Reflecting On… The Importance of Subject Scholarship

For many, if not most, teachers what originally inspired their choice of vocation was a love of subject and a desire to share this passion with a new generation.  Despite the negativity that can be prevalent on some parts of the web, most teachers I know retain this passion to a high degree.  Why else would PE teachers organise and enthuse about so many sporting fixtures, language teachers put so many hours into organising trips and cultural experiences and geography teachers spend days wading hip-deep in rivers in the middle of nowhere?

However it can be challenging to stay in touch with academic developments in your field which were often tough enough to track as a student, let alone a full-time teacher.

Which is why I found a one-day INSET organised by Jason Todd of the Oxford University Department of Education to be a particularly inspiring event when I first attended in 2016.  Although research critiques one-off INSET as low impact, this was perfectly timed post-exam period for reflection and implementation.  As well as material on the new specifications and teaching advice, it also included academics presenting on their historical work, particularly a talk by Steve Gunn on his work analysing coroners’ reports of accidental death in Tudor England for an understanding of both life and death in that period.

The talk fell at a perfect time for us, when we were revising Key Stage 3 with a particular emphasis on students’ feedback that they found the Tudor unit to lack challenge having already “done them” in primary school.  Their work was engaging, relevant and showed an innovative use of sources to draw inference with which my students could engage.  The lessons I devised based on this material were some of the most well-received I have delivered, based on feedback from the students.

At this year’s conference my eyes were especially opened by a talk about the delivery of black history in secondary schools by Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn.  Their book “Doing Justice to History” challenges the teaching of slavery and the historical misconceptions they have found perpetuated including:  slavery as an economic phenomenon; the trade triangle as just part of a long history of slavery (as opposed to the terrible and dehumanising innovation it was); and the supposed ‘shared guilt’ of African nations in this exploitation.  Next year’s year 8s are going to have a radically rewritten Scheme of Learning in this area, drawing on their scholarship and the source material and life stories they shared with us.

Another talk on research into women in Oxford’s history and an accompanying website with podcasts and interviews with historians has already found its way into our year 7 scheme of learning.

This blog is not about history teaching specifically but about the fresh inspiration that can come from getting back in touch with the academic side of your subject specialism.  I am always excited to hear new teaching ideas or learn about new educational research but subject scholarship can be just as great an inspiration.  Teachers who retain a perspective beyond A-level standard often find they have a better picture of the full development journey of their students and are able to better structure challenge work at all A-levels.  And academics are often very willing, even keen, to give up their time and share some of their work with teachers.  I am very grateful to those who did so through the Oxford History Teachers’ Network; they have reminded me what is exciting about my subject and inspired me to revamp some tired lessons.

Questions that helped me reflect upon subject scholarship:

  1. What is new that is happening in this academic field and why is it exciting?
  2. What resources exist to help me develop this for my students in a workload-friendly way?
  3. Which area of this year’s teaching did students find least inspirational; where can I look to find support developing this?


For any historians interested in the specific projects referred to, find more information below:

Death in Tudor England:

Women in Oxford’s History:


Reflecting on … Transformative Technology – or Not

“Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however it has been on that brink for some decades now.”  Diana Laurillard

As a history teacher who still has a blackboard in my classroom, I have always been a cautious, if not downright reluctant user of technology in lessons.  My early attempts were characterised by patchy wireless, crashing computers, duplication of work and the need for a good back-up plan “just in case”.  Having long embraced the label of a confirmed Luddite, I was recently intrigued to learn that my experiences were perhaps more typical than I had realised.  At a seminar by Dr James Robson I was introduced both to the Laurillard quote above and Larry Cuban’s book “Teachers and Machines” which traces the continual failure of technology to live up to its promise in the classroom since the introduction of educational radio in the 1920s.  The experience is beautifully summarised in one simple quote by Cuban “Computer meets classroom: classroom wins.”

There are, of course, lots of reasons why technology has not had more impact that are outside of individual teachers’, and many schools’, control.  The money needed to invest in infrastructure and the difficulties of managing the ‘digital divide’ so as not to advantage those families with high cultural capital and access to the latest technology are two that need a lot of thought.

However, I have not always reflected enough as a teacher to ensure that I got the full potential from technology.  One reason for this is suggested in the SAMR model: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition.  Very often when technology comes into the classroom teachers use it as a substitute for what they would have previously been doing, or at best to augment what they would have done anyway. Thus I replaced the whiteboard with PowerPoint, a substitute or at best augmentation of the presentation with some flashy graphics.  Interactive Whiteboards, at least in secondary schools, rarely redefined learning but augmented the PowerPoint with a little interactivity.

When we piloted giving Chromebooks to a whole year 7 class for a term and, alternatively, giving a sets of Chromebooks to some teachers for a term we found very similar results.  They were often used as a substitute for other resources, e.g. textbooks, or essays written by hand.  Sometimes they were used to augment learning, e.g. conducting research using a number of sources of information rather than just one, but there was rarely significant change (modification) let alone a redefinition of the learning experience.  In slightly over half of lessons they weren’t used at all.  If this is all they are needed for, they are a very high-cost resource!

However, when we offered better support for teachers to understand the potential, based on peer observation and team teaching with those more experienced with the tools the teachers and students did find them transformative and became very excited about their potential to impact upon learning.  The communication tools supported joint planning and creation of shared work, creating an immediate and ongoing dialogue between peers and teachers I have never found a way to achieve on paper.  Iterative feedback loops which research shows to have high impact but which our students were less engaged with in lower years because they found it ‘boring’ became more accessible and faster paced, securing student engagement.  Online tools such as Quizlet and Socrative allowed for anonymous discussion and quizzes engaging more students in low-stakes testing and maximising contributions. Both are known to contribute to effective learning but can be hard to achieve in a normal, full classroom.

The crucial reflection for us though was the importance of investing fully in development time, shared planning and peer observation in order to maximise the impact of technology.  Teachers need support to modify or even redefine their learning and changing teachers’ practise takes investment in training, support and the opportunity to experiment without judgement.  In that regard introducing technology works like any other teaching development, but sometimes this is perhaps overlooked in the hype and expense.

It is certainly true that technology has often promised more than it has delivered and has rarely been as transformative as the hype has suggested it will be.  However, in recent years, I have found technology to be more useable than ever before with better connections, the “back up” being students’ phones rather than a whole other lesson plan, and certain tools such as Google Classroom, Socrative and, of course, access to a wide range of “Edublogs” contributing to transforming my practise.   However, the biggest driver for me has been colleagues willing to share their excellent practise and innovative uses, who were patient with my clumsiness and willing to listen to what I needed in my teaching and support me to deliver it, rather than imposing new tools from above.  About a year and a half ago I realised I would now be more devastated to lose my Chromebooks than my blackboard.

Questions that have helped me reflect on whether I am getting the most out of technology:

  • Was the learning experience of my students fundamentally any different than it would have been without this tool? What did it deliver for the cost?
  • Where is this technology being used really well? If I can’t find examples, is it likely that I will have the time and skills to use it to redefine my teaching … or will it just be an expensive augmentation.
  • What one tool would I like to master and integrate into my teaching? Am I making the best use of this before moving onto the next tool?
  • What makes this more than a trick or novelty? How does it shape learning?

This JMSReflect Research Project into the use of Chromebooks mentioned in this post was led by David Bate in conjunction with the Oxford Deanery, Oxford Department of Education.

One great article that helped me see the potential of technology in the history classroom was:

Moonen, L. (2015) ‘Come on guys, what are we really trying to say here?’ Using Google Docs to develop Year 9 pupils’ essay-writing skills, Teaching History, 161, pp. 8-14.

And for anyone looking for a longer read and some of the pitfalls, I do recommend:

Cuban, L. (1986) Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Sincee 1920. New York: Teachers’ College Press

Reflecting On … Accessing and Conducting Research.

The growing demand for teachers to be engaged with and in research seemed daunting at first.  In terms of the educational research out there I was unsure whether I would be able to access it, understand it and apply it.  And as for conducting my own practitioner research…  Visions of large scale projects with complicated control groups and statistical analysis of reams of data to offset the many variables filled my mind and I don’t think I am the only person to hold this misconception.  “Research” spoke of EEF-scale projects and analytical and data skills I don’t possess.  Over the last two years I’ve learned to be much more realistic about what practitioner research can achieve and how to use it to have tremendous impact upon my teaching.

BERA (2014) concluded that “a research literate and research engaged profession” would positively support student progress but warned about the risk of this becoming a demand or “burden” placed on teachers.    2 of the main ways they identified it as supporting teachers included:

  • Equipping them to be discerning consumers of research
  • Equipping them to conduct their own research.

I’ve found both to be true for me.

Accessing and Using Educational Research

The first thing I learned was that there are very rarely simple answers yielded by research into education.  As I’ve become more engaged myself I’ve learned to be increasingly sceptical of anyone who glibly insists that “Research says…”.  A more ‘discerning consumer’, if you will. Despite claims to the contrary most research raises more questions than answers and, even when conclusions are reasonably clear-cut, that doesn’t mean that they apply to every context and every sub-set of students.  As we’ve worked on assessment this year, I read some fascinating material on an iterative feedback loop by Barker and Pinard (2014); essentially showing how powerful a redrafting process can be in building students’ understanding.  Although this focused on students in higher education it seemed to offer a lot for me as a secondary teacher.  Until I spoke to students.  They find redrafting “boring” and this was a tremendous, but not insuperable, block to impact.

Our starting point has been to identify an ‘issue’ or area of pedagogy we’d like to develop or learn more about.  With the support and guidance of the Dr Katharine Burn from the Oxford Deanery we have been helped to identify relevant research and reading. This has been hugely important for us as working teachers, in order to pinpoint the best articles and original research to access without a lot of wasted time.  I recommend any teacher or school engaging in practitioner research to build a good relationship with their local university and take advantage of their expertise and support.

Having read some original research, I found I was in a better position to engage with the active and exciting online community to trawl for ideas and suggestions that might have impact. Never has it been more important for teachers to be critical consumers; there are so many ‘solutions’ on offer, how do you select the best ones for your students.  The reading gave me some context and basis for evaluating and sorting ideas and picking ones that might work.

Conducting My Own Research

Nonetheless  still faced the daunting prospect of engaging in actual ‘research’; trying something out and measuring the impact.  Once again, the Oxford Deanery was the greatest support I found.  The best advice I received was two-fold:

  • Plan how you’re going to assess impact before you start – this helps keep you objective when assessing the intervention you’ve planned and carefully nurtured into the classroom.
  • This (literally) isn’t rocket science– you do this every day in every lesson as a teacher and know how to assess impact, it is just a slightly more formal process for capturing your reflection.

One project involved looking at teacher workload.  There are various ways to measure this, some more scientific than others: having them keep detailed logs of their work before and after the intervention would be one measure.  However to achieve this would only drive up the very workload we were trying to control!  In the end, we just asked teachers to report how they felt; after all, “workload” is in many ways quite subjective.  Few teachers literally count the hours, and I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t willing to go the extra mile for something they feel is valuable for their students.  “Workload” is a catch-all term that relates to how teachers feel about their working week, as much as a measure of hours and so their self-reported judgement was measure enough.

Student voice is another tremendously powerful tool for assessing interventions.  Of course, like any data this can be interpreted in different ways.  My students’ views that redrafting is “boring” and that they particularly don’t want to do it in history when they only have a few lessons a fortnight could be interpreted to support a range of next-steps.  It could mean that I need to better explain the value, or that I need to find new, more time-effective ways to do it.  It could mean that I should reduce the frequency, or that it is a task better suited to homework than classwork.  But it has still yielded a valuable response that helps me understand the impact of the intervention and their reaction to it.

Sometimes cross-referencing this with other data (whether assessment results or behavioural) is also powerful, or reviewing students work for key ideas and evidence of progress… But at this point I am probably teaching you to suck eggs.  Because that is exactly the point; small-scale teacher-led research turned out to be neither as scary nor as daunting as I first thought.  In fact, it mostly involved thinking about a lot of things that I reflect on anyway as a teacher; did that lesson work, did they enjoy it, did they ‘get it’, how do I feel, how do they feel, what does the assessment show they understood or misconceived about the work, and so on.


Overall, the impact has been powerful.  I do indeed feel better equipped to discern good advice from bad and to take a less ‘trial-and-error’ approach to teaching.  I feel more confident evaluating my ideas and interventions and more willing to abandon those that are not working, however much I might like the idea or have invested in bringing it to fruition.  At first practitioner research seemed scary.  Right now, I don’t know how I ever taught without it.

The following questions have helped me reflect on research and how to use it to develop my teaching:

  • What is the issue I’m trying to address or the area I’m trying to develop?
  • What research exists and what specific questions would I like it to answer? Where can I access research on this?  [For this, our university links have been hugely helpful.]
  • What will I try now to move forward with this? Does that fit with what I learned from my reading?
  • What will success look like here? Who will feel or behave differently and how? How will I check that this is working?


The full report can be accessed here:

BERA (2014), Research and the Teaching Profession: Building the Capacity For  A Self-Improving Education System,

Reflecting on … Student responses to feedback.

  • “Workload ‘pushing young teachers to the brink’” (BBC News, 15th April 2017).
  • “Teachers ‘wasting time on marking in coloured pens’” (BBC News, 21st October 2016) (quoting Nick Gibb).
  • “Inspectors are still looking for detailed marking despite please not to, Ofsted admits” (25th November 2016).

The insidious role of marking in teacher workload and misery has been a growing complaint for some time and with some justification.  Too often an external auditor, be it a senior leader, an OFSTED inspector or parent expects to be able to see evidence of teachers’ work writ clear, ideally in a specific colour of pen.  Of course, simply writing lots of comments on students’ work does not mean that students listen or follow advice, this is well established as the greatest challenge in giving feedback.  Therefore a clear response from the student is called for.  Along with a third pen colour.  Of course this does not fundamentally address underlying issues such as the quality of teacher comments and so many students get easily into bad response habits such as writing “okay”, “thank you” or simply copying out their targets without any developed understanding of their next step.  This doesn’t lead to progress and high quality feedback is known to be the cheapest, high-impact intervention schools and teachers can offer… so clearly more marking is called for.  And so it goes on.

This issue has become serious enough to generate responses from unions, Ofsted and the establishment of a Marking Policy Review Group which specifically addressed the issue of teacher workload, titling its report in March 2016 “Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking”.  Two key culprits stand out: “deep” marking where an extensive quantity of written feedback is given and triple impact marking where a written dialogue develops between teachers and students.  Both generate an intense workload for little proven impact.  But both are driven by the same goal – ensuring that feedback has impact, one of the greatest challenges in assessment, as I discussed in my last post.

This is not just an externally imposed problem.  I have found myself adding more and more to my ‘depth’ marking over recent years; seeking to address literacy, give targets, identify what strengths the work shows, model effective answers and give directives for the application of targets … in short to make each piece of marking the perfect ‘solution’ to student progress.  Too rarely have I stopped to think carefully about what the impact of each piece of feedback was, or which parts of this exhaustive process were actually the ones that best supported students’ learning.  When students made progress it felt irresponsible to tinker.  When they struggled it felt dangerous to step back and reduce my input … so I generally added more.

In a blog post on December 1st 2016 David Didau threw down a challenge to school leaders to let teachers reduce their marking time (the time spent actually writing comments for students) and experiment with other ways of giving feedback, particularly giving whole-class feedback and creating model work based on a reading of students’ work.  This seems very similar to the model advocated by the Michaela school and fits well with Elliott et al’s (2016) finding that dialogic and triple impact marking generate significant workload but lack clear evidence of impact for this work.

At JMS we did indeed pilot this model of feedback across various subjects and key stages in order to reflect on the purpose of feedback and the impact it could have.  There were a lot of positives to it:  once teachers got into the swing it was a dramatic workload-saver.   It drew my attention to exactly how much time I spend rewriting the same comments on several students’ work.  Instead, using this model we produced a single class feedback sheet, which we started terming the ‘Examiner’s Report’ and then focused on how we would ensure that students took the key messages on board.  As with any feedback model, simply telling students what had gone well and what needed improving was not enough.  Modelling helped but even combined both methods rely on students being able to identify which aspects of the general feedback applied to their work.  Those with lower confidence had a tendency to be over-critical of their work and risk focusing on fixing problems which did not apply.  Those with a limited grasp of the assessment criteria could not always see which bits of feedback applied to them.

One-to-one conversations with those students who struggled to apply the feedback were crucial.  I think our openness that we were trying something new and wanted their feedback on it also helped; students seemed more willing to admit early on if they were struggling to understand the feedback.   This may be because ‘problems’ could be safely located with the ‘new’ model, rather than in themselves or the teacher, which facilitated questions and dialogue.

For me, the process has given a new emphasis to the importance of dialogue in feedback.  I am not advocating extended written discussion, or even a specific pen colour.  Workload has to be a consideration, but so does turnaround time if the effort is to pay off for the students.  However  I am convinced of the value to my students in seeing the feedback I give as the first step in a dialogic process where we discuss what went well and how that was achieved, what the next steps are and how they will try to meet these and then a way forward.

This does not have to be a laborious written dialogue built in different colours over several weeks, with books and folders passed back and forth.  Sometimes, often, verbal discussion is quicker and more directly relevant to the student or small group with whom I wish to discuss their work.  Tools such as the ‘examiner’s report’ marking can play a valuable part in this by cutting down wasted time marking repetitively whilst shaping my thoughts on how to move students forward and giving us a clear starting point for dialogue beyond the piece of work itself.  However I have found whole-class feedback to be very much the start of a process, and not sufficient on its own.  In whatever form I need my students to respond directly to my feedback to be sure that it is doing the job.


Questions that helped me to reflect on student responses to feedback:

  1. How widespread is this error and is it something I need to address with the whole class?
  2. Is this something the students can fix themselves? If so, when am I going to give them time to do that?
  3. How will I know if this feedback has ‘sunk in’? What am I expecting students to do with it or how am I expecting their thinking to develop?  When am I going to give them time to do that?
  4. What is the most time efficient way to work with the student on this development point?

Reread Didau’s original post here:

Reflecting on … The Tyranny of Email

When I started at JMS there was a directive that every member of the teaching staff had to go to the staff room at least once a day.  Current policy states that teachers must check their emails once a day.  Ostensibly each policy has the same purpose; but what a difference in practice.  Regular visits to the staff room meant that you’d encounter most of your colleagues at some point in the week, even those remotely positioned in the furthest corners and darkest reaches of the school. Views would be exchanged, messages passed and the collegiate feeling of being part of a team reinforced.

On the other hand, email is by its nature a solitary activity.  Sat alone in their classrooms and offices, many of our team time their arrival to ensure they have time to log on or use their break and lunch times to catch up on the messages.  Responses are crafted alone and, if dialogue or discussion arises it quickly spirals into a torrential outpouring of emails, the reply all function spinning off sub-chains and new lines of thought until one break time isn’t enough to read all the relevant correspondence, let alone formulate a response.

At a seminar earlier this year Jane McNicholl discussed her research into professional development within subject departments in schools.  Her colleagues identified several factors that were key to effective professional development within subject teams particularly the leadership of the department, the physical space that departments share and the dispositions, habitus and personal histories of the individuals.   There is a virtuous cycle of professional development that can be constructed with good leadership in a shared space; teachers as we all know, tend to talk about teaching, and if gathered together in a shared faculty space will, over coffee and biscuits, almost inevitably discuss teaching and learning. This leads to the sharing of good practice, tips for dealing with difficulties whether with resources, curriculum or individual students and other useful advice and support.

Research conducted by the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University for the Strategic Schools Partnership Board in 2016 suggested that  a collegiate atmosphere of professional  collaboration helped NQTs to cope with the demands of their first years of teaching and increased staff retention.  However McNicholl’s work emphasises that a collegial professional atmosphere benefits all teachers, including the most experienced some of whom might otherwise stagnate in their teaching without exposure to new ideas and collaborative working.

So how does email come into play here?  Inevitably the discussion turned to those schools and departments who did not manage this collegiate environment, where teachers are balkanised, and rarely spend time working with their colleagues and peers.  There may be only so much a department can do about the space it has (or lacks), especially in the short term, but what are the limiting factors on sharing time together and communicating regularly.

Alas, there is a vicious cycle for every virtuous one.  And email plays its part in damaging professional collaboration and collegiate working. The more messages that come in the harder it is to find time to talk to colleagues in person, to leave the classroom at break and lunch and spend time with fellow team members.  The less people do that the more formal communication (email and meetings) are relied upon to connect team members.  The more formal communication is used the less time people have to spend talking to colleagues in person and so they click on the handy ‘new e-mail’ button and… you see where this ends up.

Of course email can be a great communication tool used well, but after McNicholl’s talk I reflected on how often I have not used it well and could have promoted a more collegial atmosphere by stepping away from the computer and talking to people instead.  Not to mention how often I’d felt the urgent need to reply to an email immediately to the point where it was a distraction from any other task or focus.  This was pattern I recognised in other team members.  But what can be done about these patterns?

A little in-house research showed how much power we actually do have over this as individuals.  For one week our head teacher announced that she would not be responding to email during the day, but wanted to use the time to talk to people in person instead.  After the first day the contents of her inbox dropped dramatically and far more time was spend talking to colleagues and students.  As a middle leader I sought to test whether I could generate a similar impact by controlling my own email output and so over a two week period reflected carefully on the emails I was about to send and tried to cut my output considerably.  I also put aside specific times to respond to email and times to turn it off, get out and speak to my colleagues in person instead.  My weekly average of sent and received emails through March was 438 received and 184 sent.   I saw an instant drop as I took control of my outflow.

I extended my trial to a third week and during this week sent ‘only’ 109 emails.  My inbox dropped to 357.  And at break and lunchtimes I was able to leave my office and speak to more colleagues and students than I had for a long time.   The impact of change from adjusting my own personal bad habits was noticeable and greatly liberating.  But 357 emails coming in is still quite a lot.  Even those that require very little action take time to read and delete and stack up in the inbox to be waded through.  Next term our middle leaders are therefore going to embark on a collective project to reduce the flow of email.  We’re going to challenge ourselves to reflect carefully on the emails we send out and to spend more time interacting in person and less through the electronic filter.  Perhaps if we work together we can cut the email traffic even further and spend a little more time away from our desks and where we belong.

Questions that helped me to reflect on the value of email:

  1. What is the best way to respond to this email? Would it be suitable to have a conversation with this person instead of communicating electronically?
  2. Does this email actually say anything new or useful? Will the recipient really feel ‘thanked’ by my two word response or might I be better off making the effort to mention my gratitude when I see them and saving them from an extra ‘ping’?
  3. How urgently do I need to respond to this? Is it an issue that desperately needs my immediate input or does it just feel that way because it popped up on my screen?  Is it more important than what I had planned to do with this time?
  4. Who needs to be copied into this email? What am I expecting them to gain from it or contribute at this point?

Further reading:   Childs, A., Burn, K. & McNicholl, J. (2013) What influences the learning cultures of subject departments in secondary schools? A study of four subject departments in England.  Teacher Development 17 (1), 35-54.)

Reflecting On… A Desirable State of Pupil Activity

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

I hate teaching and learning information.  I don’t like tests, word lists or “boring” factual learning.  I like a creative classroom where students think, discuss, argue and research, to reach their own ideas and conclusions. To me a successful lesson is one where they think differently about something at the end, much more so than when they know something specific and new.  I have always been  greatly drawn to Bloom’s hierarchy of thinking skills, not least because it matches my own prejudices.   Perhaps there is a secret post-modernist in me and I don’t really trust in the immutable value of ‘knowledge’.  Or perhaps I just find learning information boring.  Perhaps it is because I am an historian … or perhaps it is why.

However, I recently reread Brown and McIntyre’s Making Sense of Teaching for the first time in many years.  In Chapter 4 they argued that most teachers have a strong sense of what they want pupils to be doing in lessons, which they termed a ‘Normal Desirable State of Pupils’ Activity’ or NDS.  Teachers’ individual NDSs could vary greatly and might well involve different states of activity in different lessons, but for most teachers it forms quite a clear vision.  It may be that pupils working quietly and independently within a structured lesson framework is one teacher’s NDS, whilst another’s is a noisy, chatty, creative classroom.

I’m not sure that I fully accept the idea of a single, dominant NDS in my practice; there are some topics, times of year, classes and key stages that may lead me to vary my NDS for a particular lesson.  Perhaps I have two or three versions of an NDS.  But other than that, the idea certainly resonated with me.

And reading Brown and MacIntyre drew my attention to how little I have reflected on, much less grown or developed by NDS recently.  But what a useful reflective tool it has been since my attention was drawn to it.  It has helped me with planning, to step back from the immediate objectives of the lesson and reflect on my NDS.  Sometimes this has given me a new insight into how to tackle a difficult lesson or unit, at other times I have recognised that it has been a barrier and that I need to step outside of my comfort zone to make the best job of teaching a particular topic.  At times it has helped me with classes that I have been struggling with.  Thinking about the lesson in terms of the skills they lack that have prevented them from attaining my NDS and how I can help them to get there or to rethink my approach to meet their needs; both valid responses in different circumstances.  It has also helped me start to tackle that tricky area of sound mastery of factual information, so heavily emphasised in the new GCSE and A-level courses.  Daisy Christodoulou amongst others has made a powerful case for the importance of factual learning and my growing clarity about my own NDS has helped me to identify where I need to fight my prejudices and ensure that factual learning is thoroughly and effectively integrated into my teaching.  In so doing, I have been experimenting with ways to make such learning ‘fun’ and have a lot of gratitude to Richard Marshall who introduced me to which made a great starting point.

This reflection has also related to my work with other teachers as it has made me think carefully about my feedback to them; how much am I helping them to achieve their NDS and how much am I too fixed on my own.  Recently an increasingly clear message is emerging from research, HMI and other sources that there are many different ways to teach well and that the best way to support teachers can be to help them achieve and build from their NDS, rather than to try and change this.  Do I even understand what their vision of a desirable state of pupil activity is, and can I really offer meaningful support or input if not?

Of course, the starting point here has to be a reflective dialogue; with myself and my colleagues.  What are the key assumptions I carry about desirable states of working for pupils?  When should I seek to achieve this and when should I adapt my vision and how can colleagues with a different NDS help me to achieve this?  And when working with colleagues, what can they tell me about their NDS and how can I help them to realise this?  This reflection does not demand radical change but for me it certainly supported the development of my teaching, encouraging some experimentation and new ways of thinking about the learning I planning.

Questions that helped me to reflect on NDSs:

  1.  What is my “Normal Desirable State of Pupils’ Activity” and how do I set up my classroom culture and plan lessons to facilitate this?
  2. What skills do pupils need to successfully achieve my NDS and how do I enable them to acquire these?  How successful am I at overtly teaching these skills (for this I asked my students; always a source of interesting feedback)?
  3. Where pupils are not achieving my NDS what are the barriers to this and how can I overcome them?
  4. For which lessons and activities is my NDS not the best way to achieve learning?  Where can I find colleagues approaching a similar challenge in a different way from whom I can learn?reflection-2169596__340