Saturday, 28 February 2009

Consideration of others

We have reached the fourth of our six competencies and the first one that branches out from the individual learner and sees education as 'situated'. This key idea, put forward by Bruner, (
prompts us to contextualise learning rather than only focusing on the individual mind and its development.
John Hattie ( sites behavioural issues as a top ten strategy for improving learning. ( This competency however is not just another way of re-enforcing 'school rules'; we are not trying to 'trick' the individual learner into behaving well because it suits us as teachers to have an ordered classroom. Instead the presence of Consideration as a competency is an acknowledgement that it benefits the individual as much as the collective.
To be considerate of others - and in particular of their learning needs - is to acquire an understanding of how others learn which in turn prompts the learner to reflect on their own learning. Consideration of others is therefore another meta-cognition tool, promoting empathy and awareness.
Of course it is also true that good behaviour, kindness, generosity, collaboration, sharing, mutual support and respect create outstanding learning teams and that each individual within that team therefore benefits. This competency points to these skills and attributes as well.
But on a more subtle level Consideration of others also acknowledges the need to be a selfish learner on occasion. Sometimes it is vital to stop the teacher and get them to explain again, even though you suspect everyone has got the point. Learning to be considerate in this context allows the learner to draw to themselves the resources they need to be successful without impinging on the rights and needs of others. This is a mature skill which matches the balance we all have to strike as human beings between looking after 'number one' and operating cooperatively.
The delivery of this competency is done through modeling, through the creation of a school wide ethos of kindness and cooperation and through the insistence that being considerate of others benefits the individual as much as it benefits the whole community.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


The third competency of our six is Reasoning. It is a truism that everyone reasons but the question remains 'how well?'. School children are often reluctant to reason beyond the shallowest trains of thought and will adopt the 'I don't know' approach.
In our school, where the Competency Based Curriculum has been going for just a few months, there is now a major emphasis by teachers in not accepting 'I don't know' as an answer and they are also sensitised to the many alternative ways in which children deploy this strategy. There is the intense look of concentration and scratching of the chin; there is the excited bouncing up and down, saying 'Ooh what is it? what IS it?' Then there are those who are fond of just gazing back at the teacher looking vaguely uncomfortable and those who well-up in mock indignation at being asked to think!
Why don't children attempt to reason and answer the question? Well, nearly always because they are frightened of failure and occasionally because they don't want to be seen as teacher's pet in a class with an anti-work ethos.
The staff have been influenced by Black and Wiliams' Inside the Black Box
and are working to ensure their questions are open-ended and that they allow thinking time before asking for an answer. We have adopted a 'hands down' approach in Q & A so that everyone in the room has to think about the question in hand.
At the same time I have promoted the idea that nobody learns much if every question is met by the right answer. Learning is wider spread and more profound when the wrong answer is given. 'Let's look at why you got that wrong - let's look at how we might arrive at the right answer.' This is teaching that promotes learning.
I get frustrated with teachers who resort to the phrase 'you can lead a horse to water...' implying that they have tried everything to promote intellectual engagement but without success. Instead we have to 'go meta' and start to encourage children to consider the purposes and benefits of persevering with reasoning.
By drawing Reasoning out in the Competency Based Curriculum we create a balance in the school's curriculum between knowledge (fact) based learning and skill (how to) based learning. In addition, we have Philosophy lessons in Year 7 and a Philosophy Club after school. See P4C
It is relatively easy to create a 'thinking school' where the intake of children is selective. It is a different matter in a school with mixed ability and even harder where the local selective grammar schools have creamed off the top 25% of pupils.
Much of what is written here about reasoning is common sense - the same is true of much of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) - but it is through persistent adhering to these simple principles that we make progress. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks of the need to find the single simple idea that will unite the organisation and lead to coordinated effort. For our school that idea is very simple and blindingly obvious - we focus on teaching and learning! I guess many Heads (Principles) would say they do the same thing but is that true?
A final thought: if, in a school, you had to cancel all meetings that didn't talk about teaching and learning how much time would you be left with?

Monday, 16 February 2009

Independent Learning

Independent Learning is surely the holy grail of all educators. In her paper 'Understanding Learners' Jane Hart describes how the current generation of learners have a style very different from the people who teach them. Yet the desire to get the pupils to 'do it for themselves' remains as strong as ever.
The difference now is that independent learning though technology is infinitely easier and a lot more fun.
The skills needed for independent learning have not remained the same. What I was bad at school and university was research, reading round and taking ownership. The school learners today are faced with the need not find information but to filter it; and not only that, but to focus on the learning in hand when the tool they are using - Web 2.0 - has so many other enticing distractions! By promoting Independent Learning as a specific competency the school invites teachers and pupils to engage in projects, homework and open-ended tasks that provide pupils with the chance to experiment and explore the realms of working for themselves.
The key to success here is to create a school culture where children feel safe to fail; and that is achieved by taking away grading systems, promoting formative assessment and keeping 'competition' out of the classroom.
It is in these last few aspects that this school starts to depart from the ethos of most mainstream schools.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Embedded in the Communication competency are the skills of speaking, listening, writing, reading, body language, foreign languages.

Pupils in all areas of the formal curriculum are encouraged to consider the effectiveness of their communication skills. For school children this competency represnts the most 'taught' of the six competencies. As such then, the Communiucation Competency is the most 'common sense' of the six and appears to pupils as the least innovative or 'different'.

The value of including Communication as a competency is the opportunity it provides for educators to separate communication as a skill from the content/meaning of the communication itself.

Developing a Compency based Curriculum

The aim is to create more consistent engagement by pupils in their learning.

The objective is to create a dynamic competency based curriculum that every member of the school community can understand, take ownership of and contribute to its evolution.

The first step has been to deconstruct the competencies into six areas:
Independent Learning
Consideration for others
Learning Platform (personal organisation)
Emotional self awareness.

I will describe the skills embedded in each competency soon.