Saturday, 7 November 2015

Switch - How to change things when change is hard

“Switch - How to change things when change is hard” by Chip and Dan Heath

I had really enjoyed Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick - Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck” so I was keen to download their second book, “Switch - How to change things when change is hard”, which is about influencing change. Although aimed at business readers and a general audience, it also has a lot of relevance for schools. 

Think about someone who has to make a  change. Maybe it’s you, your school or a pupil. Picture this person (or people) as a small rider (this represents their rational side) riding an elephant (their emotional side) along a path. To help anyone make a change we have to communicate to their emotional side and their rational side and we have to clear the way for them to have success. The Heaths, with many interesting examples, talk about how we can:

Direct the rider
Look for the bright spots - Where is it working well? Why is that?
Scripting the critical moves - What simple specific behaviours would make a difference?
Point to the destination - Where are you going? Why will it be worthwhile? How could you clearly and succinctly communicate this?

Motivate the elephant 
Find the feeling - Knowing something isn’t enough - how can you make them feel something?
Shrink the change - Break down the change into something so small you cannot fail to succeed.
Grow your people - Cultivate a growth mindset.

Shape the path
Tweak the environment - Can you change the situation to help behaviours to change?
Build habits - routines help to make things easy for us to do
Rally the herd - We are influenced by the people around us so is there a way you can use this to help?

Teacher Takeaways:

For teachers lots of these ideas are familiar: in my school we have been talking about how we can share the big picture of where we are trying to take the pupils with their learning, which was like the authors’ idea of a “destination postcard”, and with pupils with challenging behaviour one technique is to use TATT (Tiny Achievable Tickable Targets), which is similar to their ideas on shrinking the change into small steps that you can’t fail to succeed in. 

For myself I think the most useful thing about this book is that it provides you with a clear overview of the areas you can consider making a change in and I think I am going to try using the “Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path” idea as a checklist when planning how to support learners to make positive changes. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck

“Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck”  by Chip and Dan Heath

I really enjoyed this book and am definitely going to read some of their other books. Although a lot of the examples come from business it is very relevant to educators and does talk about education and social change. Here are some of my notes:

The Six Principles for How to make Ideas Stick

The books discusses what makes an idea stick in the way Urban Legends seem to do. They outline six principles, you don’t have to use them all but the more you can use the stickier the idea should be. These are:

  • SIMPLICITY - Strip the idea down to its essential core idea. Beware the ‘Curse of Knowledge”, where experts find it hard to get down to the level needed by novices.  Think about the Commander’s Intent (see below).
  • UNEXPECTEDNESS -We need to generate interest and curiosity. One way to do this is to open up gaps in their knowledge and then fill them.
  • CONCRETENESS -Avoid the abstract, go for concrete examples. “We must explain our ideas in human terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information.”
  • CREDIBILITY -The source has to be believable. For example, we can help people to test the ideas out for themselves.
  • EMOTIONS -To make people care about the idea they have to feel something.
  • STORYTELLING -We have an inbuilt interest in stories as they “act as a kind of mental flight simulator”.
  • which make … SUCCESs!
Clarity of Message, the Commander’s Intent and Battle Plans!

I was very interested to learn that the US army invests a lot of time in planning but they often turn out to be useless once out in the field. 

“ ‘The trite expression we always use is No plan survives contact with the enemy,’ says Colonel Tom Kolditz, from West Point.”

He goes on to say how the planning process is useful but how the plans themselves don’t work. This is something we have often talked about when discussing our planning at school.

Instead the US army uses something called the Commander’s Intent (CI). 
“The CI s a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation….The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. ….(it) manages to align the behaviour of soldiers at all levels without requiring play-by-play instructions from their leaders.”

Two questions can be used to help develop the Commander’s Intent, and these are:
“If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must …..”
“The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is ….”

The CI reminded me of our start of the school year, where in week one our focus was to build relationships and trust with the pupils and our second week, where the focus was to share expectations about classroom routines. And often I start a week out with a goal such as to pay closer attention to a pupil who I am concerned about.

Burying the Lead

I learned that journalists have to start their stories with the most important information, which is called the lead. After this the information is presented in decreasing order of importance. This helps if an editor needs to put in a new story as all they will have to do is cut as much as they need from the end of the other story. It also keeps the reader’s attention. This may be a useful way to think about finding the core message for teaching lessons. I could also try talking to the pupils at the end of a lesson and discuss with them the key messages from the lesson and then see what order they would prioritise them. 

Analogies and Working with What is There

A good way to keep things simple is to use an analogy. They work because it is easier to explain what a pomelo is by using what a person already knows, it’s a large grapefruit , than explaining it’s individual characteristics, e.g. it is the largest citrus fruit, the rind is very thick but also soft …etc.  This is because we are using the person’t existing schemas (=concepts or category. In teaching we are doing this all the time with our learners and trying to build up new ideas, e.g when we talk about friction we would tap into the children’s knowledge about how it is different to slide on the their knees on the gym hall floor (something my learners with their young knees seem to love doing!) than do the same on the carpet (ouch!). 

The best analogy is a generative metaphor. The book talks about how Disney call its employees “cast members” so they have to audition for the job, when working are on stage, they meet the guests (the public) and wear costumes (uniforms). This also gives them a steer on how they are expected to act whilst they are working. 

We use that at school, for example when talking about developing a growth mindset we use the generative metaphor of growing a plant for developing our minds.

My Teacher Takeaways!

  1. Think about which of the Six Principles of How to Make an Idea Stick (S.U.C.C.E.S.s) I could use when lesson planning.
  2. What would the “Commander’s Intent” be for a lesson?  Is it always the learning intention? Could I use this idea to help direct the work of learning assistants, e.g. “If Child X does nothing else this lesson, we want them to become more confident in following a checklist of what to do when you are stuck.”
  3. Don’t “bury the lead”, make sure everyone is aware of what the main message of the lesson is.
  4. Build on what they know and help them to make links to their previous learning.
  5. Play with different “generative metaphors”. How is learning like … a journey, a garden, a zoo?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

To Sell is Human

To Sell is Human - The Surprising Truth about Persuading, Influencing and Convincing Others, by Daniel H.Pink, 2012

In this book Pink sets out how sales and the act of selling has changed in the last ten years, how it is central to everybody’s career and how we should best go about it according to research.

What do teachers need to sell?

"To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end. That is also what, say, a good algebra teacher does. At the beginning of a term, students don’t know much about the subject. But the teacher works to convince his class to part with resources—time, attention, effort—and if they do, they will be better off when the term ends than they were when it began."

What is the best way to influence people into doing something which is in their own interests? 

Pink cites a high school teacher, Ferlazzo, who says we should make a distinction between “irritation” and “agitation.” Irritation, he says, is “challenging people to do something that we want them to do.” By contrast, “agitation is challenging them to do something that they want to do.” He goes on to say that irritation might be effective in the short term but to move people fully and deeply requires something mor

Ferlazzo says. “It means trying to elicit from people what their goals are for themselves and having the flexibility to frame what we do in that context.”

Positive, negative or interrogative self-talk? Which is best? 

It turns out that Bob the Builder, with his "Can we fix it?" mentality was right! Three researchers—Ibrahim Senay and Dolores AlbarracĂ­n of the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi— in 2010 gave participants ten anagrams to solve. "They separated the participants into two groups, each of which was treated identically except for the one minute before they tackled their assignments. The researchers instructed the first group to ask themselves whether they would solve the puzzles—and the second group to tell themselves that they would solve the puzzles. On average, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50 percent more puzzles than the self-affirming group."

How can reframing a group in a positive way, influence their behaviour? 

Researchers have found that simply changing the name of a game influences people into being more or less cooperative. 
"Something similar happened back in 1975 in three fifth-grade classrooms in the Chicago Public Schools. There a trio of Northwestern University researchers randomly assigned classrooms to three groups. Over a week, students in one group were told by teachers, janitors, and others that they were extremely neat—in fact, they had one of the neatest classrooms in their school. Children in the second group were simply used to be neat—told to pick up their trash, tidy their desks, and keep the classroom clean. The third group was the control. When investigators later measured the litter in the classrooms, and compared it with litter levels before the experiment began, the results were unmistakable. The neatest group by far was the first—the one that had been labeled “neat.” Merely assigning that positive label—helping the students frame themselves in comparison with others—elevated their behavior."

Clarify others’ motives with two “irrational” questions. 

Michael Pantalon, a research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine, is a leading authority on “motivational interviewing”, which is about changing people’s behaviour by not coercing them, promising them rewards, or threatening them, but by tapping their inner drives. And the most effective tools for doing this are questions. 

So suppose a pupil is not working studying hard for a test. Using Pantalon’s approach you’d ask her two questions:

Question 1. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning ‘not the least bit ready’ and 10 meaning ‘totally ready,’ how ready are you to study?”

After she offers her answer, move to: Question 2. “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?” 

According to Pantalon this is the question that catches everybody off guard. As your pupil explains her reasons for being a 4 rather than a 3, she begins to announce her own reasons for studying. “She moves from defending her current behaviour to articulating why, at some level, she wants to behave differently. And that, says Pantalon, allows her to clarify her personal, positive, and intrinsic motives for studying, which increases the chances she actually will.”

So what are the takeaways from this for primary school teachers?
  1. Sell the “Big Picture” of why learners are going to benefit from a unit of work right at the start.
  2. Talk to the learners about their dreams and ambitions and link these with the learning.
  3. Switch “I can” learning statements from the positive to questions, e.g. “I can use persuasive devices in my writing to persuade people.” would change to “Can I use persuasive devices in my writing to persuade people?”
  4. Label your class with the positive values that you hope to see in them, e.g. “You are such a respectful class, look how Bill respected Joe’s right to learn there.”
  5. Use Michael Pantalon’s motivational interviewing two questions when having a dialogue about an aspect that you need to support a pupil to make changes in.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Talking to Pupils and their Parents about Learning

My school recently changed the format for our parents’ evening meetings so that the focus would be on the pupil, where they were in their learning, where we hoped they would get to at the end of the year and then a discussion around what help and support they needed to reach their target.

As our interview slots are only ten minutes long each, my colleagues and I discussed how to best make good use of the time. Several of us decided to share the agenda of the discussion with the pupils beforehand. For the part where we talked about what help they might need I made a diagram with a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the Centre and a list of some of the things learners need in place to be in a good place to learn, e.g. being able to cope with worries, having had enough sleep, having had breakfast, having a feeling of success with their work. I went through the list with the pupils and then asked them to do a secret poll to find out how many people thought those items were an issue. Interestingly, many of the pupils reported not having breakfast or not having enough sleep. Then at parents evening, I had the chart on the desk so parents could look over it as we were talking about how to help the children. One child turned to her parent and said, “I don’t have five of those things!”

Overall the feedback from the new format meetings was good. A few parents worried how parental concerns could be raised when the children were present but they were offered alternative meetings if they needed to talk about that. But, more importantly, the majority of the pupils were buoyed up by the meetings, some came in telling me that they had breakfast for the first time in years others were desperate to get stuck into working on their targets. 

The next step will be to work with our learners on collecting the evidence that they are meeting their targets so that they can talk about how their learning is going with their parents and carers.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Graphic Recording

Having been inspired by “Zig Zag: the Surprising Truth about Creativity” (see my previous post), I wandered around the internet and found out about the world of Graphic Recording, which is using pictures to record talks and discussions. It turns out that people earn a living from doing this! It seemed like a technique which could be useful for school so I had a go at recording myself drawing a mind map on how to model the skills needed for the writing focus. You can see the results of my labour on my youtube video at

Technically it wasn’t too tricky. I needed to record myself drawing and then I used iMovie to speed the clip up x8. The hard part was trying to set up the paper and the camera at the right angle, ideally just over your right shoulder works (if you are right-handed). My next step would be to include a voiced over narration, here I just used a theme music which gets a bit wearing!

I think I could see this being used as a way to record learners showing their learning, for example to show how to multiply large numbers and then playing it back to them speeded up. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Zig Zag: the Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

"Zig Zag: the Surprising Path to Greater Creativity" by Keith Sawyer

I loved this book! So much so that I'm thinking of buying the paper version even though I own it on my Kindle.

Keith Sawyer, PhD, is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. His 2013 book Zig Zag identifies the 8 stages of the creative process, and contains over 100 techniques to enhance your own personal creativity. It is mainly research based. 

The eight stages he outlines are:
1. Ask  - finding the right question for your problem
2. Learn - practise deliberately
3.  Look - notice different elements connected to your problem from different contexts
4. Play - relax to allow your brain time to incubate your ideas
5. Think - try different techniques to vary your approach to the problem
6. Fuse - mash up your ideas
7. Choose - having generated a heap of ideas it is time to evaluate them to find the best ones
8. Make - draw it, link it to images, build it, make it concrete in someway and reflect on it

I found a lot of food for thought in this book, especially for teaching problem solving and writing. One part that I was very interested in was in the Make section where he talks about "Thinkering", which is thinking with your hands while model making. We had had a puppeteer in to work with the children with making shadow puppets. When we were doing our end-of-term learning showcase some of the children wanted to use shadow puppets as a way of demonstrating their learning; it was a real delight to see them working through their ideas and talk about how they could use them for their presentations. 

Having read the book, I am thinking for next year of using plasticine, model making and construction toys as an alternative to drawing or mind mapping to help pupils work through their ideas. So, watch this space! 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Connectives and How to Help Pupils to Use Them

A connective is a word or phrase that links clauses or sentences. They are important in writing as they join ideas together and act as signposts for your audience; they highlight different things such as the reason, the purpose, a contrast and so on.

The new job wasn’t very exciting, but on the other hand it was well-paid. (Here the connective “on the other hand is used to introduce a contrasting idea.)

Remember that connectives can often be used as openers for sentences too, like this:
I sat outside and ate my fish and chips even though it was raining.
Even though it was raining, I sat outside and ate my fish and chips.

There are several problems for children when they use connectives but the main one is that they have had less exposure to the more ambitious ones, as they tend to be used in more formal spoken language and writing. So we have to help them with this.

Ideas to learn how to use connectives

Spot the Connective  Pupils have to highlight or underline connectives in a text, preferably ones useful for a writing genre you are studying.
  • Challenge - set a time limit.  
  • Differentiate - some pupils texts could include some already highlighted or clues.  
  • Extend-  think of alternative connectives that you could use in their place.
Learning Grid Pupils work in pairs and throw a dice twice to get the co-ordinates for a square on a 6 x 6 grid. Each square has the beginning of a sentence with a connective and  they have to copy and complete it. Meanwhile their partner is having a turn. When they have finished each sentence they need to have it checked by their partner to win a point. Try to keep up the momentum by having each person writing whilst the other 
is throwing their dice.
  • Challenge - let them know that randomly selected sentences will be shared during the plenary.  Set a time limit.  
  • Differentiate - provide different versions of the grids with different levels of connectives.  
  • Extend-  have some more open-ended sentences to allow pupils to be creative.

Random Picture  Pupils work individually 
or in pairs. The teacher selects a few images which are interesting and which may loosely fit in  with the writing theme. The pupils select a random card or lollipop stick with a connective on then the random picture is shown; you could use powerpoint or keynote to theatrically present these. The learners must make a sentence using their connective about the picture.
  • Challenge - let them know that randomly selected sentences will be shared during the plenary.  Set a time limit.  
  • Differentiate - provide different sets of connectives.  
  • Extend- pupils could write a follow up sentence.

Blockbuster Grid This is similar to the Learning Grid but using a  game board based on the game show Blockbuster. Pupils work in pairs and take it in turns to choose a hexagon to create a path from either the top to the bottom or from the left to the right. Each time they can create and write a sentence using the given connective, they cover that hexagon and also block their partners way through it. The first person to cross the board wins.

  • Challenge - let them know that randomly selected sentences will be shared during the plenary.  Set a time limit.  
  • Differentiate - provide different versions of the grids with different levels of connectives.  
  • Extend-  have some more open-ended sentences to allow pupils to be creative.
Blank learning grid 
Blank Blockbuster grid