This is the area where the staff of WHS write about aspects of our practice that we are keen to share with others. From discussing the uses of technology in our lessons to the importance of getting out the classroom and seeing the curriculum in action, we are passionate about the art of teaching and the business of learning. The blog seeks to build on collaborative thinking and conversations about how and why we teach in the way that we do. We hope you enjoy what we have to say.
In this week’s WimTeach, Dr John Parsons, Director of Sixth Form, muses over AI, Beethoven, and the learning process.
Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827. Within days of his death, Beethoven’s first biographers were swift to recognise the seismic impact the composer had made on the musical language, style and forms of the emerging ‘Romantic’ age. They also saw him as providing a blueprint for a new kind of human creative spirit; a composer embodying not just the artist contra mundum but also the artist struggling against himself. Beethoven’s autograph scores and extant sketches show us that frustration and struggle; energised, angry scrubbing-out, playful trial and error, revisions and reworkings, rejected ideas and erratic inky marks made so quicky (‘when the spirit moves me,’ as he himself had said) that they are sometimes barely legible. Here on paper is Beethoven showing his working (as an exam-board or teacher might ask) and evidently learning as he went along. A look at the page helps us to imagine the composer (doubtless brow furrowed) very much in flow – in the moment. The layers of creative struggle and his learning process are there in black and white.
In school we learn that Beethoven wrote nine symphonies. It
is easy to see the slow-to-build but ecstatic exclamation of Schiller’s Ode
to Joy in the closing section of the ninth as his final statement in the symphonic
form. But it wasn’t; there is a tenth – or at least scribbles and sketches for
one. Beethoven, it seems, had no intention of leaving it at nine. Musicologists
for the next 200 years would be left wondering ‘what if…?’ Until now.
A ground-breaking project at Harvard university has brought
together musicologists and computer scientists to see if an AI computer can be
taught to create music that sounds like it was made by Beethoven and thereby to
complete the composer’s missing tenth symphony. Here is a machine that has been
taught not only Beethoven’s entire body of work but also his creative process
in order to fill in the blanks and come up with a coherent and developed piece
Beethoven was an intensively motivic composer, meaning that
his compositional process saw him painstakingly derive complex and copious material
from tiny motifs (just think of the famous four-note da da da daaa that
opens the fifth symphony and the 40 minutes of music based on it that follows).
As the Harvard AI task became more complex, so the machine became cleverer and
more skilled at recognising such patterns in how Beethoven had reworked his
motifs. The same happens when we as learners take on and stick with the
struggle of learning something new and difficult, and (as with the AI, too) over
time mastery is attained. Indeed, one of the computer scientists remarked ‘the
AI reminded me of an eager music student who practises every day, learns and
becomes better and better.’
Not for the first time, then, AI shows us something of what human learning is
A year or so into their work, in 2019, the Harvard team
travelled to Bonn and the composer’s birthplace museum to perform some of what
had been ‘composed’ by the machine for a sceptical room of historians,
journalists and musicians to see if they could tell where Beethoven stops and
AI takes over. They couldn’t. There will be purists who say that AI should not try
to replicate the human creative process, but of course the machine is not
autonomous. Rather, it must have a multi-disciplined team of experts to teach
it to do its thing (STEAM+ in action).
The human learning process is one of trial and error. Scrubbings
out and puzzle solving is par for the course and the process owes as much to
frustration as it does to playful experimentation and repetition. As teachers
we see that in the classroom every day. The most effective learners accept and
embrace the struggle. Evidently, that was the same for Beethoven – the most
human of composers – as it is for any of us as we go about the business of
learning new things and creating our own masterpieces.
Further reading on the Harvard Beethoven project here.
Ms Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships considers ‘School life outside the curriculum, is it important?’
“I need 3 A*’s to get to where I want to be. That means more focus on work less time on other things.”
sure we have all heard this or possibly said this at some time in our lives,
particularly when we feel under pressure. I’m pleased to say that Wimbledon
High bucks the trend with the approach that promotes work, work, and more work,
as being the key to success. We see the drive to achievement as a more rounded
and fulfilling experience. However, is everyone convinced of this?
Anxiety, self-confidence, motivation
and concentration can play a huge role in our mind during day-to-day life. How
we choose to deal with these can affect our well-being and our ability to
function effectively. Cognitive anxiety can exhibit itself as Fuzzy Head Anxiety, sometimes also known as Brain
fog anxiety, which can occur when a person feels so anxious, they have difficulty
concentrating or thinking clearly. At
times, high somatic
anxiety can lead to sickness, upset and a lack of appetite. Whilst it is normal to experience occasional cognitive
and somatic anxiety, especially during times of high stress, it important to
have strategies to help us lift ourselves out of this, as the worries about grades, about covid and about not
being good enough, are all very real concerns as we ease ourselves back into
Look beyond yourself
It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise
levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a
pleasant feeling known, as a “warm glow.”
In the Medical News Today, Maria Cohut (2017) wrote an article on how ‘Generosity makes you happier’. She reported on a study of forty-eight people, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for four weeks. In short, one group were asked to spend the money and the other group asked to make public pledges and all participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The results found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity – no matter how small – viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment. It is studies like this, alongside others, that convince us that our partnership and charities work, so heavily and generously invested in by our students, is vital to maintaining a sense of perspective and our sense of well-being.
Work hard and play hard
In 2020, 98% of the top ten highest achievers in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Wimbledon High took part in at least five sessions of co-curricular activities per week; is this a coincidence? Previous research has also revealed positive and significant relationships between higher physical activity and greater academic achievement (Chih and Chen 2011; Bailey 2006; Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, and Hacker, 2009). There are a multitude of benefits to taking part in a balanced programme of co-curricular activities. Whether they are in school or externally organised, both appear to be hugely beneficial.
the feelings of immersing yourself in the activities you love will again enhance
feelings of well-being and start to reduce levels of stress, should they be
high. The well documented moments of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
Harper and Row, 1990) refer to those times when people report feelings of
concentration and deep enjoyment. These moments maybe found on the hockey
pitch, in orchestra, chess club, debating, GeogOn, Femigineers, whatever is
your passion. Investigations have revealed that what makes the experience
genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness; a state of concentration so
focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically
feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of
their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear,
and there is an exhilarating feeling of wholeness. This can be controlled, and
not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks
that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such
goals, we learn to order the information that enters our consciousness and
thereby improve the quality of our lives.
outside the curriculum, is it important?
Evidence seems to point in the direction that a well-planned
and attainable life outside the curriculum will enhance academic studies,
promote feelings of well-being, and give a sense of perspective on day-to-day
anxieties. Having said this, we have
decided to research this ourselves. Look out for the opportunity to be part of
a piece of research later this year, conducted by Ms Coutts-Wood and I, where
we shall dig deeper into life at Wimbledon High. Specifically, we will be
investigating the impact of our co-curricular and partnership programmes on
academic progress and well-being.
Bailey, R. 2006. Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8.
Chih, C.H. and Chen, J. 2011. The Relationship between Physical Education Performance, Fitness Tests and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. The International Journal of Sport and Society, Vol. 2, No.1.
Chomitz, V.R., Slining, M.M., McGowan, R.J., Mitchell, S.E., Dawson, G.F., Hacker, K.A. 2009. Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the Northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, Vol. 79 Issue 1, P30.
Cohut, Maria. 2017. Medical News Today ‘Generosity makes you happier’
Deputy Head Pastoral, Ben Turner, questions what role can schools play in tackling violence against women.
The killing of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, has again brought the media spotlight onto how the government, and wider society, is protecting women and girls against violence. Six months on from Sarah Everard’s murder, questions are rightly being asked about whether women are any safer.
As we acknowledge the grief caused
by the loss of another young woman, we must also look at our continued work to
help safeguard young women in our own school community. While the spotlight has
focussed on other areas, Wimbledon High has been busy outlining the pillars of
the Wimbledon Charter. A set of principles around protecting young girls from
sexual assault and harassment, as well as taking a proactive, preventative
approach with both sexes in meaningful partnership with Kings College School,
Wimbledon, and other prospective partners.
The Charter seeks to outline the
key role every member of our and other school communities can play in
safeguarding young people, as we seek lasting change in the way that girls and
women are seen, recognising our role in wider society to protect and inform.
A safeguarding culture where
voices are heard and protected
The Everyone’s Invited movement
caused seismic shifts in the way that some institutions acted around reports of
sexual assault and harassment. In our own school we have asked hard questions
of how and when students are able to disclose what may have happened but also
how those voices have been protected. Fundamental to the Charter is the
acknowledgement that this is not solely a boys’ school issue. The importance of
specialist training for staff, but also an acknowledgement and protection of
peers, is essential in single and mixed sex institutions.
As a school we have taken some
definitive steps to ensure we continue to reflect an open and overt
safeguarding culture. The appointment of a Lead Counsellor, with a specialism
in sexual trauma, has been an important step. Making that role clear to
students and staff is equally important however and adding another ‘space’ that
girls can go has been vital. Building on the safeguarding update that all staff
receive, we will also seek to train at least four key pastoral staff as
specialists in sexual violence and harassment in partnership with Lime Culture,
which will be mirrored by KCS.
We must always ensure that we are
working in partnership with those agencies that can affect change beyond the
school gates. We are working closely with our Police Liaison, and other
partners in Merton, to ensure that the sharing of information around risk and
vulnerable students is always our first priority.
A proactive and synchronised
programme of Relationship & Sex Education
The time for tea is over, was a
line I wrote at the time of EI and the murder of Sarah Everard. I wrote it out
of frustration with the manner in which PSHE can often be forgotten or
diminished by teachers, and therefore schools, who are more focussed on the
scholastic integrity of their subject than paying credence to a curriculum
outside of their own department. Instead, schools have often deferred to
experts, experts who come in for thirty or forty minutes, finishing with the
notorious ‘cup of tea’ consent video, and ‘job done!’. The Charter is a call to
arms for all teachers, to recommit to the knowledge that discussion of these
topics, uncomfortable as they might be, is just as important, if not more so,
than the discussion of an historical text or Maths equation. Moreover, it is so
important that we have a candid conversation with ourselves, and our Year
Teams, as to what topics we are comfortable teaching, and how we need to be
supported in order to deliver the best RSE provision that our students deserve,
Even more important is the
knowledge that, through contextual safeguarding, we know that teens need to
learn about relationships and sex earlier. It is too late to be addressing
these issues at GCSE, when wider society and peer group are much more
influential to teens than their parents or their school. ‘Age appropriate’
needs to be rethought, and our long-term partners in the RAP Project, and It
Happens Education, are at the forefront of changing the landscape of
conversations within schools. Together we want to tackle such topics as dating,
partying, sexting, lad-culture & revenge porn. Teenagers are vulnerable to any
number of these issues, and we seek to empower them with the law, the power of
practicing discretion, mutual respect, and mutual consent.
This, however, is all very well
if we are not ensuring that the same conversations are happing with boys of the
same age. We are working with KCS, and other prospective partner schools, to
ensure that we are following a programme that is synchronised across year groups,
across schools, to ensure that teens are given the same information, earlier.
Meaningful and diverse
There are two crucial
partnerships that the Charter hopes to formalise. The first, recognises the vital
role that parents play, individually and collectively, in supporting what is
happening within schools. Parents face any number of individual challenges with
their teenagers, and as they age, we know that school and home are far less
influential than peers and wider society. Through parent consultation we know
that there is a great deal that can be done by giving all parents a set of
guidelines around parties, social time and curfews. We are believers in
‘elastic parenting’ and empowering teens to make decisions within clear boundaries.
Parents, however, need the support of schools, and most importantly, each
other, to ensure that they can put those boundaries in place, consistently.
The second partnership, and what
I believe is the long-term key to our education’s role in preventing violence
against women, is diverse and meaningful partnership between boys and girls. It
is essential that men see women as more than mothers and potential girlfriends.
Intellectual and social interaction, formalised across year groups is vital if
we are to change endemic attitudes. That is why the Charter is committed to
links like debating competitions for Year 10, leadership conferences for Sixth
Formers, and transition activities with Year 7.
So, what next?
We hope to launch the Charter
before Christmas and ensure that all steps have been taken, by both schools
before launch. We hope that when the media spotlight once again leaves this
issue, we will continue to be at the forefront of advocating for the safety and
protection of women and girls, and the Charter seems like a meaningful platform
to widen our fight.
Director of Studies, Suzy Pett, discusses how the WHS English Department has started to decolonise the curriculum, including introducing a new A Level unit on postcolonial writers.
Rallying cries to decolonise the
curriculum have been building for a while now. It is one of the most important
conversations in education today and our recent alumnae have been vocal about it.
In a 2018 interview for Varsity magazine, Wimbledon High alumna, Mariam Abdel-Razek, speaks about her experience studying English at Cambridge. She says that, “sometimes it feels like I can’t be heard unless I’m shouting.” In 2020, recent alumna, Nida, set up Wimbledon High’s first POCSOC (People of Colour Society). However, she emphasises that discussions need to be built into the curriculum, otherwise the “the burden is placed on the students of colour in schools to lead the conversations.” And, in a 2020 podcast at Oxford University, alumna Afua Hirsch raises the need to “[disrupt] the racket of positioning anything non-European as alternate” as she discusses the role of the curriculum in structuring alternate worldviews and knowledges.
Alert to this vital dialogue and
convinced of the necessity to make change, the English Department at Wimbledon
High wanted to rethink the A Level course, among other elements of the
curriculum. Our new postcolonial coursework unit explores the writers Kiran
Desai and Derek Walcott. We are excited by the way our politically savvy
students will respond and the impact it might have for them both as readers and
citizens of the 21st century. The course carries with it weighty
concerns that couldn’t be more important to our lives today: politics of power;
societal alienation; belonging and dislocation;
migration; diaspora; and identity. These are a complex nexus of issues that
resonate for all of us in our lived experiences. This is a course that extends
far beyond the A Level classroom, and as English teachers, that fill us with excitement
and, to be honest, some nerves.
Our new course has been a year in the
making. So, how have we gone about it and what are the issues at the front of
our minds when teaching postcolonial literature?
Whilst we are referring to our unit as ‘postcolonial’, this
is a controversial term. Some suggest that it implies we have moved beyond
colonialism, when clearly this is far from the case. Keen to learn from other
educators, we set up a Zoom call with teachers in US. We heard it was for this
reason that they had renamed their course ‘de-colonial literature.’ However, for us this is equally problematic.
It seeks to politicise texts by non-white authors by positioning them as ‘writing
back’ against colonial oppression. It risks distracting from the other
aesthetic or experimental modes important to an author. Certainly, this was the
view expressed by the brilliant writer Irenosen Okojie, who spoke candidly to our Year 12s and 13s last
year about her experience as a black author. Alumna, Nida Ahmed, also suggested
that the term ‘postcolonial’ risks singling out these groups of writers,
signalling that they are ‘alternate’ to ‘official’ literature. Of course, these
debates are all useful to have with our students. We are using ‘postcolonial’ not to imply that
colonialism is a ‘completed’ act of the past. Nor does it suggest that the only
intention of this literature and our reading of it is socio-political
our own default settings: Unpacking
our own ‘ways of reading’ the world/texts
As John McLeod writes, “the act of reading in postcolonial contexts is
by no means a neutral activity. How we read is just as important as what we
As individuals, we need to unpack how we are approaching the texts. If you think you are approaching the texts
from a ‘neutral’ perspective, then you are aligned with the dominant white
culture. This approach to literature maps onto our approach to ‘reading’ our world.
Understanding our ‘default settings’ to texts and life is important, and so
revisiting our own identities throughout the course is essential if our reading
practices “are to contribute to the contestation of colonial discourses.”
intellectualising lived experiences
interested to read the article of Edinburgh lecturer, Michelle Keown, who works
in a similar socio-economic environment to Wimbledon High. She warns that in a
predominantly white context, reading about other cultures could become “a
form of intellectual or cultural tourism.” The risk is that students use
the texts “to learn more about other cultures, which bespeaks
well-meaning, liberal sentiments, but also the highly problematic assumption
that one can gain knowledge of a culture by reading [fiction].”
To avoid this, we will be asking students to actively engage self-reflexively
with the complex racial problems seen in the texts: How do those social
problems manifest within their own circle of social connections? Students need
to engage with their immediate contexts. We do not want to “tinker around
the edges” in our teaching of postcolonial fiction with students
“[failing] to really connect with racism as something that impacts them.”
For us, it is important in our reading of postcolonial fiction that, through
self-reflexive thought and criticism, the social problems are relocated from
“over there” to “here”.
The power of this course is undeniable.
It involves a radical rethinking of our teaching practices and raises
far-reaching questions about what it means to ‘read’ English literature. We’re
intending to be bold and disruptive. In self-consciously re-examining how we ‘read’
literature, we are re-examining how we ‘read’ the world. By understanding the complex
relationship between text-reader-author, we can similarly hope to better
understand the complexities of our lived relationships.
Chan, ‘Rethinking the canon: the burdens of representation’. Varsity, 16
November 2018, https://www.varsity.co.uk/features/16578
How does a curriculum introduce and structure alternate worldviews and
knowledges? [online podcast initially held at TORCH], University of Oxford
Podcasts, February 2019, http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/discussion-how-does-curriculum-introduce-and-structure-alternate-worldviews-and-knowledges
McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism, Manchester University Press, 2000, p.
Clare Duncan, Deputy Head Academic, looks at the impact sharing passion for your subject can have on learning outcomes and STEAM.
‘Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire’ W.B Yeats
that most, if not every, teacher came into the profession, not because they had
a love of assessment and report writing, but because they had a passion for
something – whether that be the writing of W.B. Yeats or, in my case,
the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence. I find it fascinating
that such a simple recurrence sequence, where each subsequent number is
the sum of the previous two numbers, is found so often
in the natural world. The sunflower seed formation – from
the centre outwards, of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… and so on –
is one such stunning example.
educators, we have the envious position of having a captive audience on whom to
unleash our enthusiasms. As teachers we are always reflecting, always
thinking of ways not just to impart knowledge but also to spark pupils’
interest in our subject. By demonstrating passion and curiosity ourselves
we allow pupils to do the same – surely a worthy aim in itself, particularly
if we want them to become lifelong learners.
more than this, students modelling your behaviour can assist them in their next
steps. It’s clear that the university applications that achieve the greatest
success are those in which students demonstrate their deep enthusiasm for the
subject, whether through their personal statement or at interview. In a recent Telegraph
article about the application process, Peter Claus, the new access fellow for
Oxford, discussed this idea:
we’re crazy about our subjects as tutors – so we look for people of equal
fervour. Demonstrating independent intellectual fervour around your subject is
much more important than any Duke of Edinburgh awards. We need to see that
students have gone above and beyond and are aware of the culture of
own Sixth Form Review reinforces that what teachers say and how they say it is
hugely important, particularly in terms of the expertise and interest
they themselves demonstrate. One student commented:
‘(it’s) impressive when teachers know their stuff‘ and described
taking the time after such a lesson to ‘let things sink in’.
tips for teachers to think about would be to:
passion to your students. By showing your excitement you may ignite it in them.
Find resources that
fuel your passion and allow you
to show them what excites you about your subject. (For me one such example is
the BBC’s More or Less1 where
the presenter explains – and sometimes debunks – the numbers and statistics
used in political debate, the news and everyday life.)
underestimate the power of interdisciplinary learning. It is at the heart of our STEAM+ agenda. The best way to
help reinforce a student’s passion is to show them that it can be applied to, and enriched
by, multiple subjects.
why is instilling passion in students important? Here are words of Sara
‘When students are passionately engaged in their learning – when
they are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities – there are
myriad responses in their brains making connections and building schema that
simply would not occur without that passion or emotion.’ 2
what will I be adding to my lesson plans this Autumn? The Year 13 Further Maths
students will be introduced to the beauty of the catenary curve
and how it can be modelled in using hyperbolic functions.
The Head of WHS, Ms Fionnuala Kennedy, introduces Civil Discourse, a new strand of the school Curriculum which will equip students to join and influence crucial debates on the issues of our time with confidence, integrity and nuance.
Many critically important issues have arisen in the last eighteen
months and many injustices are rightly being uncovered. Outrage is being
expressed, with good reason, and Generation Z are politically
active, knowledgeable and engaged, in a way that generations prior to
it simply were not. Larger numbers of people than ever are seeking for a
fairer, more equitable world for all, and it feels timely and positive that
this is the case; not least because the unfolding events in Afghanistan this summer
have served as a shameful and terrifying reminder of how fortunate we are to
have access to an education system which is open, free, and encourages debate
and diversity of thought.
Yet at just the moment when the world should be pulling
together in our battle against a global pandemic, it seems we are more
polarised than ever. At a time when we are questioning the notion of binaries
in all sorts of arena, argument itself has become trenchantly binary. This
is an era of no-platforming, of cancel culture and of offence.
Asking questions, not seeking answers
And so at Wimbledon High, we want to ask the following questions, and explore their potential answers together:
How do we balance challenging and calling out hate
speech with protecting freedom of speech?
How do we resist the digitally driven mode of
oppositional, reductive discourse which has begun to dominate, and which leads
to the silencing of so many voices?
How do we access opinions which differ to our
own, avoiding getting stuck in the echo chamber created for us by social media?
How do we reclaim the art of listening, of
reasoning, and of thinking with nuance?
How do we articulate through our emotion,
rather than relying on emotion alone to express us?
How do we learn to be offended and to argue back, both
learning in the process, but also – crucially – teaching the listener why our
viewpoint deserves to be heard, perhaps even changing their mind in the
And how do we explore the very notion of offence, ensuring the term
does not get weaponised by those keen to fight what has become known in the
press as a ‘Culture War’, and acknowledging that prejudice and hatred can cause
genuine hurt and distress, not just ‘offence’?
These are big questions, and not easily answered –
but that’s the point. The important discussions aren’t easy
but that’s exactly why they should happen.
Bridging the generation gap And, crucially, these discussions need to happen in an inter-generational forum. We cannot submit to the lazy and divisive notion that our age and level of experience renders us either too naïve/impassioned/‘woke’ (Gen Z) OR cynical/entrenched/outmoded (Boomers and beyond) to understand and learn from those of a different generation. As the Head of a leading school filled with amazing young women, it is not only my privilege but also my duty to listen to all of the voices around me and take on board a diversity of viewpoints – those of the students, of course, but also of the parents, the alumnae and the staff. It’s such a fine balance between allowing our amazing girls to feel heard and valued and respected, and also understanding that those of us in authority have wisdom and the perspective of experience to bring to bear. As one of our former Head Girls put it in an email to me:
“It really is people like you and the WHS teachers who make the
difference, by acting on the recognition that the wisdom of your
generation can be supported and enhanced by listening to and engaging with the
voice of ours.”
What next? And so, we will be threading Civil Discourse through the curriculum, through academic and pastoral, with sessions for Y7-9 in PSHE with Ms Kennedy, for Y10 in their PPE studies, Y11 in form times and Sixth Form in their Onwards programmes.
And the aim? Well, it’s simple: for our students to be truly
flexible, robust and open in their thinking, and for the world to
re-awaken itself to the notion of real debate and discussion, based on
authentic encounters between enquiring hearts and minds.
Rachel Evans, Director of Digital
Learning & Innovation, considers the impact of this year’s CPD on 21st
Century Learning Design, evaluates the Social Robots project against the rubric
and reflects on the value of this approach for teachers and students.
During the last term of this unprecedented school year, groups of teachers have been lifting their gaze beyond the challenge of the pandemic to reflect on the way we teach and learn. Since April, colleagues from the Junior and Senior Schools have been considering 21st Century Learning Design.(1) An academic research programme funded by Microsoft in 2010, the Innovative Teaching & Learning Research Project described and defined this pedagogical approach. Collaborative research was carried out across ten countries, with the Institute of Education in London as one of the partners. The outcome formed the basis of a framework for evaluating and designing schemes of work, and subsequently a programme of study for teachers.(2)
21CLD is a lens through which we can
view the planning and delivery of the curriculum – as broadly as across a whole
topic, or down to the level of an activity within an individual lesson. The
rubric-based approach across the six topic areas prompts teachers to think
about how to effectively build skills which are not necessarily well understood
or embedded by other pedagogical approaches. Whilst we may not accept the
popular discourse about the necessity of ‘21st century skills’, the framework addresses
the need for students to beopen to new ideas and voices, direct and be
accountable for their own work, and conduct effective and meaningful
collaboration: all skills which are valuable in a swiftly changing world.
A collaborative professional development
Teachers were assigned a module of
the course to work through independently, and then came together in study groups
to discuss the concepts and teach each other the module they had studied. This
has proved an exciting way to learn about 21CLD and apply it to our own
classroom practice. Mixed group discussions outside the silos of departments
and key stages revealed how this pedagogy is applicable across different
subject areas and age groups, and identified where there are connections with
existing approaches, such as Kagan structures or Harkness method for
communication and cooperation, and our STEAM+ interdisciplinary work.
The discursive approach allowed
teachers to be candid about their experience. Delving into the detail of the
rubrics brought self-reflection: one teacher saying “I thought we’d be
brilliant at collaboration, but actually we often co-work rather than
collaborate.” Teachers evaluated existing activities against the rubrics and
considered how they could adjust their lesson plans and projects to create
deeper engagement and more agency for their pupils, and substantive and
meaningful work as a result. New plans for a science project about pollution
and the revision of a history research topic are among the outcomes of this
period of study. Junior School teachers investigated how different levels of
the rubric might appropriate at different Key Stages: they plan to create
examples of suitable activities to inform the planning of lessons which will
develop skills over the pupil’s time in the infant and junior years.
The process was not uncritical, with
much debate in both parts of the school around the knowledge construction
module: balancing innovative approaches with the needs of the examination
system and our own belief in the value of scholarship made for interesting
A real-life example of real-world
As I studied the course myself and
designed the programme for teachers, I evaluated one of my own projects.
The Social Robots Club, which the
Head of Computer Science and I began two years ago, is an excellent example of real-world
problem solving and collaboration within the 21CLD framework, which has arisen
organically through the interests of a group of Year 10 students. You can read
about their work in this week’s WimTeach[link], where the girls have written about their project
The purpose of the club was to
experiment with our Miro-E robots (3), in order to plan their inclusion in the
curriculum. It is the students who have driven the project forward. From our
early brainstorming about uses for the robots, they chose a goal, defined their
project and set to work. How does this activity measure up as an example of
21st century learning?
Students work as a team, assigning
roles for each task, and making their own decisions about the
process and product. The work is interdependent – for instance, dividing
up the writing of code into segments which will be later combined.
Students have produced presentations
for Junior school staff, a lesson plan for Year 5 pupils, surveys and
a leaflet for parents and an assembly for the school community. They
carried out academic research including writing to the authors of papers
with further queries.
We had never used such sophisticated
robotics at school previously, but the group are already competent
coders, so are applying their knowledge. Research for the project
has covered psychology, pedagogy and computer science –
This group of students have worked
on this project for a year and are clear about their aims, and what
success will look like. They plan their own work – in fact, Mr
Richardson and I joke that we are superfluous! – but we are there, of course,
to offer feedback and guidance to help the team make progress when
the project stalls.
Real-world problem-solving and
The project is problem solving on
a macro and micro level. The real-world problem is about improving reading
progress for primary age children, but every week is micro problem-solving as
we navigate a new and unfamiliar coding interface and sophisticated but
temperamental robots. The project will have a real-world implementation
when the robots are used by Year 1 next year.
Use of ICT for Learning
Technology is crucial to the project,
obviously, but most significantly, we will create a product for authentic
users – a robot creature who will respond with encouragement to a child
reading – a great deal of code will lie behind those simulated behaviours!
The benefits of 21st
Century Learning Design
On a practical level, 21CLD offers
teachers tools for creating learning activities which promote skills that we
would all agree are essential for study, work and life – to communicate clearly,
collaborate well and solve problems. When combined with our emphasis on
scholarship and our interdisciplinary STEAM+ philosophy, I find three further
Building knowledge and appreciating complexity
In a fast-paced world, the experience
of going deeply into a topic or project for a sustained period will develop
sound knowledge and critical thinking skills. Grappling with complexity brings
an appreciation that not all problems are solved or ideas best expressed with a
sound-bite response. All fields of study are rich with nuance once we go beyond
Identifying unknowns, living with
uncertainty and resilience
The deeper students go into
complexity, detail and a wealth of knowledge, the more aware they become of what
is unknown, either to themselves or to others. In a year which has been filled
with uncertainty, an awareness that what we understand of the world is not
fixed or fully known is, at first, unsettling. Sitting with that uncertainty –
whether academic or otherwise – can build resilience. As the students write in
WimLearn this week, persevering through difficulty brings its own joys.
Curiosity and exploration
Having appreciated complexity and
experienced uncertainty, where do we go next? We have the answer enshrined
within our school aims: Nurturing curiosity, scholarship and a sense of
wonder. To achieve sufficient mastery of an area of study that we can begin
to push at the boundaries is where exploration and innovation happens; or, as
we wrote at the start of this year (4), in the spaces and connections between
traditional subject areas with our STEAM+ philosophy. Depth of study, knowledge
and skill is a firm foundation for exploration.
In conclusion, the exploration of
this course on 21st century learning design has been incredibly
valuable. At a time when we have been caught in the weeds of logistics and change,
the programme of study and our collaborative approach has opened up big ideas
and new conversations between teachers, which we will continue to explore next
year. This feels like the start of a new conversation about the way we use
technology in the classroom.
“What do they know
of cricket who only cricket know?” – CLR James
understand cricket – what’s going on, the scoring – but I can’t understand
why.” – Bill Bryson
Mr James Courtenay-Clack, English Teacher and Head of Year 9 at WHS, looks at the possible links between English and PE.
You may have noticed that the
idea of ‘cross-curricular’ education is having a bit of a moment. Making links
between disciplines and across subjects is undoubtedly rewarding and helps
pupils to move beyond a straightjacketed approach that keeps everyone and
everything in their own place. There are some subjects that fit together so
naturally it hardly seems worthy of mention.
As an English teacher, it is rare
to plan a unit of work that doesn’t in some way cross over with both the arts
and humanities subjects. To pick one example, the current Year 13 students have
been writing a coursework essay that compares Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
with the poetry of TS Eliot. In this unit they studied the philosophy of Albert
Camus and Soren Kierkegaard, post-WW1 European history and the climate
emergencies of the 21st Century. They also explored the fragmented
voices of Eliot’s poetry alongside Picasso and jazz. All of this I (and
hopefully they) would argue, helped to enrich their experience of the literary
texts they were studying.
There have also been links made
with other subjects that are not usually seen as having much to do with
literature. We have had a STEAM lesson that explored the science of nerve gas
alongside Wilfred Owen’s poetry and I know that the Maths department produced
some wonderful number-based poetry. What I would like to draw attention to in
this article, however, is the links between English and another part of the
curriculum that have for too long gone unnoticed.
Now, it might be thought that
English and PE are not natural bedfellows. In the staff rooms of our cultural
imagination, you could not ask for two more diametrically opposed tribes. The
stereotype of the PE teacher, head to toe in school stash, whistle at the ready
and exuding the aura of good health that comes only from breathing in the
sweet, sweet fresh air of Nursery Road, does not fit well with that of the
bookish, tweedy English teacher. Of course, all of this, as stereotypes so
often are, is complete rubbish. Mr Daws seems to have run more marathons than
had hot dinners and if I wanted a book recommendation I could do far worse than
turn to Ms Cutteridge.
Now this article is far too short
to be able to tackle the many links between English and all of the sports
played at WHS, so I am going to focus on just one, cricket.
You may roll your eyes at this,
but I believe that cricket can tell us as much about the messy business of
being a human being as any other cultural practice. This is something that has
been explored by a surprising number of writers and so I would like to take a
look at just four examples where cricket and literature combine in illuminating
The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens
Whilst Dickens doesn’t actually
appear to understand the laws of the game, the cricket match between
All-Muggleton and Dingley Dell in his wonderful novel does reveal an important
truth about cricket and life: friendship and conviviality are far more
important than material success. Also, that exercise is more fun when followed
by a substantial multi-course feast.
‘Vitai Lampada’ – Henry Newbolt
This almost impossibly Victorian
poem begins in the final moments of a school cricket match – ‘ten to make and
the match to win’ – before moving to a soldier dying on a battlefield in an
unnamed part of the British Empire. Newbolt’s refrain ‘Play up! Play up! And
play the game!’ gives us insight to a worldview that is almost entirely alien
in 2021, but that goes someway in helping us to understand our own history.
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew – Shehan Karunatilaka
I love this novel. Karunatilaka
uses cricket – or a dying sports journalist’s futile attempts to track down the
greatest bowler of all time – to explore the political and social history of
postcolonial Sri Lanka. If that all sounds a bit dry, please don’t be put off.
It is rambunctious, hilarious and well aware of both its own and cricket’s
Beyond a Boundary – CLR James
This is widely argued to be the
best book about sport ever written. James, a Marxist intellectual, traces his
own interest in the game alongside Trinidad’s journey towards independence. He
reflects on how both cricket and English literature were introduced to the
Caribbean as ways of enforcing British supremacy and sees in both the potential
for anti-colonial rebellion.
I hope this whistle stop tour
goes some way to showing that the cultural practices of cricket and literature
both help to illuminate what it means to be a human being and that the
symbiotic benefits that arise from studying English and playing cricket
together are just as valid as those that arise from any other subject.
The two epigraphs I have chosen
sum this up beautifully. I deliberately misread Bill Bryon’s puzzlement as to
the point of cricket and imagine that he too wants to know all about its
cultural value. More seriously, CLR James paraphrases Kipling by asking ‘what
do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ and urges us to look beyond the
boundary at the world around us. This is the best metaphor for cross-curricular
education that I can think of and for that reason I am proposing a mighty union
between the English and PE departments. Perhaps we could even build our own
version of the STEAM Tower…
Stone, French teacher at WHS, considers the importance of listening in the
language classroom and asks how we can make pupils more confident, and
ultimately better, listeners.
experienced first-hand, in the good old days of international travel, the
frustration of not being able to understand the language we can hear around us;
where seemingly basic, everyday interactions can sound like a fast stream of unintelligible
phrases that can leave us feeling all at sea?
school setting, the classroom can evoke similar frustrations as students try to
make sense of the language spoken by their teacher or heard through audio files.
Consequently, groans, sighs and puzzled brows are not an uncommon sight for MFL
teachers at the front of the room, nor are comments such as ‘Why is listening
so hard?’ particularly when progressing from KS3 to GCSE, and then on through
to A Level.
It comes as
little surprise, therefore, that several studies have documented that students
can approach listening tasks with a sense of anxiety (Graham 2017). Indeed for
some, it can be the skill that is enjoyed the least and
feared the most. Some students see listening tasks as a test or
measure against which they assess their understanding and ability. A more
challenging exercise can dent existing confidence, or ‘self-efficacy’ (Graham
2007), in other words the feeling that you are good at something, so undermining
motivation and possibly the desire to continue with that subject later on.
why can listening in the classroom conjure up anxieties such as this?
brain needs to perform in real time in order to extract meaning from any
utterance we hear’ (Conti and Smith 2019)
goes without saying that listening to an audio file on OneNote is not exactly
the same as listening to a real-life person who is looking at you, whose
interactions, intonations and gestures can help you decipher mood and meaning.
When listening, we are making many demands on our memory. We have to master
holding on to all the incoming information at varying speeds whilst being able
to ‘sift’ this information as we hear it, breaking it down into its component
parts of words, phrases and grammar. All these processes present a challenge,
particularly as any new information can often erase the previous one,
especially in time-pressurised situations (Field 2008).
So, why does it
gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak’
Greek Stoic philosopher
is just one of many skills involved in learning a language? I would argue that it is the
most important skill, as it is the precursor to speaking and inextricably
linked to responding. How can you ever hope to master speaking if you are
a poor listener?
Listening is not the ‘passive’ skill it was once said to be. We
acquire our first language through listening to several thousand hours of being
spoken to before we begin to speak intelligibly, so our brains are hard-wired
to work out meaning from what we hear around us (Graham et
al 2010). Julian Walker (2021), a linguistic historian, describes
the ‘Tommy French’ that arose from the interactions of English-speaking troops
with civilians during WW1. Their experience in France during the war led to the special
language they invented in order to cope with their situation. ‘San fairy ann’, ‘toot
sweet’ are anglicized French phrases (Ça ne fait rien, tout de suite)
that came into use on the Western Front during the First World War as British
troops struggled to communicate in French. Fortunately for us, we have a
greater understanding in education of the processes of how we listen and have
moved away from this rather limiting, sink or swim approach.
How can we
help students become better listeners?
In learning a language, we can develop our students’ ability to
listen. We can reduce anxiety and build confidence by incorporating strategies
in our MFL teaching which hone the skills needed to process and respond to
information we hear. It is not only the exercises we use in lessons such as
dictation, dictagloss, gap-fills and games that make listening fun, but it is
also the work on phonics, reading aloud and oral practice in our classroom
interactions which, in turn, enable students to become better listeners.
Dictationsimprove our ability to respond
to what we hear, so helping us become more authentic speakers of the language
students improve their MFL listening skills?
Try different approaches
Some of our Year 11 and
Year 12 French students have been trying out different listening strategies to
gain an understanding of different ways to cope with harder texts.
Sharing our thinking and working through strategies together in
this way will hopefully promote independence and confidence and reduce anxiety
in the process.
Build up your
Having a broad vocabulary
is key to learning and understanding another language. Try making Quizlet
flashcards and use the audio file to practise pronunciation. Alternatively, listen
to a podcast such as Coffee break French, or a foreign language film or series
with the subtitles in French or in English – Lupin on Netflix is a
popular choice here!
how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.
So, how can we become better listeners? As
discussed in a previous blog by our Director of Sport, in mastering a skill, repetition
is crucial and listening is no different. In short, you get better at what you
practise and by improving our listening, we can hope to become better speakers
and further reading:
Gianfranco Conti and Steve Smith, Breaking the sound barrier:
teaching learners how to listen, 2019
Emily Anderson, Head of History at WHS, evaluates the progress of the diversity
in the curriculum working party since September, and reflects on our next
It has been
both a challenge and a privilege to have been leading the working party examining
diversity in the curriculum since the Autumn Term. Ensuring that our curriculum
is fit for purpose in both empowering our students to be active citizens of the
world in which they live, and reflecting both their identities and those they
will live and work alongside in their local, national and global communities
could not be a more vital part of our work as teachers, individually, in
departments and as part of the whole school. Such a curriculum would simultaneously
support our students and ensure they feel that they belong in the WHS
community, and would empower them to understand and champion diversity in their lives
beyond school. The
curriculum is not a fixed entity, and the constant re-evaluation of it is one
of, to my mind, the most challenging and important parts of our professional
lives as teachers.
of the school community will be aware from his letters and assemblies, in the
autumn Deputy Head Pastoral Ben Turner asked staff, as part of our commitment
to systemic change, to scrutinise three different areas of our work as a school
in order to better inform our future direction. Alongside our scrutiny of the
curriculum, colleagues have been looking at our recruitment of students and
staff and how we reach out to a broader and more diverse range of communities,
and at our work with our students beyond the curriculum, in our pastoral,
super-curricular and extra-curricular contexts.
the curriculum were staff from the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing a
variety of perspectives. I wanted to make an ambitious but absolutely necessary
distinction from the outset – that we cannot approach the curriculum by diversifying
what is already there, but need to create a curriculum that is inherently
diverse. We discussed the need to broaden our collective understanding of different
identities (the GDST’s Undivided work has been very valuable in this regard), and
to model open, honest and often difficult dialogue. The difficulties of the
process of change were also considered, especially the transition from an old
to a new curriculum, and the fear of being labelled knee-jerk or tokenistic
until it became embedded and normal. This is, however, no excuse for not trying.
Doing nothing is not an option. Three areas for evaluation emerged for us to
take to departments:
The day-to day – teachers’
understanding about different types of diversity, our use of language and
resources in the classroom, encouraging more challenging and reflective
discussions in the classroom.
The medium term – creating a diverse
curriculum at WHS – looking again at KS3, and evaluating our choices at KS4 and
KS5 to identify more diverse lines of enquiry or exemplars in existing
specifications, or opportunities to move to other boards.
The bigger picture – joining the
growing national conversation with exam boards to make changes to GCSEs and A
Levels to better reflect diverse identities, critically evaluating the cultural
assumptions and frameworks through which our knowledge is formed and which privilege
certain identities over others, to problematise and ultimately change these in our
reflections that came back from discussions at department level showed that
much carefully considered planning is being undertaken across departments, in
terms of the individuals whose voices are heard through study of their work,
the enquiries that are planned to broaden our students’ horizons and the
pedagogical implications of how we create an environment in which diverse
identities can be recognised and understood.
My own department
(History) are completely reconceiving our curriculum. My colleague, Holly
Beckwith, wrote a beautiful rationale for this in WimTeach last year which I
would highly recommend reading.
We have been preparing for major curriculum change for a number of years,
firstly through trialling experimental enquiries to pave the way, such as a new
Y9 enquiry on different experiences of the First World War. Our choosing of a
unit on the British Empire c1857-1967 at A Level – a unit whose framework
could, if taught uncritically, be problematic in terms of what it privileges,
but which enables us to at least explore, understand and challenge such power
structures and give voice to some of the people it oppressed through the study
of historical scholarship – also helps facilitate changes further down the
school as it demands significant contextual knowledge about societies across
the world before the age of European imperialism.
Now, we are in a position to put in place major and increasingly urgently
needed changes for September 2021 at Year 7 and Year 10, which will lead to a
transformed KS3 and KS4 curriculum over the next three years.
back to the whole-school context, I also met with student leaders from each
year group who had collated ideas from their peers to feed back. These were
wonderfully articulately and thoughtfully put, often critical, and
unsurprisingly revealed a great appetite for change. As teachers and curriculum
designers, there is a balance to be struck here between taking students’ views
into account, and creating coherent and robust curricula where knowledge and
conceptual thinking builds carefully as students progress up the school – areas
of study cannot simply be swapped in and out. As I have alluded to above, for
example we start sowing the seeds of contextual understanding for GCSE and A
Level at Y7. Furthermore, this process will take time, as meaningful change
always does, and so managing expectations is also something we must consider.
In and of itself, modelling the process of systemic change is such a valuable lesson
for our students so this must be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate this.
So far, this
process of evaluation has prompted profound and necessary reflection by teachers
not only on what we teach in the classroom, but on how our own understandings
of our disciplines have been conditioned by our experiences and educations. As
well as educating our students, we are also continually educating ourselves,
often unlearning old ideas. There is still a significant way to go in creating
the inherently diverse curriculum we are aiming for, and I look forward to
continuing to challenge and be challenged as we work together as a community
to, ultimately, try to do right by our students and our world.
Natives, London, Two Roads, 2019; R. Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial
Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019;
P. Gopal, Insurgent Empire, London, Verso, 2019;