Creating independent learners at an early age will pay dividends for them in the long run. Greater engagement and higher achievement are the rewards of independent learning.

What would be the ‘ultimate’ independent learning lesson?

It would be where groups of students choose their own task. Where they would identify a problem, or a challenge or something that engages them. They would then set their own learning objectives (having an acute awareness of the level at which where they were currently working) that were challenging but achievable. The students would then decide on their own method of working – selecting a medium that is most suited to the task they have chosen. The students would decide if separate roles are needed within their group and agree on how those roles will be apportioned. Students would assess their own progress along with that of their group during the course of the task and reframe their objectives in the light of that analysis. The students will know where to get help if they become stuck during their task but will also know that seeking help from the teacher should be the last resort. Students will present their work to a wider audience (thus giving it purpose during its construction) when complete using the medium most suitable in their judgement. Finally, the students will critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their work and reflect on how they could improve their work if they were to do it again. Oh, and the ‘lesson’ will last for five hours. Or maybe 25 hours.

This utopian vision of independent learning is of course some distance from the ‘average’ lesson in a secondary school. However, having established such a vision, we need to think about what we can do as teachers to work towards that vision. Independent learning is a skill and like all skills, requires practice and lots of it. If we are all doing small things regularly in our lessons that work towards that vision then the students will develop those skills. Independent Learning is all about the quality of the planning (not lesson plans!!) Every teacher can read the above, take elements of it and incorporate them into their own lessons.

So what strategies promote independent learning? I’d break it down as follows:

1. Choice

Give students choice around the task, the way they approach it and the way they work, and let them decide how to present or create the ‘final product’ i.e. the work.

2. Purpose

Why are the students producing the work? For you to see and mark? Will all student be motivated to give 100% for that purpose? Despite what you might think, the answer is ‘no.’ Establish a true purpose and students will approach the work in a much more meaningful and resourceful way. Tell the students that their work will be put up in the main corridor or published online. Tell them that you will be filming them for other groups to watch. Invite other staff/students into the classroom to see the final presentations. Tell them that the letters they will be writing will actually be sent off to the local MP (and then really send them!)

3. Collaboration

The students should be working in groups on a regular basis. It should be the norm. It will be the norm when they leave education and start employment. Greater understanding and progress comes from collaboration. Groups have to be carefully set up and structures put in place but given choice and purpose, the students will ‘fly.’

4. Reflection

Reflection should be continuous and part of every learning experience. By reflecting on their work and the strategies employed in producing that work students will develop the kind of independent learning skills we are looking for.

Reflections on the Lazy Teacher

Reading through several pages of scrawled notes this morning from my inset session with Jim Smith on Friday, I wanted to attempt to crystallise some of the more relevant parts (to me) of the event as I see them.

Verbalising learning

I have been thinking a lot this week about students being able to verbalise their own learning and how difficult they find this. Jim made a couple of thoughtful points about getting teachers to verbalise the learning that was going on in the classroom. By creating independent learning activities, the teacher is freed up to approach an observer and explain what learning is taking place in the classroom. I used to be a great believer in producing a lesson plan that showed an observer why the lesson was outstanding (or at least that was my intention). The idea was to allow the observer to ‘tick the boxes’ of the outstanding aspects of the lesson that were not immediately apparent . However, I am becoming more and more convinced that (detailed) lesson plans just aren’t needed. In fact, this fits well with the current Ofsted approach of wanting to see well-planned lessons rather than lesson plans. It is no good creating fabulous independent learning activities then not being able to explain to an observer about the learning that is taking place. So Jim’s idea of the teacher being able to explain what learning will take place over the course of the lesson and how it will manifest itself, really struck home. What is far more important than being able to explain to an observer what is going on in the classroom is that by being able to verbalise the learning, teachers are becoming self-reflective practitioners, they will be far better positioned to design effective learning activities and far more able to share that good practice with colleagues.


Not much to say here except that it was good to see that Jim is also very much an advocate of the power of Twitter, reinforcing what I’ve been saying for the last twelve months.


Again, Jim hit the nail on the head with his comments about marking. He talked about how he had used TIM or Triple Impact Marking. This is where you mark, the student reads and acts on your marking and then you mark again. This process then continues. How much of the marking that we do is actually read by the students, let alone acted upon? Dylan Williams in his excellent book ‘Embedded Formative Assessment‘ suggests that we should strive for a situation where we rarely take any marking home. This ‘utopian’ scenario of zero marking is more achievable than we initially realise. The whole point of formative assessment is that we should be marking during the creation of a piece of work to ensure that the final product is the best that it can be. Therefore where is the best place to mark? During the lesson. How can we do this if we spend the bulk of our time talking at the students? We can’t. More independent learning leads to more time for formative assessment during the lesson (by teacher and students) and less marking at home. I am lucky to be in the situation where we now have 100 minute lessons at my school. The scope for independent learning and less marking at home is therefore even greater.

Jim was awesome by the way – the best full-day inset I have ever been to!


The lazy teacher

My head is spinning after an amazing inset day run by Jim Smith (aka the Lazy Teacher). Jim visited my current school about a year ago, before I began to work there. Having heard many great things about him, I jumped at the chance to see Jim at what has now become my old school today. I’ve been meaning to post the Teaching and Learning policy I wrote at my previous school online for some time but Jim gave me the impetus to do it today when he described it as one of the best T&L policies in the country. I can’t not share it after that!

Here is the section I wrote:

[scribd id=109123236 key=key-2gcdy5wdzab11b8flisw mode=scroll]

I originally wrote this about a year ago. I wanted to create a document that promoted a vision but would not be prescriptive. Having experienced the best ‘guest speaker’ on any inset day I’ve been involved with, I can see how such a policy fits in so well with Jim’s approach.

What is also interesting for me is how the new school I am at has embraced many of Jim’s ideas over the last year as part of its development of teaching and learning. I’ll write about this in my next post.

iPad, airplay and a projector

At last I have found the perfect set-up for using a single iPad in the classroom. I stumbled upon this article explaining how Apple TV can eliminate the need for an interactive whiteboard. The original cables that were given out with the iPads meant that you were tied to the desk where you plugged it in (rendering the whole idea of a portable device useless). However, using this new set-up, I can stream what is on my iPad wirelessly through the projector.

You need an Apple TV box (£99) and a Kanex VGA to HDMI adaptor (£50). I did the first set-up of the Apple TV at home to avoid any problems with the school proxy server. This took just seconds. The box then picked up the school wi-fi immediately when I turned it on in my classroom.

I then just needed to double click the home button on the iPad, swipe the apps line to the right and select the airplay icon (full instructions here). I now have perfect streaming of my iPad (including audio) to my projector.

So how do I see this set-up impacting upon the school?

1. No more need for Interactive Whiteboards – very few people actually use them interactively anyway – all they do is reinforce the teacher-centered, passive learning model that we are striving to move away from. This would also save the school in the region of £1000 per classroom for any future installations or replacements.

2. The teacher will be less inclined to be tied to one spot in the classroom (desk, board or laptop).

3. The iPad can be used a portable visualiser to instantly project from a students desk what they have created (just open up the camera app to project. Alternatively, a picture can be taken and annotated using Skitch for example. I love the idea of a visualiser but the one I have never gets used as it is a pain to turn on, plug in, is not that user-friendly and is at the front on my computer desk. This is where those of you with iPad 3s will have a distinct advantage - the camera is much sharper and produces a better picture here.

4. Lend your iPad to the students (!) or alternatively, invest in more than one device as part of your classroom set-up. This will create a more dynamic learning environment – any device can be switched on to the board using airplay and will simply ‘bump’ off the previous device. there are an infinite number of apps that can be used in this kind of set-up but I’ll save that for a more detailed post in the future.

One note of caution though; you do need a good wi-fi connection in your classroom to avoid lag in the streaming.

This will be the first in a series of posts about how I will be using an iPad in the classroom.

If you have any further ideas about how you have used a similar set-up, I’d love to hear your comments below.


Twilight Training Materials

Here is a copy of the presentation I gave for Wednesday’s training. Beneath it are links to further information and/or the sites for the different resources I covered. Most of the applications are very easy to use and their websites have introductory guides. If anyone is struggling to find their way around one of them, just drop by my room before the end of term and I can help with a demonstration of some sort.




You will need to register at It is free – you wont ever need the paid option. They have recently made the interface a lot simpler and intuitive. The best way to learn how to use it is to just have a play around creating and inserting images. You can search for existing prezis on the site that other users have created. You can also download copies of your presentations in flash format and save onto your computer or memory stick to use offline. Otherwise you will need an internet connection to access your presentations. You cannot edit your presentations offline (this is a paid-for feature.) I have found it a much more engaging way to use presentations in the classroom and have begun to introduce it to students to use too. There is a good guide to creating prezis here. For beginners, there are a set of tutorials here.


I have been using this for a few years now. You will need to register at You will be limited to producing 30 second videos. However, if you register as an educator here then you will get a full acces account for free and will also get a classroom code to give out to students. I have used it in the classroom but the school broadband connection can grind to a halt of lots of students are using it at the same time. I have found it to be most effective when used for a homework. For example, this week, Year 8 students have been showing their films they created as part of their recent Independent Learning Project. Their task was to choose an event or individual from history and create a short film. We had a ‘film show’ in the lesson and the students have been told to post links to their films on the VLE which they have started doing here. I’ve also used Animoto quite a bit to create starters for lessons – something to play when the students first enter the room or are getting settled. There is an excellent help page here to guide you once you have registered on the site.


You will need to register for a teacher account for free here. I have used this as a great way to generate a bit of competition and motivation in the classroom. I have written about it previously here and here.  I have suggested to the creators of Classdojo that they look to introduce some kind of compatibility with Moodle which would mean some of the data collected could feed into our VLE (however, this is probably far more complex to do than I could ever imagine!!)

Study Blue

I have discovered this fairly recently and have been trialling it with my Year 11s. You can create flashcards (or make use of the vast number of cards and questions that are already on the site) and then bulk them together as a revision quiz. You can even add images to your questions. Your students can then access them on their phones or computers to revise their key terms. If the students also register for accounts (you can do this in a lesson perhaps) then you can monitor their progress as they take your quizzes. You can register for an account free here.


Podcasts always seem like a great idea but when it comes to creating them, it has been a bit fiddly. Audioboo has changed that. Audioboo is a way of recording audio and instantly uploading it to the web. You can then link to the recording by pasting the address of it from the Audioboo site to the school VLE. The app can be downloaded to your smartphone which can be used as your recording device or you can record through your internet browser on your laptop or home computer. The Audioboo site is here where you can sign up for free. You can also download the app from Apple’s Appstore or the Android marketplace. Students can even use their own mobile phones to record work and upload links to the school VLE.

Countdown timer

Simple and effective – use this timer on your whiteboard to generate a bit more pace and focus on getting tasks completed during the lesson. You can modify the settings and change the background if you choose.


Again, I’ve written about this before but if you are new to all this ‘technology stuff’ in the classroom, Wordle is a good place to start. You simply have to paste some text into the box and it will create colourful word diagrams for you to use as starters with your students or for wall displays. You can find the site here. You might be prompted to install a plugin for your browser for it to work – if so, just click yes then restart your browser.


Although our Moodle VLE has a function where students can create blogs, there are other web based free blogging services that allow the students to produce much more creative and visually attractive blogs. Students can register a blog for free at either or These can be used in a variety of ways but again, are particularly useful for independent learning and project work. In the past I have got students to use it for creating historical diaries as well as citizenship campaigns. Before asking the students to create a blog I strongly recommend you have a go at creating one yourself so you are in a position to help the students if they need it. There are lots of help guides available at the wordpress and blogger sites including video tutorials.


Wikis are basically areas where students can collaborate to build up a piece of work. One way in which I have used the wiki function of our Moodle VLE this year is to get students to create collaborative glossaries. I’ve done this effectively with Year 12 and Year 10 history groups. When creating courses in Moodle, select the activity menu and choose ‘glossary’ – students can then work together over a period of time to build up a bank of key terms and definitions. they can add to, refine, comment on and even assess each others definitions, while you as moderator can  log in regularly to review their work. My year 12s created this glossary over a six week period purely in their own time; whereas my Year 10s produced this glossary (28 pages of entries!!!) over the course of one lesson (typing far more than they would usually write in the same period of time.)


I was amazed when I mentioned Googledocs to my Year 12s and none of them had heard of it. Basically, anyone with a google account can set up a document and then share it with their peers to collaborate on a piece of work outside of the lesson. My year 12s then set up presentations on Nazi propaganda on and worked on them together over the following week outside of the lesson. Given that we are on the verge of giving google email addresses to all of our students, this collaborative aspect of Google should quickly feed into a new culture of independent learning and collaboration at our school


I probably pick up twenty or thirty new ideas each week because of Twitter. Go to, register and start following people. Finding fellow professionals in education and ‘following’ them will quickly allow you to build up a Personal Learning Network (PLN) from which you will pick up huge numbers of new ideas. There are now at least ten members of staff at our school on Twitter – follow me by searching for @holden_ then have a look through the people I follow to find other people worth following. Useful links include:

Newbie’s guide to twitter

5 ways twitter strengthens a school’s learning community

How to use twitter for teaching and learning

Twitter guide for teachers

If you have any questions or comments about the above, please leave them in the comments box below. Alternatively just e-mail me :)

Using Moodle for Active Learning

I have just introduced my Year 11s to Moodle. We are about 75% through Medicine Through Time unit for the Schools History Project GCSE qualification. I wanted to develop the students ability to answer the 8 mark question from the exam. This is an essay-type question which often requires students to compare the importance of two individuals in history and come to a judgement about their relative importance. Students often fail to actually compare the two and often just explain the importance of one individual. They can end up dropping three marks as a result.

I decided to use the discussion forum function of Moodle. I divided the class into 12 pairs and gave each pair an individual from the history of medicine. The students were then required to participate in a series of online debates with other pairs on a on-to-one basis. Thus we had for example two pairs of students arguing about who was more important – Hippocrates or Pasteur?

The debate took place over two lessons and homework and was set  up to continue for two further weeks with students participating in their own time outside of lessons. In the lessons, each pair had access to a computer for posting their comments and for internet research.

I would be the judge of the debates – winners would be awarded three points and there would be a league table of running score.

The intended advantages of holding a debate in this way were:

1. All students can  participate and I could monitor participation too.

2. Students could take time to research and develop their arguments rather than feeling pressured to say something in immediate response.

3. Responses would be more detailed and less emotional than a face-to-face debate.

4. FtF debates can often be dominated by aggressive, vocal students – not necessarily those with the best arguments.

5. It would develop the students’ skills of independent learning – they can participate in any of the debates at any time they choose.

6. It encourages collaborative skills – students have to work with their partners – often within the same debate thread.

7. The competitiveness of a league table would act as an incentive to participate outside of lessons.

Ultimately the intention was to produce threads in the forum that would show the necessary depth of knowledge along with the analysis needed to get full marks on a GCSE question. There would then be a future lesson where the students practice 8 part exam questions. As well as becoming very knowledgeable on one individual from history, students would have to become experts on the others too if they were to defeat them in debate. (‘Know your enemy’!)


The students threw themselves into the task. Once they had got over the novelty of using Moodle (checking their attendance and sending instant messages), many arguments were put forward in a really powerful way – in a way that I would never have seen if this was a class debate. Many of the boys, who are often better at debating orally, found that they had to consider their responses more thoughtfully. It seemed for all students that the knowledge that I or any other students could read their posts, meant that there was a greater need to post accurate and well argued material.

There was a real excitement and energy in the classroom when the students were working. I had to do very little once I had explained the task. My time was divided between reading and moderating the debates, and listening to students’ animated conversations about which arguments they would use to defeat their opponents. The classroom was noisy but it was the excited noise where you know that real learning is taking place.

It was an absolute pleasure to watch. This is just one example of dozens of debates that took place as a result of the activity:

Picture of Helena Chapman Y11 MTG
Re: Pare vs Hippocrates
by xxxx- Friday, 27 January 2012, 02:46 PM

I think you’ll find that Hippocrates was the greatest person in the history of medicine. He was far greater than anybody else, particularly Pare!!!


Pare had experience in developing what he had done, and if he was not in the army, he may not have developed ligatures, and his ointments.


Whereas Hippocrates was an individual genius. He sought and investigated to find an alternative to spirtual thinking. He realised that there could be a link between illnesses and rational causes. His work was followed for hundreds of years, which shows just how signifcant he is.


Take that if you can!

Picture of Kirby Treadwell Y11 SJP
Re: Pare vs Hippocrates
by xxxx- Friday, 27 January 2012, 04:27 PM

hippocrates may have been the founder of rational thinking, and his work may have been followed for hundreds of years… but that’s exactly the problem with it. The fact that his work was followed for so long… even though it was COMPLETELY WRONG was a massive hinderence to the development of medicine and studying cause and cure. People were adamant that hippocrates was right so wouldnt look for any further possibilities. He also didnt really save any lives, any he did would have been pure coincidence, pare however saved an enormous number of lives, stopping people from getting infected and stopping blood loss in surgery, this was a massive step.

Picture of Helena Chapman Y11 MTG
Re: Pare vs Hippocrates
by xxxx - Sunday, 29 January 2012, 06:57 PM

But, Hippocrates was very influential in what he did. You could argue that because his work was wrong, it led to people questionning and coming up with better solutions, in which case Hippocrates would have saved lives. You could also that Hippocrates is still saving lives today, with his method of recording, observing and diagnosing, which si what doctors do today. They are copying EXACTLY the same principals of Hippocrates.


Not only this, but octros today, in the 21st centurt still have to say the Hippocratic Oath. Pare doens’t have his own oath.

Picture of Ellie Nicholson Y11 RCT
Re: Pare vs Hippocrates
by xxxx- Monday, 30 January 2012, 12:18 PM

‘You could argue that because his work was wrong, it led to people questionning and coming up with better solutions’


but it did not lead to people questioning it and coming up with better solutions, Hippocrates’ word was taken as gospel for thousands of years, right up to the middle ages meaning that people were being led blindly into random cures of diseases based on the time of year. This was ridiculous and prevented the cures of many diseases.


Yes his oath may still be used today but that is not a direct result of Hippocrates and his work, doctors are simply swearing to look at things logically, whilst Hippocrates could be called the pioneer of doing this, he is not the only one and many, better, doctors have been doing it since.

Picture of Helena Chapman Y11 MTG
Re: Pare vs Hippocrates
by xxxx - Monday, 30 January 2012, 12:26 PM

He may not be the only one, but it is by his example that everyone followed. Because of him other people are now doing this. Why else would it be called the Hippocratic oath if it is not a direct result of his work. This oath shows that doctors are swearing to follow in the steps of Hippocrates, by treating patients in a logical, natural way, and seeking the best for their patients, just as Hippocrates was doing.

The reason why Hippocrates was followed for hundreds of years is because of his individual genius. He was different to everybody else, and approached it in a new method. He was focussed on finding a relevant cure. People wanted to copy these principals. They trusted him fully, which is a great attribute to have as a doctor. This shows just how influential and great he is.

I can forgive the odd spelling and grammar mistake – having to poof read every post would have taken some of the energy out of the exercise. Obviously, some of the famous individuals were easier to argue a stronger case for than others. However, it has taught students the value of research and historical knowledge as well as making them more prepared for this type of question in their forthcoming exam. These were year 11 students. My next task will be to try something like this with Year 7 students and attempt to develop their online debating skills at an earlier age.
The debate is still running but I will use Moodle to set up a questionnaire to get feedback from the Year 11s on this way of learning. I suspect it will be positive – I’ve already had one student who said ‘for the first time, I’ve actually really enjoyed history’. Not sure whether I should take that as a complement though ….