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Coming soon…..BBC School Report guest blog by students

Tomorrow, 21st ImageMarch, sees the Live Day for BBC School Report. 

As mentioned in a previous post we run School Report every year but this year it has grown bigger and bigger.

We have a local schools’ kidsmeet taking place on HMS Warrior with 50 students and staff – looking into hacking the new curriculum and engaging learning through technology which is exciting. 

We also have QR code poetry orienteering being created to guide visitors around the Historic Dockyard, with our students investigating poetry and the different exhibits.

And this is all on top of the regular BBC School Report journalism where our team of intrepid reporters will investigate current events & produce their articles and video reports to be uploaded to for sharing.

Excitingly, we have already had one telephone interview with our Head Girl for a BBC website article on technology that will go live tomorrow morning, and we are booked in for a radio interview live on BBC Solent at 0850 from the side of the HMS Warrior plus phone interviews throughout the day. We also know that BBC South Today are visiting us during the day and we hope to film a live bulletin for the 1pm news tomorrow. Fingers crossed for good weather!

So, at the end of tomorrow there will be a guest post on here by the students to sum up their day and the kidsmeet. Should make interesting reading. They will also be writing for . Students and staff will be live blogging and tweeting throughout the day for @priorygeography and @priorysouthsea so keep checking!


“I believe that good journalism can make our world a better place”

Christiane Amanpour


Improving literacy in Geography

Example of VCOP template
Example of VCOP template

Something we find our students struggle with at times, regardless of key stage, is the creation of extended writing. Such an essential skill, especially with a view to GCSE. The decision making exercise (SDME) essay that our students complete requires them to read, analyse, interpret and synthesise information into a coherent argument. And it is a big hurdle for them. And in KS3, where we have reduced contact time now, we have noticed a difficulty with stretching higher level writing.

This week we had INSET training from our literacy co-ordinator which was insightful. We are going to lead a Humanities-Literacy joint project which I will update you on later but may involve the creation of a platform for sharing work that I have mentioned before. Anyway, I digress. I was introduced to VCOP – a simple way to structure writing through suggesting vocabulary, listing connectives, providing sentence openers, and then reminding of punctuation. I decided to trial this with both KS3 and KS4 classes of all abilities and have been really pleased with the outcomes. Below are example lessons including VCOP from Yr11 Hazards & Yr9 Extreme Environments so you can see how it was worked into the lesson. We talked through the structure as a group first to establish its utility, then a copy was given between pairs for reference during writing. Students were allowed their books for reference, access to their mobile device, but were otherwise silent for 10-15minutes solid writing. After, we then discussed whether the structure had been useful and throughout all abilities and ages they universally agreed it was ‘good to refer to if you forgot something’ or that it ‘gave me something to start off with’. A starting block.

Thanks to @daviderogers for the NYC lesson outline that was his originally until I butchered it!

You can see in the Yr 11 Hazards lesson I also used the Learning Grids activity for their group work. Students had copies of the grids in A3, then had to roll two dice to get grid reference/coordinate for a particular grid and then include the statement within their group work, e.g. grid 6,6 means they must include a link to sustainability within their argument. They had to repeat the rolls 5 times to get 5 statements to include. When the groups presented their findings, I used the dice myself with the grid in order to direct questioning. Using the random name generator on Triptico I selected a student, then rolled the dice to select a question based on that topic. That student then got to roll for the next name suggested, and they got to pose the question, and so forth. That way a selection of random students were able to both pose & answer directed questions and it led to some really informative discussions as well as enabling more in depth AfL of the relative merits of each presentation.

The use of the template was observed by an Ofsted lead inspector for a different lesson who commented on it’s suitability and highlighted that one of their key focuses at present is that of literacy across the curriculum, and that teachers cannot do enough of making overt links to literacy &  the importance of writing skills for GCSE and the workplace.

I think a further development to the use of VCOP could be to provide specific links to English APP AF strands on writing, and make it clear that students are developing skills intrinsic and essential to both subject areas. In English they are exposed to the AF strands routinely so it would make the cross-over more familiar, and more of a development of a known rather than introduction of something new and scary.

I am also thinking of creating some generic VCOP laminated pyramids to be able to distribute to tables as needed. I’d be interested in hearing from others if you have used these. It seems something common in primary schools and strange to not continue when literacy is such a struggle.

“If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” Oscar Wilde

Learn Live session @ Bett 2013

Bett 2013As mentioned in the previous post, I attended Bett 2013 last week and was lucky enough to co-present a Learn Live session with David Rogers (see his write up here). The session was ‘Empowering young people in order to create a mobile device policy that brings about a pedagogic revolution’ – and referred to the work that David led and I supported with introducing and developing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mobile@priory policy for our school.

You can see the slides for the session below, but it is mostly just images so if it needs explaining then email me for more info!

The story can be seen explained on David’s blog if you search for it, but basically over the last 18months he has been leading the revolution to transform Priory through enabling access to mobile devices. The policy was co-constructed by students, teachers, professionals and involved action research (in the form of mapping social spaces, conducting polls of device access, and putting chalk graffiti around school!), formulating the framework and then trialling within Geography to then spread out whole school.

My part of the story (apart from actually teaching and using devices in my own lessons) was to share the teacher’s perspective. Now clearly I am biased since I am pro-tech in general (see my Guardian posts here or here) but before anyone thinks that I am lazy and always have kids on mobiles in class let me point out that I am an advocate of learning through and by any means, but not at any cost. If you walk in to my classroom you won’t see young people 24/7 always on mobiles /tablets / some kind of high tech – you will see a range of methods and tools, appropriate for the range of students that come through the door and the range of skills they need to develop. It’s about being grounded in appropriate learning objectives. I’m not saying every lesson every child needs to be using some kind of electronic device, I’m just saying that it is another tool in the box. Something with which learners are familiar and that can boost engagement if used in the right way at the right time. It’s not always easy to use tech, and it’s not always appropriate. Just like we all have heard complaints of overuse / misuse of powerpoint or textbooks, it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Just an option. Right, now that I’ve put that caveat in!

Learn Live session audience

Basically we shared Priory’s story of introducing the mobile@priory policy. From my perspective, I was able to share how using mobile devices had led to the Olympic Geocaching work of Sam Atkins in the department – a project that saw a whole range of learners across Year 8 being out around the school site and eventually at Box Hill to choose suitable sites for geocaches, investigating Rights & Responsibilities, learning about the SSSI area of Box Hill and the Olympic road race itself. When Ofsted came they saw multiple synchronous classes out and about the school site doing this project – and they loved it. The project even got shown as part of our annual BBC News School Report and you can see it here from the official BBC News South Today report.

We also shared about ‘guerilla learning‘ – that mobile devices enable ‘naughty’ learning – doing things differently, learning outdoors, being free to make mistakes and learn from them. That utilising BYOD and mobile devices in general has allowed better home interaction during school trips and projects. For example, on residentials / sports days / BBC News Day we have live blogging (through Posterous, with a private link shared with family) to share student exploits – and parents can respond through twitter or comments (which have to be moderated & approved before being made public).

BYOD has been found to be useful for Controlled Assessment and fieldwork at GCSE level, with students using mobile phones / iPods / laptops / tablets to record information during field trips (be that images / video / sound recordings / data) and be able to manipulate this in their own time, being able to be portable, not having the worry of their research being locked in school where they cannot access it and having the benefit of it being technology that they are already familiar with, and that doesn’t have space quota limits because it is shared with 1250 other students. You can see a video here that shows student thoughts.

Geography started the trial (we already had been to be honest, having a habit of trying something first then getting permission or apologising after) and then other departments started to get involved. In the Mobile@Priory Cookbook you can see 4 examples of different projects during the trial. This includes an EAL project (we learned that there are over 37 different languages spoken at Priory, yet all signage and literature is in English) to use QR codes and mapping as a tour of the world around the school site; an MFL lesson using the Spanish Ikea site and translation tools to design and equip a house in Spanish; a Music lesson to create soundscapes around the site; and a Design Technology lesson where an unloved and worn out school bench was renovated and embellished with emblems, a hashtag and QR code for students to learn the 6Rs of recycling and links to rights and responsibilities (we are a Rights Respecting School). Interesting stuff! Read the cookbook or see David Rogers’ blog for more info.

If you have any questions on BYOD / guerilla learning / mobile devices then get in touch. Or come visit. Interestingly, since the policy was introduced we now only find that 1.6% of all negative behaviour incidents recorded are related to mobile devices. It’s all about the learning and the behaviour / relationships that enable that learning, not the device itself. Whether a device is a mobile or a pen, either can cause benefit or harm. It’s just how it is used and with what motives. Use for use sake is a mistake. Just like not using something just because it’s not been done before is a mistake. Try, fail, adapt, try again, succeed.

“She knows there’s no success like failure,
And that failure’s no success at all” [Bob Dylan]

Learning Grids: Something worth trying?

I’m really fortunate to be in a mutually supportive and collaborative department. All schemes of work are living documents saved on the cloud, and each of us share our lesson resources via a team Dropbox account. We all have our own individual take on things, but it does mean we can save ‘recreating the wheel’ and, importantly, ensure that the children within our individual classes still get a consistent experience between teachers.  During department meetings we spend time reviewing each other’s marking or examples of student assessments to make sure we are on the same page, and if someone has seen or read about something we will discuss it, decide whether it is appropriate to trial within the department, and figure out how to do so. 


One such thing recently was brought up by David Rogers who had been reading Andy Griffiths’ ‘Engaging Learners’ book. In the book he had picked up on ‘learning grids’ as a possible activity. We were in the midst of preparations for the SDME exam for Year11 which involves a final decision making essay which is a demanding challenge for most students in terms of how to structure and how to display high level skills (especially on higher tier with minimal structure given in exam). We agreed to trial the learning grids as an aid for structuring the practice essay in a more fun way. We drew up a grid as seen here with suggested themes/skills that students should include in their work. Using a dice, they would roll to find coordinates and then use those coordinates to decide which criteria they had to include. i.e. roll two dice, if you get 1,6 then this is your coordinate so you must include ‘refer to data’, then repeat this three times to build in different strands to your essay. All criteria were focused on the Level 3-4 skills so that by using them students could build a quality essay. 


I trialled this with year 11 in workshops, and it was a great success. The style of throwing dice made it feel less rigid perhaps, more flexible, and like they 

were still building an independent essay. And it did seem to help students to recall what criteria to include by seeing it laid out this way rather than a checklist of ‘please include this in your essay’. This idea was also shared via twitter with @misslkelly who tweeted asking for revision resources, and she was pleased with the results.

I went on to trial this with my year 9 who were completing an assessment as a follow up to the Montserrat decision making exercise. Students were each given a learning grid card and could then use dice and the grid to structure their extended writing. I was surprised with how seriously they took it, but even the lower ability sets were avidly checking their grids to see what criteria they needed. As an additional part of the grid work this time I used it as a bit of mini AfL. I asked students to check off on their grids which criteria they felt they had met during their essay and which they felt they were still needing to work on, then asked them to swap assignments and peer assess whether they had met these criteria or not. When I marked them I also collected in the grids and could use these to inform me whether students were accurately identifying skills and help inform future planning, e.g. I noticed that many were ticking off ‘has explained links to sustainability’ but in their work had only dropped the word in, and not explained…so the grids could show misconceptions and I will return them next time they do an assessment to see if they have developed a better understanding next time. 

As with everything, this isn’t a tool to use all the time but certainly has its place for helping structure extended writing. And you wouldn’t have to always have topic specific grids, you can be resource light and have laminated learning grids with generic factors relevant to particular level / grade criteria. These could then be used for anything, written or verbal, independent work or group.

“You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief.” Marie de Nervaud