Celebrating our Learning

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Today teachers at our school spent the first student-free day presenting to each other on their College Project. That’s all teachers, in teams, presenting to their peers. Very exciting.

The College Project this year asked teachers to work in teams to answer questions about their own teaching, based on general themes of ‘taking notice’ or ‘inter-cultural understanding’. It’s the key staff learning event of the year, beyond the individual goals teachers set with their Head of Department.
The day was organised like a conference: with a great opening keynote by Barbara Watterston on some of the key principles of staff learning, most of which were clearly evident in the underpinnings of this day.

There were five sessions in the day, with five strands operating all day, and three presentation in each session. So, about twenty minutes for each group, followed by a plenary session at the end of the day and drinks and nibbles. A fully fledged in-house conference.

I saw some really interesting things like:

A group of maths teachers using mini whiteboards to check for understanding and get students to understand mistakes don’t matter in the process. This included quite a lot of student voice in the presentation, including some nice use of video.

[On a side-note, video is still hard. I saw four groups that tried to include video in their presentations, and this was the only one where it worked flawlessly.]

I then saw an inspiring presentation on differentiation and personal stories from the primary classroom where they showcased some individual case-studies where they’d personalised learning. For me, it highlighted the importance of choice for students, knowing your student and taking notice of them.

Then a group of English teachers talked about purposeful play and Elearning and the English classroom. They talked about FLOW and showed a video that argued people are happiest in ‘flow’ and that we lose flow as we get older (and our neurones get cemented) They quoted from Ken Robinson and Emerson and argued for changing practice, not the technology and showed iPads apps: poetry magnets, as well as google docs and the wiki as tools that work.

In the next session after morning tea I heard history teachers talking about ‘taking notice’ of feedback in their subjects and trying to figure out why, that despite the extensive use of rubrics, students seemed to be making the same mistakes again and again. They then tried some ‘error clusters’ to see if that made a difference and some use of checklists.

Then, a session on ‘raising the tail’  to raise the achievement level of the weaker students in senior classes. They took a technology approach, doing an initial Google survey on the ‘March mindset’ and embedded that survey on our wikis. They also used Testmoz as a quick quiz tool, and tracked the student quiz results along the way. Another teacher used SAC feedback as the starting point for some learning goals for each student, which was a great example of using summative data as a formative learning tool.

Another group looked at formative assessment techniques, not ‘gimmicks’. It was interesting to hear the language that teachers used all day to talk about practice they liked, and didn’t. They talked about ‘exit cards’, a ‘flipped quiz’, sticky note peer-assessment, using ‘traffic lights’ in Year 11 Psychology, giving personalised feedback with Excel mail merge in Year 11 Chemistry and inviting students to make contact for more feedback. Interestingly, the level of student requests for feedback increased a lot in this process. They also talked about ‘star charts’ (which they called ‘Token Economies’) This could be done in Class Dojo I thought. Maybe I should try that for homework.

In this session a young first year teacher showed complete mastery of the presentation tools and engaged everyone with his energy.

After lunch, my team co-presented on developing our Literature students as literature writers; giving us and them the language we needed. I’ll blog abut that separately later but I was pleased with how it went.

There was another session at that time too, about using Socratic Circles to facilitate engagement in RE classes.

This was followed by a session on using a variety of new (and old) tools including: using Google Forms, Flubaroo and Excel to test students, analyse the results and share the feedback with students, using eduKate (one of our online tools) for much the same purpose, using TestMoz (yes, second time this has been mentioned today, and yes, it was new to me) and a site called Socrative, which didn’t work disappointingly.

I’m serious that I got more learning out of this day than I have had at many major conferences. I really enjoyed the celebration of learning. Some teachers found it quite daunting to present to their peers but there was a great spirit of professional collaboration and sense of shared purpose. It was evidence of a great learning culture, and as Barbara Watterston said at the start of the day, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ But if you’ve got both, you can really celebrate. It was a great way to finish the year.

Monitoring (and celebrating) class behaviours with Class Dojo

A little while ago I was lamenting with my Literature class that it wasn’t always easy to document how that class went and establish what to do next, both of which are critical for effective planning, reflection, and formative assessment practice.

I take notes on student progress (formerly in OneNote, latterly in Evernote) but it takes discipline (and time) to do that after every lesson, let alone in that lesson itself. I might do that once a week, so I often don’t even have a record of who I’d had a good learning conversation with each lesson and, importantly, who I hadn’t spoken to 1-1 for a while in class.

It’s something that concerned me again recently when, at the end of term, I asked the students to complete a short online survey of how the course was going for them. Most of the results were positive; the students felt they could learn, were challenged to think and participate and enjoyed the range of activities, though one wag suggested that I could improve my tech skills 🙂

However, the lowest response came from the question: ‘Do you have a good sense of how you’re going in this class?’. It’s something that is difficult for Year 12 students sometimes, especially early in the year when they haven’t done much School Assessed Coursework (SACs) and it’s one place where a short 1-1 conversation can have much more impact than any general or group activity you set up.

But, who have I spoken to recently? Is the problem I began with.

So, I was very interested in the possibilities of the unlikely tool named Class Dojo which promises real-time behaviour monitoring. I saw the program from Roger Zuidema on Twitter and recorded that I was about to invent this!

I was surprised to get a pretty quick reply from the people who make Class Dojo too, proposing a Skype chat sometime about how it could be improved, which I’d like to do sometime.

How it works is you set up your class, who get zany colourful avatars, and you record good behaviour or bad in the class very easily via web page, iPad or iPhone. They get +/s or -/s against their name and the tally adds up. Over the lesson, or the week, or the term or whatever period you decide.

I’m lucky to work in a school where disruptive behaviour is rarely a problem but I was very interested in how this tool might be used to record learning behaviours. Our school’s reports, for example, include a set of ‘Positive learning behaviours’ from ‘Participates in class discussions’ to ‘Is organised and up to date with set work’ that teachers are asked to record in terms of how often they’ve seen their students exhibit those behaviours? Always, often, sometimes, rarely? But how do teachers record those behaviours and could Class Dojo help?

One of the first things I did was enter my students names and then showed them how the class looked via the data projector in class. They’re Year 12 students but they loved the quirky little pictures, immediately wanted to customise theirs (you can’t) or swap with someone else (you can’t).

We then looked at the behaviours section, which is at the heart of the program. We looked at the default behaviours (out of chair!) and talked about what + or – behaviours might look like in our Literature class, and then added them. One of the nice things is that you can set the positive and negative behaviours yourself and can even vary them from class to class. So, I can set up a series of learning behaviours that suit my senior Literature class, which are different to the ones I want to establish with my tutorial group in the wellbeing program. Here’s the behaviours we agreed on.


We agreed on these positive and negative behaviours and I was ticking off some of the things in Class Dojo through the class. This year I’ve started using a student as ‘class blogger’, who records the class discussions, rather than doing that myself all the time in OneNote, (they’re put up on the class wiki) and that’s helped free me up more to direct discussions or take records like this. So you click on the student names and assign ‘points’ as you go and it even pops up on the screen with a cool sound if you want.

At the end of the class, you get a report something like this

or you can get a report for each individual student, from any duration (whole year so far, this lesson etc) and you have the option to email that report card to a parent or student or email all the cards (it remembers the email addresses once you’ve put them in once)



I don’t think our school would approve of zany colourful non-letterheaded reports being emailed to parents, but I was happy to send them to students, always in a positive way to celebrate some ‘points’ they’d gained during the class. I wouldn’t want this to be a negative thing, and I wouldn’t be showing negative scores a lot, or giving them I hope. But, ‘not doing the homework’ is a pretty clear – in a Year 12 year.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun, simple and useful way to clearly document and share the good things that are going on in class? Yes. You need to have internet access and more importantly, your students on board; to involve them in the discussion about criteria and be clear and objective about how you’re using it: it’s not an assessment, it’s a tool for improving learning.

I plan to keep using it with my Literature class and wellbeing class this term and see how it goes.