Granular Teaching Matters

As I am preparing my presentation for the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted on Saturday (now sold out – should be a great day), I cannot help but think about the value we should place on the micro aspects of teaching and learning. Often we are drawn to conversation and writing about the macro situation of education, attempting to generalise, strategise and prescribe for teachers and pupils: how things should be done, best practice, outstanding lessons et al.

Image source:

Image source:

However, it is the small things that actually make the difference; possibly it these that make outstanding lessons. The human connections between teachers and learners that make the difference to what it is we are all doing here. I’m calling this the granular work. It is what I look for/aim for in every lesson I observe/teach. Each small thing has great value – every grain of sand makes up the beach. When thinking about and planning for change, we need to make sure we champion the teacher with the most number of large classes that will be effected. Their planning, marking, lessons and reports. Their extra responsibilities beyond the curriculum and even something as seemingly minor as break or lunch duties. Around me I watch colleagues creating connections and opportunities: DofE, CCF, trips, charitable fund raising and many more. But the most impressive aspect of any teachers work, for me, is how well they know their pupils and where those pupils are in their learning: their SEN and G&T, their struggles outside school and somehow they manage with a few words of authentic feedback to see each child in their care. Inspiring. For school management, surely there is a responsibility to make sure – to protect – the space where the granular work happens.

Carmel Greene, from my school, is also presenting a workshop in the Geography section of TLAB13. She is so very good at the granular work despite only qualifying two years ago. She will be discussing how she overcame obstacles of independent learning in her classroom.

MangaHigh getting focus group feedback

mangahighToday I was invited (paid) to attend a focus group for teachers using MangaHigh. I taught Maths for two years at KS3 and found MangaHigh to be the most effective technology aid for Maths learning of this type. I also had a brief look at Mathletics and used MyMaths.

NB: I was not asked to write this post and I have already been paid, so I am not here to peddle any wares to line my pocket. I am very interested in the best business model for ed tech companies. It is only through making a good business model that the quality of technology software products will be able to blossom to full potential without advertising etc. That, and I am using focus groups as a research tool in my MA, so I was interested to see how they did it. The CTO and CEO were in another room listening to our recorded conversation as it happened, as well as two others taking notes and asking questions in the same room.

It was really encouraging to see an ed tech company spending their time and money to get *real* feedback from it’s users. It was insightful to hear different teachers’ stories about their school and MangaHigh implementation. MH has a key winner for me – the power of the games they use to learn Maths – my pupils really enjoyed them. Because of this key factor – and there is a lot of dry dross out there making big claims for game-based learning – I think MH have a great platform from which to build their product.

Clearly, like many tech companies, MH are at a crossroads about how they are going to make money. Currently, Manga offer the core of their platform for free, and then have a price plan for a school of up to 1000 pupils of £795.00 per annum. The money gets you what they call A+ Quest, bringing a lot of new features that make the investment worthwhile. What they were not really clear about is the budgets of Maths departments in different schools. Also, their marketing videos included very little footage of the tools in use, or of teachers talking about why they loved using the site. A website/video advert is more likely to achieve it’s purpose if you see what is inside the tin as well as what it says on the front.

Most notably, MH are looking to make sure their development work is in the right direction for teachers and schools, and ultimately, the pupils studying Maths (I wonder if they have gone into a school to talk to pupils?). I like this. Very much. And I thoroughly recommend any school, including those paying for MyMaths or another similar service, to sign up for the free MangaHigh, put it through it’s paces and make an informed judgement about which Maths learning platform you believe most fit for purpose. MH said they were going to give a one term free subscription offer to the paid-for tools as well so teachers could experience the full product. MangaHigh is fun!

It seemed like the company wanted to know whether to write A Level content or build tablet apps, and how to sell their product to schools. The teachers wanted a live updating dashboard that could be displayed as the pupils were busy playing the games in a classroom, and they wanted to get rid of some bugs, and they wanted apps on iOS (Manga said they were looking at Android first). One person had a great idea – build an app for each of the different game types and sell that to generate income, rather than charging schools so much. A little bit of a back-door sales tactics but it might work. After all, if they can achieve a business model that charges schools significantly less than the competition but encourages pupils to pay for their apps, they might be on to a winner. But is that ethically sound?

The staff at MangaHigh were charming and it was a pleasant experience. I almost wanted to teach Maths again. Almost…

Jim is on the right - obviously. Old iPhones are old.

The Lazy Teacher comes to my school

Jim is on the right – obviously. Old iPhones are old.

Jim Smith was booked into our school by a Senior Teacher, Natalie Shaw. Another colleague (@cgasiorek) enjoyed participating in one of Jim Smith’s lazy teaching sessions last year. I read his book The Lazy Teacher over the summer. Packed full of good tips to lighten your workflow by engaging your teaching mind. Jim brings lots of classroom tricks to the table, not all new whizz-bangers, but all focused on putting pupil energy at the centre of learning. The tricks are clever ways of awakening the minds in the room. Find the pedagogy – the methods – that suit a particular bunch of learners and use them. I do not have his slides to reference from the whistle-stop tour of his content, but I really liked the ASDA reference he made, whereby you work out what you want the pupils to be doing before you work out what you – the teacher – are going to do. Content comes last, getting broken into the activities you have decided are going to work for that class at that time. Seems simple but it’s easy to forget as we drive hard through SOWs and POSs like they are bad weather.

We started with firework warnings: do not do the firework planning because the pupils won’t go off with a whizz, bang and crackle in a shower of coloured light. I thought of a colleague who was disappointed about a CSI style lesson he had spent all weekend prepping only to be met with a lesson that fell short of his expectations. I thought of my own attempts to build SOLO taxonomy into my lessons only to be left wondering why the pupils were not singing it’s praises. I thought lazy teaching has a got a point.

Other than Jim’s energy, I liked a bingo idea he mentioned toward the end. Give pupils a bingo sheet where they match different pedagogies – learning/thinking games/activities/stimulants – and call house when they get them all matched. What a neat trick for monitoring teaching and learning without the paperwork. Could there be a better tour of the school? A thumbnail sketch of what a pupil spends their time doing in lessons.

I’m not sure I liked all that Jim said. He talked about making yourself better than your colleagues with the aim of being the one teacher all those pupils remembered in years to come. If I understood this correctly, it’s not for me. I am a fan of variety in a school, for example, I don’t want all teachers using the same technology in every lesson. I am not bothered if some teachers never want to use it. We are all different and *vive la difference*.

Teachers seemed impressed with Jim’s INSET. Inspired. They saw the benefits of lazy teaching. [NB: it was fast and furious; it was twilight, after school on the first day back after half term]. However, I heard a couple of mentions of it making people *feel* like they were not good enough. Jim did not say anything of the sort – the opposite in fact. Nevertheless, take a very busy teacher working very hard and show them something that makes them feel like what they’re doing is not enough, and you’ve got a situation you have to handle – I know this all too well from delivering ICT INSET over the years. But the teachers I work with are great people! The effort and energy they have put into the Frog training we have done this year is immense. I wonder what everyone will make of lazy teaching. I wonder if some of the ideas will jump into tomorrow’s lessons or bleed into the daily fabric.

It is a leap of faith to start incorporating other peoples ideas into your workflow. You feel like you’re falling into the wilderness from your familiar routine. I am inspired by many teachers whose work I read about on their blogs. This takes time; I like to take ownership of a technique before I adopt it. But maybe this is me being too slow? I wrote this blogpost because Mark Anderson nudged me to. Maybe we need to find a way of nudging each other.

Bingo anyone?

Comment conversation in Google Doc

Email reply creates Comment in Google Docs

Okay. This is pretty cool functionality…

It starts like this:

Comment in Google Doc

Google Text Doc. You highlight some text and insert a comment which appears down the side. Nothing happens. The comment sits there and that’s about that really.

Highlighted text from the GDoc with the comment below it, delivered via email

But, when someone replies to your comment. It triggers an email to the original commenter. You can see the original comment I made: *this is a bit vague*

Reply to the email to send comment reply

If you reply to that email the message body becomes the next response in the GDoc comment thread.


Comment conversation in Google Doc

Simple and awesome. After I tweeted this, Mark Allen replied with a similar feature:

Mark AllenMark Allen ‏ @EdintheClouds

@daibarnes Students share Docs comment-only with teacher. Teacher’s interventions and student’s response visible in revision history. #awesome


Google Apps for Education offer some great tools that can really boost your teacher or learner workflow! None of these big systems are perfect but if you cherry pick the best features as learning tools, you can end up with a great pedagogical toolset.


Maths and Nature explained

Have your pupils ever asked you to explain how Maths is relevant to real life? There are many responses to this but this one was so compelling I felt I had to share it here.

Maths explained by Nature – or vice versa

The explanation of all this mesmerising content is mathematically explained here.