Welcome to a new and exciting year of Outside the Box.

At Ark Evelyn Grace Academy, we believe that it is important for us to create a community of learners – which includes not just the students but also the staff and the community that we serve. We understand that we are always learning and striving for new and different ways to enhance the lives of everyone that is associated with us.

Our weekly bulletin – Outside the Box – helps us to develop this. Every week, new and emerging ideas from neuroscience, from thinkers, from teachers and from the wider world of education are shared, with the intention that through reading about and engaging with ideas, we can improve our practice as educators and achieve our goal of creating an exciting, dynamic school which will ultimately enable our students to become cleverer and kinder people.

We hope that you find something of value here.


Growth Mindset - 05/01/18

To begin, an overview of Growth Mindset with some practical steps for implementation from Inner Drive: Click here

Next, a different overview from Mindset Works, with lots of links to different areas of study: Click Here

The Guardian Teacher Network is always a useful place for interesting reading material and these two links are succinct and relevant: Click Here and click here

Finally, the TES moves the discussion forward by developing the argument and recognising that Growth Mindset is not without its critics: Click here

Professor Carol Dweck has a book on the subject: Mindset - 'How you can fulfil your potential'. 

This is worth a read, and there are a range of videos about the subject, including some interesting insights from Professor Dweck on You Tube.

Happy times.


Learning and Memory - 12/01/18

This week’s edition of Outside the Box is developing and exploring some of the science behind our training earlier this week. For those colleagues interested in reading around this subject, I hope that you find the following articles stimulating and interesting.

To begin, a fascinating article from the Huffington Post which states that  There Are More Connections in the Human Brain Than There Are Stars in Our Milky Way Galaxy...

This page from Science Daily gives a brief and digestible overview of how memory works.

The New Scientist explores the ideas behind the concept that the Natural brain state is primed to learn. Perhaps the ideas are a little out of reach at the moment, but it provides interesting food for thought for future innovations.

Finally, words of caution, which are always sensible. The Guardian Teaching Network suggests that when Using cognitive psychology in the classroom: approach with caution. It is a slightly older article than usual – from the days when Gardner’s Learning Styles were the flavour of the month and teachers (including me) used to think Brain Gym was real.

Book of the week is Daniel T Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School’? The simple answer is that schools get it all wrong cognitively and teachers should learn lessons from cognitive science so that students do like school. It is highly recommended.


Learning and Memory: Part 2 - 19/01/18

One of the best educational blogs is the work of four cognitive scientists who are interested in research and its implications for education. The writing is concise, clear and grounded in real classroom practice. The piece on dual coding in the classroom is a sensible place to start.

Durrington High School in West Sussex is one a growing number of schools that have truly embraced evidence based practice. They have a great blog, which is readable, evidence based and – again, totally grounded and rooted in the classroom reality of teachers. This piece on spacing and interleaving is a good introduction to their blog and a helpful reminder of the research and the practice.

If you wanted to read and learn a great deal more about retrieval practice, you could do a lot worse than start here.

Finally, this week – a resource to make retrieval practice effective, engaging and simple. If you want to have a load of fun, create re-usable resources and help your students make great progress, you need to click here. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Book of the week is this very interesting overview of current research, which explores developing ideas about learning, behaviour and education, written in conjunction with many of the most significant thinkers and writers in the wider community of learners:

What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice by Carl Hendrick, Robin Macpherson and Oliver Caviglioli.


Learning Objectives - 26/01/18

Building from our training this week on the importance of Learning Objectives to shape and form the experiences of the students in our classrooms, this week’s edition of Outside the Box provides further reading and reflection on this most important aspect of our practice.

David Didau is one of the most prolific writers about education of recent times. His blog http://www.learningspy.co.uk/ and his books, including ‘What if Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong’ (in the staff library) are well worth a read. As one would expect, he has some very interesting and relevant thoughts about why teachers and students need to have Learning Objectives.

Next up, there is a blog post by an Australian educator, which as well as providing interesting reading material, has a wealth of information and links to other sites that help to provide further knowledge and understanding.

Finally, we have another post from the Learning Scientists: http://www.learningscientists.org/ who provide very clear scientific research into the cognitive benefits of sharing Learning Objectives (they call them Learning Outcomes) with your students.

Book of the Week this week is this little beauty: Making Every Lesson Count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning by Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby


Homework - 02/02/18

This week’s edition is focused on Homework.

To begin, it is always useful to look at the research base to support the importance and value of homework is quite strong, especially when compared to other strategies that we might employ to raise student achievement. It is worthwhile to point out that the highest key lever, according to the Sutton Trust's Education Endowment Foundation is feedback. So, if we combine routine and effective setting of appropriate homework with sharply focused feedback, we might expect to see student achievement improving.

However, not everyone agrees that homework is useful – some even go so far as to say that it should be banned. Given that we are outside the box, it is useful to consider the arguments against homework and to go global in our pursuit of wisdom. To begin, with the Times of India, who present a rather balanced view of the issue. Time magazine also present a sensitive and nuanced overview of the research from the US. The Independent takes a slightly more antagonistic view, while Forbes provides some interesting data about which countries set the most homework: which countries would you guess?

Finally, just to confirm that it isn’t always easy in the world of education to prove causality, Singapore heads up the PISA tables and students from that country come third in the list of countries with most homework set. However, Russian students complete on average 9.7 hours per week and their scores in the PISA tables are nothing to get too excited about.


Retrieval Practice - 09/02/18

This week, we are revisiting a key and central element of effective learning - retrieval practice. 

Keeping it short and focused, this post on the Learning Scientist page has a range of different strategies to employ which enhance content retrieval; there are some great ideas here from an enthusiastic and talented teacher; this piece is pragmatic, clear and rooted in the research and finally, let's see what Lemov has to offer the discussion.

It's here, it works. it's easy - let's turn Ark Evelyn Grace Academy into a place where great learning happens.


Creative Demonstration - 23/02/18

The challenge on Monday was to come up with 30 creative ideas for ways that students could display their understanding, deepen their knowledge and improve their skills. The good people at teachthought.com offer 101 ways to be more creative!

For those of us with less time on our hands, there’s a TedEd blog that suggests 10 ways to teach creativity in the classroom.

Any discussion about creativity in education would not be complete with these two videos from Sir Ken Robinson. They are both well worth a watch – the first is one the most viewed Ted talks of all time, with nearly 50 million views. It’s worth pointing out that Sir Ken is very much a progressive voice in education.

In the interests of balance, the TES outlines the arguments between traditional approaches in education and a more progressive stance here.

But not all members of the profession agree that schools should foster creativity and this piece from the pragmatic education blog run by Michaela staff is an interesting counterbalance and useful to read when considering practice.


Educational Blogs - 09/03/18

This week’s ‘Outside the Box’ edition offers an introduction and overview of some of the most influential and interesting educational blogs, which are great places to read interesting ideas and to engage with teachers, learners and others from across the world of education.

One of the most popular is teachertoolkit, which offers a wide range of educational topics and is always worth a browse around. The top 10 revision apps for students is worth a look and very pertinent, given the period of time that we are in and the level of political discourse and desire to facilitate change from the founders is very encouraging. It is an excellent example of how discourse, dialogue and engagement has moved on-line and a further illustration of how important it is for us as teachers to be engaged with the on-line community.

I have mentioned David Didau’s Learning Spy (found here)  many times before. He is quite the iconoclast – many of the main bloggers are – as this piece on growth mindset shows, but his pieces are readable, rooted in research and he is an influencer – so, if you want to be aware of the educational temperature, it is useful to have a handle on Didau’s thinking.

If you find Didau a little too ‘liberal’ for your tastes, then Andrew Old’s Scenes From the Battleground is the place for you. A devoted Traditionalist, Old offers pieces like this – read with a strong drink…especially if you teach PE, Music or Drama…

The three blogs that I have referenced and shared above a decent starting place for dipping one’s toes in the educational sea of opinions, facts, data and debate – all of them offer a wealth of links to other ideas and attitudes and I hope that you find something worth sharing


Revision Strategies - 23/03/18

This week, building on the presentation given during the Year 11 Exam Preparation evening and the piece in the bulletin this week, we are focused on effective revision strategies.

Firstly, the BBC website offer this useful overview of the research, pointing out and explaining which revision strategies work and which ones are less effective.

Next, for those who are willing to push the boundaries and to think outside the box ,these suggestions are interesting and useful, as well as being written by a Year 13 student. After all, you have to keep revision stimulating.

After that, there are some specific examples of other techniques for revision from the Student Room, for those willing to push themselves to the highest level of academic achievement.

The Guardian Teacher Network offers these timely pieces of advice and, for those who have got this far, I will offer a prize of a box of fine chocolates to anyone who can tell me what the problem is with this advice from Southampton – who really should know better…

Finally, some tips to pass on to students who might be finding it hard to be motivated.


Learning Objectives - 25/04/2018

Given the preponderance of Learning Objectives in education and the sense that they are somehow important, there's surprisingly little evidence to back up the claim that they make a difference to a students' learning.

For example, this article from the European Qualifications framework goes as far as to note what it perceives as the limitations of learning objectives. And this piece from the Learning and Skills Development Agency has only been cited 21 times in over a decade. Interestingly, it doesn't provide any evidence to support the claim that having clear, shared Learning Objectives makes a difference to the learning.

The TES goes as far as to suggest that we should get rid of them all together and David Didau, as one might expect, is keen to add his voice to the debate: voice to the debate.

As ever, it falls to the increasingly useful Learning Scientists to cut through the noise and provide clarity: this piece makes it clear why we should share learning objectives with students and is, as ever, sensible, clear and rooted in research.

This blog piece - Video on Learning Objectives - is informed, detailed and there is quiz you can take! What fun! A quiz all about Learning Objectives!

So, the evidence seems to suggest that there are plenty of good reasons for including Learning Objectives in our lessons. This site - Objectives Builder - TeachOnline - which is based on Bloom's Taxonomy, gives an excellent vocabulary for building highly effective Learning Objectives. It is highly recommended when you are searching for the exact naming of the purpose of the lesson.

The last time I sent out 'Outside the Box' was before the Easter break - did you miss it when it wasn’t there?

In that edition, the University of Southampton suggested that revision should be based around VAK learning styles. Of course, Mr Wingate, Mr Owoh and Ms Cristoforou soon smelled out that particular rat and, in the process won themselves a prize - which will be given out a later date.


Revision Strategies – Keeping it to the point - 04/05/18

I think that Brain Dumps are amazing.

They are super easy to create and if you want to, you can find loads of templates.

They help students to feel confident that they know stuff and that they can recall it.

It’s good to practice them over and over in class, so that in the exams the students can Brain Dump content prior to answering longer questions, which tend to be worth more marks.

Other great revision strategies that are super easy to plan, super easy to implement and super-efficient because you can do them over and over include:

Two final thoughts:

  • I have been giving assemblies all week to all year groups and they are becoming increasingly familiar with the concepts and ideas about learning, which is great – but our students will need careful guidance, advice and instruction. We need to tell them not just what to learn: we need to tell them how to learn.
  • I am collecting evidence and artefacts of learning from around the Academy so that we can build a library of examples of learning excellence. If you see anything great, please do let me know, take a photo, send it out, share the learning. I am really interested in seeing Mastery Content Quizzes – especially in Year 13! If you are doing one next week, please do let me know.


Focus - Effective Lessons - 11/05/18

This week, in the spirit of Mike Schmoker, we are keeping it simple, clear and focusing on the one key element that will make a huge difference to our students – the lessons that we deliver and the activities that we expect them to undertake in our classrooms to help them learn.

I have attached a very brief extract from ‘Focus’ and, when you read it, you will see that Schmoker suggests that all effective lessons have: FOCUS - Effective lessons - Outside the box.pdf

  • clear learning objectives
  • some aspect of teacher modelling/demonstration/teaching
  • guided practice
  • opportunities for students to complete work that allows teachers to formatively assess/check for understanding

Keep your focus on that in each and every lesson that you teach and you won’t go far wrong – and neither will our students.

There’s an interesting overview of the book here and Mike Schmoker talks in detail about his ideas here, whilst further overview can be found here.

If you want to go further – you can always read the book!


Outside the box - 18/05/18

All of the previous ‘Outside the Box’ pieces can be found on our Academy website. So, if you want to find information on growth mindset, learning objectives, revision strategies, Retrieval Practice and so on, this is your one-stop shop.

I hope that it is a useful resource for you all and that the reading is informative and helpful.

This week, I thought it would be interesting to share some recent blog pieces. Many educationalists – at all levels across the spectrum – write blogs and the edublogsphere is a fertile breeding ground for ideas, current thinking and – often – valuable think-pieces that can inform and challenge.

For example, Tom Sherrington blogs as teacherhead and his most recent piece is both thought-provoking and informed. It has also garnered a lot of supportive commentary. Why not have a read and see what you think? You can always join the conversation…

There was a very relevant debate this week at the IoE – this piece on neuroscience provided some valuable background reading and stimulated engaged and engaging dialogue on twitter.

Often, pieces of research, such as this piece on marking and feedback will be resurrected for further debate and discussion and it is always interesting to see how teachers – and others – respond to the findings. Have a read – see what you think.

Carl Hendricks – who blogs as chronotope – shared this fantastic revision resource and is widely recognised as one of the most informed, engaging and vital contributors to the dialogue around teaching and learning. You should definitely have a peek…

And finally this week, in a piece of meta-thinking that I can’t resist, here’s a little something on  outside the box thinking.

Join the conversation.


Outside the box - 25/05/18

Welcome to our weekly digest of educational reading.

First up, Geoff Barton – the general secretary of the ASCL – writes in the TES this week that half-term provides us with an opportunity for reflection and suggests some questions that we, as a profession, should reflect on.

Meanwhile, the exam regulator has warned of some variation in the new style GCSEs and A levels, which could impact on our results.

Although we have come close, no student from EGA has ever gone to Oxbridge. I would never claim that ethnicity has played a part, but these figures are revealing and suggest that Oxbridge has a long way to go before it can claim to be actively involved in promoting social equality.


Outside the box - 08/06/18

We begin this week by sharing a great video from the Learning Scientists that gives a broad overview of the best answer to the question, ‘What are the most effective ways to revise’? Tim has shared this with Year 12 and recommended that we all share it with our tutor groups over the course of the next week.

Peps Mccrea is an interesting fellow who always has lots to offer: he tweets and, amongst other highlights recently shared the following link to some research which explored the links – and tensions – between teacher expertise and student outcomes.

Practice based on research is increasingly the norm in education – here are 5 evidence based papers that all teachers should read. It is quite dense, but it is also fascinating.

Finally, a new book has just been published: ‘Unleashing Great Teaching’ by David Weston and Bridget Clay. You can follow them on Twitter and

I hope that you enjoy reading, reflecting and pondering.


Outside the box - 15/06/18

Hey everyone – it’s Friday so that means another weekly edition of ‘Outside the Box’. I hope you enjoy it!

I don’t often put links up to the Daily Mail, but I am sure that we were all moved by the girl from YouTube who shared her emotional reaction to the Biology paper she sat earlier this week. It does bring to public consciousness the  real stress and pressure that teenagers across the country face during exam season and the growing feeling that exams are getting harder.

Meanwhile, this piece of research may not surprise many of you, but it does put into focus some of the issues that surround some of our more vulnerable students.  A further piece of research reinforces what some of us might feel to be so troubling about the current state of the nation.

I know that here at EGA we have our fair share of issues and challenges, but it is worthwhile to have a look at this research. For those who just want the headlines, it is a map of every Local Authority and the chances of the students in that area when it comes to social mobility. In other words, what are the best places to live in the country to make a better life for yourself – and what are the worst? There are 324 LAs in England. Where do you think Lambeth is ranked? Go on – have guess. 17. Which makes it a pretty good place to be educated in. West Somerset is 324. West Somerset…

In Newcastle Ofsted create a new judgement for a school – ‘rock bottom’. Have a read. Have a think. That’s what ‘Outside the Box’ is all about.

Of course, this other thing is going on this weekend. Some of you may be interested…

Whatever you get up to over the weekend, I hope you enjoy it.


Outside the box - 15/06/18

I thought this week I would keep it short and sweet.

I simply want to draw your attention to three places of interest that are genuinely interesting and informative.

The first is here, the second is  here and the third is here.

I have mentioned all of them before, but I think that if you are a teacher that wants to be engaged with research and activities that put that research into practice, these are three great places to start.