Where are you on the Radical Train?


Have you ever had one of those moments when the camera zooms in on you, everything stands still and you suddenly get it?


I had one with the Radical Train a year or so ago. I was sitting in a room on a leadership course and I suddenly understood a bit more of who I am. I’m a radical. I’m not the most radical of radicals, but I’m still a radical.




Most people are progressives or conservatives. They make the bulk of the train.


Progressives are in the engine room. They keep the power in the engine, they keep the speed up, they keep everything going.


Conservatives are in the first few carriages. They are willing to be driven along by the progressives, but there are a lot of them though, so they are powerful voice if something goes wrong. The reason that the progressives can drive the conservatives is that they are both rational thinkers. They are both persuaded by reason and logic. The progressives work in that mode so as long as the train is going along fine, the conservatives will be easily persuaded by the rational arguments of the progressives.


The traditionalists are a different group altogether. They are in the brake van at the back of the train. They remember the good old days when everything was better. They keep us safe by slamming on the brakes when things get out of hand. When this has happened, when the dust has settled and the train is ready to go again, they have a tendency to keep their hands on the brake. Progressives and conservatives can find it difficult to persuade them because they function at an emotional level.


Radicals also function at an emotional level. This makes them the perfect group to persuade the traditionalists. But unfortunately the radical aren’t even on the train. They’re a couple of miles down the line laying the track for the train to go on. They have a really important job, but they’re often the most excluded of all the groups because they can be so far ahead of anyone else. And they find it really difficult to persuade the progressives who are driving the train because of the difference between how they function – emotional vs rational. Sometimes the progressives don’t leave the station because the radicals have so annoyed them with how the talk to each other. And sometimes the radicals get so disillusioned with how infrequently the progressives drive the train down their tracks that they give up and become traditionalists. Yes, being primarily emotional they are destined for traditionalism if their ideas don’t work.


Recognising all this has really helped me over the last year or so. It’s helped me identify the progressives who can drive the train towards my tracks. It’s helped me talked rationally to progressives and conservatives (just because I’m emotional doesn’t mean I can’t function rationally). And it’s helped me talk to the traditionalists who are just trying to hold the brake on – to talk to them emotionally, value the fears they have for where the train is going and spark the old radicalism that they use to hold into life again.


Recognise where you are on the train and you can affect everyone.

Notes on maths training


Alistair Smith, in his book "Accelerated Learning in Primary Schools" told me that one of the secrets to learning new things is re-categorisation. That's the reason that I'm writing this post. It's also the reason I failed as an Electrical Engineer (I took notes in the lectures, but didn't look at them or do anything with them soon enough to properly learn the ideas). You see I was at this maths training day yesterday and I took all my notes on Twitter. So all of the information is out there in the ether, but it's not going to get any deeper into my brain unless I re-categorise it. This post is the first step in the re-categorisation process. There's another step to come when I refine my thoughts and write some focussed posts. Tweets in bold, extra thoughts in normal writing:

  1. Am off to #mastHEI4 armed with a metre stick. Getting rather dubious looks already on the train – Yes. 100 primary maths teachers all walking through Birmingham City Centre. Slightly reminiscent of some kind of re-inactment society meet, except with maths teachers. Still it showed the dedication to the task in hand – you've got be into the subject to be willing to face that kind of embarrassment.
  2. Mathematical talk by Phil Butcher at #mastHEI4 effective classroms include high quality dialogue. Dialogue = AfL – (explanation: AfL stands for Assessment for Learning) that's really important. As a senior manager in a school, I'm really concerned that my teachers have the right skills and opportunities to spend their time as effectively as possible for the benefit of the children, without spending all their time doing it. It's why I'm so disappointed by the recent APP framework. (APP stands for Assessing Pupil Progress). The APP focuses on the correct skills to raise standards, but it is paper-based and cumbersome. It takes too much time. And what's worse some schools have begun using it as a summative assessment tool, when it was designed as a tool for increasing teacher subject knowledge. Teachers with high subject knowledge have the confidence to assess their children with dialogue, to implement interventions on a minute by minute basis and not to waste their time on meaningless paperwork. They assess as children learn. Children learn whilst they assess. We should be concentrating our efforts on developing our dialogue skills and increasing our subject knowledge. The two go hand in hand.
  3. RT @frogphilp: Mathematical talk by Phil Butcher at #mastHEI4 effective classroms include high quality dialogue. Dialogue = AfL – thanks to @TLTP for re-tweeting this line.
  4. #mastHEI4 misunderstandings shape dialogue. – Skilled teachers know the progression needed to develop concepts and can pick up what the misunderstandings of the children are through dialogue. It means we need to encourage a culture where misunderstandings are seen as good – a step towards success. The problem about doing this for students is that this culture is not in place in any other part of the society: teachers can't be seen to fail by their senior managers; senior managers can't be seen to fail by their governors or local authority; local authorities can't be seen to fail by government. It takes a very brave teacher or indeed headteacher to break this cycle and create a culture where misunderstandings are valued and where process is more important than product.
  5. Teachers.tv problem solving in maths – children on their knees with real equipment talking to each other #mastHEI4 – I haven't found the link on teachers.tv yet for the lesson that Phil Butcher showed. I will do before my summary most.
  6. I'm taking my notes at #mastHEI4 by Twitter. I will collect onto a blog later: http://philpmaths.posterous.comthat's what I'm doing now. Although this is only an intermediary post.
  7. Teachers.tv video shows children struggling to have confidence put data into tables. Is this a skills problem or attitude? #mastHEI4 – I tweeted this because I have a theory that social connectivism is a better pedagogical approach that constructivism for inculcating positive attitudes to learning in maths.
  8. Effective dialogue: teacher acting as chair of discussions, encouraging all to contribute + scaffolder of ideas. #mastHEI4 – It's really good to see the different kinds of dialogue that teachers engage with – chairing, encouraging, scaffolding.
  9. Teacher uses dialogue to guide children to an elegant solution. Remember maths is elegant. It is graceful and swift. #mastHEI4 – despite declaring earlier that process is more important than product (it is!), product is still important. I think of them in a kind of 60/40 ratio. The product in maths should be an elegant solution – it's important to remember that maths IS the most elegant and efficient way of describing the world. And that is why maths is graceful and swift. The teacher in the video didn't just stop at a tabulated answer with an oral explanation from the students. He guided them to a more elegant solution. I love that.
  10. Following elegant solution, teacher encourages children to explain. This helps embed their learning. Learning becomes development. #mastHEI4 – One of the things that Vygotsky demonstrated was that learning is different from development. Students can forget stuff they have learned, but they can't undevelop. Good teachers hand the learning over to the children, letting them verbalise and picture it in different ways; letting them re-categorise it in their minds to give the students every chance of making that learning become development.
  11. Recording dialogue provided evidence for MA1. (note to all APP users!) #mastHEI4 – If you are doing the paper-based APP approach, then MA1, which is maths attainment target 1: using and applying maths, must be a nightmare. So much of how children have really developed in using and applying is evidenced orally. Get your video cameras or audio recorders out – it's the only way to record this sort of stuff.
  12. Teacher dialogue strategies in maths: eavesdropping, chairing, prompting, rich questions (see Bloom's taxonomy) #mastHEI4
  13. Why is dialogue an important part of learning?validation, identify misconceptions, time for rehearsal (thinking time). #mastHEI4
  14. Software to support dialogue in unpicking misconceptions: 'the number crunch bunch' tool for stimulating dialogue – Fiery ideas #mastHEI4
  15. Vygotsky says that talk can take people beyond the 'edge of their thinking' ZPD #mastHEI4
  16. RT @frogphilp: Vygotsky says that talk can take people beyond the 'edge of their thinking' ZPD #mastHEI4 – These last five tweets have been referred to earlier.
  17. IRE (Initiation Response Evaluation) many teachers are locked into this – worried that too much talk = poor classroom management #mastHEI4 – Possibly from the pressure of school culture, it was interesting to hear Phil Butcher (the lecturer) talk about how many teachers don't give the children the opportunity to talk in the classroom. Ask yourself the question: 'what does a good classroom sound like?'
  18. Phil Butcher's experience – takes at least half a term to develop good talk in the classroom. Helps if kids develop the rules. #mastHEI4 – Some practical experience. If children haven't been practised at doing constructive talk, you won't be able to change their habits in a couple of days. It took Phil a half term. Sobering and yet somehow encouraging at the same time.
  19. Alexander: 'written work tends to be seen as the only 'real' work and oral activity is the prelude to written work.' #mastHEI4 – I think this comes back to what kind of evidence we collect as senior managers. If we only ever judge students on what we see in books, then we are not encouraging teachers to take the shackles off on talk.
  20. Longitudinal study (Fiona Walls 2007) shows children drawing their maths lessons over time. Depressing to see boredom as get older #mastHEI4 – Fiona Walls had done a study following students through school and tracking their attitudes to maths. It was characterised by younger children drawing themselves in maths lessons having fun, playing with bricks and then building things. As they got older they draw themselves sitting at desks and wrote how boring maths was. That's just sobering without any of the encouragement.
  21. Games encourage talk. Snakes and Ladders is not a maths game because it relies completely on chance. #mastHEI4
  22. Games make maths learning purposeful. Puts pressure on children to work mentally. Can create discussion of all kinds. #mastHEI4 – some comments on games playing in maths lessons.
  23. Bruner: maths representions Enactive – Iconic – Abstract. Don't throw away equipment in Y6 – kids still need it to affirm learning #mastHEI4 – nice to hear Phil Butcher getting Vygostky and Bruner in the same lecture.
  24. Techniques to come away from think-pair-share: expert groups, snowballing, envoys. #mastHEI4 – Phil discussed some techniques from coming away from the standard think – pair – share that many teachers use. I'll describe all these more in a later post.
  25. Ideas for dialogue: 'What maths can you see in the picture?' use snowballing. (Note to self: must share @tombarrett maths maps) #mastHEI4 – after the lecture I asked Phil Butcher if I could demonstrate one of the maths maps that @tombarrett had shared at #GTAUK. I had particularly wanted to show the 55 shape activites in Paris. But shock! There was no internet connection. An educational event in the 21st Century without an internet connection? Is that possible?
  26. #mastHEI4 ideas for pictures: golden ratio, square numbers, shapes, etc.
  27. #mastHEI4 try googling '10 ideas for energising classroom discussions' – I did and I got to this: http://web.grcc.edu/CTL/faculty%20resources/ten_techniques_for_energizing.htm It's pretty good actually.
  28. Cambridge review: many children sit in groups but work individually. Why? #mastHEI4 – I'm really passionate that children should sit in positions appropriate for them. Practically it can be a pain to move desks around, but the benefits can be worth it. When I do extended writing sessions I encourage children to sit, stand or lie as the mood takes them. I don't think desks should be a barrier to learning for children. It's interesting that the Cambridge Review noticed the same thing.
  29. What about vocabulary: In maths what is the different between technical and specialist vocabulary? #mastHEI4
  30. #mastHEI4 Answer: technical words are specific to maths (eg triangle); specialist words are general words used in a maths context (eg table)
  31. #mastHEI4 more ideas for talk: talking tins, start with end – children design problem, use huge variety in language for subtract and divide – later on in the day I used this information to tweet @tucksoon about talking tins.
  32. #mastHEI4 final thought from Phil Butcher: be precise. If we can't define prone numbers accuratly how can we expect children to? – Ah! At last a mis-tweet! I meant prime numbers. Now it makes more sense doesn't it. Prone numbers indeed.
  33. RT @frogphilp: Cambridge review: many children sit in groups but work individually. Why? #mastHEI4 – thanks to @dan_bowen for re-tweeting this.
  34. Problem-Cube lowered into water half submerged with one vertex at lowest point. What shape does cross-section make at water level? #mastHEI4
  35. #mastHEI4 what did I FEEL about answer? Theoretical but nervous that I couldn't see it and do it. Other responses…?
  36. Possible responses to problems include: I don't care, what did you get, not enough information, j just knew it #mastHEI4
  37. Insurance salesman question is a cracker. I will share on my blog later. #mastHEI4
  38. Challenge: with difficult problems how do we stop being smug and give the answer away? How do w stop children being unstuck? #mastHEI4
  39. At #mastHEI4, Brian Robinson talks about 'Big questions… Small steps' – NRICh masterclass – what can you see? – The problems that Brian Robinson had been sharing in the second lecture of the day were so exciting that I didn't actually share the title of his talk until now (the first tweet was number 35). Brian was advocating a problem solving based approach to all maths. Start with an interesting problem. Decide the skills needed to solve it. Teach the skills, then solve the problem. The small steps are the guidance the teacher gives to the students to take them through the problem – to scaffold their thinking. It's very much a 'Brunerian' approach, although it seems to me that much of Bruner's model has been dismissed practically because of the failure of 'discovery' teaching in the 1970s, my personal feeling is that was down to poor execution of the model, rather than the model itself being wrong.
  40. Ideas for Say What you see: target words, talk ping pong, use shapes. Also: http://nrich.maths.org #mastHEI4
  41. RT @KnikiDavies @frogphilp have you noticed… have you tried… why not try… #mastHEI4 (to add to other tweets!) – thanks to @KnikiDavies for your interest in my tweets. I hope this blog is a useful first step in explaining what I was up to on Saturday. I will blog about this particular lecture in more detail at a later date.
  42. Idea: use SATs questions to ask more interesting questions. E.g table – data handling – ask who gets most pocket money #mastHEI4
  43. Brian says we need to encourage children to feel good about being stuck. #mastHEI4 – again this theme about being stuck, not fearing failure, encouraging children to demonstrate their misunderstandings so we can work on them. It's all part of a good maths education. It's all part of good education.
  44. When children are stuck – don't just sit there: mime it; talk it; model it; draw it; act it… Do something! #mastHEI4 – Brian finished by talking about some practical things to do when you are stuck. This was really useful. It's really important to recognise the full range of feelings that are evoked by being stuck so that when it happens some children aren't excluded from the next steps.
  45. Mary McAteer speaks about approaches to Masters level assignment at #mastHEI4 – May not tweet about this one too much
  46. Assigment tips from #mastHEI4 – grid evidence against learning outcomes, think audience, understand 'critically', write analytic narrative.
  47. Assignment tips at #mastHEI4 – fluent English, keep focus tight, evidence claims, be questioning, conclusions be properly supported
  48. Assignment tips from #mastHEI4 – look at grid that examiner uses to assess you, don't 'go large', articulate the intuitive
  49. What is 'critical'? Evidence of self-awareness, discussion, descriptivity + #mastHEI4
  50. Assignments: is mine like chips and custard or like Blackpool? #mastHEI4 – OK – this section was really just about writing assignments. I probably won't blog about it.
  51. Graham Smart talks at #mastHEI4 about ratio and proportion – Graham Smart finished the day with a highly practical session on ratio and proportion. I will probably blog about it after I've taught it as a lesson and won't say anything further now.
  52. Ratio and proportion are hard concepts. Hard to separate, then link to division, fractions, decimals and percentages. #mastHEI4
  53. Proportion = in every; Ratio = for every. Ratio breaks with pattern of fraction – decimal – percentage – proportion. #mastHEI4
  54. Ratio question: "3 times round my head = my height: is this true?" #mastHEI4
  55. @tucksoon that's the one. It's been recommended to me for developing math talk in 3-11 year olds. #mastHEI4
  56. Graham Smart teaches about unitary ratios. Height to head ratio = 1:0.33 #mastHEI4
  57. RT @frogphilp Graham Smart teaches about unitary ratios. Height to head ratio = 1:0.33 #mastHEI4 or 3:1
  58. The Giant of Biblical Proportions talked about by Graham Smart (a way of engaging children with ratio) #mastHEI4
  59. Graham sums up by giving ideas for FDPRP: filling up petrol, mixing paint, number lines, recipes, stories. #mastHEI4
  60. FDPRP are really the same thing. Model on number lines. Line of people #mastHEI4
  61. people pie chart at #mastHEI4
  62. Smart quotes Mike Askew who said the best teachers of ratio and proportion are those who are good at making links. #mastHEI4
  63. Mary McAteer concludes #mastHEI4 by quoting from 'Dead Poet's Society': "why are we standing here? To see things differently."
And that was the end of my tweeting. I then walked to Birmingham New Street carrying my metre stick. Today I used Twapperkeeper to collect my tweets, sent them to an Excel spreadsheet (note to Tapperkeeper – it would be great if you could output straight to Google Spreadsheets) and put them into this e-mail to posterous. Do you think Tweeting lecture notes is an effective way of learning something? In my next maths post I will go into more depth on the whole dialogue in maths topic.

I was the backchannel

I started my first round of monitoring today.

“Boo hiss!” I hear you all cry. “Nasty senior leader going to spy on poor innocent teachers…”
But I don’t see it like that. I see myself as a backchannel – feeding back information to my colleagues so they can teach better and children can learn better. I’m not specific by person and judgemental – I’m affirmative, positive and general.
It started with something that the headteacher had said two weeks ago at staff training. He had set out how he expects behaviour regimes to be created at the start of the term. I felt it was my job to find out whether his expectations had been met. Firstly here’s what he said about behaviour:
He had written this:


The absolute key priority is that every child settles into their new class – start as you mean to carry on. Make clear and explicit your expectations to all from minute one, day one and continually reinforce – bad habits can be formed very quickly. Don’t worry about getting through lots of work, go slowly – quality learning behaviours and positive attitudes are far more important than quantity.
Be “over the top” to start off with, once all children “know the ropes” only then can you start to slowly ease off. Discuss and agree rules, rewards and consequences that will work for you and your class of children. Make these explicit on display to all and constantly refer to them (ours not mine).

So in turn I had converted his text into a list of questions that looked like this:


  • Are teacher’s expectations clear?
  • How have they re-inforced them?
  • What strategies are in place to prevent bad habits forming?
  • Do children exhibit quality learning behaviours?
  • Do children have positive attitudes?
  • Are rules, rewards and consequences:
  • Realistic?
  • Negotiated?
  • Explicit?
  • Displayed?
  • Constantly referred to?

And I thought that would do the trick. But then I realised that I wanted to answer these questions by asking the children about them – and let’s face it, they’re not so child friendly. So I made a quick questionnaire that looks like the one in the photo. You can find the real one here.


Before lunchtime a sample of children from each class set with me in the ICT suite and answered the questionnaire. It took about twenty minutes, as some of the younger children needed help with the logging on and the like.


The output from the form goes straight into a Google spreadsheet, which, as it is mainly text, can be quite easily turned into a word cloud of some sort – I mainly used Wordle, although I did use Seth Glickman’s gadget for one too.


The word cloud went up on the staff room wall by lunchtime, allowing staff to think about the common themes from the responses.


In terms of my conlcusions, it was clear that teacher’s had made their expectations clear, good strategies are in place and are being re-inforced. The children are positive about their learning and clear about what good learning behaviours look like. If there’s anything we need to work on, it’s the perception of some children that others in their classes behave worse than they do – I guess we all think like that, which is maybe why teachers sometimes fear these sort of monitoring visits so much.


What was good for me was that it was a learning walk without being a learning walk. I found out lots about what the children think without interfering with any lessons or putting pressure on teachers. The feedback format of the word cloud is positive and friendly and provides a discussion point for moving us all on without singling out individuals.
As for the title statement, today I was the backchannel. Monday I’ll be the teacher again, hoping that somebody will give me some feedback and show me where to improve. 




Unconference my planning

Watch on Posterous

The danger of following a spiral curriculum (a la Bruner) is that if you always follow the same path, you hit the same bits of learning at the same point on the spiral. Sometimes that means hitting difficult concepts at the end of a term when everyone is tired.


At GTA UK this year I came across the idea of an ‘unconference’ for the first time. This is where you turn up without a specific agenda, but generate it on the day by the people who are there. Google Docs are an ideal tool for this as many people can collaborate in the same online space at the same time. I decided to do an unconference with my Year 6 maths group to generate the plans for the term. I had no pre-conceived idea of how this might work out except for this:


1. We would start with a wallwisher to discuss ‘What is Maths


2. We would use a Google spreadsheet to think about:
  • what we are good at;
  • what we are not so good at;
  • what we would like to learn this year.
As might be predicted, ‘division‘ came up as the concept that most children would like to learn.


So the next day, the first lesson was on division


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