Tag Archives: research

Better conversations, Jim Knight

Jim Knight, Better Conversations Book coverI have really enjoyed reading Jim Knight’s “Better Conversations”. It is inspirational in the way it makes you mindful of what we do all day: Talk. We talk at, about, with and to each other. We all know how great it feels to have a truly wonderful, productive and invigorating conversation. What if more of our conversations could be even better? Knight provides some common sense approaches, but to call it ‘common sense’ is unfair because if having great conversations is common sense and easy, then why do we have bad/unproductive conversations, or conversations which could have been better?

I picked the 5 chapters I found most interesting and relevant, and used the mindmaps Knight provides at the beginning of each chapter as my guide to form my own notes and understanding. For this I used the software package MindJet Mindmanager, which our school provides for our students and created this mindmap overview: Better conversations Jim Knight (also see below)


  • Better conversations (Ch1)
  • The Better Conversations Beliefs (Ch 2)
  • Ask better questions to foster inquiry (Ch5)
  • Redirecting toxic words and emotions (Ch8)
  • Building Trust (Ch9)

My key takeaways: Continue reading

My booksnap notes of: “Why don’t students like school?” By Daniel Willingham

Over the last few weeks I read ‘Why don’t students like school’ by Daniel Willingham. It was a very popular book when it was published in 2009. While I enjoyed the read and got some good ideas and notions out of it, this book has not made a big impact on my understanding of teaching. I  found the suggestions quite common sense and straight forward and found the style a bit too narrative at times.

I realise that Willingham is a professor of Psychology with a specialisation in neuroscience; something I am clearly not. But as an experienced teacher I have seen first hand the many things that he points out in his book.

While reading I like to make visual booksnaps using Piccollage. This strategy allows the information to rattle around in my working memory a bit longer; I DO something with the info which means that it will (hopefully) be stored better in my long term memory. Willingham explains this in Chapter 1, page 10, “How thinking works”.

I print the booksnaps off and will refer to them occasionally to remind myself of what I  have read. You can download all of them here in one PDF.

This book is also part of the holiday reading for the Twitter #edureading group.
All the info you need can be found here: sites.google.com/view/educational-reading-group/

Here are my booksnap notes: Continue reading

Cultures of Thinking PD program, with Ron Ritchhart

I have become part of a semester long professional development project called “Cultures of Thinking”. It is lead by Visible Thinking and Harvard Project Zero researcher Ron Ritchhart. It focusses on creating an environment where “a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members.” a.

One of the key components of this program is class observation – not to evaluate the teacher but to learn and become more aware of your own habits, cultures and teaching strategies. Our first day consisted of two sessions, in the morning we were introduced to the cultures of thinking program and questioning techniques. The second was a plenary session in which teachers from four schools came together to learn about how to objectively and non-judgmentally observe a lesson and how to record data so that it is useful for the person/school being observed.

My notes and relevant resources are below.

Continue reading

  1. See more at: http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/cultures-of-thinking#sthash.Lw4Gagmy.dpuf  (back)

What is ‘understanding’?

I was tweaking our Year 10 unit (Geographies of Human Wellbeing) using the KUD criteria (Know, Understand, Do). This scaffold, created by differentiation guru Carol Tomlinson, has been around for a while.

  • Students will KNOW: (often represented in bulleted forma
    t) facts, dates, definitions, rules, people, places, vocabulary, information.
  • Students will UNDERSTAND : (best stated as a sentence which includes concept-based thought), Essential questions, theories “Big” ideas, Important generalizations, thesis-like statements
  • Students will DO: (represented with verbs), basic skills, communication, planning/organisation, thinking skills, evaluation, working collaboratively, skills of the discipline: mapping, graphing, collecting data, show p.o.v.

ICapturet was a really interesting exercise to represent the unit in a mindmap, it focussed my mind on what it was exactly what I wanted the students to understand from the this unit. The concept ‘understanding’ is hard to pin down.

David Perkins in “Teaching for Understanding” (1993) defines understanding as follows:  Continue reading

“How People Learn” Effective teaching in History

86f80dff7d4c3ca38804855513f857d1I have enjoyed skim reading the book “How people learn” by the National Research Council. It aims to give practical ideas on how to use current pedagogical research in the classroom.

The three key findings that the book presents are:

  1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
  2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must:
    (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge,
    (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and
    (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
  3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

It has a very interesting chapter about History teaching. You can download that chapter here: Continue reading

Teaching online research skills

fire hydrantIt’s sometimes astounding to see the simplistic ways in which some students look for information online. Typing a whole question verbatim into Google and then clicking on the first result is what some kids see as “researching online”. Writer Erik Palmer said that “when we prepare (our students) to conduct quality online research, we prepare them for so much more”, and I agree with that. Learning how to do quality, in depth online research teaches critical literacy and analysis and teaches students that all information comes from a certain perspective. So before any online research project, I often go through these steps:

  1. Teach them how to craft a better search query in Google by using search operators. Show them how to use the “Advanced Search Page” in Google.
  2. Look at the URL. It often contains information that can show you if it’s reliable or not. Not all sites are created equally. This comes as a surprise for younger students in particular. Explain how a URL like http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change will propably contain more reliable information than a URL that looks like this: http://damn-human-race.weebly.com/blog/the-great-climate-change-science-scandal#.VPG0n_khfYo. Checking the URL should only be their first port of call.
  3. Every website should be checked for credibility, purpose, and reliability.
    1. Credibility: Is there a verifiable author or organisation behind the page? Who is this person or organisation? Do they have expertise?
    2. Purpose: WHY was the site created? Is there a personal agenda, why?
    3. Reliability: Can you find the same information elsewhere? Can you corroborate what this information?
  4. Introduce them to citethisforme.com, currently the easiest to use online citation tool.

Continue reading

Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’ “Reading Like Historians”

historical thinking

I believe that every History teacher should read Professor Jeffery Nokes’ well-written paper on “Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’
“Reading Like Historians”. He makes a very strong argument for creating a learning and questioning culture that is more like the actual discipline of History, rather than just uncritically rote learning and accepting what is in a textbook. Nokes’ research is firmly rooted in real classroom practice, which makes it all the more powerful and easier to apply practically.

Below you will find my highlighted sections and summary of the article. There is also a very clear overview table that lists the four barriers to “Reading like a Historian” and some suggestions as to how to overcome these barriers.

Some resources:

Continue reading

Historians on World War 1, the debate goes on

Conservative politician Michael Gove, UK’s Secretary of Education

It promises to be a great year for World War One Historiography. In the first week of 2014 UK’s Tory Secretary of Education Michael Gove started a heated debate about the way the centenary of WW1 should be commemorated. Gove attacked the “Left-wing” and “the Blackadder” interpretations WW1. Twitter erupted in response and soon many respected historians weighed in on the debate. I found all of these viewpoints fascinating so I collected some of the recent articles and summarised them. Below you will find key excerpts of articles by Richard Evans, Gary Sheffield and Nigel Birrar. I outlined book reviews of Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin and Margaret McMillan and there is a great article by History teacher John Blake. I included an old interview (YouTube) with Niall Ferguson on his book “The Pity of War” and there is a fantastic Twitter discussion between History teacher Russel Tarr and Historians Simon Schama, Tom Holland and Gary Sheffield.

It is vital for any society to discuss historical interpretations so we should be thankful to Michael Gove for igniting this debate. It also highlights the importance of good History teachers, they should present students with different viewpoints and let them arrive at their own well-informed and well-substantiated conclusions.

Download a Word version of the WW1 historiography dinner party. The sheet contains student tasks and all information in this post.

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Good learning, criterion-referenced assessment, feedback and learning objectives

learning curveI am on a steep learning curve when it comes to criterion-referenced assessment. Like many teachers, I have used the standard norm-referenced assessment model for years. This is recognizable to everyone, for example: Question 1 asks for three main points. If the student identified the three points, three marks are awarded. In contrast to this, criterion-referenced assessment works with pre-defined criteria which describe increasing levels of success in understanding the curriculum. The more I read about it and work with it in the MYP and the IB DP, the more I see how using criterion-referenced assessment allows for a more sophisticated understanding and assessment of a student’s learning, skill and knowledge.

The example below shows what an MYP criterion (in “Individuals and Society”) looks like: Continue reading

Motivation, mindset, students’ efficacy

dweck mindsetTeachers play a vital role in fostering a positive attitude towards learning. John Hattie, Carol Dweck and Daniel Pink have done great work on researching student efficacy, mindset and motivation.  In this post, I have collated some of their ideas.

Carol Dweck is the key authority regarding the growth mindset. She makes the following points:

  • Fixed Mindset self-esteem is about feeling good about yourself, often in relation to the perceived lower achievement of others
  • Growth Mindset self-esteem is about having the courage & determination to address weaknesses
  • Confidence & self-efficacy comes from mastery of problems through resilience, not from false self-esteem
  • Growth Mindset Teacher: “I am not interested in judging how good your work is, I am interested in the quality of your learning”

Hattie suggests that self-efficacy, aspirational, and other psychosocial influences account for considerable variance in academic achievement.
a Dweck shows how to address this by promoting a Growth Mindset in the classroom. Continue reading

  1.  Self-Efficacy and Academic Achievement in Australian High School Students: The Mediating Effects of Academic Aspirations and Delinquency. By Annemaree Carroll, Stephen Houghton, Robert Wood, Kerrie Unsworth, John Hattie, Lisa Gordon, and Julie Bower. URL:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19027942  (back)

Kuhlthau, the research process

uncertainposterHave you  experienced that moment where an academic task or question seemed so big that it made you slightly anxious? I have, and I see my students go through it too. Research essays, the IB Extended Essay and the IB Internal Assessment are all big academic inquiry processes where students are required to research and grapple with a large amount of information that has to be distilled and synthesised into a coherent and sophisticated argument.

Professor Carol Kuhlthau has researched the research process. I find her notion of the “uncertainty principle” very interesting and recognisable. She describes it as follows: 

“Uncertainty is a cognitive state that commonly causes symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence. Uncertainty and anxiety can be expected in the early stages of the information searching process. Uncertainty, confusion, and frustration are associated with vague, unclear thoughts about a topic or problem.

As knowledge states shift to more clearly focused thoughts, a parallel shift occurs in feelings of increased confidence. Uncertainty due to a lack of understanding, a gap in meaning, or a limited construct initiates the process of information seeking”

(Kuhlthau, C. C. (1993). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Norwood, NJ: Ablex., p. 111)


Below is a visual representation of the uncertainty experienced during a research / inquiry process: Continue reading

Making change happen, workshop with Michael Fullan.

Today I attended a full day workshop with Michael Fullan, expert on Change Leadership in education. We were provided with an informative booklet full of articles and ideas. There was in fact so much information that I reached saturation point at the end of the day. Below are some of my thoughts and pick-ups.

What works (in Change Leadership):

  • Focus
  • Capacity building
  • Consistency of practice
  • Learning from each other
  • Leadership that obsesses with points 1 – 4.

Teaching like a pro means:

  • Continuously inquiring into and improving one’s own teaching.
  • Planning teaching, improving teaching and often doing teaching as part of a high performing team. Continue reading