Sunday, 28 December 2014


I have read a few of these posts over the last few days which started to make me think about my year which has certainly been eventful professionally and personally. As per the guidelines, I will write about 5 positive things that happened this year and then 5 wishes for 2015 (if I have this wrong, apologies).

Positives in 2014

1. Coming Out of Hospital
In late January, I started to feel unwell. After visiting my GP for blood tests, I was sent straight to hospital. This led to nearly three weeks of tests and investigations including CT Scans, liver biopsy, lymph node biopsy, ultrasound as the consultants tried to decide what was wrong with me. They still don't know although one nurse suggested that I may end up in a medical textbook! The day I was told I could go home was one of profound joy and relief as it was putting a massive strain on my wife (her horse died while I was in hospital) and the ward I was on was pretty grim to say the least. I am still under investigation but I am also still here so that's good.

2. Our School Performing Well During OfSted
I am lucky enough to work with a fantastic team of people. When our school was placed into RI las February (2013), the whole team decided that we didn't want that and we worked incredibly hard on the things that mattered right up until the next inspection this June. It was great to see everyone's efforts rewarded and have our school recognised for having made such rapid progress by OfSted. HMI now send other schools to us as an example of how a school can move quickly out of RI.

3. My Son Being Allowed to Go To China with School
My son is in Year 5. He struggles with his behaviour. When we applied for him to go to China with school, I was told by the Deputy Head that his behaviour would have to improve massively if the school were going to take him. Fair enough, as far as I was concerned. To Ewan's credit, he has made a massive effort to improve his behaviour and on 16th December, the Deputy Head told me that he had improved enough to go. His behaviour is not perfect and we still have a lot of work to do to help him with it. It will be the opportunity of a lifetime for him and he is beyond excited. He goes at the end of March 2015.

4. Getting Involved With Twitter
This started properly in January after attending the Literacy Shed Conference where I first met Rob Smith , Lee Parkinson and Mat Sullivan in person. I was introduced to the power of Twitter at this conference and have not looked back. I have written a separate post about how Twitter has changed my professional life which you can read if you have time. It has been a revelation for me and I am sure it will continue to be as great resource in 2015.

5. Working With Alan Peat
I have attended some of Alan's courses throughout my teaching career and have always found his work incredibly useful. This year I have had the opportunity to work with him which has been very exciting and rewarding professionally. I have also bee luck enough to get to know him and consider him a friend.

Wishes For 2015

1. To Stay Healthy
In 2015, I intend to make some changes to my lifestyle in an effort to ensure I don't return to hospital and so that I feel healthier. I am going to start playing football again regularly (I am not very good but I love it). I am also going to explore the beautiful place in which I live more thoroughly. Finally, I want to learn to cook as this will help my wife with her work/life balance.

2. Continue to Work On Projects That Interest/Excite me
I hope to be able to continue to work with Alan on a variety of projects. Also I have a couple ideas for a book that I would like to get on with.

3. Achieve ICT Mark For Our School
Hopefully, I will be able to make some serious headway into this as I believe that the process will help our staff members become more confident in using technology to enhance learning.

4. Organise A Teachmeet 
I would like to organise a day long teachmeet where teachers can come to discuss and share ideas for delivering the new computing curriculum.

5. Learn Italian
Italian is a language I have always wanted to learn so 2015 seems as good a time as any to start now that I have a less stressful work role.

That's it from me. I hope 2015 is a happy, healthy and successful year for you too!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Foreground and Background Retention

Having read the fascinating blog post by David Didau (@LearningSpy) Revisiting Lost Learning by Gerald HaighI started to think about learning and retention and how the retention of new information can differ depending on the length of time after it has been initially learnt.

This led me to the idea of foreground and background retention.

Foreground retention is where information is easily retrievable from the brain. Foreground retention would occur immediately after learning something. One example is in the classroom where the teacher teaches a new concept to his or her class. This concept is in foreground retention while the students practise during that lesson. It could still be in foreground retention for a while afterwards. Another situation is when students are cramming for exams. They place information into foreground retention for long enough to enable them to succeed in their exams but not for very long after. I suppose the key for teachers is to attempt to keep as much information and skills in foreground retention as possible.

Once information/skills have left foreground retention, they move into background retention. This is a situation where as David puts it, people 'know they know it' but are unable to retrieve it easily. This information is not lost, it is sitting dormant, waiting to be brought back into foreground retention. In order to bring skills/information from background retention into foreground retention, it has to be directly re-visited in some way. As Haigh explains, it can be re-learnt quicker than if it were  being learnt for the first time.

Many people say that information they learnt to be able to pass exams was forgotten pretty much as soon as they had finished the exams. In fact Michael Rosen said as much when commenting on a blog post by David Didau. I would suggest that what is happening is that this information being learnt for the purpose of exams merely moves from foreground retention to background retention once the exams have finished.

I am not suggesting that I am breaking any new ground here. I am merely trying to make sense of what is a fascinating concept which has been, as always, eloquently examined and explained by David Didau.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Fun Not Included

There has been some debate on the Twittersphere as to whether children should have fun in their lessons. My feeling on the subject has always been that fun is a happy by-product in a lesson but the prime focus must always be on learning. If the children have fun and learn nothing then what is the point of employing a professional teacher to teach them. If the children's learning is moved forwards and they have some fun then great. If the children's learning moves forward and they don't have fun - so what - our primary job is to teach them things.

One of my worries with the fun thing is that it is exhausting to maintain. It is not humanly possible to plan 'fun' lessons every day of every week. Sometimes children need to just get on with something and/or practise quietly. Planning of lessons should always start with the intended outcome. Then activities should be planned that are the most effective way to deliver these outcomes.

Also, defining fun is a tricky issue. To some children charging around the classroom in groups, writing things on posters is a fun lesson. To others, using an iPad or other device is fun. To others, working quietly on their own practising something that has been explained to them well is very enjoyable. Which of these approaches is best? Well that comes down to which one has the biggest impact on the children's learning.

The British Army is the best trained and possible most effective fighting force in the world. However, I am not sure that the new recruits going through basic training would describe it as fun. Yet they most certainly learn a lot. This was brought home to me in the recent TV series about Royal Marine training. It is tough, uncompromising and I would never describe it as fun. However, the Royal Marines are extremely highly regarded around the world for their skills.

Jackie Chan, the famous actor and martial arts expert, attended the China Drama Academy which was set up to prepare children for life in the Peking Opera. This involved lots of acrobatic skills including martial arts as well as singing and dancing. If you asked Jackie whether he had fun while studying there, I am sure that he would reply in the negative. Discipline at the school was very severe and students were regularly beaten or given other physical punishments if they made mistakes.

Footballers such as David Beckham and Eric Cantona used to stay behind after training to practise and perfect free kicks. I doubt that they would see this as fun but it was the best way for them to improve their skills.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that I am not worried about whether children I teach are having fun. Rather, I am worried about whether they are making enough progress over time. As a result, my opinion on fun is changing. Now I am not sure it matters at all.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Teaching E-Safety From A Parent's Perspective

I had a discussion the other night on Twitter with @FarrowMr about the importance of teaching computing in primary schools. He is of the opinion that the only really important aspect to teach is E-Safety. While I don't agree about the lack of importance of other areas, I do agree that teaching children about E-Safety is vital. This was brought home to me in a very real way recently.

Previously in our school, E-Safety was something that was taught to the children once a year for an hour in a fairly dry manner using the same video from the ThinkYouKnow website. The video is a useful resource but it had become like chewing gum for too long as far as the children were concerned.

This year I have taken on a new role which involves leading computing as well as teaching it to all the classes in KS2. The thought of watching this video another eight times makes me want to stick pins in my eyes!  As I am lucky enough to have been given some autonomy regarding how I deliver the new computing curriculum, I decided to change the way I approached the teaching of E-Safety.

First of all, I have changed the frequency that it is taught. To me, it is a little like teaching maths in real-life contexts as in it shouldn't be taught as an add-on at the end of a week's work. Instead it should be something that is taught as an on-going process so that the children practise the principles of E-Safety whenever they are working on-line. I now teach half-termly E-Safety sessions focussing on different aspects of E-Safety. However, whenever the children are working on something that requires them to be online, I will do a short reminder of that half-term's focus. This helps to embed the message.

With Year 6, I decided to take a slightly different slant on E-Safety this half-term. The focus was cyber-bullying. Rather than come at from the usual 'What would you do if you were being bullied?' angle, I decided to flip it by asking them to imagine that they were the parent of a Year 5 child who they thought was being cyber-bullied.  To spark discussion, I showed them a short animation from the website  To my delight, a very mature discussion ensued with all manner of practical suggestions ranging from 'asking my child's friends if they had noticed anything' to 'I would look for changes in how they behave, like if they became sadder'.

The children really took the idea onboard maybe because I had given them a sense of greater maturity by asking them to act in the role of a parent. This discussion led us into designing a 'Parent's Guide To Cyberbullying' using an app of their choice. The results reflected the quality of the discussion. For resources for teaching e-safety try the following :