Using questions to build community

At the start of each academic year I always tell myself that I’ll find a new and authentic way to build culture within my classroom and get to to know my students. 1 week later, I usually look back and realise that those all-so-important early moments were lost to tiresome admin and uninspiring ice breakers. Today, I encountered a new idea. A simple idea. An idea that I’m going to steal and so should you. Discussion cards.


Credit to Sam Sherratt for using this great idea in his cool session at Learning2 Luxembourg. Cards on the table facilitated discussion between strangers in a way that removed some of that awkwardness that so often comes with having to introduce yourself to others. In responding to a meaningful question, we reveal that little bit more about who we are and, if repeated over time, this process could help to build trust and a supportive team environment. If we are comfortable being ourselves, then hopefully our contributions become stronger – galvanised by the knowledge that in sharing our vulnerability we invite the trust of others.

Questions and provocations included the following:

  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What do you love about spring?
  • What does the word respect mean to you?
  • What makes you smile?
  • What one thing do you do on a daily basis that makes you feel good?
  • What are you wondering about at the moment?
  • What current event or news story has grabbed your attention recently?


The Youth Forum Switzerland: authentic learning in action


January 2017 – Davos, Switzerland: mountains and money. Motifs of the annual World Economic Forum summit; an annual gathering for the world’s elite and an accidental catalyst for an authentic student-led learning experience.

You know the drill by now – for one week a year, the 11,000 strong population of this model village swells by over 100% as the world’s wealthiest and most influential citizens swarm to attend the WEF. Ordinary citizens complain bitterly but make a fortune renting their shops and houses to mega-corps who turn hairdressers into business hubs and watch-shops into Wall Street. During the summit, tourists are replaced by phalanxes of black suited security personnel herding fur-clad dignitaries from one planet-altering meeting to another. Meanwhile, those struggling in the snow are watched by the next arrivals as they swirl downwards from the waiting formation of luxury helicopters circling the town. Floating between the two are an army of snipers doing their best to blend into the snow covered roof tops on which they’ve been posted. It’s their job to ensure that this artificial reality is safely sustained. But why am I writing about it? Because this year, I was there  – in amongst the oligarchs and the plutocrats, presidents and political correspondents – to attend the Open Forum, (the fringe event for the slightly less elite) and celebrate the achievements of some very talented students.

A year earlier, a small group of ISZL students attended the Open Forum, listened to some inspirational panel discussions, spoke to some leading change makers, recognised how lucky they were to be there but came away feeling that something was missing from what they’d seen. What was it? Youth. The Davos experience is a divided one. It’s deliberate – to ensure that the event itself is as hierarchal as the world it aims to analyse and claims to understand. There’s a ring of steel around the central conference centre where Bezos, Ma, Gates and Stormy’s ex all spoke and then on the other side of the sniper towers and razor wire is the high street where lesser execs mingle with the general public. People under 35 are in the minority; people under 18 virtually invisible. This lack of a meaningful youth presence catalysed the beginning of a process that saw the students decide to host their own conference – a  youth forum organised by students, for students.

Over the course of the next year, the student group grew to assimilate a team of teacher coordinators. Together we planned an event loosely modelled on Davos that would see over 30 world class speakers take part in a full day of panel discussions and TED style talks. We made contact with the WEF and visited their Geneva headquarters where the organisers of the Open Forum graciously quizzed our students and shared supportive tips. This would prove to be the beginning of a positive professional relationship. At every subsequent stage of the process, students were at the centre of the designing, planning and execution of the event. Logos and posters were produced, video trailers made, formal invitations typed and sent, panel discussions and questions prepared and panels moderated. In terms of making this ‘real’, within our context, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Timed to take place the week before the WEF, the date for the Youth Forum Switzerland acted as a real reminder that this wasn’t a simulated class task or artificial project – this was the most authentic form of assessment. As carefully curated visuals emerged and morphed into a series of stylish event posters, awareness of January 18th 2018 began to percolate beyond the confines of the team. The students realised that what they were producing would affect a community far beyond their own and this gave the learning something that often seems to be lacking: relevance.

Fast forward to March 2018 and I find myself celebrating the Youth Forum at the Learning2 conference in Luxembourg. Project based learning and authentic assessment are cat nip to progressive teachers and the Youth Forum is going down well. Un-conference sessions offer opportunities to share my experiences of the event and to celebrate the passion of our students. As I revisit the event, I also realise that what was ultimately a very successful experience offered numerous opportunities for failure. As teacher coordinators, we tried to find a balance between overloading students with admin tasks and involving them in the right level of detail driven discussion. Mistakes were made. We often expected too much from busy students (some preparing to take final exams) and we expected them to cope with instructions and suggestions coming from a group of untrained event planners building their model in realtime. Ultimately, we learned as much as they did.

Back to the closing session of the Open Forum 2018 and 2 of our student organisers have been asked to share a summary of our event with the audience. They are on the stage recently vacated by Al Gore and Malala Yousafzai and have just been introduced by the Managing Director of the WEF. He name checks the school and jokingly refers to the Youth Forum as competition before playing our summary show reel of the event. As the students speak, their passion and pride is clear. They are not talking about a project or an essay, an educational artefact to be forgotten over time. They are describing an experience, a shared moment of relevance at the beginning of a series that could take the Youth Forum in many directions. They created it. They executed it. They own it.

Click here to see Chanine Enthoven’s Youth Forum show reel.












Blogzilla Vs. the King of e-portfolios: how and why to best document student learning?

I’m just back from my first #Learning2 conference experience in Warsaw…

…I had a great weekend, met some likeminded educators and had my eyes opened to a number of new apps, strategies and approaches. The Learning2 experience is worthy of a separate post and I will return to give it the attention it deserves but for now, I want to zero in on the focus of my pre-conference workshop – e-portfolios: and how we define, identify and implement them. Used incorrectly, these terms are perceived as digital mega-monsters out to force all learning online but in reality, whilst terminology matters, the most successful documentation of student learning is likely to rely on a hybrid of both.

“We define documentation as the practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through a variety of media the processes and products of learning in order to deepen and extend learning … These physical traces allow others to revisit, interpret, reinterpret, and even re-create an experience.”

Visible Learners” by Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, & Wilson,

The documentation of student learning is a vital part of the learning cycle and yet one that seems to be so easily overlooked. As technology replaces and reimagines established methods of knowledge curation (exercise book/journal/binder/writing tool), teachers are left chasing ways to ensure that the work their students create is stored appropriately. We also need to consider the life cycle of a piece of work because if we don’t encourage students to collect examples of their best practise, to share with teachers, peers and parents, what message are we sending out about the importance and validity of what they create?

Kimberly House, EdTech specialist at the Bavarian International School ran a Learning2 pre-con session entitled DOCUMENTING  LEARNING WITH PORTFOLIOS and in light of the questions above, I was quick to sign up. Here are some the significant questions and possible answers that I took from Kim’s thought provoking session (a padlet overview of some key ideas can be found here):

  1. What’s the difference between a blog and portfolio? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?


noun port·fo·lio \pȯrt-ˈfō-lē-ˌō\ – a selection of a student’s work (as papers and tests) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress


noun \ˈblȯg, ˈbläg\ – a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer; also :  the contents of such a site

I’ve had several experiences recently where discussion of the terms portfolio and blog has antagonised normally mild mannered teachers desperate to defend their students’ right not to blog or share beyond the confines of a tightly walled virtual garden. These terms appear controversial and are certainly interpreted differently according to context and speaker. Personally, I’ve been sceptical of students using blogs as portfolios because, as the Merriam Webster definitions above indicate, they are different beasts. Key terms of distinction leap out in the form of ‘work’ versus ‘reflections’ and the phrase ‘ for assessing performance or progress’. As an English teacher, semantics matters and the devil really is in the detail.

With this in mind, a top takeaway from Kim’s session was the role that categorisation and effective tagging can have in allowing students to differentiate between posts on a blog that are explicit examples of academic best work and those that may be more personal reflective pieces. Making students aware of this process could help to effectively embrace and reflect the complex nature of blogging rather than forcing an oversimplification that undermines its value.

     2. If we expect students to put maximum effort into producing products and                    assessments, shouldn’t we do more to respect and celebrate what they create?

I see connections here to another recent PD experience I’ve had with Dylan Wiliam talking about turning feedback into feedforward. At high school level and certainly in the English classroom, we are encouraging students to recognise that they are on a journey to become better communicators and writers over time.  Encouraging learners to archive written tasks and review them again at key check points could be a meaningful way to engage them more directly in the learning process and to recognise where progress was actually made. Tanmay Vora explores this notion in a post on when does learning really happen? which goes some way towards supporting Wiliam’s concept of helping students to close the gap in their learning by identifying themselves at a point in a fluid process.

     3. Can we do more to ensure that the ‘display’ of student work is an active                        process rather than a passive outcome?

Investing time in involving students in the effective documentation of their learning could positively influence how we report and interact with parents. Apps like ThingLink enable students to make photographs and documents come alive by linking in video and audio files. Tools like this could enable students to ‘step inside’ their work and unpack learning in a way that a standard google drive folder or work on the wall simply can’t. When combined with padlet walls, ThingLink also becomes a hugely powerful tool for students to share work, reflections and assessment tips with their peers. Both situations provide examples of students having to go further to explain their learning and could be used at the centre of dynamic student led conferences. What I don’t agree with is students’ online portals being used for explicit task specific reflection or anything to do with referencing specific academic grades. For me, this is where English teachers can play a role in clarifying the audience and purpose of a blog in order to discourage it from being used as a place to publicly share academic concerns. Working with our Tech expects and considering models like SAMR could help to evaluate the best steps to take.



Our session also explored a world in which e-portfolios replace the need for student reports but I think this requires really careful curation and could only happen in conjunction with a open online grade book.

Ultimately, I think that terminology matters and that we should talk more about effective documentation that we should about blogs and or as portfolios. Selecting platforms and methods suitable for the stage the students are at is also really important and a great reason to encourage more cross divisional collaboration because the platform may change but the language should stay constant.

Thanks to Kim & Co. at Learning2 for an awesome session and the chance to really drill down into a an issue that could and should be relevant to us all. Online tools offer great potential to document the narrative of student learning but it does depend on which story you want to tell…



Why blog? Taking small steps towards classroom connectivism


Danny Hennesey “Chaotic Connections”, 2009, abstract painting.

21st century education is all about connections. As a teacher working within the 4 dimensions of the IB curriculum, I often find myself listening for that synaptic crackle created when students mentally flex and leap between content and concepts; subject and non-subject specific skills. Many lessons are crackle free because to connect is to transcend detail; to connect is to think critically and to indicate a state of real-world readiness. To connect is really hard. As IB teachers, we control and influence how connections are formed but how and how can we do a better job? I’ve been working on dialling up the role of blogging as it offers scope for students to make more authentic connections between learning experiences, whilst also encouraging the creation of an online network. Personally, writing a blog and having an on/off relationship with the twittersphere has by default increased my own sense and awareness of digital connectivity and put me in touch with a rich range of interesting ideas and examples of good practice.

Edtech thinkers and proponents of connectivism like George Siemens are labelling structured learning as ‘irrelevant’ (Siemens, 2010) and are instead flying the flag for a more ‘granular and nebulous networked learning experience’ (Siemens, 2010). Knowledge loses its value faster than ever before. In order to combat the developing chaos that accompanies the shrinking half-life of what is relevant, connectivism supports the use of connected networks designed to help evaluate and confirm the validity of what we need to know. As a learning theory, connectivism favours the ability to self-select what is learnt and through the development of individual learning networks, we learn to connect and evaluate concepts that transcend individual disciplines. Within our classrooms, staff and student blogs could be the simplest way to take a small step towards building personal networks and making stronger connections. Busting the myth that ‘asking google’ makes a learner connected and explicitly discussing the creation of an online network as an ATL skill are both important steps in this direction.

The project and inquiry based nature of MYP teaching has meant that students are regularly developing their own online learning networks. I can certainly do more to turn up student awareness of the networks they are creating but I think that responsibility for evaluating online sources and building a digital learning strategy should be school wide. However, I recognise that blog posts written in the English classroom have become ‘nodes’ through which cross-curricular links and connections can be made. They symbolise the creation of an original opinion and in turn reflect the varied nature of the learning landscape. Perhaps I could design more tasks that ask the students to evaluate and use each other’s blog content as source material – potentially a good way to raise the issues of different opinions and validity of information. A similar approach, although not one specifically centred on blogging is explored in this video on the ‘Networked student’.

Blogging has allowed me to up-skill and to feel that some of my classroom and professional practice is a bit more ‘contemporary’. It has also allowed me to encourage my students to enjoy the process of writing about something which they are interested in without always being held accountable to do so in a formal, academic style. As it continues to grow in my classroom, blogging has also been one area in which, I am surprised to feel ‘ahead’ of most students. It has allowed me the space to reflect and to clarify my thinking on key issues. The process of being online and of making occasional forays into Twitter has meant that I have, by default, become more connected. These platforms have enabled me to participate in some longer, slower online conversations, which have in turn stimulated shorter, faster real life discussions with colleagues I work with every day.

If, as Siemens suggests, we now ‘think in networks’ (Siemens, 2010), then it seems vital to ensure that teachers increase their stake in the 21st century knowledge market. After all, if we are asking our students to blog and connect, then shouldn’t we too have digital skin in the game.

Provide (3).png


Works Cited

“Global Social Media Statistics Summary 2016.” Smart Insights. 09 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

“Stats.” 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

UOC. “George Siemens – Connectivism: Socializing Open Learning.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 June 2010. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

My Day Out: ATLs on the Waddenzee

In my last post, I looked ahead to my PDW trip to Holland with Grade 10 and I can now report that I survived my experiential learning adventure and am back on dry land. From a logistical perspective, the trip was undoubtedly a success; a credit to my colleague Jacqui who pulled it all together and to the staff and students who threw themselves into sailing and literally the North Sea during the week. As a group of staff, we generally felt that the trip had successfully offered students the chance to experience ‘controlled freedom’ and far greater real world autonomy than on previous trips. But how did the students feel and did the dreaded ATL skills help or hinder us in maximizing learning opportunities and planning with greater intentionality?

In an attempt to blend the principles of SMART target setting with the aims and objectives of the ATLs, we gave the students the following pre-trip goal and success criteria:

Goal: to build a team that can function and flourish with a degree of independence.

Success indicators for a functioning boat:

  • Life on board runs smoothly. Students complete their allocated tasks without needing to be reminded.
  • Meals are prepared and served on time.
  • Cooking, dining, washing and communal spaces are left clean and tidy.
  • Respect is shown at all times. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, they are encouraged to do so politely.
  • Timings and curfews are observed.
  • Everyone looks for opportunities to help each other and the crew to fulfil all required tasks e.g. sailing/production of the media product.

Success indicators for a flourishing boat:

  • Students help each other to complete tasks on time.
  • Students go out of their way to include others in group activities.
  • Students develop new friendships.
  • The atmosphere on board is respectful and encouraging; students praise each other.
  • Students execute a creative, inclusive and carefully planned media product.

We also provided a short list of ATL skills that we felt were going to be most applicable to the circumstances of the trip. Students were asked to consider how they:

  • Negotiate ideas and knowledge with peers and teachers
  • Delegate and share responsibility for decision-making
  • Help others to succeed
  • Take responsibility for one’s own actions
  • Exercise leadership and take on a variety of roles within groups


During the week, boats approached the ATL skills differently, with some teacher chaperones holding daily ATL focused debriefs and others preferring to wait until the end of the week for a look back at the role that they may have played. In hindsight, our student goal statement was reasonable but could have been SMARTER. Boats staying afloat, no-one starving and an absence of conflict, injury or disappearance would seem to confirm that all boat crews successfully managed to function; but did they flourish? This term was chosen in conversation with my colleague Phil for its Artistotlean connotation of well-being and socio-emotional accord but its measurability will forever be up for debate.

In an attempt to counter this concern, the MYP has provided the following scale for ATL assessment:

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 17.37.18.pngOn board ship, students were tolerant of our conversations about ATL goals without ever seeming to take ownership of them. From a ‘measurement’ perspective, we didn’t give them a clear rubric instead asking them to refer to the skills in a post-trip blog post and its in these reflections that the most meaning can be found. After all – to exceed in the table above, students must ‘assess their own effectiveness’ and ‘use a skill with unfamiliar content’. The most authentic recognition of this success can be found in their own words.

“Our trip was the perfect combination between fun and work, balls and apples in fresh water, dancing and singing, and just a little bit of crazy.” – Liya

“Students on our PDW trip where encouraged to work collaboratively and communicate in a group to actually sail a boat; to be open-minded to new experiences and cultures as we lived and worked together over that week.” – Sam

“We flourished by not complaining, and being happy to step in and help each other with tasks or with planning. It was different from last year’s PDW in that way.” – Sophia

Whilst it might be naive to say that explicit references to the IB learner profile and our favoured term flourishing would have appeared without our goal and ATL focus, these quotes still help to capture the value of our intentionality. Looking ahead to how we could get the most out of this privileged experience, albeit through the imperfect lens of the ATLs, appeared to allow teachers to highlight a wider range of teachable moments.

Next year, more time could be spent on producing a pre-trip blog post and on asking boat crews to devise their own personal and collective skill goals for the week. Similarly, enabling staff to read and respond to what students have written will help to develop a more authentic impression of what students really take from this experience. Daily challenges could also be set to break up longer blocks of time and these could focus on testing more specific skills. Reviewing what is clearly a successful trip will only help to make it stronger but we must also ensure that over planning doesn’t undermine what experiential learning does best: combines authentic learning experiences, spontaneity and fun.


Our Day Out: are we getting the most from extra-curricular excursions?

Why school trips demand to be planned with more intentionality.



Our Day Out is a classic British play written in 1976 by Willy Russell. The action surrounds a group of under achieving inner-city school children who embark on a school excursion from Liverpool to rural Wales. During the trip, the barely literate students of the ‘Progress Class’ break the rules, fight, steal and discover a wonderful world away from the urban cityscape they call home. They are accompanied on the trip by their kindly class teacher, two inexperienced young teachers and the authoritarian Deputy Head. Russell’s work can be seen as a clear critique of the educational opportunities available for England’s urban poor in the 1970s and at the same time a celebration of experiential learning opportunities and the institution that is the school trip. Returning to Liverpool at the end of an emotional day it is possible to say that nothing and yet everything has changed. The students still return to the same dispiriting and under-resourced learning environment but with new friendships, self-knowledge and perspectives on what else the world has to offer. The teachers who accompany them have been able to see the impact that the real world has had on their students and thus go through that invaluable process of evaluating how ready they are for life beyond the classroom. Stronger teacher – pupil relationships are perhaps the clearest winner in Russell’s play although, amidst the chaos and enthusiasm of the events described ,further benefits are hard to discern.

A state-school comprehensive in Liverpool in the 1970s could not be further removed from the privileged forum of twenty-first century international school education. And yet school trips, experiential learning opportunities or classrooms without walls continue to form a significant part of the holistic education that many schools now offer; the legacy of Our Day Out remains. My current school offers all students an annual Personal Development Week trip to destinations as far afield as Iceland, Nepal and Ghana. Throughout the year, students can also elect to join numerous sports tours and cultural excursions or to participate in events like the Model United Nations. This last event demands that a full week of school be spent representing the interests of a sovereign state in either Paris or the Hague. A colleague recently calculated that for those students participating in the average number of extra-curricular events, at least 14% of teaching time was lost. This raises the question, that if so much time is to be spent outside the classroom, to what extent do we need to approach these opportunities with more intentionality and adopt the view that everything is a teachable moment?

I recently reconnected with this John Hattie video on what really makes a positive impact on student achievement. In the second part of his presentation, Hattie highlights the strategies that have the greatest ‘effect size’ on student progress.


What’s the connection to school trips? During the middle of his presentation, Hattie devotes significant coverage to the benefits he sees in outdoor ed or experiential learning programs. Using his experience of teaching students how to abseil, Hattie celebrates the value of the kind of instruction that students see as clear, relevant and engaging, whilst also offering immediate opportunities for feedback – you either get down the cliff or you don’t. Looking again at the table above, whilst Hattie doesn’t explicitly make these connections in his presentation, it’s clear to see that experiential learning opportunities facilitate the development of many other positive factors. Teacher-student relationships and real world problem solving teaching are obvious stand outs.

The IB’s Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills are the important connection here. An increase in focus on transferable, ‘real world’ or future ready skills can help teachers to look at activities outside the classroom through a more intentional lens. In doing so, we can also add another value dimension to these experiences by focusing more on simply the content or direct activity that the students are involved in. It’s not rocket science but there is huge value in asking learners to plan their route to the museum rather than just making notes on what’s inside. My own PDW experience next year involves taking 100 Grade 10 students sailing on the Waddenzee in Holland. Although the trip won’t take place until next September, the staff involved have already met several times to begin breaking the trip down into authentic, teachable moments. Bringing in a core of key ATL skills is going to further enable us to increase the value for students of this time spent away from the classroom. I’m hoping that in making much of the planning, organisation and leadership of the trip more transparent, students will themselves take ownership of a range of authentic learning opportunities. Having a short list of either group or ideally personalised skills to focus on should also help to facilitate the meaningful post-trip reflection that is so important to experiential learning.

The success criteria for the trip to Wales in Our Day Out seems to be to ensure that the bus arrives back at school with the same number of students on it that left in the morning. Trips today have far more specific and far reaching objectives than this but we could do even more to raise the intentionality of our planning. Encouraging students to know, master and adapt ATL skills could empower them to plan, organise and lead activities away from school on a more regular basis. Surely these trip would find themselves ranked higher on Hattie’s scale.

Would PR referendum have helped to avoid Brexit?


An armchair reflection on a terrible week for Britain in Europe.

The last seven days have been a Septimana horribilis for those within the UK who wanted to remain in the EU and for those who thought that their football team could triumph against an island the size of Coventry. Roy Hodgson seems to have been the only public figure with a clear plan for taking England out of Europe whilst ironically ensuring that his team maintained the free movement of other Europeans within and around their own penalty area. Fiscal instability and civil division appear to be the only certain consequences of decisions that have exposed a gaping chasm in British society. Electoral polls indicate conflicting opinions between: young and old, those with degrees and those without and those in London and the devolved regions of the UK versus the hinterlands in-between. We may never know accurate polling figures for last week’s election but despite Nigel Farage’s pea-cocking in Brussels, it is unlikely that UKIP will have 16 million supporters when the nation next goes to the polls. Those who roared against membership of the EU were doing so for many different reasons, suggesting that a disparate electorate deserves a more devolved parliamentary system. An election that was about membership of an imperfect but honourable institution was eventually fought over mass-immigration and false financial claims. The great British public has spoken but what could have been done to avoid Brexit becoming the proxy stick with which so many chose to beat the government?

We can’t be shocked when democracy doesn’t give us the answers we want and should instead recognise the dangers of disenfranchisement. In 2011, the UK was given another referendum opportunity – to reform the electoral system by moving to an Alternative Vote system. Over 65% of the 42% turnout voted against this change but would this have been the case if real reform in the form of Proportional Representation had been on the table and if the campaign hadn’t fallen victim to coalition infighting? If Britain had really wanted to stay in the European Union, perhaps it should have recognised earlier the discontent felt by so many of its people and done more to give them a voice. Farage may well be a spitting image puppet on tour but he has succeeded in rallying a significant number of supporters under the UKIP banner. 3.8 million people or 12.6% of the voter turnout voted for UKIP in 2015 but only Douglas Carswell kept his Clacton seat. Compare these figures to Scotland, where a total population of 4 million are represented by 59 members of parliament. It can be no surprise that the villagers came marching with their pitchforks the next time the village hall opened its doors.

The majority of the UK’s European neighbours have in place a form of proportional representation. Rather than thwarting decision making and giving extreme minorities overwhelming influence over political decision making, this more egalitarian system ensures a greater sense of representation. The Brexit irony is that so many who voted leave seem to have done so out of some sepia tinged nostalgia for an imperial England. On Friday morning, Nigel Farage proudly exclaimed that he had ‘got his country back’ as though it was a football he’d booted over the neighbours fence. However, neither Farage, nor those echoing his victory cry really seem to know what this means. Giving political voice to the confused ideals propagated by the Leavers is not an easy solution but it is a democratic one and a PR system could have helped to include these voters in a dialogue that may have helped to avoid Brexit. Many Leavers seemed blind to the risks attached to such a significant step into the unknown but had they had earlier political opportunities to lobby against poor domestic decision making, this vote may not have been seen as the solution to all their problems.

If Boris Johnson is deemed worthy of the punishment of premiership, he will be faced with a country shorn in half by the recent election result. Many people who voted to leave have publicly stated that they regret their decision and never actually believed that their side would win. This fantastic naivety belies the deception and spin at the heart of a campaign that sought to exploit immigration fears and harness antipathy towards the Westminster elite. Brexit is a decision rooted in confusion and riddled with irony. In his address to the European Parliament and one that is ripe for ‘historical comparison’, Farage claimed Brexit as a victory for the ‘little people’, the anti-establishment, anti big-business. However, with a tanking pound and rumours about corporate withdrawals from the UK rife, one wonders how the ‘little people’ will fare if the UK enters the kind of recession that many are now predicting. The result also begs the question: when the facts are laid bare, how can the government unite such a disparate group of supporters without the amplified soundtrack of ‘Project Fear’?

The European Union is an imperfect organisation but it does embody a peaceful ideology and provide strength in numbers. On a global scale; international terrorism, climate change, dwindling resources and refugee displacement are problems best addressed together. Domestically, the current housing crisis, falling wages and fear of asylum seekers and mass immigration are not issues that Brexit will fix. Furthermore, the kind of special EU relationship that the UK hopes to share with Switzerland and Norway does not mean immunity from accepting those seeking refuge and in 2015, the UK accepted fewer than both nations above.

Ultimately, we have been the architects of our own confusion and must find a way to consolidate and reconcile ourselves with the new status quo. Earlier electoral reform may have facilitated greater political enfranchisement and thus prevented such a visceral leap into the unknown.


Searching for Vygotsky’s sweet spot.

How does authentic assessment challenge the relationship between skills content?

It’s no secret that planning quality curriculum is hard. It was hard when I worked within the 2D confines of the UK system and it’s even more challenging within the 4D spaces of the MYP. Skills, content, concepts and approaches to learning (ATL) all need to co-exist within a progressive curriculum that allows students to own their learning journey. We need units that allow collaboration but also enough space for students to grow as individual learners. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, as i’ve found on several occasions this year, this Vygotsky-esque sweet spot can be tricky to find.


However, locate it we should and as the end of the year looms large, our collaborative teaching teams start to think about completing a SWOT or 4D driven curriculum review; a vital process in ensuring that our programs continue to offer students quality learning opportunities. This year, my colleague Phil helped our department to develop a really useful approach to ensuring that what we teach contains the right balance between subject specific content and opportunities to develop those more transcendent ATL skills. It was decided that quality curriculum should include:

  1. Essential content
  2. Authentic assessment
  3. Learning-to-learn opportunities

These agreements were designed to ensure that we can deliver a more progressive learning experience with student ownership at the heart of everything we do. Sounds simple right? Well, in theory it is but as I think back on some of my units this year and ahead to how I want them to look during next, I’m well aware that I need to do more to genuinely embed these 3 elements in my curriculum. One strategy that I hope is going to help with this challenge is using the GRASPS mnemonic to support the inclusion of real-world learning opportunities.

In February this year, I attended an Inthinking workshop in Prague on developing authentic assessment in the MYP. One session that I really connected with centered on using the GRASPS acronym to facilitate a closer relationship between the 3 steps mentioned above. In the spirit of remixing and getting visual – I’ve put this together as a (very simple) tool that might help to catalyse the process of bringing together steps 2 and 3.


Although a useful way of opening up the planning process, I’m finding myself questioning the impact that authentic assessment is having on the relationship between skills and content. Colleagues in other faculties certainly feel that certain subjects lend themselves to this approach better than others and I have found myself re-evaluating the role exam specific skills and teaching should play within the MYP program. I am confident that this issue will remain as an outstanding challenge – for my digital design skills in the short term and my teaching beyond. Any tips or ideas gratefully received!

Jonny come lately…



Everyone is blogging! This seems to be a fact or if not a fact then at least a not-too-serious over exaggeration of the fact that a lot of teachers and educators are using online portals to collaborate, create and share their vision for a ‘city on a hill’, an edutopia of the future or at least the next great lesson. This is my 6th year in education and as I look to develop my career, taking a belated step into the blogosphere seems to be an excellent way to give legs to many of the educational thoughts that I don’t always have the chance to air.

I hope to use this site as a canvas onto which ideas can be cast, theories tested and problems or issues shared and in doing so, I aim to clarify and crystallise my own thinking. Along the way, I plan to ‘steal like an artist’ as Austin Kleon would say but also to try and create more than I have done before (new blog posts and discussions count!) and to engage with colleagues both near and far in edu-related discussion.

At the start of this journey, as with any new project, establishing the rules of the game is an important step towards guaranteeing longevity and success in whatever form that may take.

With this in mind, I’m making the following pledges:

  • Imperfection is preferable to inertia. Producing something is better than nothing.
  • There’s not always something new to say. Education is complex and sometimes we need to spend time reevaluating and remixing pre-existing ideas before we can generate new ones.
  • Posts should be positive. Frustrations should be looked on as learning opportunities and no situation criticised unless a solution can be offered.
  • Opinions can change and that’s OK. This journey is as much about accepting new visions and principles as it is about justifying existing ones.

However, as General McArthur said, “You are remembered for the rules you break.” Let’s see how I get on…

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