Compress it and shift it to the right


I was listening to someone recently who was talking about educational attainment in Scotland and the need to close the gap between our lowest attaining children and the rest – our 20%. This goal has taken on a mantra-like term in Scottish education – although much easier to say than to do.

The additional comment was about getting some “stretch into our system” – in other words how do we extend the upper end of ability? – particularly in maths and science in order that we may compete on an international basis.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague about Deming’s principle of reducing variation which is something which has driven me for many years.

However, when I argue for reducing variation it is sometimes taken as a willingness to sacrifice high level performance in order to reduce the instances of low performance – however, I don’t see the two as being in conflict as I believe you can “compress it and shift it to the right” – if only it was that simple!!!!

Seven Sides of Educational leadership – seminar

My Photosculpting.ppt

I’ve been invited to lead two seminars on the Seven Sides of Educational Leadership at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland national conference this Friday.  Here’s an outline of what I might be doing. Learning Intention – We are going to learn how to use the seven sides of educational leadership to help us develop change strategies in our own working environments.

 Success criteria –  

  1. We will explore how metaphor can be used to represent change theories
  2. We will develop an understanding of how the various metaphors used in the seven sides of educational leadership relate to a particular type of educational leadership and culture
  3. We will examine a change strategy we have embarked upon in the past or present and use the seven sides to identify how we might develop our strategy
  4. We will identify which of the metaphors we are most at ease with and examine how we might make more use of other approaches
  5. We will discuss and shape the development of the seven sides approach.

Learning tasks

Part 1 – metaphors for school cultures

Think of three schools that you have worked in – identify a metaphor for each of the school cultures eg “It was a fortress”

Share these metaphors with a partner.

Share these with then group.

Are there any common metaphors?

Why did you use different metaphors for each school – what made the school like that?

Part 2 – metaphors for leadership approaches

Come up with a metaphor for your own behaviour as leader in your own school-“ I am the ………………………..”

Share your metaphor with a different partner.

Share these metaphors with the group.

What does that metaphor tell you about your leadership approach?

Part 3 –multiple metaphors and different leadership cultures

Why multiple metaphors?

Explore alternative metaphors and how these change the overall culture – Maggie Thatcher;  Tesco; Virgin

Part 4 – introducing the Seven Sides – photographs to lead into explanation = no detailed text

I will provide an example of a change strategy in Eat Lothian referring to the seven sides.

Part 5 –  developing a change strategy to suit your circumstances

Think of a task you are currently engaged in at your school.

Use the seven sides to shade in the amount of focus any aspect requires now in order to move it forwards.

Take another seven sides and shade it in assuming that this stage has been successful and you are 12 months on.

Discuss people’s strategies

Part 6 – refine the seven sides of educational leadership – challenge, suggest and discount elements or all of the proposed approach  


Developing a developmental approach


It’s peculiar how sometimes things just seem to come together in an unexpected and unplanned manner but I had a meeting today where that very thing happened – and I would put it down in no small part to the discipline of keeping a Learning Log.

The various elements of this web of connections are as follows:

  1. My observations of classes with a focus on learning intention and learning task;
  2. The early years Active Learning approach which I have observed having such a positive effect upon children’s learning;
  3. The developmental approach being used in Maths Recovery;
  4. Our strategic decision to place Learning and Teaching at the heart of A Curriculum for Excellence;
  5. The notion of universal and targeted intervention strategies.
  6. The importance of children being functionally competent by the age of 8-9 to access the rest of the curriculum
  7. Our emerging early years strategy which will link pre-school education; child care; nursery and early years at primary school; and focussed care for vulnerable children and families

There are probably many other possible connections but the above will suffice for the purposes of this post.

The meeting I had this afternoon was with Mike Jess and June Murray, from Edinburgh University and some colleagues from our Active Schools Team. The focus of the meeting was the Basic Moves programme which has been operating in East Lothian Schools promotes an innovative approach towards teaching physical education.


“The Basic Moves Programme sets out to help all children develop the basic movement competence that lays the foundation for lifelong physical activity. The importance of basic movement competence cannot be overemphasised as it means children are able to pass through the proficiency barrier between the simple activities of early childhood and the more complex activities of late childhood witconfidence. As Seefeldt, Haubenstricker and Reuchlien (1979, cited in Graham, Holt, Hale and Parker, 2001, p. 32) have said,

Children who possess inadequate motor skills are often relegated to a life of exclusion from organised and free play experiences of their peers, and subsequently, to a lifetime of inactivity because of their frustrations in early movement behaviour.

Simply, developing children’s basic movement competence as the foundation for a lifetime of physical activity cannot be left to chance and must become the focus of children’s programmes in the future (Jess and Collins, 2003)……

The programme is based on the need for adults and children to have a shared understanding of the Basic Movement Framework and for adults to consistently offer children developmentally appropriate, inclusive and integrated experiences that lead them to develop this critical foundation. Children’s basic movement competence has been left to chance for far too long and we must now take the opportunity to rectify this situation once and for all.”

The purpose of of our meeting this afternoon was to consider the next steps when the current programme in East Lothian comes to an end in 2009.

Emerging from the meeting was a fledgling strategy which begins to tie together some of the strands I mentioned at the begining of this post:

1.      Basic Moves needs to be embedded within our evolving developmental approach towards ensuring that every child reaches a level of competence in literacy, numeracy, movement, and social and emotional development to enable them to fully access the educational opportunities provided for them beyond the age of 8.


2.      The strategy needs to adopt a focus upon pedagogy and a shared understanding of a developmental approach which builds from where children are starting from.


3.      We need to develop and implement a range of proactive intervention strategies which target and support children whose rate of development might be compromised by socioeconomic reasons or other family circumstances.




Moving from “learning-to-read” to “reading-to-learn”.

I came across this critical finding from the unesco research report I’ve been reviewing:

“One way to consider these results is that there is a critical transition from “learning-to-read” to “reading-to-learn”. For most students this happens at about age 8 or 9, typically by the end of the third grade. If children are not able to read  with ease and understand what they are reading when they enter fourth grade, they are less able to take advantage of the learning opportunities that lie ahead. A critical indicator for countries therefore is the percentage of children that are able to make this transition successfully.

It’s evidence like this which we must use to develop policy. I think we focus too much on the primary to secondary transition point as being the critical point by which children should have mastered basics – when in actual fact it’s far too late by then.

Teacher Intention + learner interpretation = learning intention?


In my last post I considered the possibility of learning intention being the point at which the teacher’s intention and the learners interpretation of the intention come together. In order to explore this further I’ve had a go at an example:

I walk into a room as a teacher with a specific intention in mind – e.g. I want the pupils to begin to develop an understanding of Scottish  devolution. Eventually I want them to be able to discuss the merits and drawbacks of devolution, support their understanding with knowledge about devoution in Scotland, and to develop their own opinion. This is to be the first lesson of ten in this series.

I might write down the learning intention as:

 We  are going to find out what the word devolution means and how it relates to how Scotland is now governed. 

Certainly such an intention leads me to think about possible learning tasks which would lead to a successful learning outcome. For example: 

1.      What powers do I have as a teacher in this class?

2.    Brainstorm a list?

3.     Would any of these powers be better carried out if I passed them onto the pupils?

4.    Do we all agree?

5.     Do we need to have a vote? – Referendum?

6.    What will be the outcome of that vote?

7.     Who will now decide how these powers will be carried out?

8.    Do we need to set up some kind of government?

9.    What do we need to make this work?

10.   Now lets look at how devolution works in Scotland.

This certainly looks like it might be more productive than a teacher led, top down model of learning that could be used to cover the same content. 

However, I need to ensure that the children share the same understanding of the learning intention  it needs to become OUR learning intention!!

It’s at this point that we can work out our success criteria together. We can then review the task and decide if it will actually lead to us achieving our success criteria – perhaps they can come up with better suggestions for certain parts of the lesson ? We then go through the lesson and judge the lesson against our shared success criteria.

How does this sound?  

Teacher Intentions – can we separate from context?

Up until last week I’d been using teacher intention and learning intention as interchangable terms.

However, when I was took part in a discussion with our newly qualified teachers last week I began to wonder if they might actually be different – or at least one being a sub-set of the other?

Ann McLanachan made very useful contribution to this debate when she stressed the need to try to separate the learning intention from the context. Given some of the work we have been doing relating to the importance of disciplinary learning  I wondered if we can ever really separate learning intention from context – and that perhaps teacher intention is more related to an awareness of context and what the next step in learning might be.

Back in the the early 1990’s I undertook some research which explored the physical education curriculum by referring to the intentions of teachers and the functions of activities. For example – what were teachers intentions when they taught gymnastics and how might that differ from when they were teaching a team game or another form or activity?

At the time I surveyed half the schools in Scotland and interviewed a large number of teachers. What transpired was that the different activities fulfilled different functions, e.g:

  • gymnastics was seen to be primarily connected with the fulfillment of the following functions skill (discrete physical skills which formed part of the activity); aesthetic ( to develop an awareness and appreciation of phyiscal movement); and cognitive (to promote knowledge about the facts and principles associated with physical education);
  • whereas, the functions of a team game were primarily skill; social (using an activity to enhance children’s ability to interact, communicate and co-operate with other people in a socially acceptable manner); leisure (to develop children’s awareness of activities which can constitute adult leisure interests).

One of the conclusions of my research was that the activity – or the context – had a significant influence upon the the focus the teacher took when teaching that activity, i.e. a teacher wouldn’t try to use swimming to promote children’s understanding of “right” and “wrong” in a moral sense, whereas they might when teaching games.

My point here is that context does influence the intentions of the teacher and we must take account of the context when considering learning intentions.

However, I totally agree with Ann McLanachan when she stressed the importance of ensuring that the teacher and the learners share an understanding of the learning intention.  I came across an interesting piece of research relating to language teaching which backed this up:

Recent explorations in task-based pedagogy have pointed out that learning outcome is the result of a fairly unpredictable interaction between the learner, the task, and the task situation. From the teacher‘s perspective, then, achievement of success depends largely on the degree to which teacher intention and learner interpretation of a given task converge. The narrower the gap between teacher intention and learner interpretation, the greater are the chances of achieving desired learning outcomes.

I wonder then if learning intention might be the thing which the teacher and the learner work out as an agreed understanding of what it is they are going to be doing in that lesson – which would bring together the potentially divergent points of view as represented by the teacher’s intention and the learner’s interpretation?

Second Life – an opportunity for supporting those who are home educated?


We had our neighbours round last night. Chris works for IBM and was telling me that he had just been at  virtual conference with colleagues from around the world. He had used his own avatar and attended the conference in Second Life on an island which IBm had created.

Checking it our today I found a link which explained what IBM are doing.

It struck me that there is an opportunity here for an entrepreneurial person/business to create a second life environment to meet the needs of the growing number of children worldwide who are home educated.  I’m not promoting this kind of education over face-to-face interaction but for some children it might enhance their educational experience?

Types of Intervention

I’ve been reviewing a Research paper from UNESCO “Learning Divides: ten policy questions about the performance and equity of school and schooling systems”

The paper uses results from Wilms and Somers, 2001, which explored the relationship between results from Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and socioeconomic status.

Not surprisingly, in every country there is a gradient in student performance associated with family socioeconomic status: youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds  have weaker literacy skills on average than those from more advantaged backgrounds. The results revealed that the strength of this relationship varies considerably among countries, suggesting that some are more successful than others in reducing the disparities associated with socioeconomic status.

The focus of the paper is to establish a general framework for analysing educational data that are collected in international, national and local studies. This is accomplished by setting out ten key policy questions that provide a more explicit link between educational indicators and practice.

I’ll consider, some of these questions in a separate post, but I want to capture here some of the types of intervention which were identified by the authors.

The interventions are:


What struck me was how well these definitions suit education policy in Scotland. It is interesting to explore the evidence from across the globe as to the efficacy of each of these interventions.

Universal interventions strive to increase the educational performance of all children through reforms that are applied equally across the schooling system. Generally they are aimed at altering the content and pace of the curriculum, improving instructional techniques or the learning environment in schools and classrooms. 

Some universal interventions strive to improve children’s learning environments by changing the structural features of schools. 

Most universal interventions, however, are directed at changing teacher practice. Teachers regularly receive in-service programmes pertaining to instructional approaches, assessment strategies and classroom management. 

 Perhaps the most prevalent universal intervention among OECD countries has been to increase the accountability of schools and schooling systems through the assessment of student performance. The underlying belief is that increased accountability will motivate administrators and teachers to improve the learning

SES-targeted interventions aim to improve the educational performance of students with low socioeconomic status by providing a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources. The classic example is Head Start pre-school programmes for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but there is a wide range of programmes that target “at risk” children and youth.  The important distinction is that these programmes select children based on the family’s SES or some other factor correlated with SES rather than on the cognitive ability of the child.

Compensatory interventions provide additional economic resources to students from low SES backgrounds. These could be considered a subset of SES targeted interventions, as they target children from low SES families, rather than children with low cognitive performance. However, the emphasis is on improving the economic circumstances of children from poor families rather than providing a specialised curriculum or additional educational resources. The provision of transfer payments to poor families is a good example because it is one of the  primary policy levers at the national level in many countries.

Performance-targeted interventions provide a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources for particular students based on their levels of academic performance. For example, in most schooling systems, students with special needs are provided with additional support through special education programmes. Some schooling systems provide early prevention programmes that target children who are deemed at risk of school failure when they enter kindergarten or the first grade, while other systems provide late prevention or recovery programmes for children who fail to progress at a normal rate during the first few years of elementary school. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to improve children’s capacity to learn by reducing maladaptive behaviour or improving self-esteem. These and other counselling and clinical programmes can also be placed in this category even though they are usually targeted towards children with certain behaviours rather than those with low academic performance. At the secondary school level, these programmes are often delivered in “alternative” schools. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to provide a modified curriculum for students with high academic performance or for gifted students. More generally, programmes that track or stream students into different types of programmes can be considered performance-targeted interventions, because they strive to match curriculum and instruction to students’ academic ability or performance. Grade repetition could be considered a performance-targeted intervention, because the decision to have a child repeat a grade is usually based mainly on school performance; however, in many cases grade repetition does not entail a modified curriculum or additional instructional resources and, therefore, would not fit the definition of a performance-targeted intervention.

“Teacher Intention” and “Learning Intention”


I led the first session on Learning and Teaching with Newly Qualified Teachers in East Lothian this afternoon.  This is the third year that I’ve been asked to run this session and each year I’ve tried to move on from the previous year.

My intention was to influence the teachers to always reflect on the connection between their intention and the learning task that they subsequently devise – as I described it this afternoon – “I want to get inside your heads”. In a sense I wanted to plant a seed which niggled and challenged them to ask questions about their own practice.

I’ll not go into detail about the content but it took this basic form:

  1. Think about one the most intense learning experiences of you life
  2. Share that experience with a partner
  3. Share your experiences wioth the group and seek common elements from group experiences
  4. Think of the most successful lesson you have ever taught.
  5. What made it succesful?
  6. Share that with your group and list the characteristics of these successful lessons.
  7. Develop a list of these characteristics drawn rom the goup and captured on a screen, e.g relavance, engagement, etc
  8. Think back the lesson you were teaching yesterday at 10.00am
  9. List how many of the characteristics that we identified in step 7 that you included in that lesson
  10. Selected one person’s lesson and considered the link between his intention and the learning task that he had selected.
  11. Asked each group to come up with an alternative learning task to meet his intention.
  12. Further explored the relationship between intention and learning task
  13. Each group was then asked to generate a topic for another group to devise a suitable teacher intention and learning task
  14. Other groups then took that topic and generated the intention and fleshed out the learning task
  15. The last task was for each group to present their ideas to another group who played the Dragons (as in the programme) who then challenged and picked holes in the connection between intention and learning task.

Throughout the afternoon I interspersed various thoughts which were intended to challenge their thinking associated to the tasks I set.

One of  the most interesting things to emerge in the course of the afternoon was the difference between a “teacher’s intention” and the “learning intention” which is shared with learners. It’s now standard practice in many classrooms to share the “learning intention” with the learners – usually by writing it on the board and then linking this with success criteria, e.g. Learning Intention – To learn how to use verbs in  short sentences; Success Criteria – write four sentences using different verbs in each of the sentences.

It might help here to look at how LTS define the following terms:

Learning intentions Goals that are set for the outcome of a lesson or series of lessons. They may be related to a process or the final product.
Learning objective Similar to a learning intention – a target or goal that is set for learners to work towards in a lesson or series of lessons.
Learning Outcomes Broad summary statements in the curriculum guidelines, on areas of attainment for pupils as they move through programmes of study.
Success criteria
Statements of standards from which success in an activity, for example a test/examination or a development plan, can be measured. They specify the acceptable evidence that the aim(s) of the enterprise has/have been achieved.

As I read this I think there is a difference between teacher intention and learning intention. For me teacher intention links to “why am I teaching this?” – my knowledge as a teacher helps me to understand why this is important and how it links with other things we will be doing to draw out and extend the learner  (see ZPD), whereas learning intention links more with the learning objective (both are interchangeable above)

It came out today in the form of a simple example derived from task 13 – one group gave another group a topic “to bake a scone” – for children this is a reasonable learning intention to share with them and one can imagine the succcess criteria which might link with this intention. However, the intention of the teacher will  be a lot more sophisticated than simply for the children to bake a scone – it’s this sophisticated or high level inention which I think is different but which ultimately informs the type of learning task/experience we devise/create.

I’ll be investigating the relationship between these two intentions over the next few weeks but it’s getting late. I’d like to thank all the NQTs who so fully engaged themselves in this afternoon’s activities.


Intellectual chat – (Mark Walker is in the centre of the photo)

I received an unexpected, yet very welcome, comment on my Log today from someone I’d met at Harvard in the summer (had I mentioned I’d been in Harvard?)

Mark Walker and I had I struck up a mutually abusive friendship during the course which our American hosts couldn’t quite understand – how could two people who had never met before be so rude to each other? For an Australian he was a decent enough chap! – if a bit “dull” – yet the Scots and the Aussie groups formed an formidable alliance.

It’s one of the joys of keeping a blog that people can keep track of each other and I’m looking forward to reading Mark’s own version when he sets it up – that is assuming he can master the technology and manage to write – two significant feats for an Australian!