Yoda for Concentration – Learning power 1 unleashed we have.


“When tasks are more complex for a pupil, the quality of meta-cognitive skills rather than intellectual ability is the main determinant of learning outcomes.” (Hattie 2009) Hattie looked at 63 studies and deduced an effect size of 0.69 for meta-cognition making it extremely worthwhile. (Shirley Clarke 2014)

Integration of meta-cognition – Learning ‘muscles’ or ‘powers’.

Using a synthesis of Claxton, Costa, Quigley and Clarke we have taken a split screen approach so that the focused learning power has equal status to the knowledge or skill learning objective of the lesson. (Clarke 2014)

What we did

We attached a Star Wars character to each of the 8 learning powers. Each one to be revealed over the next 8 weeks.

On Monday, I revealed the first character: Yoda for concentration. First we shared the ‘learning story’ together. It generated great excitement, with volunteers coming up to do their best Yoda impression.

Then we discussed the story. Was it familiar? Was anything surprising? What messages were there?


The children then highlighted the skills contained within the story.


In our talk partners, we discussed the skills, how they might help us with our elicitation for maths task and broke them down into bullet points.

Over the next few days we kept referring to Yoda, doing impressions, linking what we were doing to the skills needed for concentration.



It was so much fun. Our Yoda impersonations improved as did our meta-cognition for concentration. Embedding this metacognitive approach will be a slow burner but if a 5 year old can understand, use and apply a split digraph, then I have full confidence that this will pay off in the long run.

Next step

The next 7 Learning Power posters are now covered up in the classroom – ready to be unmasked! We’ll unveil a character a week until all the categories are known.

Next learning power – ‘Don’t give up’. Who will be our character? Watch this space.




Time To Talk! (pt 2)

Part 2 -Achieving Effective Talk – maximising the learning opportunities with the Talk Partner strategy.

Part 1 of the ‘Time To Talk!‘ post described how and why we have implemented the Talk Partner strategy in our class.  The natural follow on from this was a discussion with the pupils about what makes a good talk partner.

Blank bingo card given to the children.
Blank bingo card given to the children.

What we did:

We co-constructed the success criteria for Talk Partners in class, using the blank bingo card method (as described in the post I wish these children had been my Maths teacher!)


The children and I thought about what does not make a good talk partner and the subsequent discussion drew out ingredients for being a good talk partner.  The pupils filled their cards in with their thoughts about what being a good Talk Partner involved……. talk partners success criteria creation & poster_Page_2


……and we played Bingo against a collation I made of our ideas.



I created a class Success Criteria poster for us to have up on the wall as a reminder for us to refer to throughout all our lessons.Success Criteria Posters

Our class poster which we refer to.
Our class poster which we refer to.



The final step in the process, to really embed the Effective Talk criteria, has been to have short self- and peer evaluation sessions before changing Talk Partners each week.

Children write a positive comment and give to their Talk Partner, before changing.
Children write a positive comment and give to            their Talk Partner, before changing.

The children have really enjoyed reflecting on their part in the partnership and writing a positive comment on a “Thank You” slip, which they then give to their partner, saying why they enjoyed learning with them.  The children love receiving them and keep these complimentary slips in a special book, which they (and I) can look at over time.


Achieving all the success criteria will need training, and I intend to look at each one in more depth over time, creating tasks that will specifically target areas that require it.  The immediate impact I have seen is:-

  • that children are aware of the importance of looking at each other when speaking;
  • they are beginning to take a shared responsibility for each others’ learning, ensuring that together, they both complete tasks set, helping each other along the way;
  • the amount of pupil speaking and listening has increased dramatically;
  • and my talk has decreased, allowing me to listen in to their conversations and gain immediate formative feedback, and give immediate feedback, clearing up misconceptions as they arise.


I look forward to watching this develop over time and believe it will help me to have a clearer focus for assessment in lessons.




Take the test. Do you have a ‘Growth’ or a ‘Fixed’ mindset?


A growth mindset (Dweck, 2000) has become an accessible concept for the way learners need to feel about themselves and their abilities to be successful learners. Research over many years has highlighted that we all differ as learners, being somewhere on the continuum between a fixed and a growth mindset… A fixed mindset is the result of a continual focus on your ability rather than your achievement and effort. (Shirley Clarke, 2014)

As a team we launched a growth mindset approach back in September 2015. This has included:

  • Growth mindset displays which we use as constant reference learning tools. Research has shown that displays allow subliminal learning.
  • Establishing ‘Don’t know yet’ as a pupil mantra.
  • Ensuring we praise the effort and named achievement. Being very specific rather than overusing superlatives. eg “That’s a mature and well thought out answer. I like how you remembered to include a metaphor” rather than “Brilliant answer! Well done!”
  • Regularly using the language of growth mindset. eg. saying  “The point isn’t to get it all right away but to grow your understanding step by step. What can you try next?”  instead of “Not everybody is good at maths. Just do your best.”

What we did

I gave some of the Year 3 mathematicians this and asked them to tick the statements which they thought were true of them.

Have a go yourself before looking at the slide below if you are interested in discovering your own mindset. Most people have a mixture of both.


The results threw up something very unexpected and interesting. Have a look.


Impact on learning

It would appear that the growth mindset approach has had a greater impact on the Year 3 girls than on the year 3 boys.

It would also appear that the growth mindset approach is having a measurable impact.

Next step

To repeat this exercise across the rest of the school.


The results have made me question how the boys are learning. Why are the girls ‘getting’ it? Why do boys think that they tend to give up more easily? Are they more competitive and so don’t want to fail in front of their peers? I’m very keen to see the results from across the rest of the school. Fascinating!




Time To Talk! (pt 1)

Part 1 -Talk Partners & Seating

Talk partners clip art image

In a world where knowledge and excellence are increasingly shared, we understand the importance of discussion and learning from others. “Talk Partners” is a term we use to refer to pupils discussing and planning together and cooperatively improving each other’s learning.

On the advice of Shirley Clarke, I’ve recently implemented the changing of Talk Partners much more frequently and rearranged the seating plan in the class to enable classroom talk to be more effective and focused.

What we did:

table arrangement
New seating arrangement – everyone broadly faces front
  1. Mixed ability seating had already been standard practice in our class, arranged with tables grouped into six/eight children.  The upside of this is that it lends itself naturally to group work.  The downside is that some children were always facing away from the front, and had to keep moving their chairs round or worse, twisting their backs, every time they were required to face the front of the class.  We have now rearranged the seating into a broadly U-shape, with rows in between (within classroom shape limitations!)  The upside of this is that all children are now facing the front but also have a talk partner beside them.  When we want to work in a group, the pupils have worked out for themselves that it is a very quick task to move their tables together.
  2. Talk partners are now changed much more frequently (weekly), using the random lollipop method, in order to maximise the experience of learning from so many of their peers. Over the course of the remaining year, each child will have had the opportunity to have been paired with over half the class.  Next year, this will increase as we begin this from the start of September.


Talk partners allow children a chance to articulate and rehearse their thinking before sharing with the whole class.  The experience of having different learning partners has already benefited the pupils in many ways across the curriculum in our class, and is removing the inevitability of some children not wanting to work with other children (such as across the 5-6 Year divide, or girl/boy pairing). Pupils are beginning to recognise and value the skills of others (e.g. such as who has a talent for ICT or our current topic etc..) and they remember those skills at a later date.

The higher achievers have benefited by being “explainers”, a higher order skill which deepens and embeds their own learning.  The lower achievers have benefited from discussing ideas from a perspective other than mine!  They have all begun to recognise that all children have ideas and talents and that each brings different strengths to the partnership and this has increased the respect they have for each other.

The pupils liked the new seating arrangements much more than I had anticipated, “off task” talk has all but disappeared and the children have taken to the frequent change in talk partners in a very positive manner.  Some have even spoken to another member of the class for the first time!

To Follow:- Part 2 – Achieving Effective Talk – how we have maximised the learning opportunities with the Talk Partner strategy.

I wish these children had been my Maths teacher!

What happens when you let children teach column subtraction?


Shirley Clarke in her book Outstanding Formative Assessment says ‘ask the children to …create their own individual success criteria. This is an effective technique… and enables misconceptions to be illuminated by asking children to explain, in their own words, how the procedure works…’

What we did:

Each child had a blank Bingo card. I asked the children to write down each step they would need to complete a subtraction sum. All to play for. Prizes to be won for a full house.

We shared our findings as a class. The children were bursting to share how they would do it. I spoke very little as they each pitched into the ensuing discussion, building and adding to each other’s ideas.


We now have a full bingo card of our class instructions for subtraction using column method. I typed up the children’s instructions and displayed them as a poster on the working wall for the rest of the unit. The children had great success at using and applying the method in their work over the next few days.

Success Criteria Subtraction Bingo

Success Criteria Subtraction Bingo


Some of the children were resilient and bouncy in the face of the blank Bingo card. They threw themselves into the task, chatting as they did it. Others who like to be given a ‘recipe’ which they follow with great success were afraid to mess up the page with something which might turn out to be ‘wrong’.  We need to support and nurture these children to take risks with their learning.


This week has seen a huge leap in understanding and use of column methods (addition and subtraction). It has been the most fun and fastest learning of the method that I have seen. I’ll be interested to see if the children retain this knowledge when we revisit addition and subtraction next term. How deep has the learning gone? I’m looking forward to getting out their success criteria toolkit next term to see if they add to it/ refine it in any way during the course of the unit. They haven’t included carrying/exchanging in this toolkit but learned how to do that as the week went on. Will it make an appearance next time? Watch this space.

I’d like to get to a stage where every child in the class is okay with making and sharing mistakes. Genuinely seeing them as an opportunity for learning.

This has led on to me trying a ‘glorious mistake’ growth mindset activity. (Glorious Mistake post to follow.)


The Target of Deliberate Practice

Deliberate Practice Target

Deliberate Practice Target

Sky Maths Class (Y6) have been introduced to this pictorial idea of viewing their learning experience at any one point in the lesson.  With the diagram’s help, they have been able to recognise and talk about how they feel about their learning experience, and therefore take action themselves to move their learning on.

They recognise that ideally they need to be in the yellow Learning Zone to maximise the learning opportunities and outcomes.  There will be times that they cross over into the Comfort Zone (central green area) or the Panic Zone (outer red area).  However, once recognising this, they feel more empowered to do something about it (i.e. take on more or less challenging ideas).    This supports Growth Mindset and the idea that Learners take more responsibility for their own learning.


Book Talk

Action research:

Focus: Book Talk

Year group: Yr 3/4

Date: Jan 2016

Reference: ‘Tell Me’ by Aidan Chambers

Description:  Talk around ‘The Tunnel’ by Anthony Browne, starting as a whole class for one week and then more focused work with group of 7 pupils for one week, all during ‘reading time.’


  • Time: time is of the essence and also possible stumbling block: the more time we put in, the deeper the pupils’ responses and the richer the learning but how can we balance time spent on this with other demands on ‘reading time’—eg to teach them comprehension skills?
  • Talk: this is all about the talk rather than the reading. While ongoing re-reading of the text became an important part of the process, it was the time spent talking rather than reading that made this such a valuable activity.

Possible ways forward:-

  1. Classes to focus Book Talk on short stories and/or picture books and/or poetry instead of longer texts.
  2. Book Talk to be used for work with small groups who need to develop a broader reading diet.
  • Holding back: This was a constantly challenge for me. The temptation to step in with a point of view and/or a ‘why’ question was all consuming at times. It was a particular challenge when there was a lull in the discourse and I became concerned that the ‘talk’ was drying up. Even when I stepped in with one of Aidan Chamber’s general or specific questions, it felt like I had jarred the pupils’ thinking. As with any good conversation, the talk must always lead on from the pupils’ previous response or you lose interest. The Book Talk questions, while they are all open ended and judgement free, should still only be used where natural to ask.

Must remember:-

  1. In this context, what I, the teacher, think matters little. This is all about bringing on the pupils’ thinking.
  • All responses valued: This is also a challenge for the teacher. It is one thing to commit to valuing all responses, quite another to keep one’s reaction encouraging but neutral enough that we don’t unwittingly imply we value one response over another. It is important to allow pupils to give responses when and if they ‘want to give them. Two pupils started quietly’ here but with the space to think and without the pressure, they were willingly and confidently ‘joining in’ by the end.

Must remember:-

  1. To stay interested but non-committal.
  • Group dynamics: Important to vary this to help engagement and spread of ideas. Important also to get the balance just right between pupils contributing freely and some pupils being drowned out by others who contribute too freely. Teaching pupils to listen for a natural pause before they speak is a good conversational skill in itself. Varying the group dynamic and method also important including for example strategies like ‘snowballing.’


  1. Need time to develop pupil skills in this regard- through good modelling and a flexible but firm set of ‘rules for engagement.’

Pupil feedback:

‘It felt like we went deeper, in head first and we found out what the book was really about.’

‘I preferred it to doing comprehensions because when you o comprehensions, it feels like you’re being put on the spot, it’s scary because other people might know and you might not and it can make you feel left out.’

‘I like the way we’re all together for Book Talk, that there’s no fear, there’s no right or wrong.’


N Moss Jan 2016