Teaching and learning Gem #44 – post-it collaboration

This week, we have a post-it note activity that is all about collaboration between students. Morven’s Year 9 DT students considered the impact of physical disability on individuals’ lives using post-it notes to share ideas. Using post-it notes is quick in terms of teacher preparation time, but can be really impactful. Plus, the physical (rather than digital) nature of this makes the most of being back in the classroom together.

This is how Morven’s post-it collaboration worked:

  • Students were on their feet in groups of 4.
  • On different tables there were disability fact files.
  • Each group had 2 mins to read the disability fact file on their table. They then had to jot down ideas on post-it notes of activities that their user might struggle with.
  • At the end of the allocated time, they then moved onto the next table and repeated the activity.
  • Each group had a different colour of post-it note.
  • After groups had rotated round all tables, Morven chose one student from each team to give a brief overview of their fact file. Then as a group they evaluated all the post-it notes from across the groups and chose the three post-it notes which jumped out at them to share back to the class
  • Morven took photos of the post-it notes and put them on Teams.
  • Next lesson they will begin to design potential solutions for these scenarios.


  • Peer evaluation is built into the feedback process – students need to review other groups’ ideas and weigh them up.
  • The pace kept students focussed and on task.
  • The physical nature of the activity capitalises on being back in the physical classroom.
  • Students were thinking for themselves using stimulus information.

Neurodiversity considerations for this activity from Isabelle and Catherine

Be aware of sensory sensitivities:

  • Touch: Some students might find the close proximity of collaborating on the same sheet of paper difficult.
  • Noise: Some students might find the group talking section of this too loud.
  • Be aware that the time allocation may not suit students with different processing speeds, so ensure that thinking time is built in to make the pace manageable.
  • Please be aware that it is important to set boundaries for some students who might have hyper-activity tendencies.

Deb McDowell, Head of Drama at WHS, reviews Andy Williamson’s podcast on the importance of developing autonomous intelligence

Deb McDowell, Head of Drama at WHS, reviews Andy Williamson’s podcast on the importance of developing autonomous intelligence in order to fulfil our potential as learners and navigate our lives with confidence. Deb reflects on how embracing metacognition could help us dismantle some of the more unhelpful and outdated aspects of our educational tradition.

‘Children should be taught how to think not what to think’ – Margaret Mead

Andy Williamson is an Oxford graduate, academic and founder of the Hampton Tutors, a US based academic coaching and tutoring agency. In July 2020 he launched the Hampton Tutors Podcast Network. In the first episode in his series of talks, (confusingly Episode 2 of the podcast series), Andy reflects on what it means to be ‘intelligent’ and the skills and tools we can develop in order to maximise our own learning and operate more effectively in an educational context and the world more broadly.

His clear and straightforward approach to this topic is refreshingly unpretentious as he asks the listener to consider the different ways we judge intelligence. He reminds us of various types of intelligence so often underappreciated within a competitive academic environment and uses comparisons with physical and sporting development to illustrate his points.

Williamson asks us to recognise that our educational system rewards depth of knowledge over breadth; how well we can zoom in on one narrow area. While this requires a great deal of hard work, what we are actually rewarding is diligence and memory rather than developed intelligence. I was minded to consider how much this reinforces cultural inequality and also discourages the kind of cognitive risk-taking and creative thinking we want to to see at WHS.

Andy applauds the breadth and depth of knowledge which is borne of hours of study and hard work, but proposes that true intelligence is applied when a person has the ability to adapt to a range of situations, and any test of intelligence should be measuring your capacity to learn. When faced with a challenge can you work out how to work it out?

I enjoyed how Williamson connected with the College students in his audience by using his Oxford interview as a good example of how he was taken out of his comfort zone; being purposely asked questions about a specific area of History he had never studied in order to test whether he could extrapolate, make connections and apply knowledge from other areas whilst all the time conscious he was almost certainly making errors.

This was a timely reminder that, particularly at A level, we must resist the urge to soothe away all the anxieties of those students who come to us seeking support; waving their mark schemes and asking for exemplars. What they really need is greater autonomy and we should be facilitating this – not attaching stabilisers to the bike they would otherwise be able to enjoy riding just as fast, if not faster than everyone else.

To reinforce the need to encourage learners to use metacognitive skills to become more autonomous as learners Williamson references Todd Rose’s ‘The End of Average’ which reminds us that using a statistical mean as the basis for any system is most likely to lead to something which ‘best fits’ very few. At this point I was minded to reflect on which learners are best served by our current education system, and more importantly, which are seriously disadvantaged.

Any Williamson outlines seven skills to have in a toolkit to support the development of autonomous intelligence. He asserts that by focussing on developing these skills we will improve academic outcomes and this will also help us re-frame how we see ourselves.

  • Metacognition: Knowing how best you learn.
  • Executive Function: Knowing how to manage tasks, time and people to learn better.
  • Growth Mindset: Being willing to push boundaries and get things wrong in order to learn.
  • Resilience and Endurance: Being able to endure disappointment and uncertainty.
  • Enjoyment: Finding an angle that interests you in what you are doing.
  • Communication: Ensuring your ideas are as precisely understood by someone else as they are by you.
  • Mindfulness: Using strategies to avoid over thinking and find contentment.

Williamson promises to talk in more detail about each of these in subsequent podcasts in order to identify what we can do to build our toolkit to become more efficient and effective learners and be more confident operating outside our individual comfort zones.  (Metacognition and Executive Function are already available as chapters 4 and 6 in the podcast series).

As statues fall and monuments are being re-evaluated in the light of much needed cultural change, it’s time for a radical re-think in Education. Perhaps, rather than relying completely on the traditional regurgitation of increasingly narrow spheres of knowledge – a system which arguably restricts diversity and reinforces inequality – we should be putting the acquisition of metacognitive skills at the forefront of what we do in schools.

Listen on Apple Podcasts here


Friday Gem #25 – harnessing the self-reflection of Motivational Maps and R&R

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #25  – harnessing the self-reflection of Motivational Maps and R&R

This Friday Gem comes from Clare Duncan 

One clear example of student self-reflection is their termly Review and Reflection session, and none more so than this year with our holistic approach. Using the Motivational Maps tool, students completed a series of questions which generated a report detailing their top motivators. They reflected on what these motivators meant to them and how they could harness them to develop strategies for success in every aspect of school life: academics, co-curricular and friendships.  These thoughts were captured during R&R and their report has been transferred to their profile page on Firefly.

So how can we use these in our T&L to encourage students to take control of their learning and reflect on their progress?

Well, each student reflection was captured in a report on Firefly. If there is a student in your class who you feel is not connecting with your subject, why not look at their self-reflection and discuss with them their motivators: together, plan how the student can use those motivators to drive their progress in your subject.

By way of an example:

Take Ceri, her top motivator is a Director: she has a need for power and influence. Here is her reflection:

I am struggling with finding my feet in class and in the Sixth Form. This is particularly true in Politics and English as I feel that the more confident girls always speak over me and when I do say something; they challenge what I’ve said and I am unable to speak up or share my opinions.

Through Ceri articulating this, you and she can discuss and plan an approach to her having a voice. For example, giving her a lead role in an initiative, you will be addressing her motivational need. This is a great way of using a student’s self-refection to help them to flourish in your subject.

What does learning at Oxbridge entail?

Mrs Hattie Franklin, Head of Year 12 and Oxbridge Coordinator (Arts and Humanities), explores what learning at Oxbridge entails and how the Oxbridge and Academic Scholarship programmes can help WHS students with their applications and developing their attitude to their own intellectual curiosity and passions.

Oxford and Cambridge are two of the oldest and most famous universities in the world, ranked at the top of the league tables and justifiably revered for nurturing academia across all disciplines. The undergraduate offering is a world class education and students from all over the globe vie for places in the hope of gaining a well-respected degree which unlocks opportunities in life after university. The myths surrounding the interview process are legendary, the pace of the teaching is fast, demanding and rewarding, the co-curricular offering is rich, and some of the traditions are just a little quirky. But, with competition for places more intense than ever and no guarantee of a successful application, it can be an intimidating challenge to take on. So, I would like to talk through an overview of an Oxbridge education in this article and explain why it is perhaps a little more accessible than you might think.

What kind of thinker are you?

Are you naturally curious, question what you learn in lessons and enjoy debating hot topics with your peers and your teachers? Do you live by the Socratic maxim that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living for mankind’? If so, the Oxbridge teaching model might well suit you. The core teaching for each subject is based around conversations, normally between two or three students and their tutor, who is an expert on that topic. These are called tutorials (Oxford) or supervisions (Cambridge), and they offer a chance to talk in-depth about a topic and to receive individual feedback on your work. To prepare for each meeting with their tutor, students will have read the books on the reading list and prepared an essay a week, or sometimes, two. There is also a requirement to attend lectures, seminars and classes on a weekly basis to supplement learning. Terms are shorter than other universities’ and are only 8 weeks long which means that preparatory work for each term is set for the preceding holiday and examined in the week before term officially begins. So, in addition to strong academic ability, you need to have mastered those important study skills of organisation and time management and be motivated to study independently.

How do I know if it’s the right thing for me?

There is no typical Oxbridge student and no single experience. Students who are passionate about their subject, diligent, driven and, most of all, have a love of academic exploration are already embodying many of the qualities necessary to apply and to succeed. It is never too early to embrace academic excellence and WHS has a varied and exciting Academic Scholarship programme to inspire pupils at every Key Stage, including Rosewell and Explore lectures, subject societies and academic extension clubs, WimTalks and Symposia, masterclasses and more informal discussion groups such as the hugely popular Tea and T’inking. In our new STEAM tower, and through our STEAM+ initiative, we have a brilliant new space specifically designed to help ingenuity to flourish and allow creative experimentation in inter-disciplinary learning. The scholarship programme is a warmly inclusive one: a desire to challenge oneself and venture into new areas of interest are the only criteria for involvement. More on our WHS offering across the school can be found in Mr Addis’s blog here https://wakelet.com/wake/amIaQ4T3b_jPHEuEUGf3v

Above: Sixth Formers studying in the Common Room

I’ve decided to apply: now what?

Every student who decides to apply for Oxbridge will have access to individual and group support as part of the Oxbridge preparation programme. The programme is officially launched in the Spring Term of Year 12 and we assign students a mentor in their subject, with whom they will meet regularly to discuss and develop their areas of interest. The best candidates drive their own mentoring sessions, bringing ideas to the table and challenging themselves to think around their subject. Importantly, it should not feel like ‘extra’ work but an opportunity to explore areas that have particularly piqued your interest in lessons. A favourite author, a specific and niche period of History, a passion for Greek tragedy or a love of linguistics: there are no set boundaries and the world of academia really is your metaphorical oyster!

The application process

Oxbridge applications need to be submitted earlier than other universities, and students will need to finalise their Personal Statements in the summer holiday of Year 12, ready to review and send to UCAS before October half term. You will focus also in the Autumn term of Year 13 on preparing for any aptitude test and, if invited for one, your interview.

Urban myths abound about the ‘dreaded’ Oxbridge interview: as I prepared for my own, I was horrified to be told stories of the naïve student who was asked to throw a brick through a (closed) window or the hopeful who, when asked by the interviewing don to ‘surprise me!’, set fire to his interviewer’s newspaper with unfortunate consequences. The reality for me was a very accessible and interesting conversation about Medea and other Euripides plays, which I had nominated in the interview as my specialist subject, a few difficult questions to prompt lateral and dynamic thinking, and absolutely no requests to destroy any element of my tutor’s study.

Interviews can be unnerving: they are, by and large, a new experience in an unfamiliar place but your interviewer is on your side and will not expect you to be a global expert on your A level subject. At interview, the best candidates present their ability, interest and potential, and are encouraged to apply their knowledge to new problems.

You will be expected to engage in an intense academic conversation to allow you show what you know but also to demonstrate that you would flourish in a tutorial-style learning environment. There will be a few unexpected questions; primarily to stop you reciting your carefully learned, heftily rhetorical speech on why Homer is the best poet that the world has ever seen (He is. But your interviewer also knows that). Thinking hard, pausing to collect yourself, being measured, coherent and eloquent in your responses are all components of a good interview which will hopefully be enjoyed by both sides. With regards to preparation, practice is key to help you acclimatise to nerves and think quickly and logically, so do take advantage of any opportunities organized by the school and independently if you can.

Above: Year 12 Science

Fortes fortuna adiuvat

The highly competitive nature of the application process and the extra effort involved proves to be too much of a gamble for some. In addition, on review of the courses available, other students conclude that their dream university course is not to be found at Oxford or Cambridge. However, pupils who are confident, highly academic and have an intrinsic love of learning should certainly seek advice about Oxbridge application from the teacher of their favourite subject or the WHS Sixth Form Team. Whatever the outcome, the experience of an application will be an intellectually enriching and stimulating one, and it could result in three or four years of an unforgettable undergraduate educational experience.

Moreover, in addition to the academic experience, Oxford and Cambridge also both offer a vast range of activities to be enjoyed outside of tutorials, from debating in the Oxford Union to the Cambridge Footlights; from college choirs to becoming a sporting Blue; plus many of the usual student societies. Do contact me or Mrs Nicolas (for STEM subjects) or myself if you would like to find out more.

And one final word of advice about that interview: do have something in your arsenal which does not involve arson itself, on the off-chance that a world expert actually does ask you to ‘surprise them’…

Friday Gem #10 – student collaboration using Miro

Teaching and Learning Gem #10 – student collaboration using Miro

We know how important it is to find ways for students to connect and collaborate during GHL. Clare Roper shared with me some videos of her Year 10s working together in real time using Miro – an online collaborative platform. She put students in groups using Teams channels so that they could speak with each other as they completed the collaborative task online. She could see exactly what was going on, to support and give encouragement live.

  • Fast and furious team competition about pollination

Teams competed to order the stages of the pollination process. This video is so fun…I think Clare has a future as a sports commentator!

  • Multiflow thinking maps about human influences on the environment

Clare was able to watch the different groups of students collaborating on their thinking maps and give immediate feedback. Watch here.

Miro has lots of different ways for students to collaborate. Click here to watch a short promotional video about Miro.