Independent Learning: Three Top Tips


Why is independent learning so important?

Top students often go beyond what they’ve been asked to do when it comes to producing extended pieces of work, especially if given the chance to conduct research. It’s a virtuous circle, helping students become top students and then because they are top students they continue to learn independently as that is now their new ‘normal’ expectation. Depth and frequency of independent learning typically lead to better results in formal assessments. So the question is, how do we get the rest of the students to conduct independent learning?

Below are three handy tips you can use to encourage students to engage in independent learning.


1. Guide your students

Most students don’t use independent learning to complement the required tasks they are given. One reason is that sometimes they can’t be bothered. However, many students can’t be bothered because they haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. One thing you can do for them is to provide a simple and unintimidating list of sources they can use for specific topics. Break it down to page numbers and even paragraphs if need be, just to get them started. You could give the students this menu of options at the beginning of each topic, each term, or as I’ve done, at the beginning of the year to glue onto the inside cover of their folders.

Choice is important too. If the students feel as though they can pick whichever source they like, they will feel a greater sense of ownership over their learning – this is well documented as a way to boost engagement. Not only that but students offered a choice may consider a range of alternatives before finally deciding upon a source to use – this enhances their skills of evaluation (in a sneaky sort of way).

2. Choose your sources carefully

If independent learning is not a common feature of your class, then ease yourself into it. Don’t pick a stack of weighty titles from the bookshelf, or the top ten ranked pages on Google – the students won’t thank you for it and will most likely just not read it.

Instead, choose two or three easy-to-access resources and not necessarily written ones either – YouTube is brilliant, so are Vimeo and Slideshare. Students who have conducted independent learning before are much more likely to do it again, compared with students who have never done it before. Remove the barrier to starting independent learning by making it less demanding first round.

3. Set your expectations and monitor them

Students must know that independent learning is not an optional extra, but a required part of the course. The difference with a set piece of homework is that the student gets to choose what, when and how they use the independent learning material.

How do you know they’ve done it? At the bottom of the options menu create a box where they can write down each time they’ve used one of the sources. You could even give a termly reward for those who have made the best use of the menu, or who have shown greatest improvement. Make it meaningful to them and they will adopt it.

I would love to know how you promote independent learning in your classes. Send me a message!

Also, if you want to see an example of a menu that I’ve used then leave your email address below and I’ll send you a free copy.


Teaching for the Future

Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!

Thus began my Friday afternoon a few months ago. A group of A Level students were finalising some revision for their final exam on Philosophy of Religion. They had been learning the content for months by this point and had no problem with the main elements of the theories. However, now that the exam season was almost upon them, the students were beginning to feel frustrated, scared and annoyed by the fact that they hadn’t quite mastered everything quite yet and time was running out. Fear and frustration when it comes to exams is commonplace amongst students and it often leads them to ask why they are studying the subject in the first place. I don’t have a stock response, but I’ll try to flesh out some of my thoughts a little here.

How do we prepare students to work in industries that do not yet exist?

When students reach a certain point, they choose a range of subjects to continue learning, either because they enjoy them, or because they see those subjects as valuable in some other way, such as getting a job in a given industry. But how do we guide our students to make good choices for the future when we haven’t a clue about industries that don’t exist yet? Not only that, but what if students pick subjects related to one industry, but then after a few years of employment they want to move out of that industry? Many people have been left high and dry due to a lack of alternative career paths related to their education and skills.

Below I’ve given the five areas that we educators should focus on, in combination with high quality subject content, so that our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities that will come their way when they leave school.

  1. Critical thinking skills
  2. Problem solving skills
  3. Teamwork
  4. Project management
  5. Self-directed learning

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Skills

Making wise choices does not come naturally to many students. They have neither the skills, the experience nor the patience, in many cases, to truly examine an issue in depth. This is a quality that is earned through practice, so we should try to give students as many opportunities to practice as we can. I find that beginning a lesson with an open question, such as “Assess how far…”, “To what extent does…” and revisiting the question every 10-15 minutes from a new angle, helps students to develop their critical thinking skills. Top tip – get them used to making a case for something and then arguing in defence of it whilst other students pick holes in their arguments. They will love it!

Problem Solving Skills

All businesses require their founders and employees to have problem solving skills. That is how they make money – they identify a problem that someone has and they charge for the solution. Even within their own companies they will encounter problems, be it with processes, products or people. In lessons, I try to simulate scenarios where solving a problem is the main focus of the activity. It could be done as a role play, as a Dragon’s Den episode, etc – whatever works for your subject!

The Future


Most employees work in teams to complete goals. They usually have individually defined roles within their teams, but in order to work effectively they must collaborate. This was a prominent feature of a previous post of mine – There’s no “I” in iPad. I build collaboration into most of my lessons in some way, shape or form. The crucial thing to remember though, is that each individual must know what their own role is and why they are collaborating, as opposed to working individually. Understanding the value of collaboration will only serve to help students adopt it willingly.

Project Management

A key feature of managerial positions in most companies and for independent entrepreneurs, is the ability to manage projects effectively. This isn’t usually a key feature of most curriculums though, so if we want our students to succeed further up the career ladder, then we should at the very least lay the foundations for them whilst they are with us. Setting students projects that require a number of different tasks to be completed, simultaneously and using a range of resources will help simulate the world they will enter after school.

Self-Directed Learning

Learning doesn’t finish when you leave school. However you typically won’t have someone around to teach you what you need to know once you’ve left. This is why its vitally important to be taught, whilst at school, the value of and some methods of independent, self-directed study. I try to implement self-directed study for each of my classes at least once a term, on something beyond their typical homework tasks.

Examples have included:

  • learn from scratch how to create a movie trailer on an iPad
  • find a good YouTube video that teaches you about Asimov’s laws of robotics and evaluate what makes the video “good”
  • use to create a list of the best revision sites for studying and revising for your AS Religious Ethics paper. Use one of the sites to create a mini-revision guide for a topic of your choice.


Oh, and in answer to my student’s question, “Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!”, I replied, “You already are one!

I’d love some feedback on my post, so if you have any thoughts on something I’ve mentioned, or if you’ve noticed that I’ve missed something out then please leave a comment below.

Goodbye to Grades?


Does having the grade or level written on an assessed piece of work help or hinder progress of students? Many schools in the UK and across the world are beginning to adopt “comment only” marking policies, claiming greater success than with traditional “grading” methods. This week I want to consider the pros and cons of each.

Why we grade work

Students like to know how well they have done, so that they can compare themselves to their targets and to their peers. It gives them a clear idea of how hard they need to work in the future to maintain or improve upon their current performance.

Schools like to know where to place students against their targets, so that they can assess the quality of the education they provide, in order to maintain and drive up standards over time.

Parents like to know what grades their children have achieved as it helps them to assess the quality of their school provision and enables them to plan for additional support at home if needed.

Conclusion: Grading works! So why would anyone decide to change it?


Pitfalls of grading

Increasingly, evidence from studies around the world have demonstrated that a “comment only” marking policy is more likely to influence a student’s future study habits than a “grade only” or “comment and grade” system. This seems counter-intuitive. Surely, if a student is given more information about their performance then they will perform better in the future? Unfortunately not – they tend to forget about the comments made by the teacher and focus solely on the grade. This takes their focus away from the clear guidance on how to improve and replaces the guidance with a label.

Labeling is often very useful, as it helps us quickly identify and categorise things. However, when we give a grade, we hang it around a student’s neck like a name badge for the lesson. This can have demotivating consequences for them in the future. If they have done well, they won’t feel as though they need to try harder. If they haven’t done well then the grade won’t tell them how to improve (remember – seeing the grade will cause them to ignore most of the written feedback).

Grading is also not always helpful when our assessments are largely formative. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the feedback process is a never-ending one. In contrast, grades are so “final”. They don’t necessarily tell us what grade a student is currently working at, as progression is not linear – it goes up and down over time (but hopefully more up than down).

So, what is better about “comment only” marking?

“Comment only” marking requires students to evaluate the standard of their work, using the guidance you’ve given, helping them to plan for their own progress. For many students, when they see a “B” grade, they think that that will do (and they may even be right!) However, they might not understand how they achieved that grade, particularly in subjects where assessment is done via extended writing tasks. If they don’t know how they achieved the “B” grade, then they are not in a good position to repeat or improve upon that success later on. “Comment only” marking offers a solution to this, by showing students specific things they can do, to achieve marks in specific areas.


Tips on “comment only” marking

  • Be focused. You don’t need to comment on everything – choose the points that will make the most significant difference to the student’s work (probably not spelling in the majority of subjects)
  • Be specific – don’t write “add more detail here”, do write “explain why Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church”
  • Make positive comments as well as negative ones – e.g. “thorough explanation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave”
  • Use the language of the exam board (if appropriate), to help students understand how to show greater quality next time – e.g. “compare this theory to the theories you studied earlier in the course – which is more persuasive and why?”

I’d like to challenge you to have a go at “comment only” marking (where previously you would have included a grade) over the next few weeks. See what differences it makes to students in one class and let me know what you’ve found. 

Leave your comments in the box below.

Why we shouldn’t be afraid of receiving feedback from students

Thumbs Up and Down

I’m not the perfect teacher. I get at least one thing wrong every day, often at least once a lesson and frequently more often than that. Having said that, I think I still do a decent job of teaching my students. They make the progress expected of them, behave well towards each other, develop their skills and confidence and by the end of the year they are a lot better than they were at the beginning of the year.

But that’s just a snapshot, one that is easy to take in the summer term. It doesn’t reflect the hard work that has gone into ensuring that the students are staying on track and making the most of their opportunities. In this week’s post I want to talk about how I’ve approached my own professional development, to refine my teaching little by little over time.

What my friend was getting wrong

I have a friend who teaches at another school (its honestly not me, although if it was then it would explain a lot!). He was asked at the end of his Induction year, to create a student evaluation questionnaire, in order that he could develop his teaching methods for the following September. He was doing well and was not under any significant pressure to change anything, so was free to design questions in any way he felt appropriate. However, he made a crucial mistake – he thought he was a great teacher and he thought the students shared his view of himself – so his questionnaire became more about confirming his own biases than about gathering new data.

Questions included:

  • Why do I enjoy Mr X’s lessons?
  • What should other teachers do that Mr X does?
  • Does Mr X always want me to try my best?

The results, predictably, were not very useful for two major reasons. Firstly, several of the questions did not allow students to say in detail what they really wanted to say. Secondly, several of the questions put words in the students’ mouths that they would not have used, had the question been asked in a more objective way. This did not create honest feedback, which was the entire point of the exercise.

Full of pride, my friend handed the results to his Mentor, who in a matter of moments dismissed the results. She told him to go back and do it again properly, but this time he should create a set of questions that were less about confirming pre-conceived notions about himself and were more about looking for ways to improve his teaching.


Round 2

Mr X still figured he had nothing to lose, being the fantastic teacher that he believed he was, so he created a much more objective set of questions. They included fewer yes/no answers, giving more multiple choice ones instead. He also threw in some very open-ended questions, allowing the students to write whatever they wanted. After all, he had nothing to fear!

The results were much more useful this time, but not for the reasons Mr X expected. He thought that the students would again confirm his biases, but this time in their own words. They didn’t. Instead, they showered him with abuse! At least that’s how he felt. They used phrases like:

  • He just stands at the front and tells us what to do then just expects us to know how to do it when we don’t get it.
  • He does the same activities all the time.
  • He tells us things that aren’t relevant for the exam.
  • He only talks to the smart students or the naughty ones. I just get left out.
  • We never do group work.
  • He only does interesting lessons when other teachers are watching.


The Comeback King

To his credit, Mr X didn’t dwell too long on the feedback, although he did allow it to ruin a perfectly good weekend. He showed his Mentor the results on Monday and this time she laughed. “Well what were you expecting them to say? Did you think they were your friends? That they wouldn’t dare hurt your feelings? Or did you think that nobody else in the school was as good a teacher as you?”

What would you do in his position? Here’s some advice I gave him (admittedly I heard or read it somewhere – I can’t take full credit for it) and that I keep reminding myself of, whenever I receive feedback from students, whether I’ve asked for it or not!


1. Step back

It’s very easy to believe your own hype or to take criticism personally. When you are given feedback, imagine that it is not about you, but that it is about someone else and you are tasked with giving them advice on how to respond to the feedback. This is tough and in some cases it might even help to wait a day or two after receiving the feedback, so that you can regain a good sense of perspective.

2. Choose your battles

Often its the little victories that help make the biggest difference. Chose two or three points to work on and set yourself a date in the near future to achieve them by. Short term is crucial – you need a quick victory at the start, or you could begin to start believing you “aren’t worthy” or that you can’t fix the problems that were so helpfully pointed out by your students. Once you’ve won some quick and easy battles, begin to choose some more challenging ones – but give yourself the right amount of time to address them. Again though, always give yourself as short a timescale as you can afford – do not dwell on the problem!

3. Check your solutions

Don’t we always tell our students to do this? We might be tempted not to here because its scary. But how will we know if we’ve addressed the problem correctly , unless we test ourselves again? You can use the same questions again, or us a slightly modified set if that would encourage better quality or more useful answers. Just don’t fall into the trap of confirming biases again. Just because you addressed the problem, it doesn’t mean that it is fixed – you might have just highlighted a different problem!

4. Repeat stages 1-3

Feedback is an eternal process, not a conclusion. We should embrace that idea and keep looking for small, winnable battles, so that over time we can refine our teaching. If we want our students to love learning and to not fear failure then we must walk that journey with them.

How to Engage Boys

Boys vs Girls

What’s the issue with boys?

“Boys are treated like defective girls”, so says psychologist and author Michael Thompson. I think he’s right. Boys are frequently compared to girls with regards to results, classroom behaviour, the standard of work produced and neatness of presentation. Many boys fail to perform as well in these areas,  leading to poor performance in formal examinations where it counts the most.

Are boys just not as good as girls? Or is the system unfairly rigged to favour girls over boys? Let’s see.

Myth: “all boys are the same”

Not true! Just look at the last group of boys you taught and their wide spectrum of attributes. Boys are often excitable, creative, loud and headstrong. However, there are quiet boys too, who lack confidence, struggle creatively and who seem distant when you try to engage them. There are even quiet boys who are incredibly confident and loud boys who are overcompensating due to their own perceived weaknesses. It is often difficult to decide which “category” they fit into. However, the real challenge for educators is to move away from “categorising” boys at all but to understand how differently WE treat them.

So what’s the solution? Should we just train the boys to be like the girls?

The problem with boys and girls…

Boys in Secondary Education typically read less often and consequently fewer books than girls – particularly fiction books. Why is this? Is it because boys don’t enjoy reading? No. Is it a lack of quality authors writing for male audiences? No. Its more complex than that.

Girls are often brought up in a different way to boys. Their toys and games, typically, are different. The characters and story-lines in the cartoons they watch are different. The roles they are expected to play, due to their genders are different. This causes a knock-on effect: at school when boys and girls are given the same task to do, they will naturally approach it in different ways, due to the way they have been conditioned by their upbringing.

Boys vs Girls Toys

The consequence…

Girls are often more collaborative in their approach to tasks, seeking guidance and support, constantly engaging in a feedback loop with their peers and teachers. Girls are encouraged to do this.

Conversely, boys are often more solitary, waiting until they have completed a task (to whatever standard) to then present their finished product to others for feedback. Once given feedback, boys then get on with solitary work again. Boys are not encouraged by fellow boys, nor do they seek encouragement. The need for support is perceived by boys as a weakness.

Girls are also better prepared for tasks involving empathy, evaluation of evidence and being diplomatic, as those skills are built into the types of “play” activities they participated in when they were younger. Have you ever witnessed a dolls tea party? Compare that scene to a boy smashing a Lego house with a dinosaur. Which skills do you think will benefit those children in a formal examination? Boys are expected to grow up to be brave, resilient, confident leaders who take no prisoners. These are useful traits in many areas but are less so in formal examinations.

The solution is threefold!

1. Stop valuing “girly” attributes over “boyish” attributes

Let’s face it, in most cases neither of those terms are used in a positive way. However, we educators often forget that stories about aliens destroying a football stadium can have as much literary value as a love poem. We arbitrarily celebrate the types of media that girls tend to gravitate towards and we negatively stereotype the media that boys gravitate towards. The result is that boys become used to hearing that certain things they value are worthless. They might love pirate stories, but after being told that they shouldn’t read them all the time, they eventually stop reading, because they aren’t interested in reading anything else. They lose interest in their favourite things and many lose interest in general.

2. Competition?


Boys often love competition. However, this is also a lazy stereotype. Some boys hate it and would rather work collaboratively, rather than in an adversarial way. Not only that but as I wrote earlier, boys need to learn the skills of collaboration in our classrooms, as they often won’t be taught this in their “home” environment. Be patient with boys here, it won’t come as naturally as it does with girls – the boys haven’t had anywhere near as much practice! Competition is great for many boys, but include opportunities for collaboration within the competitive environment too.

3. Feedback loops

Feedback Conversations

Feedback is crucial. The earlier in their lives that boys learn to give and accept feedback, without any fear of perceived weakness, the better they will perform and the faster they will progress. The feedback must be a continual process like a conversation – not just an event at the end of a piece of work. By then, the feedback is too late in some respects. Once boys are able to use the feedback process more naturally, they will begin to be able to develop deeper self-evaluation skills too. This will help narrow the gap between boys and girls.

Any thoughts…?

I’d love some feedback on what you think of this post, your experiences of teaching boys, or what you’d like me to write about in future. Drop me a comment on my contact page!

Getting Students to Revise Effectively

Exam Stress

“Little Jimmy just isn’t good at exams…”

In an ideal world, we would plan a sequence of lessons, teach it according to the plan and little Jimmy would demonstrate every last thing you’ve taught him when it came to the examination. Unfortunately though, this isn’t an ideal world and for many reasons we deviate from our initial plans. Add to this the fact that Jimmy is burdened with huge volumes of information to recall, analyse and evaluate. Critically, Jimmy just does not seem to “test well”, even when under less formal conditions he demonstrates deep understanding and applies skills effectively. Houston we have a problem! But is there a solution?

Below I’ve identified the four key factors , in my own teaching experience, which have had the most significant positive impact on revision and consequently on examination success

1. Prioritise key topics 


In any given exam, the question setters want the candidates to demonstrate mastery of particular topics and skills. The questions they have asked in the past are usually* a good guide to what they will expect students to know in the future, so plan accordingly. If, for example, an examination board had set out eight topics for students to learn, but had only asked questions about seven of them so far, then that might be a trigger to focus particularly on the only unexamined topic as a priority. So, throughout the sequence of lessons that you plan, ensure that there is some extra time devoted to topics/skills that:

  • Cross over into a number of different examination questions
  • Look like they are more likely to come up this time
  • Previous students have struggled with in past examinations.

*Warning: trying to guess the questions in advance is a risky strategy. Sometimes it pays dividends, but it can also lead to damaging outcomes too, if other examination content is not also revised thoroughly.

2. How to not run out of time 


Timing in examinations is frequently used by students as a reason for underperformance. However, in the majority of cases that I’ve witnessed it doesn’t really stand up to any level of scrutiny. Most of the students who cite “timing” as the reason for not finishing a paper actually spent a lot of their time in the exam writing nothing, because they were struggling to recall information. This is not a timing issue, but a memory issue.

3 methods for memorising key pieces of content include:

  • Peer Q&A – students pair up and test each other using quickfire questions
  • Cue cards – on one side students write out 3-5 bullet points summarising a topic. They do this for a number of topics, then hand them over to someone else, who will test their memory of the key bullet points.
  • Jigsaws – students create a 3×3 grid. On one side of each line they write out a statement, keyword, case study, scholar, quote, etc. On the other side of each line, they write out a corresponding statement, definition, case study conclusion, theory name, etc. On the outer parts of the grid they can write down some red herrings, so that when it has all been cut out, they will find completing the grid more of a challenge. The higher the level of challenge, the more active the brain will be and consequently the more likely that students will be able to recall the information quickly enough.

3. Practise, practise, practise

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is the 100m world record holder. How did he become this? Clue: he didn’t just spend all of his time reading about running, drawing diagrams about running, creating calendars about when he will run in the future and watching other people run. He practised running. Over and over and over and over. Bolt knew that in order to ensure success on the day when it counted the most, he would have to work just as hard on days when it (seemed like it) counted the least. He will have “failed”, by his own standards, on so many of those practise runs that it would make many runners give up. However, he just saw these failures as another way not to do things on race day. Gradually, he cut out these mistakes and by the end of his training, he didn’t make errors anymore. He trained hard, so that the race would be easy. Many of his competitors will have trained easy, but predictably their race was too hard.

4. Routine

Exam Day Routine

Top performers in all professions have something in common. They typically have a morning routine during their training, which doesn’t change on the day when they need to perform under pressure at the highest level. This is true for athletes, politicians, soldiers, singers, entrepreneurs, actors, etc, etc.

Far in advance of the examination, give students an opportunity to reflect on their own morning routine and to evaluate its advantages and disadvantages with regards to their performance later in the day. Having students do this on a regular basis will help them find their own routine which works for them. Once they find their routine, encourage students to stick to it as closely as possible, particularly on the day of their examination.

In my own experience, students have benefited from this, as they approach examination day. Fear of the unknown is the worst of all. But if we can our get students to reflect about every minute of their day, then some of that fear will dissipate – some students might even just see examination day as just a normal day like every other. After all, they aren’t doing anything differently.


Please share this post with other educators – this is the “business end” of the academic year and we all need all the help we can get!


There’s no “I” in iPad


Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Students love using technology in the classroom. Not just because it makes a change from pens and paper and not because its “less work” than other traditional methods. They enjoy using technology because it’s what they do outside of the classroom – they are “digital natives”. Student use apps, video-streaming, social media, etc, 24/7. They know within seconds that a sports star has signed a new contract, that a spoiler for a film has gone public, or that a celebrity has just been photographed doing something exciting.

Students receive the information, evaluate whether they like it or not, share it with others and comment on vital pieces of that information at length. Media outlets and tech companies are streets ahead of many schools in the way they deliver content. If we want to increase engagement and demonstrate relevance to our students, then we must find a vehicle for content delivery that is just as immersive as the student experience beyond the classroom.

To some educators this thought can be daunting, particularly for those who aren’t too tech-savvy. But if you are already reading this blog (and hopefully signed up to the email subscription!) then I’m probably preaching to the choir. There are devices and apps for everything you can imagine, with more and more being released every week.

Online Collaboration

Here is a handy, practical guide to some ways you can use some of the free technology, to complement and enhance your existing teaching methods.

1. Content Delivery

YouTube: Film an explanation or demonstration. Students can use this to learn key information at the beginning of a topic, revise for a test, evaluate their own work or the work of others. May require more than one take – but fantastic as a permanent revision resource for students to use at home!

Explain Everything: Copy text and images into the templates in the Explain Everything app and let it create an animated presentation to show to students. Easy!

2. Presenting

iMovie: Students can research information about a whole topic and create a movie trailer based on their research. My students created a disaster movie trailer, based on research they had done on the causes and effects of global warming and humanity’s response to it. They loved watching each other’s and can still remember a great deal.

WordPress: I’ve already posted about my (not so secret) love of blogging, but I’ll keep doing it until we’ve all had a go! Seriously, why not? (Top tip: post a link to an article, then tell students that their homework is to submit a short response – but they can’t repeat anything another student has already mentioned. They will all try to complete their homework as soon as possible, rather than leaving it to the last-minute!)

3. Collaboration

Dropbox: Students can work remotely from each other and drop files into the same shared space. It syncs in real-time too, so they can see how each other is editing their project. Brilliant if students are all contributing via mobile devices with limited access to a hard-drive.

Twitter: Write a tweet (a comment no longer than 140 characters), include a # (hashtag for those of you still living in 2006) and tell your students to follow (search for) that # and tweet their reply, making sure to include the # within their reply. Excellent for sharing online content and debating it beyond the classroom.


What do these technologies have in common?

The clue is in the Vanilla Ice quote at the top of the post – collaborate. Students collaborate on social media, when it comes to sharing links to a funny video, to comment on a photo, to react to a shocking news headline. They engage each other in a debate – sometimes to further their own agenda, sometimes to follow someone else’s. Collaboration is the most fun and engaging part of many lessons – are our traditional teaching methods set up to provide opportunities for this? The apps above definitely are. They enable collaboration to happen with ease – they are a central feature. So…

Your mission (should you choose to accept it):

Ok folks it’s that time again – have a look at what you can try out THIS WEEK (be honest – if you say you’ll do it next week then you probably won’t ever do it). Borrow a set of iPads so students can make a movie trailer, create a talk-through of an experiment and upload it to YouTube, set up a Twitter account and start a conversation.

As always, let me know how it goes!

Using WordPress to Teach in 21st Century


What exactly is a blog?

Well a blog is just a way of delivering online content, only it is incredibly easy to self-publish and there are very few (if any) barriers to entry. I have used blogs for around six years now, on and off, to help in the delivery of content and as a vehicle for capturing debate among my students.

So why use a blog?

In order to teach effectively, you must have the following three things in place:

  1. Excellent source material for students to gather research from
  2. The right questions, asked at the right time and in the right way (I’ll be blogging on that one later!)
  3. A good space to debate the answers to those questions – THE BLOG!

Too often, established teachers, or newly qualified teachers with little experience of creating online media, shy away from what looks difficult – building a website. However, there are many tools available to make this easy. I use WordPress – they host this very blog – and its free! There is a “paid” option, with added levels of functionality and where bonus features can be had, but I don’t need them right now. I chose WordPress because someone (a fellow teacher) recommended it to me and when I had my first go, I found it very intuitive and it took no time at all to publish my first piece of content. Other popular blogging sites include Weebly, Blogger, Tumblr and Wix, amongst the hundreds of others.


How could I use a blog to teach?

The short answer is any way you like. You can simply use it to publish articles for students to read. You could use it to provide an online space for students to discuss and debate via a message board, creating a mini online community. You could just do what I did initially, which was to publish the link to a press article and invite the students to leave comments below (moderated by me of course).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a blog?

Have you ever had a group of students look at you with misery in their eyes as you reach for a dusty stack of textbooks? Next time, why not reach for those textbooks and tell the students that they need to remember which cupboard they will be locked in (the books not the students) as they will be on the class’ very own website debating with each other! Engagement goes through the roof every time I’ve used a blog – although I do have a love of certain textbooks – you can’t beat the smell of print on paper!

The blog saves everything for you. Students might forget an inspirational but throwaway comment, during a classroom debate. That comment could change the direction of an essay, or be the crucial foundation of their evaluation of a scientific process. It could makes the difference to the technical movements in a physical sporting activity. By having a blog, available to students and yourself, twenty four hours a day, there is less chance that students will miss or forget the information coming their way.

Blogs are easy to edit, refine, add to or delete if needs be. For the blog’s author – you – everything you need is contained in a “dashboard”, where you can click once to add a page, create a comments section, add social media links, etc.

You don’t need any programming experience or knowledge of how the internet works – thankfully for me!

Disadvantages are the same as they are for every new method of delivery – its new to you. You will have to take a little time to learn some new skills – but they are basic skills that you already have if you use word-processing or presentation software. The systems you use in your school to input and analyse exam results are probably harder to use than blogging sites like WordPress!

Oh, is that it?

Yep. Try it. Go on. Spend 20 minutes creating a blog, for you to use with one of your classes next week. They will love it (and they might even think that you are cool). Students still say “cool” right?

Leave a comment and tell me all about your adventures in blogging – don’t be shy about leaving a link to your blog – the more we see, the more we learn.


How to use Flipped Learning to Raise Achievement


 What is Flipped Learning?

Flipped Learning has been around for a long time, but many of us haven’t thought to utilise it properly and instead have focused on other methods of delivering a course. Educators often teach, lecture, etc then set a task for homework that builds upon the activity from that session. The task is usually harder, pushing the students to their limits – we want our students to be pushed after all! However, little Jimmy comes in the next day and says he hasn’t completed his homework as it was too hard.

Solution 1: Provide little Jimmy with a detailed set of instructions for each homework task

Solution 2: Provide little Jimmy with a different task to the rest of the class

Solution 3: Assume little Jimmy was lazy, tell him off and don’t change your homework policy.

Which solution is the right one? ALL of them. The trouble is, we often dismiss the third solution, viewing it as hard to implement, or a waste of time if it doesn’t work, or you are afraid of making changes that other staff view as adding workload. The list goes on…

In reality, the Flipped Learning method of delivery, when approached sensibly, reduces the incidence of missed deadlines, challenges students further within a sequence of lessons and REDUCES WORKLOAD! That’s right – its that magic wand we’ve been searching for all this time.

The aim is to ‘flip’ delivery, so that less challenging tasks are completed outside of the classroom (where there is less support available from the teacher) and more challenging tasks are completed within the classroom (where there is more support available from the teacher). Furthermore, if students are able to deliver content to themselves (research) then let them do it – just make sure the source material is engaging and suitable.

Flipped Classroom

What could Flipped Learning look like?

Lesson 1: Intro to the course you are teaching – give out information on the basic outline and discuss future issues to be studied further.

Homework task: Research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc – answer set of questions based on comprehension of the material.

Lesson 2: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem solving activity, or an evaluative task, or a scientific experiment, or creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport.

Homework task: Research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc – answer set of questions based on comprehension of the material. Ensure that links between last lesson and the next lesson are made in an obvious way.

Lesson 3: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem solving activity, or an evaluative task, or a scientific experiment, or creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport.

And so on.

Nowhere in the above model has the teacher delivered content in person – most students can gather most information on their own – so long as the source material is accessible enough. (Don’t hand a ten year old an undergraduate textbook, or use a grainy video with a monotonous voice-over. If the material is engaging, then your students will be engaged.) Obviously there are times where the teacher, as a subject expert, needs to be “the sage on the stage” – just not as often as previously thought – you can let go of the reins a little!


  1. You have saved time on delivering content – students have managed to do this for themselves.
  2. You have spent a higher proportion of classroom time on higher-order learning activities (see Bloom’s Taxonomy for details), thus stretching students’ abilities to use information in a range of practical ways.
  3. Less time and energy has been spent chasing students for missed homework deadlines, as students now find the tasks easier to do – they have fewer excuses!
  4. Students report higher levels of engagement, resulting from their taking ownership over their own learning.
  5. Your (previously skeptical) colleagues now want to know your secret to having more free time, happier students and higher exam results – you don’t have to “sell” Flipped Learning to them anymore!


Ok, so now what?

That frog you read about on the homepage only decided to jump.