Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘student engagement’

LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Postscript)

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 16/09/2012 at 1:27 pm

ShirourslyPart 05 was supposed to be the “end”! It was…


About half way through Part 04, I actually had doubts about even doing Part 05 at all! You see, it dawned on me (as it has done before) that those of you that read my bouts of bloggery, probably do not need to be reading this stuff…

Those that might need to read (and reflect on) these things are the:

  • TEACHers that run Classroom A
  • School “LEADers”
  • Politicians

…exactly the people who might say…BLOGS…never bloody ‘erd of ‘em!

What to do? 


Well, the deal is that…just as we all have a moral responsibility to thunk about STUDENT LEARNing (I was gonna say “LEARNer LEARNing – but that just seems a bit of “overkill”)…we have a moral responsibility to help each other as educatorsto thunk about TEACHer LEARNing!

Now, this duty is just not to ensure that LEARNers are not sent back to Classroom A (after they have done a session with us…in Classroom B)…but because we are TEACHers!

We help eachother…we LEARN eachother…and we “do” it best together!


How do we do this? What sort of things can we do, acaba?


…for TEACHers!


Next time you have a scheduled Teachers’ Meeting (you know, the “boring” ones…where all we do is talk about stuff that is not related to LEARNing), ask your HoD if you can have a spot on the agenda (try to keep this spot on EVERY agenda…really)!

Tell everyone you want to have a LEARNing Conversation about the classrooms…and have copies of Alfie Kohn’s “chart” at the ready (from his post “What to look for in the classroom” – this is hot-link, BTW).

Hand out the chartand tell everyone that this was produced in 1996 – and you want to see how well “we” are doing. Let your teachers run through the chart – celebrate, if you have more “good signs” than “possible reasons to worry”.

But, still ask:


If not, get the team to “see” where they are…and, come up with their own “ideas” – ways to improve how you all “do business” in the classroom. If you have some “Classroom B teachers”, get them to share what they have done…what workswhat matters!


…and making a few of these changes needn’t have the same price tag as the Death Star!




…for a TEACHer (perhaps, who lives in Classroom A – but loved the meeting and your agenda item).


Offer to have coffee or lunch with them…shiriously! Tell them you saw the way they got so involved with the classroom ideas…help them make it happen in their classroom!

Over time, follow up…ask how things are going and what things are getting better!

Invest in them (they teach your LEARNers, too) and try to get the relationship to the point where you can ask and answer questions togetherimprove things together.


See if you can’t both discuss questions like these:

…all the time…and, talk specifically about “our” STUDENTS and “our” LEARNers!


Get into the habit of talking about questions like these:

Many of us do this all the time…but usually with other TEACHers from Classroom B.


BUT…what about Classroom A? …remember “perspective” in the questions:

And, because we know…

…you might want to try “real” powerful questions like:


…and keep asking questions that help us “celebrate”:

Yes, I know this is a “big ask” – but, it works…it gets results…and, if you think engaging a “kid” is “cool”wait until you “feel” it with a TEACHer from Classroom A!


Mmmmmm…what to do with School LEADers and Politicians, acaba?

Send them a link to this blog…and tell them I’m doing a really “cool” mini-series on how “standardised testing” is the next best thing after sliced ekmek!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Part 05)

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 14/09/2012 at 4:45 pm

Krissy’s wonderful image…sums up why all is not so well in Denmark. 


It’s true, we have been able to create a fair few LEARNacy Zones in many classrooms, in many schools…even a few universities…

…but as I noted in Part 04 of this series:


Do you remember Part 02?

You know…I asked you all a few questions – and three of my favourites were:

…a lot of you “passed”, by the way!


An old friend got me a note (not to thank me for the questions – he’s always telling me that I need to give more “answers” than “questions”…but we agree to disagree on that).

What he said was quite interesting:

The funny thing is…that most us would never have come across questions like this 25-30 years ago. We just didn’t do much of that kind of thunking in teaching then…!

He went on:

…I showed the questions to a few teachers in our staff room…many of them answered “NO”…and said you are a total LEARNatic…and not in the nice sense!

As I have said before – WE can’t win ‘em all!


The issue is, of course, what happens to a student that walks out of “Classroom B” (after a really engaging lesson…with a thunking TEACHer) and has to do a “double” in “Classroom A”…with you-know-who! 

In Part 02, I asked the question: 

…but surely the more important questions are: 

  • What are the consequences of this on the LEARNacy of individual LEARNers?
  • What are the consequences of doing nothing about this?
  • What are the consequences…?


For sure…advances in psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience have picked up the pace of our thunking over the last decade…but, in essence, education has been witness to a broader paradigm shift in how we approach TEACHing and LEARNing for much longer…so much so that many of us now prefer to talk of LEARNing and TEACHing!

Indeed, TEACHing itself has become redefined as the “facilitation of LEARNing” and we now routinely talk of LEARNing outcomes – rather than just delivering “CONTENT”. Further, over the last 25-30 years, LEARNers have become of central importance – as have the motives, activities and feelings of individual LEARNers.

We have made huge steps in helping LEARNers become “insiders”insiders in their own LEARNing…

 …I’m thinking you “feel” me!


There are many out there (Bill Gates and Chris Woodhead should really “do coffee” some time) who see “bad TEACHers” at the root of all these woes…however, it’s much more likely that many TEACHers are “poor consumers” of LEARNing

The thing is…just as LEARNers need to exercise their LEARNing muscles in a LEARNing gymnasiumso do TEACHers… 


…it’s not as if most TEACHers aren’t trying! 

 Why else would TEACHers… 

The list goes on…


Yes, of course, there are those in “the teaching game” who are in it for the regular paycheck…or because they can’t see any other alternatives.

But, these are in the minority…

If we now recognise that LEARNers need Julia and Jean’s 3Rs and 3Cs, surely it’s not too much of a stretch to see how TEACHers might need these things, too? Surely, in developing a true Culture of LEARNacy – we have to emphasize TEACHer Engagement and much as we do LEARNer Engagement?


Guy Claxton talks of the need to create a classroom climate and culture that actively builds the LEARNing Power and the innate LEARNing dispositions and capabilities that all kids have.

What happens when: 

  • …we have school climates that do not emphasise TEACHer LEARNing or meaningful improvement in how TEACHers might expand and improve student LEARNing? 
  • …we have school leaders that create a stressful climate based on the fear of failure (and play “the blame game”)? 
  • …we have national educational agendas based on the whims of politicians and their “examocrat buddies” or so-called “educational reformers” (who couldn’t even spell LEARNacy, if you paid them – and we do)?

I’ll tell you:

Dream much, Tony…?

LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Part 04)

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 14/09/2012 at 12:20 pm

LEARNacy (or the capacity of human beings to LEARN and also LEARN how to get better at LEARNing) is certainly not new – Maria Montessori just “got” it over 100 years ago when she “discovered” that:

…but it was Guy Claxton that gave the idea a “name”.


Guy draws heavily on the concept of the LEARNing gymnasium – and the metaphor of sport and exercise. Just as our muscles need exercise – so do our minds.

The four muscles he drills down into are his “4Rs”:


…and it is pumping iron in the classroom that can help LEARNers get better at..


In truth, although Guy coined the phrase – he does not dwell on it that much (that’s all my “bad” – just a sucker for “sexy” words, I guess). His priority is LEARNing Power – the building of all those innate LEARNing dispositions and capabilities that we all have and the classroom practices that help to cultivate those habits of mind.

His “vision”, if you will is to, is to get this sign:

…into every school and university (OK – that’s just me, again)!

And, by all reports (except those that come from Chris Woodhead’s desk)…he’s done a bloody good job! A lot of dedicated, forward-thunking TEACHers have breathed life into these ideas…and got results!


  • Does this mean they “stopped” TEACHing?
  • Does this mean they “threw out” all their CONTENT?
  • Does this mean they went over to the Dark Side?



Our kids will always need “great TEACHing” – they will always need “STUFF” that also LEARNs and ENGAGEs them…we just need to restore “greater balance” (…to the Force, Luke)!


Oh, yesand before I forget (again)…

Yes, I was supposed to use this in Part 03!


…YOU just had to know something like this was coming…


All is still not well in the state of Denmarkbut more on that in Part 05!


LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Part 03)

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 13/09/2012 at 1:35 pm

One of the challenges of running a mini-series on your blog (apart from the fact that they never seem to end…) is you can, if you are not careful, leave a few loose ends

For example, in Part 02 of this “dizi” – I posed this question:

This one touches at the very heart of student engagement debates in our 21st Century world…but I kinda left it hanging there and did not really plan to talk about EdTECH that much in the series.

Fortunately (for me), Bill Ferriter did a guest post on Larry Cuban’s blog recently and drew on Dina Strasser’s wonderful one-liner:


Like most EDUsmart LEARNatics, Bill and Dina both recognise that TEACHers cannot really “engage” students with TECHnology – for LEARNers the TECH is “invisible” and our attempts to make it more “visible” (and thus “motivating”) will probably get us as many giggles as when we told them that we did not have the internet when we were LEARNers! 

As we noted in Part 01LEARNers want choicechallenge and collaboration (to feed their need for responsibilityrespect and real’). 

As Bill puts it: 

What students are really motivated by are opportunities to be social — to interact around challenging concepts in powerful conversations with their peers. They are motivated by issues connected to fairness and justice. They are motivated by the important people in their lives, by the opportunity to wrestle with the big ideas rolling around in their minds, and by the often-troubling changes they see happening in the world around them.


The role of the TECH – is just to “help” them do that, as effectively and efficiently as they canReal engagement and a real culture of LEARNacy means that, as TEACHers, we prioritize the purpose, success (or “mastery”, if you are a fan of Dan Pink) and autonomy – and make sure we build on the curiosity that LEARNers naturally bring to the table.

The starting point is to ask our LEARNers to LEARN us


The second loose end was a question I asked at the very end of Part 01:

Now, I have to admit this was a tough question – but what I was getting at was that to really make student engagement “work” (in a school context) is that the whole school community has to be committed to LEARNacya community of purpose committed to creating a culture of LEARNacy. 

Many TEACHers (and I got a few e-mails to prove it) say that this is their real challenge…that their schools do not give them the opportunities and the time to “work ON” the business… 

 …and, sadly, focus on “working IN” the business – and what is convenient for them!


If TEACHers cannot answer that question in the affirmative, the first thing the school or university needs to do is open up “space” for all staff to ask other questions:

  • Why not? What is stopping us?
  • What needs to change in us, our TEACHing and our school to make this the way we all “do” the business of LEARNing?

Because, you know…

…if we don’t!


The really big loose end is, of course, that I have not really defined what I mean by a Culture of LEARNacy.

That’s easy (gulp!) – when I get round to Part 04!

LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Part 02)

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 11/09/2012 at 5:57 pm

The other week (caused, in part, by the little image you see above and a few of the questions I shared with you in Part 01 of this little mini-series) someone called me a “LEARNatic” – a term I had not heard before!

I actually thought it was quite “smart”…and I took it for what it was – a bit of venting by a TEACHer who was clearly bored of life…and certainly wasn’t interested in student engagement or post-summer CPD workshops!

Hey, we can’t win them all!


What I didn’t know was that the term itself also served to put me in some very esteemed company – a community made up of people like Carl Rogers…like Jerome Bruner…like Jean Rudduck…like Guy Claxton…please let me go on…please!

I was chuffed to bits!


The term LEARNatic was in fact coined by that pillar of virtue, Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Ofsted (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) – basically Darth Vader’s “school inspectors”.

Woodhead used the term to describe the ideas of people like Guy Claxton – you know, those UK-based LEARNatics that were suggesting that schools hadn’t quite got it right and that they all needed to be thinking about Julia and Jean’s 3Rs and 3Cs…those LEARNatics that were suggesting that the “examocracies” we had created all over the bloody planet just weren’t working…and we needed a new educational agenda for the 21st Century…

…an agenda based on LEARNacy!


BTW, Chris Woodhead also earned himself the reputation of being Righteous, Reactionary and Rong – the 3Rs UK educators use to describe him…but that’s for another post!


It was Guy, actually, that thunked up the term LEARNacy…in his 2002 book – Building Learning Power.

Now, I bet you are now expecting me to jump right in and “tell” you what it is all about!

…and, you’d be totally “wrong”


Well, what I thought was that I’d prefer to ask you a few…questionsand see if you are a LEARNatic, too!

Is that OK?


Here we go (and remember…be “honest”…no copying!):

Nearly there…just 2 more to go!

Would you like an “answer key”? 


Now – boyz n’ gurlz, if you answered all those questions (well, 8 out of 10 of them) in the affirmative – congratulations!

You are a LEARNatic – welcome to the community!

Bedtime Reading…

LEARNer Engagement in a Culture of LEARNacy (Part 01)

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 11/09/2012 at 6:58 am

You can’t throw a rock into the educational blogosphere without hitting the word “engagement” these days. It’s been that way since the mid-1990s but the recent interest in 21st Century LEARNing (or the 21C Paradigm) means that it has got a much higher profile of late…


Today, in order to “compete” with the power of self-directed, edtech-enabled LEARNing, classroom TEACHers have to engage, engage, engage…and woe betide thee, Molly Woppy…if you are still using carrots n’ sticks to get your LEARNers to LEARN!

The problem is, in today’s brave new world of education, rapport just does not cut it – neither does a great curriculum or a great assessment matrixif we ever get round to creating these!

Engagement has become the educator’s best friend in the “war on motivation” (or the lack of it). The real problem (yes, you knew it was coming) is that we seem to throw the term around so frequently and loosely that for many TEACHers it has lost its meaning.



Is it just topics that LEARNers find “interesting” or activities that they “like” or work that allows them to “express” themselves – even…shock-horror…“having fun” in the classroom and “working with friends”?


Of course, it’s more…a lot more.

Check out this summary from WikiI must admit these guys are still impressing me with some of their stuff…but do not tell anyone I said that! This time, however, I’m going to focus on those elements that impact LEARNers and TEACHers…in the classroom.

And, what better place to start than with Carl Rogers…and his insight into the “real” meaning of engagement:

…he elaborates:

…he gives us even more:

Now, I have to admit…when I first saw this (as a younger teacher), I thought “No way…no way is that possible in the classroom”!

I guess I am not alone…


Rogers’ comments highlight many of the key elements that educational researchers started to hone in on in the mid-1990s:

…a holy trinity that seem to fuel a visible delight in the LEARNers – and a persistence or resilience that allows these LEARNers to “see things through” to “success” and “achievement”.

Now, you see why this scared the bejeebers out of me!


Some of you – familiar with the work of Dan Pink – will have picked up on that last word, the title of his 2009 book. Dan writes a great deal about the changing work of work or what he terms “21st century work”. His book, Drive, was summarised in a “twitter post” he made at the time the book was published:

Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

By which he meant (but could not fit into a 140-character tweet):

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

Drive, of course, refers directly to “motivation” (more indirectly to “engagement” – the product of high levels of motivation), and Pink suggests that the keys to unlocking and sustaining this type of (intrinsic) motivation (at work, school and home) lie in focussing in on autonomy, mastery and purposethe exact same thing that Carl Rogers was talking about.


Now, you might say – and would probably be very right to do soTony, surely this type of “engagement” is only possible out-of-school – when kids choose to “tune out” school and focus on things they “love”, their “real” interests, their own hobbies? 

The thing was that early research into classroom engagement did actually show that it was possible in school…in the classroom. 

We started to see that those students that were “engaged” in their school work seemed to be “engergized” by success, curiosity, originality and satisfying relationships. Richard Strong, Harvey Silver and Amy Robinson, for example, picked up on this and highlighted four core needs that these students seem to have – and explained them a bit more (we did not have twitter then):

  • Success – the need for “mastery” (not just grades or exam passes)
  • Curiosity – the need for “understanding” (not just “information” that has to be memorised)
  • Originality – the need for “self-expression” (not just be a “good student”)
  • Relationships – the need for “involvement with others” (not just be a “vessel”)

Obviously, all these elements basically touch on the issue of “motivation” and many TEACHers realised that it might be a good idea to start looking at the things that they were already doing “right” – and discover a few more ways to build on these things. By asking questions like:

…and more reflective (and disorientating) questions like:

…that only the bravest of us ask!

All of them…great questions!


What these teachers were realising was that student engagement also came from TEACHers engaging with their own TEACHing!

John Hattie, noted this:

He is right – on both counts!


BUTthere is another element!

TEACHers can improve LEARNer engagement by engaging LEARNers in conversations about what engages them. They can ask LEARNers to LEARN them! 

…through direct approaches vis-à-vis “motivation”: 

…and, also taking this…further: 

It is exactly these types of questions – suggested by Julia Flutter and Jean Rudduck (in this instance) – that start to pull LEARNers out of their more traditional role of “outsiders”…and help them assume the role of an “insider” – an insider in the very process of their own LEARNing…


Julia and Jean also take this a step further – in their 2004 book – when they describe a great model that captures the very essence of engagement. They maintain that schools have been getting it wrong for years and suggest that children at school are “hungry” for the 3Rsresponsibility, respect and reality…and that teachers and schools can meet these needs by focussing on the 3Cschoice, challenge and collaboration.

These 3Rs and 3Cs can be adapted into another group of questions that TEACHers can ask themselves:

…again, TEACHers engaging with their own TEACHing!


OK…so far, I have been doing most of the heavy-lifting in this post (or was that “heavy-asking”?) – let’s try a little task. Ask yourself those six questions inspired by Julia and Jean’s thunking – just give a “yea” or “nay”.


If you answered “yes”, try evidencing those answers with two other sets of questions:




…’cos we all need to LEARN how to do this better!


Now, I have just realised I have gone over my self-imposed word limit (again!)…and we haven’t got to LEARNacy…let alone the notion of a CULTURE of LEARNacy. 

I did say, at the very start of the post, this was Part 01 


I’ll leave you with one last question…a question that might hint at where we are going with this: 


…after all – we teach LEARNers, not COURSES – right?


Bedtime Reading:

Bedtime Reading (saved for Pt 02):


In The Paradigm Debate on 18/02/2011 at 11:00 pm

It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get.  

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan

It’s a relatively self-evident truth that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. However, and as a growing body of evidence and research is demonstrating, most learning in the world takes place without any form of formal teaching.

We all know there is a great deal of teaching taking place across classrooms (in every corner of the world) without much learning happening!

So, is teaching important? What makes an “effective” teacher?

Research on teacher effectiveness consistently shows that the formal education and learning of students is greatly dependent on the quality of teachers, the teaching they receive and the level of student engagement created by teachers. The “teacher effect”, as it goes, is higher than that of curriculum renewal, textbooks and materials, and (even) school leaders.

In studies, for example, where students have been assigned to “ineffective teachers”, students have significantly lower achievement and learning than those assigned to “effective teachers” – TRUE but,  WTH would even set up this type of study?

So, what is an “effective teacher”?

Everything we come across suggests effective teachers do exhibit a number of common personal qualities and instructional skills:

  • Treat students with respect and a caring attitude
  • Present themselves in class as “real people”
  • Spend more time working with small groups throughout the day
  • Provide a variety of opportunities for students to apply and use knowledge and skills in different learning situations
  • Use active, hands-on student learning
  • Vary instructional practices and modes of teaching
  • Offer real-world, practical examples

For many of us teaching is, in essence, about believing that all students can learn and doing anything and everything to help and encourage students to grow and develop as whole people. Teaching is about engagement and designing learning opportunities and environments that focus on what students can do with what they learn – and giving learners control, not trying to control learning.

One of my favourite reads on this topic is Bain’s book “What the Best College Teachers Do” (which won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for outstanding book on education and society) and while a review of individual studies on teaching effectiveness reveals no commonly agreed definition of teacher effectiveness, Bain’s book provides an excellent conceptual model for what is it that makes a teacher “effective”.

He bases this on a series of questions:

Bain’s work suggests that the most effective teaching is not a question of  age or experience or expertise in a given discipline (although a sound knowledge of the subject-matter of a specific discipline is a given) but rather the result of a number of attitudes, conceptualisations and practices – these are typical of teachers who “take a learning perspective”.

Indeed, many of the understandings and practices of these teachers are very similar to those practices of highly effective institutions investigated through Project DEEP – and stress the importance of:

  • A “living” mission and a “lived” educational philosophy
  • An “unshakeable” focus on student learning

Teachers that take a learning perspective also extend these ideas to their own understanding of themselves as professionals, and the ways in which effective teachers work to learn and grow include:

  • Reflecting on their own performance in order to improve
  • Using feedback from students and others to assess and improve their teaching

BUT, and this is where I throw LEARNING back into the ring, we said that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.

I would propose that we keep Bain’s approach but modify some of his questions a little –

  • What do effective teachers know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do to improve what they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?

That last one is a bit of a mouthful!

Some different questions like these might help us really get to the heart of what makes a truly effective teacher. How would you answer these questions?


What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development and Performance in College and Beyond by Marcia Mentkowski & Associates (Alverno)

Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by George D. Kuh, et al