Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Independence does not ‘just happen’. It is a culture in the classroom and it is structured. It is encouraging failure and questioning. It is the pupils working harder than the teacher, or, at least, being encouraged to. It will not happen overnight and takes as much planning as a didactic, teacher led lesson.

Below are a series of points and ideas that can help you to develop a culture of independent and co-dependent learning in your classroom.

To develop independence:

Say less. Step back and allow the pupils to fail. Making mistakes is acceptable and normal, and nobody should fear it.

It is more of a style than a resource. It must be built up over time. This could be during the development of skills or knowledge, leading to a time when the pupils can approach the work without you. Let them go, don’t fear losing control.

Constantly expect independence. Questioning is vital – both your questions, and, perhaps more importantly, the pupil’s questioning. Encourage difficult questions. Challenge their ideas.

Use focused group work to refine skills and develop co-dependence. Encourage them to ask each other before they ask you.

Frame your lessons differently. Use questions instead of objectives. Expect them to interrogate and analyse the outcomes so that they fully engage with them. Never have them copy anything blindly. Make them think from the moment they enter your room.

Plan for independence. Build up a range of techniques that they can use for a certain type of task. Differentiate so it is accessible. Allow some range of choice, where appropriate, so that tasks can be completed independently. Set work in the zone of proximal development – it must be attainable, but challenging. Assessment will help you plan effectively for this.
In summary – step back, say less, challenge more, encourage failure, encourage difficult questions. Make them think

Monday, 18 March 2013


Teaching is balance.
Teaching is both art and science.
Teaching is an act of reaction and an act of rebellion.
Teaching relies on both knowledge of self and knowledge of others.
Teaching is active and reactive.
Teaching is evidence and intuition.
Teaching is the old and the new.
Teaching is both collaborative and individualistic.
Teaching is pleasure and teaching is pain.
Teaching is laughter and teaching is tears.
Teaching is both deliberate and accidental.
Teaching is planned and teaching is freestyle.
Teaching is the heart and teaching is the head.
Teaching is rational and irrational in equal measure.
Teaching is passionate and dispassionate.
Teachers teach and teachers learn.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Relevance of #HipHopEd

The relevance of #HipHopEd is relevance. The relevance of the content. The relevance of the voices. The way it allows those who may not have a voice through 'mainstream' channels a voice that becomes relevant and powerful.

HipHop was created from necessity, and has morphed into various forms throughout its existence, each showing the creativity and relevance of the culture as a whole. It's been relevant all along - gangster as the crack epidemic gripped American cities, plush and opulent in the boom years, as wealth was ostentatiously flaunted, gritty and raw in London's East End as the wealth in the Docklands and City didn't spread. It's had reactionary voices, hippy voices, voices of faith and commercialised voices.

HipHop is always relevant.

However, is #HipHopEd always relevant? Perhaps if you teach in the leafy lanes of Surrey, you might argue, it isn't. Nevertheless, I'd wager that you'll find someone there who's been touched by HipHop. If the teacher isn't into HipHop, can they use #HipHopEd? Yes - I've seen plenty of English teachers talk about Akala's TED Talk and his 'HipHop or Shakespeare' game. To be honest, it's the best way I've found yet of teaching iambic pentameter, too!

Where I teach, I'd argue it's fundamentally relevant. It's a form of expression valued by the children I teach - the elements of HipHop inform their dress, their speech, their interests. Don't Flop and SBTV are their Going Live and CNN. They break, lock and pop. They value, and know, voices from Giggs to Guru; they've heard Wu Tang from their parents.

But education isn't 'for them'. It wasn't for their parents, and that's been passed down, understandably.

#HipHopEd is not a panacea for society's race and class ridden ills, for the generations of dispossession that have led us to a society of haves and have-nots, a mere goose step and Daily Mail editorial away from Proles and Party members. Nor is it a quick fix, something to lob in to a lesson, to show you're down.

It's a way of showing, of proving, to pupils that they can have a voice, that their experiences and thoughts are relevant to an increasingly irrelevant education system, which values the chronological, narrative free teaching of our collective story. It's understanding that there are links between a 19th Century French short story and Akala's lyrics; indeed, it's teaching the words of Akala as seriously as you might teach the words of Shakespeare. It's the confidence to take the notion of sampling into an English lesson when it comes to identifying the themes of a genre or the key evidence in a text. As Chris Emdin and GZA note in this video, it's spotting the power and potential of a student and unlocking it through the codes and forms of HipHop. It's Shake the Dust, where poets and MCs worked powerfully with children, leaving a lasting legacy of engagement and understanding, in my school at least, among children, some of whom has been, until then, hard to reach. It's the teacher sampling ideas in different contexts, keeping it fresh, using limited resources to create something powerful and engaging.

#HipHopEd is growing in the UK, but with good links to the US, innovators like Akala and Jacob Sam-LaRose, and an innovative network of like-minded souls - not to mention the elements of the culture itself - it can grow into a real, purposeful and relevant force. It can harness the spirit and creativity of people to remix education into a new form.

It is, and can be, a powerfully relevant force. As proven in this video, which says all I've said, and says it better.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


The title of this post might make you think that it's about ensuring that pupils enjoy their lessons, all of them, visibly, whilst making rapid and sustained progress which they can explain articulately, using language and concepts way beyond their years.

It isn't. It's about you enjoying your teaching.

We all came to teaching for different reasons, and one of the reasons we stay in teaching is that, despite it all, it is incredibly enjoyable. I won't waste time going into all of the factors that make it a challenge, or patronise you by telling you how amazing it can be. Instead, I'm going to explain how I made myself enjoy and, to be honest, love teaching again.

That's right. For a while, I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't fear it; I simply didn't enjoy it.

My first years of teaching were a crazy blur of trial and error. I loved it. I used a range of strategies, some didactic, some collaborative. Some worked, some failed. Pupils did well, mostly, and I felt like I was onto something.

What changed? A few subtle things. The school's progress agenda spread. We got into the whole progress check, colourful pieces of card, flash animations idea of there being one type of good lesson and one type alone. As this happened, I progressed to head of department. New to the job, I felt I had to take these ideas on. Please note - lots of these ideas are good, valid and solid ideas, which I still use. I understood why we were working this way, but slowly began to feel constrained by the need for so many activities, and objectives being presented like this, and using various tools to demonstrate the progress that was being made. I wasn't teaching like myself.

Just over a year ago, we received the visit (a successful one) we had been preparing for, and it was crunch time. I made the decision to ensure that I enjoyed teaching again. I started playing. Instead of using the state- sanctioned WALT / WILF combo, I experimented with a range of styles, some giving freedom to pupils, others being direct and instructional. I mixed and matched. I did whole lessons without an explicit progress check. I went wildly off scheme.

I was observed, and it was fine. My team were encouraged to do the same, and, overall, the response has been great. Walking down my corridor, you see teachers enjoying teaching, and pupils enjoying learning. We work on thematic schemes, giving us the freedom to go our own way, or follow the pupils' curiosity. At the same time, SLT were looking at ways to move us further and maintain the progress we had made. They changed the observation system from a Mock-sted style hell to occasional small drop ins which aim to catch people working realistically. This contributes, in my opinion, to an atmosphere where people just work, and if you work, and enjoy it regularly, that will be seen. Now all staff are being encouraged to innovate and take the structures we'd developed that step further (please note that I am not claiming responsibility for this - I am but one cog in the wheel).

Since I've been working with this attitude, things have actually become harder. Fatherhood hit me, we ripped our house apart and put it back together, there was some small problem with GCSE results in the summer, but my teaching has been, by and large, the best it has ever been.

It's not because of a magic formula. It's not because I use SOLO (which I do) or because my pupils sit in rows (which they do, sometimes - I have a transforming classroom set up, which year ten can change to any setting in less that two minutes!) or because I lecture from the front (once I start...) or because I let the pupils select their work from a menu.

It's because I do all of these, and more, when I see fit. It's because I teach what I want to teach how I want to teach it - and curricular targets, SLT, Michael Gove and anyone else that has anything to say be damned. All I care about is my pupils being well educated, with rigour, detail, enjoyment, collaboration, context and purpose all paramount. Yes - I'm aware that is a logical fallacy, but again, I don't care.

To anyone wanting to fight back against the negative publicity, the fear and the loathing, just enjoy yourself. Fight your corner. Love what you do, every day, and then the buggers can't grind you down!