Monthly Archives: September 2014

My background in complexity science, by @cazzwebbo


A few people have been in touch recently asking about my previous life working in complexity science. I’ve sent them on a few links and thought I’d share them on my blog on one page here as well.

Please see the following to get a feel for how I’ve been involved in complexity science.

A link to my blog page listing books I’ve participated in: ‘To the writing of many books there is no end’, so here’s a few of my bits 🙂 | Carol’s Learning Curve

A link to my blog page listing conference papers I’ve done: Rousal jags; frame of reference; getting to know people; my conference papers. | Carol’s Learning Curve

Link to a page listing my journal papers: Where I’m coming from academically; a few journal papers… | Carol’s Learning Curve

Dropbox link to my phd:

Cheers, Carol

Snake oil is dead, long live snake oil: on the use of pedagogic tools as an antidote

Some valuable analysis and discussion here on the topic of learning styles 🌟

Education: the sacred and the profane

There has been some talk about snake oil on eduBLOG’s recently. It is usually followed by a denigration of learning styles and Brain Gym. The former I have used, myself,  as an example of the pedagogic illiteracy of the ruling orthodoxy of education.The latter I have seen in Tesco but not so much in education.

Learning styles emerged in the fields of Education and Psychology. Many have found evidence of its validity, and many have not found any evidence at all. I won’t list them but there are over 300,000 learning styles posts on Google scholar many making claims to some efficacy or other. Brain Gym on the other hand has less posts but still over 3,000, which was a surprise. However I doubt that Brain Gym has ever been that serious a proposition in education. On the other hand learning styles has been a serious proposition not just in education…

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10 Good Things From This Week by @cazzwebbo

1) Started a new term of teaching with some great students, who are full of life and energy. Some were only a few marks off getting a C in GCSE English at school so aren’t too bad really. The C this year was harder to get than the year before in my opinion, due to the increased weighting of the final exam.

2) Started my PGCE on a part-time evening course to be completed over two years. This has been a hugely uplifting wave to surf into the new academic year on. It’s giving me a lot of food for thought already.

3) Followed some large class teaching advice and experimented with class teams from the off (Team Shakespeare, Team Steinbeck, Team Owen, Team Tennyson, and Team Cole). I’m finding it helps with classroom management tremendously. You can use it to get students entering and leaving the room in an orderly fashion as well (“Team Steinbeck in first,” etc).

4) I’m enjoying the benefits of implementing a low-confrontational student lateness management tool – something encouraged by @stuartallen14. It’s great because suddenly I don’t have to challenge students as to why they are late to class, the class isn’t disturbed, and the threat of consequences such as a letter going home after five lates in Term 1 or 3 in Term 2 is having a massive impact already. I feel it adds some maturity to the level of interaction with students and relationship dynamics don’t have to be affected by punctuality problems. It’s just a form that any late students fill in as they enter the room. But then the contents go on the electronic ILP system.

5) My SPaG / English placemats will hopefully be ready for use in next week’s classes on. I’ve put a high res A3 two sided copy in a drop box available for download from: feel free to download and use. Thanks to Twitter for many of the images on the there, but quite a few don’t have a credit on them unfortunately.

6) Looking forward to catching up with some of the Edu Twitter gang in Manchester this weekend at @EmmaAnnHardy ‘s #TristramsList gathering in a bid to influence the future of British educational policy in anticipation of a change of parliament in the near future.

7) We’ve sold a few more tickets for the FHA Charity Calendar launch party to be held in Manchester on 28th November, but still need to sell more to make sure it goes ahead. Find out more info and book your ticket from a link at

8) I booked a place on the SLT Camp North that’s happening on the weekend of 14-16 November in North Yorkshire and being run by Andy Day and a Penny Leach. Hoping that goes ahead too but I’ve heard a whisper they need a few more people on board to make sure it isn’t cancelled. Check it out and see if it’s up your street:

9) Bought a very good DVD of a BBC produced series of short dramas based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. James Nesbit, Denis Waterman and Billie Piper were fab in The Miller’s Tale. Can’t wait to watch the rest, especially The Wife of Bath.

10) I’m enjoying dipping into my newly arrived Michael Rosen book, ‘Good ideas: How to be your child’s best teacher’. Haven’t read much yet but lots in there, as you’d expect. It’s a reminder that what seems like common sense to most, might be sadly missing for many. Eg on page 196 Rosen recommends using plaques, memorials, statues and cenotaphs as conversation starters for recounting history and general knowledge with kids and stimulating their curiosity to find out more. I got mine from Amazon: Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher

Anyway, those are my top ten highlights of this week. What were yours? 🙂


Tips for Teaching: “Work Hard, Play hard, Learn from the Experienced & Find Meaning,” says @cazzwebbo – in Vicar of Dibley mode

Searching for some rejuvenating inspiration for the start of the new academic year and to help you survive until half term, Christmas, and beyond? Good – so was I; so I dug deep, my Vicar of Dibley ‘altar’ ego came to the fore, and for my Sunday Sermon this week I’m coming up with this as a starting point for a teaching work ethic this term:

The good book says…

“Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise.”
“Slackness will not start up one’s game animals, but the diligent one is a man’s precious wealth.”
“Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”
“Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled.”
“Exert yourselves vigorously.”
“Show industriousness.”
“Have you beheld a man skilful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself; he will not station himself before commonplace men.”

So, 1) Work hard and enjoy it for the job it is and why you chose it – put the effort in up-front and it will pay off later. Growth mindset at its finest! We all know that you get more out of something if you put more in. At least that’s what I need to keep telling myself anyway. Challenges will come up and keep coming up, and we have to keep rolling our sleeves up and rising to them. So you might as well face the music and dance.

What else?

“The hardworking farmer must be the first to partake of the fruits.”
“There is nothing better than that the man (or woman) should rejoice in his (or her) works.”
“One should eat and drink and see good for all his (or her) hard work.”
“Every man (or woman) should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his (or her) hard work.”
“Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.”

Therefore, 2) Play hard – take a break and take time to reward yourself for your hard work, celebrate your successes, your team and school successes, and of course student achievements! Have you booked your next holiday yet? Where are you going and when? Have something to look forward to, go and enjoy it, then come back refreshed and ready to get stuck in again.

But, be careful, because…

“The renegading of the inexperienced ones is what will kill them.”

So, 3) Learn from the experienced – choose some good role models, attend teachmeets, take charge of your own CPD and enjoy it, share/learn/chat on Twitter, follow and read edu-blogs and edu books. Don’t want to be a statistic? Then don’t just quit and leave after your first year or when the going gets tough. Get some support from somewhere, ask for advice, learn from your mistakes, stick it out and grow. You can do it!

And, if you have time to feel disgruntled, empty, or a ‘what’s it all about’ kind of feeling…

“For what does a man come to have for all his hard work and for the striving of his heart with which he is working hard under the sun? For all his days his occupation means pains and vexation, also during the night his heart just does not lie down. This too is mere vanity.”

Which implies to me, 4) Find meaning – focus on the individual students you are helping. You have no idea in what ways you are making a difference and sowing seeds that will bloom later in ways you might never see but be totally responsible for. Be proud of that and know that this is what really matters.

In summary then: work hard, play hard, learn from the experienced, and find meaning.

What deep and meaningful thoughts are underpinning your work ethic for teaching this term? Please share in comments below.

Tips for Teaching Large Classes Collated by @cazzwebbo


Who else has just got their new timetable and found they have quite a few large classes this term? How big does a class have to be for it to feel large to you? 20 students? 25? 30? 40? 50?

I’m down to teach several GCSE English classes with 30 students in them, a total of 134 students per week unless a few end up in different classes or dropping out (I teach in an FE college, not mainstream ed). Last year I started out with 103 and this slipped down to 77 in the end. For teaching GCSE English this feels large for me due to all the marking of diagnostics, course work and mock exams that falls at the same time for each class, as well as any homework.

Until the timetabling situation is resolved, I’m wondering what other experienced teachers advise as their top tips for teaching larger classes, especially English GCSE.

I’ve collated some tips below from around the web (some of these blatantly apply to developing world countries for classes of 50+ students), and please feel free to add yours in comments underneath, too.

“There is no “best way” to teach large classes. You must develop the approach that works best for you based on your teaching style, the characteristics of your students, and the goals and objectives of your lessons and curriculum” (source:

Ideally, hold classes in a bright, clean, well-equipped room that accommodates every student comfortably and allows them to move around and work well either individually or in groups (source:

To encourage active learning and student involvement, arrange seats so students can see each other as well as the teacher (source:

“In large class settings, space is often a luxury. To maximize what learning space is available, consider removing unnecessary furniture to reduce the feeling of overcrowding and to facilitate movement” (source:

“If you really don’t need a large teacher’s desk, ask for a small one” (source:

“Store books, instructional materials (such as chalk, rulers, paper, paint, and scissors), and teaching tools (such as portable chalkboards, easels, chart paper, and work tables) so that they can be obtained and put away easily, and, in crowded classrooms, do not take up valuable space” (source:

Facilitate movement. Develop plans in advance for how students can best enter and exit the classroom; for instance, students who sit in the back of the classroom can enter first, followed by those seated in the middle, and lastly by those seated at the front. A reverse strategy can be used for exiting the classroom (source:

Plan in advance how you will change the classroom arrangement depending on what is being taught, such as moving from a whole class arrangement for test taking to small groups for other lessons (source:

Plan on how routine activities will be conducted, such as handing out written assignments and then handing them back to students after grading. Also plan so that your students’ individual needs can be met, such as when they need to sharpen their pencils or to get supplies for learning (source:

Display student work creatively. Space is needed to display student work. Rather than display boards or tables, which take up space, students’ work can be hung on a classroom wall or displayed just outside the classroom door for everyone to see. Strings can be used onto which each student’s work is attached with clips, or tape. Decorating the room with student work will also help add to the attractiveness of the room and make it more welcoming, even if there are a lot of students in it (source:

Involve your students. Students can be very helpful in managing the classroom’s physical space, and it helps them to develop a sense of responsibility. They can hang up student work, create bulletin boards, and put away instructional materials at the end of each lesson. Students can also be helpful in solving space problems. When a problem occurs, such as students bumping into each other or inadequate seating space, ask them to suggest solutions (source:

At the beginning of the year, organize your classroom, and then ask your students if they are comfortable with it. Better yet, divide them into groups and ask each group to look around the room and its contents, and then to draw a picture of how they would like the room to be organized. Use ideas from their drawings to design your students’ “personal” classroom. Try the arrangement for one or two weeks, and then ask your students if they are comfortable with it. Change the classroom arrangement if they feel a new one would be more comfortable. Moreover, change it whenever you sense that your students are becoming bored with sitting in the classroom (source:

Make a large class feel small. Many teachers try to make a large class small by treating it as such. They move towards a student who has asked a question, which reduces physical and social distance, and they help class assistants distribute materials. Remember: students may not mind being in a large class as much as you do. Students once described
a teacher who made a large class seem much smaller because of his personal approach. He moved around a lot, walking up and down the room. You knew that he wanted his students to come to class and that he cared about his students. This teacher came to class early to talk to students. He helped students connect with others who could help them with their work. He recognized his students as people with interests and lives outside of his class (source:

Temporarily reduce class size. Some teachers intentionally reduce the size of their classes. They divide their classes in half (or even by one-third), with one-half coming to school in the morning, while the other half comes in the afternoon (source:

Make a seating chart. Ask students to sit in the same seats for the first few weeks and prepare a seating chart. Try to memorize four or five names at each class session (source:

Use name cards and tags. If photographs or pictures are not possible, have students make name cards that they place in front of them during class. If you are not using desks, your studentscan make name tags to wear during the first few weeks of school. Before class, and during it, learn the names of students sitting along the aisles and call on them in class by name. Progressively work your way to the centre of the room, calling each student by name (source:

Use introductions. Have a few students introduce themselves. Then stop the introductions and ask another student to name all of the students who have been introduced. Once the first few names have been recalled, move on to a few more, and so on, until everyone has been introduced. For very large classes, do this exercise over the first week and select a small group of students to make introductions each day (source:

Actively take attendance. Call the register using the students’ names several times during the beginning of the school year to connect faces and names as soon as possible. Even though there may be some names that you don’t seem to be able to learn, your students will greatly appreciate your effort (source:

Actively use students’ names. Have students give their names each time before they speak. This can be continued until everyone feels they know the people in the room. Use students’ names as often as possible (source:

Involve students. Asking two or three students each day to be “class assistants” to help you with demonstrations, distributing materials, or other activities can also help you to learn their names. Talk to them while you are working on the activity so that you can learn about their backgrounds and interests (source:

High Energy: although classes with many students may be noisy, try to see them as fun and exciting (source:

Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete – save and use in these in your next class (source:

Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students (source:

Use a teacher’s notebook: Carry a small notebook and pen around with you. Take notes while you are circulating among students. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete (source:

Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available (source:

Create a participation grade if you are allowed: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part a final grade of some kind if possible. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance (source:

Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too) (source:

Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don’t feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn’t go as you expect it to (source:

Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching (source:

Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone (source: I think I’m going to get a whistle 😉

Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the photocopying room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make (source:

Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don’t let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours (source: Not sure I’d be allowed to use the one about not letting them enter, but I’ll ask 😉

Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don’t like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time (source:

Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions (source:

Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves- sounds like a good starter activity (source:

Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team (source:

Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team (source:

Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. “A doing word”) Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What’s a verb?”) (source:

Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received (source: Sounds like a variation on the speed dating activity I had students doing in my first classes this week… Which, incidentally, was a complete hit, every time!

Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins (source: another good starter.

Speed-Dating with Students, Prizes & Stickers: Induction Week


Got off to a flying start with two lovely classes of anxious yet bubbly, vibrant, and bursting out all over 16-19 year olds in our FE induction week yesterday.

I must confess it’s the first time I’ve ever had classes from scratch. And I loved it. They seemed happy, too. Everyone left smiling, and having got to know others in the class more, which was the aim for sessions this week as encouraged by our new HoL, @stuartallen14 (please follow him, Twitter – he deserves far more followers than he currently has).

@stuartallen14 led a directorate kick-off meeting in advance of the new academic year last week and shared a video with snippets of previous students, who said that what had really helped them stay on the course was the help they’d been given right from the off in making friends in induction week. So @stuartallen14 gave us a big push to lead activities to focus on that from the off. I put my thinking cap on.

Emails then zapped back and forth between the staff team focussing on induction week sessions. My four penneth included recommending speed-dating (what can I say, I’m very experienced, ahem), and if possible squeezing in my Growth Mindset YouTube video and a quick hit on inspirational people to link to good attitudes towards learning. I also moved house last week so instead of taking a bunch of my stuff to the charity shop I decided to dish out a selection of DVDs, books and notebooks as prizes (I’m hoping the novelty factor made up for any lack of harmony with 16-19 year old tastes).

My first class only got the speed-dating as we went down to the Freshers’ Fair for the first half hour of our session, but I tried to turn that into as much fun as possible; I said whoever got the most free stuff could choose a further prize from my crate. A clear winner emerged with one girl jubilantly spilling all her freebies onto the desk in front of her when she got back into the room, face beaming.

To run the speed-dating I gave each student a number, 1 or 2, and got number 1s to sit on chairs on the outside of a U shaped table formation. Number 2s had to sit in a chair opposite number 1s, on the inside of the U. To prepare, students had to then draw a quick table, to collect names of other students they met along the top row of the grid, and then other bits of info about that person in the column underneath (see image below for the example I put up on the whiteboard to help them do this). There were 20-odd students in each session so they had roughly 10 or 11 other students to ”meet” during the session. I suggested a range of questions to ask the other student: where are you from? Which school did you go to? Tell me about your friends. Any pets? Favourite film, music and food, etc. Your first kiss??? That last one caused a few laughs. It turned into a yes or no answer for some, and more interesting and fun tales from others. I adapted the list of questions when I ran it in the second session to include a celebrity crush. The most interesting response that came back in response to that question was, “Olaf” (from Frozen). It takes all sorts.

Students had three minutes to talk to the person sitting opposite them, and then I told all those sitting on the inside of the U to move round one chair to the right (clockwise), then they each had to interview their new partner. I kept it going until everyone on the inside had sat opposite everyone on the outside and they were finally back in their original places. The outcome was that lots of students had met and got to know lots of other new ones a little bit. The ice was definitely broken. Everyone happy. I also dished out a sticker to everyone, praising their effort… I know some Twitter folk are a bit anti-stickers, but it’s amazing the positive feeling getting a sticker generates. Even for 16-19 year olds. I also told them they were my favourite class so far… I’m experimenting with this.

For the group that I had a bit more time with, as I mentioned above, I ran a bit on Growth Mindset, inspirational people, and dished out some prizes from my amazing crate of stuff. Incidentally, I was amazed that one girl chose a tiny notebook from the crate instead of any books or DVDs or even a digital radio.

For the bit on Growth Mindset, I asked students to brainstorm what attitudes would make them successful learners at college, to try and get between 5 and ten different points. I said the first pair to get ten points could get a crate prize. We had a winning duo very quickly, who then shared back with the group. I wrote their ten on the board, and asked others for any they missed. One girl chose a flowery diary from the crate, and the other a rom-com DVD.

I then played the growth mindset YouTube video, which highlighted some attitudes they might not have thought of: – After it had been played I asked them what attitudes were mentioned and left them to absorb that.

For the remainder of the lesson I set a quick version of the inspirational people task: find it in my blog at 3 Inspirational People: Inspire Students & Teach Grit & Growth Mindset | Carol’s Learning Curve:

In the quick version I ran through my three choices of inspirational people, asked students if and what they knew about these people first (very impressed that most knew that George Washington was the first president of the United States, and that one girl knew about his teeth…), highlighted briefly why they were inspirational and what qualities they had and showed as people through their lives. I then asked students to talk in pairs about a person they thought was inspirational, and to say why, and to be persuasive. They all got into the task and a handful were willing to speak to the rest of the class to explain their choices. Each of those doing that got a prize from the crate. Everyone got a sticker, everybody happy… My favourite class so far 🙂

I’m running this session a few more times this week… Hope I don’t run out of prizes and stickers 🙂



researchED – Drilling down to the evidence

I’m re blogging this because: I agree that qualitative research is effective depending on your research question, and especially if relating to intangibles; I agree that absolute-hunting isn’t healthy; and, I think that looking at students’ books shouldn’t be to assess the marking of a teacher, but to use content analysis to examine the extent of transformation in student learning over time.


While I take and understand the point about confirmation bias, it is absolutely the case the Dylan Wiliam articulated in one hour everything I have been banging on about in tweets and blogs about educational research over the past couple of years. The only difference being that while Dylan is an internationally regarded educator, that I am a totally insignificant figure, even in my own school (or house – ask my wife).

It was the section about meta-analysis that really struck a cord. Dylan showed in ten minutes the major difficulties with this method of analysis. Put simply, you cannot compare like for like unless you drill down to the exact thing you are investigating. Thus, it is pointless comparing 100 papers on feedback if 33 refer to immediate verbal feedback, 33 to written feedback, or 34 to peer feedback (not sure if that last thing exists, but it sounds ok)…

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Do your homework: Acting on evidence from educational research #rED14

Homework in primary needs careful rethinking… The spirit of AfL is more effective than the letter of AfL… And, dialogue as a precursor to writing tasks increases effectiveness… Good stuff.


These are the slides from my talk at ResearchEd 2014.

The aim of the talk is to look at four different kinds of research and to consider the extent to which teachers might accept the findings and then allow them to influence their practice.

I’ve chosen four contrasting forms of research.

1. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of research into homework.  I’ve written about the detail in this blog post.  Here 160+ studies are compiled to generate a relative effect size but, if you engage with the detail, there is actually no neat conclusion.  The effect depends on numerous variables; to make simple statements about homework in general is lazy.

John Hattie made the following comment on the blog:

John Hattie's comment. John Hattie’s comment.

2. Robert Bjork’s research into memory is fascinating but what kind of evidence does he have?  Many of his ideas derive from experiments where people (often university students) are…

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Resolving Sophie’s Choice: #rED14

A cool tool for tomorrow’s conference here… No-one has offered me confectionary to attend their session yet though 😎


If you’re anything like me, three things are happening:

1. You have the ResearchEd 2014 schedule laid out in front of you, utterly paralysed by the choice.
2. Despite the gravity of the problem that faces you, you’re as giddy as an infant on Christmas Eve. The cocktail of emotions only further excites you.
3. Your girlfriend is sighing and shaking her head, whilst browsing through ex-boyfriends’ Facebook pages wondering what the hell happened.

Fear not!

I’ve developed a fool-proof – no, it’s better than that – teacher-proof system to make the most effective choices of who to see at this year’s hottest educational conference.

Step 1: Take a row in which you are having difficulty deciding who to see (all of the rows).

Step 2: Score each speaker(s) based on the criteria below

Step 3: Take a big black marker and circle the speaker who scores…

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