How I focused on a solution focused approach


Solutions, not problems

For a couple of years now, my school has used a Restorative Justice approach when dealing with the more serious behavioural issues we encounter in our classrooms. When the system was first introduced, the entire staff body received a whole day of inset on the topic including presentations, case studies and everyone’s favourite – role play!  It was fair to say that at the time, on the whole we weren’t exactly won over by the process as it seemed that the system as presented offered an easy way out for our ‘offenders’ – simply admitting what they did was wrong and promising not to do it again appeared to get them off the hook. 

However, since the initial roll out of the approach, small cohorts of staff have been selected to attend further inset on the subject and luckily for me, my name was drawn from the hat for the most recent two-day session run at school by Henry Keirnan.

My eyes are now fully open as to the value of restorative approaches when dealing with issues at school, and I’m now really keen to put what I’ve learned into practice (much to my colleague’s surprise) whenever the opportunity presents itself. The inset sessions included an awful lot of anecdotes to gives the techniques some context (not something I’m really very attuned to) which gave me plenty of time to think about how I could start to use a Solution Focused approach to benefit the teaching and learning in my classroom. 

The name says it all really

I’m not intending this post to be an introduction or explanation of solution focused approaches (check out this article for a bit of an overview if you’re interested), but very briefly, the approach works by helping learners to recognise successes and identify what they’d need to do to improve rather than by highlighting the areas that aren’t going so well and focusing on the problems. The inset sessions gave us plenty of ideas for using the approach on a 1:1 basis- but in reality the time needed to have a meaningful individual dialogue with a whole class just doesn’t exist in in my day.

There was also some handy advice on getting whole-class feedback on their perceived progress on a particular topic, but this mainly involved using scales with kids holding up their fingers to indicate where they felt they were in terms of effort, quality of work etc. And this is where I had a problem. What good was it to me knowing that a pupil considered themselves a “4” in terms of their current effort if I didn’t know a) why they thought this and b) how I could move them to a 5 or 6 or 7. There’s got to be a better way I thought, reaching for my faithful iPad…

Form filling

On a slight tangent, I’ve fallen in love in a big way with Google Forms again recently, mainly due to the Superquiz add-on, but that’s another story altogether. However, It did get me thinking, was there a way I could technologify the process of getting my kids to focus on solutions to their problems, and more importantly a way that I could gather up their thoughts and then act on them?

Getting home after the first of the two days of inset, I was pretty fired up by the new reflective era I was entering! A quick google form later, and I was ready to go. I was even sufficiently enthused to share what I’d done on the second day of the training, and it seemed to be pretty well received by colleagues from my school, teachers from the other attending schools and by Henry the trainer. We all finished up the day full of praise for restorative and solution focused approaches and I was keen to bust out the form to my kids. Next day, back in class and tackling day to day issues, I promptly forgot about it!

This is the least important part of the form, but it helped give the kids a chance to think about the topic they were reflecting on. 

This section asked kids to rate the amount of effort they put in during class time, justifying their reasons and then suggesting a solution to the issues they faced. 


The final section asked the kids to reflect on the quality of the work they had produced and then think of solutions for the issues they may have identified.

“So how did we find the last topic kids?”

A couple of weeks later, I was competing an electronic assessment with a year 9 group in an IT suite and suddenly realised it might be a good time to focus on possible solutions to problems we might have faced in our latest work. I attached a link to the Google form to the end of the assessment (also a Google form so no additional explanation was needed) and told the kids to fill it out when they’d finished the assessment. That evening, I had a glance at the responses, fully expecting the usual simple “i need to work harder” type comments I’d often received when asking for an’EBI’ in the past. 

I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Out of the mouths of babes

The Google form response sheet yielded some really thought-provoking comments. The kids had been honest in filling out the form in ways I’d never expected and in some ways that I could really act on (more homework!!!). Commenting on their effort over the last topic…

 I was equally surprised by some of the reflections on the quality of their work… Obviously everyone fancied a new seating plan. 


Acting on the suggestions

At the start of my next lesson with the class, I spent a bit of time discussing the responses and making sure I’d praised them for their honesty! They fed back that it had been a challenge for them but it was definitely something they’d appreciated doing. I felt that a lot of them also had reflections they just weren’t able to articulate on the form, so the following discussion was equally useful for them. We had a bit of a chat about using the scale too, and a lot of them decided that they’d probably been a bit generous in their ratings. The overwhelming feeling was also that the kids felt far more comfortable when confessing to the online form rather than writing on paper. 

After the comments regarding their distractions, I told them we were having a new seating plan which they were going to come up with. I gave them a couple of minutes to think about where the best place in the room for them to make progress would be and then to move there. I was pleased to see there was a lot of chat about where they should be sitting, and although they didn’t all actually get up and move, I was pleased they actually had a discussion. I then let them know about some changes I’d be making to the way I led the next topic and they really seemed to appreciate the thought I’d given their responses. In fact, that lesson was the most positive lesson I’d had this year with what can usually be quite a challenging group (it was also the dreaded Friday afternoon last lesson slot which made me even more impressed!)

A shift in my focus

This is obviously only a first step, but I’m really enthused by this experiment and I’m finding the more I use a solution focused approach, both to behavioural issues and to help my learners make progress, the happier everyone involved is! Sure, getting my learners to reflect on their progress is nothing new, but I’m hoping this approach may also rub off onto other aspects of their life, both in and out of school.  

  • Kids were honest when asked to think about they way they worked rather than how much they’d learned
  • They really appreciated the fact that I was going to consider their comments in my planning
  • Solution focused approach can (hopefully!) have a wider impact outside of my classroom
  • Yet another win for Google Forms!

Thanks for your time- please let me know your thoughts!


SOLE – first steps


Independent, invested and excited learners – that’s the dream. Unfortunately, it’s often not the reality. Sat at home during a half-term “holiday”, I always have grand ideas, planning new projects that the kids will work through, building lesson upon lesson on their discoveries until it reaches a brilliant crescendo and I pat myself on the back for enabling them to make such outstanding progress. In reality, 2 lessons in and they usually haven’t reached a lot of the goals set and the whole thing is looking a bit shaky. Why does it seem to happen sometimes? To my mind, it’s because our pupils just don’t seem to be able to organise themselves, their time and their resources without being guided at every stage. 

Now, using SOLO has been a big game changer here for me, both in terms of designing lessons and enabling pupils to self-assess and set their own targets. Others have written more comprehensively than I could on this subject (check @globalsolo and HookED for a start). However, I was still looking for ways to develop my project-based SOLO ideas further. 

A chance meeting between a colleague with another teacher at a kids birthday party led me to SOLE – Self Organised Learning Environments. I don’t want to spend an age explaining the idea now, check out Sugata Mitra’s TED talk or the associated SOLE toolkit for a run down. I just wanted to share my thoughts after my first few SOLEs. I’d also like to quickly mention the inspirational John Stanier (@JohnStanier1) who spent an afternoon with me discussing his experiences before I took the plunge. 

My first SOLE – blast off!

One of my favourite topics came rolling around – Earth and Space with year 8 covering the Solar System, distances in space, satellites, day and night and so on. Perfect. When the pupils arrived for the first lesson of the topic they were enthused by the spacey image on the board – kids love space – and were keen to crack on. On the whiteboard was a simple title “The Solar System”. Rather than launching into my usual Sagan-lite routine, I simply announced “there’s your title, you’re doing me a 2 min presentation on it in 45 mins. Off you go.” The kids were told to get into groups of 4 with access to an iPad per group plus a big pile of spacey books. I held my breath. 
It was a real eye opening experience. All the pupils immediately grouped up and started to discuss what they needed to find out. Because I hadn’t given them any set direction, their ideas were varied – how big is it, how old is it, where did it come from, what’s it made off?  They got stuck in straight away and seemed to be churning out much more work – notes and diagrams – than usual. When asked a question, I usually launch into a discussion through which the pupil and I reach the answer together. The first question asked was “Is Pluto still a planet?”.
Rather than my usual “well what makes a something a planet?” I came back with a “You tell me”. The pupil duly found a copy of Sky At Night and came back to me with a complete answer, and more importantly they were really chuffed to have done it on their own. Another pupil commented “my book says it is still a planet”. “So what are you going to do?” I replied. “Uh, get a book with more up-to-date facts in it of course!”. Wait a minute… What’s that… Evaluation of secondary data! Bingo!
I was amazed by the work going on. Every kid was engaged. There was loads a noise, but all of it was cosmological. At the end of the research period, we used Audioboo to record our 120s of info. This was the best part. Rather than just the same old facts being mumbled through 8 times, we were treated to 8 vastly different view points on what the important details of our solar system were. When it formed, how it formed, how we explore it, where we’ve been, where we plan to go, exoplanets. It was fantastic. Every groups had reached my intended ‘traditional’ outcomes, but every group also delivered something unique that we all shared and were all the wiser for it. We had lift off. 

Same class, SOLE number 2 – into orbit. 

Two weeks later and it was SOLE time again with the same group, this time the subject was satellites. I posed the question below…

The big question

This time though, our SOLEs had a little more structure. The same resources were supplied but I asked the groups to use my SOLE framework to record their ideas. Only one member of the group was allowed to write on the page, meaning those researching would need to communicate their findings. Finally, one member of the group had to act as an observer and simply use a mini white board to prepare a directors commentary of the SOLE. 

SOLE frame

If you fancy using the above, get it here
We had a little chat about the fact that the £35 000 000 launch cost of a satellite could buy a lot of other things (£1 000 000 each for the class which would apparently mostly be spent on shoes) before I said that they would be giving me their answers on one side of a4 to be photoed and posted on a padlet wall in 50 mins time. Off they went. 
They immediately grouped up, mostly based on friendships but I also noticed a little bit of “get Billy in our group, he knows about…” going on. I pleased to see that some class members remembered the last experience where having a nice chat didn’t necessarily get the job done. Again, I saw critical analysis of a lot of resources I’d made available and I was pleased to see that the groups didn’t immediately rely on their single iPad. I was also chuffed to see the analytical nature of their thought processes. To find out if satellites were worth the cash, what did they need to know. What question did they need to ask before they could answer the big question. 

Research underway

The ‘narrators’ took to the role with enthusiasm, particularly when noting “Dave’s doing nothing”. This aspect of self management by the groups was fantastic – I’d told them any personnel issues should be forwarded to me as a last resort. 

Directors commentary

As usual, the keenest pupils got stuck in but the most interesting observation was the response from the ‘lads’ who usually take this sort of opportunity to slack off. Because they hadn’t been given a rigid set of instructions to follow, they were free to take it where they wanted, and we had a fantastic discussion about Sky TV satellites, the cost per person and the fact the if the government wanted satellites, they paid with our taxes so it had to be of benefit to me, the tax payer. 

Answering the big question

The SOLE frames really helped the kids when it came to completing their final answers and the scribes were pleased that all group members could chip in on making the artefact. We left the answers on desks and wandered around reviewing each other’s work. As before, everyone approached it from a slightly different perspective, which meant we all got a lot more out iof it than a simple “find out what we use satellites for” task. To document the lesson we posted our images onto the padlet wall. 

Question answered – ignore my workbook!

The final part of the lesson involved some reflection on our SOLEs in the space provided on the frame. I was pleased to see the comments were related to successes and barriers to making greater progress. Discussion with the pupils afterwards revealed that a lot of them wouldn’t necessarily choose to work with their best friends again if they wanted to get the most out of the lesson – very mature attitudes from my year 8s. As always with a SOLE lesson, I’m amazed how much the pupils seem to enjoy the set up, how much work they actually do when given freedom and how much I enjoy the sessions. 

SOLE review

This has gone on a bit, so I think in summary, as a result of our SOLEs:
  • Kids are definitely displaying their skills as independent (from me) and collaborative (with each other) learners;
  • Using SOLE frame really helped them organise their time/work balance;
  • Analysing the question really helped focus direction of research;
  • Use of scribe meant researchers had to communicate effectively and vast majority of chat was spacey;
  • ‘Narrator’ recording activity made them think about their contribution as they didn’t want to get “written up for being lazy”;
  • Record of SOLE really aided their reflection at end of lesson. 
One final thought however. At the end of this lesson, I was so energised by it all that I (unplanned) decided to carry out a SOLE with my following year 10 class posing the question “how do I see myself in a mirror”. After 4 years of a more ‘traditional’ approach they were (for the most part) clueless as to what they should do. One group brilliantly researched an experiment, went and gathered the equipment, came up with the law of reflection and applied it to forming an image, but there was an awful lot of “you haven’t told us what to do”. My take home message here was get them while they’re young! 
Let me know what you think!
Ps. On a personal note, I’m amazed I’ve mange to write this without once resorting to a SOLE-based pun. 

Painting your wall… using Padlet in class


We have a class set of iPads in our science department. They’re fantastic. They enable the kids to find out anything via the internet in a minute, rather than an hour long laptop marathon. We can instantly capture images and video of what we’re up to, and have it up on YouTube seconds later. We can use an ever-growing number of creativity apps to demonstrate our progress in ways that we wouldn’t even have imagined 12 months ago. I love them. Problem is, so do the other members of my department, and bookings for the trolley have now long surpassed saturation point. Although this in itself is annoying when you’ve got something new and cool to try, a big problem I often have is forgetting something really cool I’ve done because I don’t use it again for a while. This is the case with my favourite re-discovery of the last few weeks – Padlet. 

I first used padlet at a physics teachers’ event at Exeter Uni last summer. One of the workshops I opted for was “Apps in Science”. Run by Alessio Bernadelli (@asober), it was nice to chat about apps I was already using. The big find of the session for me however was Basically a big blank sheet of online paper, Alessio had us using the site to post ideas and comment throughout the session, but I was already thinking about using it in class. Over the next week I bust it out a couple of times to great effect. Then completely forgot about it… Until now!

So what’s it all about? Your first job is to sign yourself up on the padlet site – just sign in with your google or fb id. Then create your first wall. Doesn’t look very exciting yet, but it will. Take a few seconds now to modify your wall – it’ll make it easier for students find and it means it’ll do exactly what you want – give it a custom URL, add a password and description – whatever you need. 

Modify your page

Now your wall is ready to go. Simply double tap anywhere on your wall to add some text, a link or an image (which can be grabbed straight from your iPad camera roll or your PC folder). So far so good, but now it gets better. Just share your custom wall URL with the kids and they too can see what you’ve posted and also post their own content. You still remain in charge of your wall as it’s creator and can move and delete their posts. Good stuff. 

How am I using it?

Firstly to share images. There are plenty of ways to push images out to the kids’ iPads (chirp, edmodo, Dropbox), but I really like the way you can throw an image up on the wall and it’s there waiting for them. Simple and visual. Add a title and a quick instruction, and it suddenly starts getting useful. 

I’m all heart

In the example above I posted an image of the structure of the heart. This was just a quick 5 min starter to refresh before we moved on. The kids were asked to save the image back to their iPad and use an app (e.g. Explain everything) to label up the main features before posting their work back to the wall. Within 5 mins, we had everyone’s work on the wall where we could compare what had been included/missed off and who’d done the best job. We then went on to repeat the process for other body systems – everybody shared their ideas to fill in the gaps in knowledge. Best of all, telling kids to just “post it back on the wall” is like second nature to them, so no explanation needed. 

Sharing ideas

Use number 2 – Peer review and evaluation. Much the same as above, I posted an image on the wall and asked the kids to add their ideas – this time ray diagrams forming an image in a mirror. Again, we labelled up our images and posted them up. This time I displayed the images on the whiteboard – by clicking on one you open a slide show of all images that can be scrolled through. We looked at each image in turn and evaluated the diagrams, reinforcing our understanding and addressed any misunderstandings. Because it was their own work, the kids were more interested/invested in the discussion and best of all we’d gathered everyone’s work together in one place without anyone leaving their seats! (Thanks to the two year 8 girls for lying on the floor below the balcony for the image!).

Check out the wall below here

Instant peer evaluation

Final use – Takeaway homework. I’m a recent convert to the Takeaway homework craze which seems to be all over twitter at the mo. Kids get a choice of home works during a topic that must all be completed by the end of the unit. A number of the tasks I set don’t involve straight forward written tasks – they be might asked to produce a short video, draw out a big mind-map or find some relevant websites for revision. All these artefacts can be a bit difficult to collate, and gathering photos in via edmodo or the like loses some visual impact – enter Padlet! Now for each topic, I’m simply going to create a padlet wall where kids can throw up photos and links in order that we can spend some review time looking through and benefiting from each other’s work. I can easily comment on the work produced and it’s all in one place when I need it. Everyone’s a winner. 

I really do urge you to give padlet a go. I’ve just mentioned a few uses here, but as with everything, no matter what it’s intended purpose, teachers will find a way to use it for a million different jobs. And of course, there are staff CPD sessions, department meetings, evening revision groups, corridor display screens………

Let me know what you think!


Oh, what smashing apps!


Which app to we use?

Whenever I’m asked (in fact, I don’t need to be asked, I’ll just butt in and tell you), I’m happy to say what a fantastic educational tool an iPad can be. At my school, we were lucky enough to receive a big chunk of ICT-ring fenced funding around the time the iPad 2 came out, so we got ourselves a class set of thirty, plus one for all the science teachers, plus an AppleTV in all our labs. I still can’t believe how lucky we were/still are, and believe me, they’ve been worth the money we spent on them. I’m also still in the middle of a prolonged campaign to get my 1:1 “iPads for everyone”, scheme going (it’s gaining ground, but that’s a different story). 

Of course, an iPad is only as good as the app you run on it. You can do some fantastic stuff with the (amazingly) free apps about, but sometimes I feel iPads are just being used as little, reliable laptops for internet research and PowerPoint (well, keynote, but you know what I mean) presentations. Of course I’m think about the SAMR model here (see @ICTevangelist among others on twitter for details about this). Yeah, you can do Old Skool stuff brilliantly on iPads, but it’s the Nu Cool stuff I like.  Using an app together with the iPad camera can really open up new ways for pupils to express themselves, present their work and make brilliant progress in ways that weren’t possible even a couple of years ago. 

Up on the wall

Whenever we break out the iPads in class, one of the first questions is usually “Sir, which app are we doing it on?”. There’re two reasons I don’t like that question. Firstly, I prefer the kids to decide for themselves how they’ll present their work, be it a keynote, comic strip, movie trailer – whatever. Secondly, iPads really start to rock when you combine the product of one app with the functions of another. I’ve recently learned it’s even got a name – AppSmashing.

So, to counter the questions above, I knocked up a series of little A5 posters which now form a display on my wall. The idea is that kids can refer to them for inspiration as to which app they want to start with, and then maybe ‘smash’ their initial product into a second app to really power it up. 

The right app for the job

Of course, this is just a small selection of the apps on the App Store which can be bent to an educational purpose, so the idea is to keep the display refreshed with whatever I think is working well. I’m also using the display in tandem with stuff from the fantastic @gregkuloweic who is producing great how-to guides for appsmashing – definitely worth a follow!

Fancy trying them out – get a copy here

Six Mark Book Marks


Awaiting tassels.

The continuing quest for full marks gets book marks…

Once the kids were up to speed with the the techniques and tips I wanted them to use when answering the QWC, I hit a bit of a stumbling block – a bit of a vacuum when it came to questions to answer! Scouring round the past papers I physically had, plus hitting the AQA website yielded the expected results. I also mange to score a really useful selection of questions from Bob Ayres (@MrBAyres – worth a follow), but it was never long before the cries of “we’ve done this one before” started. It was time to bring all my disparate sources together. I also didn’t want to keep having to photocopy stuff which was handed back too tatty/graffitied to use again. 

I wanted a resource that would also include the mark scheme, but not be too cumbersome, so I settled on a bookmark format. Most of the questions used, along with mark schemes, were adapted from the Nelson Thorne AQA Physics textbook, so the main job was just fiddling with fonts and layout – and copying out the questions (I use Keynote on iPad for the job). 

Collect ’em all! Example of six mark bookmark.

It was a labour of love to get them all finished over the Easter holidays, but they seem to go down very well on twitter, with the task being taken up by others (@hthompson1982 and @DaK_74 in particular) to complete similar sets for biology and chemistry. 

The next big job – cutting them out! I’m lucky enough to have a 1:1 000 000 technician at school however, who loves a bit of cutting and sticking, and they were soon laminated up, ready for action. They are still awaiting the little tassels to complete the picture, but that’s a job for next week!

Although the mark schemes aren’t totally comprehensive, the kids are now familiar with what is meant by “mostly faultless SPaG” etc. I’ll be breaking them out next week, and I do intend to make a final bookmark where the kids can record their mark for each question along with details on BUSKing for six marks. I’ll let you know how they get on!

If you fancy checking them out, download them here AQA_QWC_6_mark_bookmarks.pdf


Your wish is my command (word)


Science literacy placemats

Whilst focussing on literacy in science this year, one of the big problems the kids seemed to have was knowing what the question was actually asking for. They may have had a really good understanding of the science, but just didn’t understand the command words. One of my constants in class is the development of independent learners, so I needed a resource that they could turn to that would guide them whilst still requiring them to do the work. Enter the literacy placemat. 

It’s not an original idea I know, there are plenty of similar resources about, but I wanted to bring all the elements I find useful together in one place. 

Laminated and ready to rock

The central focus was the command words, with the obvious addition of connectives and punctuation prompts. I also took the chance to include the Point, Evidence, Explain structure we use for writing conclusions, along with the SOLO taxonomy to get pupils thinking about how they improve their answers. The mats were printed up on A3, laminated and added to my resource table at the front of the class. 

Breaking out the mats in class

The first time the mats were used was during some QWC work. After discussing a couple of questions, I suggested the kids used a mat to help construct their answers. The command word section saw the most interest, but the group were high ability types so didn’t need as much help connective wise. 
The next time I used the mats was with a lower ability group during coursework. After talking about the marks that came from the quality of their writing for a bit, they got stuck in. I was made up to hear the conversations about their work. They were actively trying to use different connectives to each other and avoid repetition in their writing. Good job kids!
The mats are still getting a lot of use and best of all it’s usually a case of “sir, can I get one of those writing things?” rather than me suggesting it in the first place. 
Get a copy of the mat here Science literacy placemat.pdf

Time for some Pepptalk…


So this is something I’ve been meaning to get round to for an age now but it’s always been three or four items down the list. Over the last year or so I’ve come to realise what an amazing, unrivalled source of CPD- I can’t even begin to list the ideas, techniques and resources I’ve ‘adapted’ from the ideas of fellow ed-tweeters (I even had help with the name for the blog from twitter – cheers @DrAdeno!).

And through twitter I’ve also had my eyes opened to the world of edu-blogging. I was amazed by the time and effort that many teachers seem to put in to this extra-curricular activity and it’s all a bit daunting really when you’re just starting out. But after following the blogs of people like @hrogerson, @hthompson1982, @kohlmand and many, many others, I know it’s time to dip my toe in and see how it feels.

Hopefully, this blog will be a great way for me to share my ideas and resources (I can’t keep up with requests to share on twitter!), therefore helping me and hopefully helping you in the process… Welcome to the PepperMill!