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

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Happiness Advantage

Shawn Anchor has done extensive research into what makes some people more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive. He has distilled his findings into his "seven principles" which form the backbone of his book "The Happiness Advantage". The principles are:


1- The Happiness Advantage— Because positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that are neutral or negative, this principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance. 

2-The Fulcrum and the Lever— How we experience the world, and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset. This principle teaches us how we can adjust our mindset (our fulcrum) in a way that gives us the power (the lever) to be more fulfilled and successful. 

3-The Tetris Effect— When our brains get stuck in a  pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail. This principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can see— and seize— opportunity wherever we look. 

4- Falling Up— In the midst of defeat, stress, and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope. This principle is about finding the mental path that not only leads us up out of failure or suffering, but teaches us to be happier and more successful because of it. 

5- The Zorro Circle— When challenges loom and we get overwhelmed, our rational brains can get hijacked by emotions. This principle teaches us how to regain control by focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve bigger and bigger ones. 

6- The 20- Second Rule— Sustaining lasting change often feels impossible because our willpower is limited. And when willpower fails, we fall back on our old habits and succumb to the path of least resistance. This principle shows how, by making small energy adjustments, we can reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with good ones. 

7-Social Investment— In the midst of challenges and stress, some people choose to hunker down and retreat within themselves. But the most successful people invest in   their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence— our social support network."

On reflection some of the possible implications of these for my primary classroom and my pupils are:
1- Happy students have brains ready for learning.
2- A Growth mindset and a discussion about how we can change how we view situations to improve our happiness are essential learning for pupils.
3- Remember to keep the focus positive for assessments and evaluations.
4- Have lots of discussions about finding the best way out of tricky situations and challenges; this has a strong link with the language of learning.
5- Start with small, achievable goals.
6- Start building good habits with one easy to take step.
7- Take teaching the pupils team work skills very seriously and help them to build up a community of learners.