Monthly Archives: June 2013

June #Blogsync an example of a great classroom explanation

OK, several people have read my previous blog posts about the SOLO taxonomy.

So in the second half of the Autumn term (UK) 2012 and I needed to move my focus with classes at Key Stage 3 from literacy skills to making progress and developing an integral model that they are full participants in.

So the decision was made to trial SOLO as an approach across the Geography department at Key Stage 3. Staff training would link to ActivInspire (Promethean boards) flip charts ( in June 2013 this lesson was modified to be used with Year 7 ICT as well).

The second unit for each year group is the study of an area of the world. Year 7- the UK; Year 8 – Kenya and Year 9 – Japan. We study a range of themes across the countries including location of places at a range of scales.

OK a standard lesson to ground the idea of Solo.

A standard format differing only by the country studied. The introductory lesson starts with a plain A4 sheet to identify own prior knowledge with an emphasis on “secret squirrel” and not sharing answers with others. The classes in all cases focused well from the individuals who said – what shall I write if I don’t know anything? Reassured that a start of a unit that was perfectly ok. Others wrote a range of facts, even surprised when told that anything goes … Japanese cars for example. The sheet was then turned over, a resource to return to later.

Lesson details were now shared:


An introduction to SOLO as an idea and simplified history including a reference to Pam Hook, New Zealand, Twitter and sharing about it at Teachmeet Essex on the 19/11/12. Then we moved onto watch the clear YouTube clip on explaining SOLO taxonomy using lego. by Emily Hughes.

An idea that was easy for all classes to relate and easy for me to add to anecdotally from a lego user and father’s perspective. The video was paused after each stage and some discussion took place and links were made to expectations for written answers in class from single words to lists to simple sentences to paragraphs. The extended abstract skills that several of most classes were capable of was praised – …” If only we could get you to use words as comfortably and creatively as you do with lego bricks!”. The plenary of the taxonomy within the video was used with some groups but not with others.

Then back to the 5 stages and how Sir would be using the terms but the symbols are what we will use in flipcharts and on their work.


Now to return to our facts from our sheets, each pupil was issued with a tracking sheet. They were to enter the lesson’s date and identify which stage they felt their knowledge is at the moment. Some additional questions were asked on when they were crossing the unistructural / multi structural boundary – this provoked some good discussions across table groups and the classes. We have several pupils new to the school whose EAL needs vary, the following pictures include the original sheet and two translations in Thai and English / Romanian. I have moved away from putting translations onto the whole class flipchart and now provide a translated or side by side language comparison copy for TA’s and the child – currently I use Google Translate which may not always be accurate but which allows me to engage these pupils sooner (if thy can read their native tongue!).




The concept of using the sheet to compare progress at the end of the unit is introduced and the classes sheets and initial thoughts sheet held by the teacher in their Planning/Assessment records. An additional form of evidence involved an informal survey and plotting of stages now.


The graph’s outcomes are then compared with the classes projected levels for the year indirectly and a prediction is made where they are capable of reaching by the end of the seven week unit. A link is also made to the first report cycle – if they feel at the end of the unit they are still Pre- or Uni- structural then report comments will pick up on a lack of involvement and input in their learning (subject to professional judgement).

Plenary questions return to identifying the 5 stages and what they involved in the Lego clip and class written work expectations. In 9 lessons the amount and quality of pupil discussion and involvement was very encouraging.

This lesson has been shared with three departmental colleagues, two have had direct training about what SOLO involves in our interpretation so far. The idea has also been shared with a drama colleague to look at application to practical drama skill acquisition as well as written work developing detail at GCSE. As stated above the lesson and SOLO approach was used to introduce Year 7s final ICT unit, I led the first lesson with three departmental colleagues observing. Later in the day I modelled the lesson for the remaining member of the department.

This post is a modification of the post first published in November 2012. It has proved to be a clear starting point to progress measured through the Solo stages and moving away from the language of levels which was discussed on Th 27/6 for #ukedchat on Twitter. I am using it as my June 2013 Blogsync contribution ( ).

Life and its ups and downs

Well, my second week off work has seen my mood fluctuate. I have posted about mental health matters in previous posts and this continues to be an important part of my own week and for the family as well.

Events at home as previously posted have varied greatly recently. My son is now in a secure specialist adolescent unit (rarer than hens teeth) so the main pressure at home has been reduced. This was the trigger that pushed my own mental health out of alignment. I have used the week to follow educational debates online through Teachmeet Seachange from Sydney, Australia in the morning and Teachmeet George from Newcastle, UK the same evening. The other night (days pass me by at the moment) I followed the start of Teachmeet Pompey and later got involved in the ukedchat discussion on Twitter about the possible impacts of removing levels as a tool in schools. I found myself on several occasions this week spreading the message about Solo,a topic I have not blogged about for a while now.

My own self confidence has wavered and I needed reminding that the trigger for me this time was dealing with someone else’s MH issues. I am regaining my confidence and will return to work next week, I hope for a busy but emotionally calmer end to the term, that may come true it may not but I want to back in control.

How do others cope with these wobbles? I have signed up to extra MH twitter feeds and sites to gain more ideas in the future.

Teachmeet East 22/6/13

On Saturday I was due to expound on two topics in front of an audience of fellow professionals, unfortunately circumstances cut across this opportunity (see precious two posts). I was in contact via Twitter with colleagues who originally I was to chauffeur to Norwich. In the afternoon a live feed was run so that others could follow the Teachmeet session. The feed faltered at times, heh welcome to technology. A range of topics and opinions were shared – I couldn’t attend in person but following respected colleagues and other presenters meant that I felt part of the proceedings especially as the twitter feed allowed participation.

I got to request waves from the audience for myself and other online audience members which we duly received and no calories as we could only read and hear about the cakes and curlywurly bars.

If you read my post and you do not know what a Teachmeet is, this is your opportunity to find out. Google (other search engines may be used) it, find one near you, attend if a teacher especially. This is CPD in the best sense of professional development. Yes in your free time! Cover costs for most events are zero. Benefits are a range of topics and ideas that are from classroom teachers that you may decide to try in your own classroom. Who presents? Other teachers, they aren’t trained, they make errors sometimes but they are there because they believe at what they are saying is worth sharing. Some people suggest to me I find it easy and have been doing this for ages- I first spoke at Teachmeet Essex organised by Danny Nicholson in February 2012. Since then I have presented more than 10 times and been involved now in helping to run two of the most recent Teachmeet Essex events with Martin Burrett and Tom Sherrington. I heartily recommend them – try it, you might even like it. On Twitter there is a new campaign @BATTTM bring a teacher to Teachmeet – we think it’s worthwhile.

… and for recent readers of my blogs this is the other sort of topic I post on in my mishmash. Oops my two topics – Using Solo taxonomy in the classroom and this April’s Sologlobalchat that brought together educators from the UK, Australia and New Zealand in our own time on a Saturday!!

Thoughts?? Recommendations from those already involved??


A nerve struck… #MentalHealthMatters


An ego boost? Data that almost taboo subject currently. No this is a screenshot from this blog and the amazing response I have received over the last two days. I decided to be open about my situation. Some online colleagues are aware of my propensity to depression as it is a topic we have discussed previously in supporting each other at low times. We don’t always see the causes, but that is not important when supporting a friend / colleague, this time I have opened a potential can of worms.

Comments including one from my wife have used terms like “brave” and honesty. The latter is clearly true, I have tried to dispute the first with some, if this is bravery then yes I am brave but that is not my motivation. Nor do I seek sympathy, this series of recent posts has been my cathartic way of confronting,challenging and ultimately finding a pathway through my life to restabilise my mental health so that I can return to my full professional role. For some it has been a shock, for others it has expanded on points that they were aware of, most importantly it has shown that we each have our personal stories and they mould who we are and how we act.

I work in a profession often derided, politically we feel like a football kicked this way and that at the whim of politicians at a bewildering changes of pace and direction. We live in a society where the young “grow” far faster, they may not be able to cope with the pace of this change, I know many adults who find the pace of change in our lives hard enough and they often know a wider range of coping strategies. In Twitter (@aknill) posts over the last two days I have stated a desire to stand up for mental health, I am inspired by writers like Robert Crampton in The Times who has always been honest about the stabilising effect fluoxetine has in his life. I am male, therefore supposedly I am meant to find emotional outpourings to be hard but as colleagues and friends can confirm I am a big softie.

I offer no solutions but seek a raising of the taboo that many follow In discussing mental health. I intend to continue to do this through my blog posts and tweets. I intend to offer Teachmeet presentations that look at this topic, I am willing to be quoted in discussions in the workplace.

Let’s make sure that mental health is not a can of worms, a trip hazard, just a factor that some of us need to work with in our daily lives. Sometimes we will slip up, work with us to reduce the associated risks and lost time where individuals are unable to cope in society.

If you agree, disagree tell me. Do not voice these opinions in private, behind closed doors bring them into the public forum that is social media. Let’s learn from each other.

Life posts …again

In my last post on June 9 the hope was there that things would resolve peaceably and somehow we would live on, a struggle yes, but maintain some normality. Yep, high hopes dashed again. Friday 14/6, he that posts refer to was seen by his keyworker and was ok but increased drinking and use of recreational substances and tobacco meant that he had outstayed his welcome with his latest sofa stay. Also prescribed meds had been replaced with the above combination in his perceived wisdom as they were not working for him. Admission of psychosis issues seen last year were back.

We texted him on the Saturday- would he meet for lunch in a neutral place and could we bring any things for him. He agreed and luckily warned us that he had made that long promised hirsute decision to shave his head. We met and for the first time, yes really, came across him puffing away on a cigarette, we chatted and were told how he had refused alcohol or drugs that morning as he was meeting us (some decisions just amaze). He had nowhere to sleep for that evening and this was one area of discussion. Our young man was getting more and more ill physically and mentally. It was hard to see but at the same time so glad we had offered to meet and actually still have some sort of connection.

While we ate one of the support team rang him as promised and also spoke to us. We were all (adults) concerned about the lack of a place to stay in his current state. A crisis admission was set up for the nearest adolescent unit. He agreed to it and we transported him there quite calmly. After meetings we sat with him while ward admissions went on. Signs of agitation showed quickly but here was a chance to be assessed without being sectioned, a topic that we as parents have become far too familiar with. We left him to settle having actually spent 6 hours together the longest in ages.

Later I rang to see had he settled? No issues and aggression had led to a need to section. He was transferred late that night to another unit to be held there until a secure adolescent bed hopefully closer than Woking could be found. By Monday work was not going to see me I had exceeded my limits and my stable base of antidepressants had finally capitulated. Self promises about returning became Tuesday, then Wednesday as a suitable bed could not be secured. We heard of offers for Manchester. This pressure was too much. Yes now, Friday 21/6 he is in a secure unit in a better travelling distance. I went to the GP on Tuesday and admitted no I could not cope to keep up this “well” pretence.

I am now signed off work and yesterday had to face the lowest I have been in many years it was scary. Fortunately the one thing I am not is suicidal and that is a place
that I do not want to go- I like life generally and I have much, more to do / achieve.

So, why am I laying my life open like this? because it is a topic that I have raised in previous schools. I have a history of mental health (depression) through a variety of causes. I take my meds, I have received counselling, the best therapy was CBT several years ago. I keep our staff well being and line managers informed when I am struggling. They have always been supportive these last few years as I have rebuilt a good attendance rate. I have a range of friends on Twitter and other social networks who support each other. We are not in competition over this very important issue we collaborate, we share, we support, we coax, coach each other and it sure helps.

Mental health is still a major cause of stigma – let’s stand up and be counted. We want to do our job as well as anyone else and as has been seen in lots of press articles over the years we are depicted as a weakness. Why? I am a human with a complex life like many of my pupils and I have to learn to manage the different aspects of my life. Sometimes I can not do that but for the vast majority of the time I am striving to do the best I can and I believe I do so.

Support mental health, understand it and develop an aware workforce and student population who are prepared for such eventualities that may happen to them in their futures.

If you have read all of this, thank you. If you are at TMEast on Saturday this is why I can not be with you but as co-presenter James said there are more Teachmeets. I have been the lucky recipient of many messages of goodwill this week and they are helping me to work towards a return to work and relative stability.

Mishmashlearning diary recently

My last few posts have been very personal. I have wanted to blog but the worthy education projects must wait for the personal upheaval to settle. This is my life warts and all. I never intended originally to share like this but I have many online who keep an eye out. Thanks for your care and support. “Normal” service? This is my life but pedagogy group, work with companies, teaching, trialling, piloting and on June 22 I will take up the Teachmeet stick again and travel to Norwich. I am so looking forward to it. As my 2013 targets post from December was updated justo week ago 2013 has been a busy year so far.

Life cycle…processes and flows

Apologies at end of life cycle (last post) on Thursday I was waiting … So, Friday after 5 hours restless sleep I went to teach hoping my mind could be diverted. I was involved in a conference call and taught all morning. I was having a good time, lessons flowed well, the classroom was good. The bell went and it was if my stomach and the floor had fallen out.I stayed on my own for a while. Text from home, no more waiting he was found – not coming home of course … Therein lies the 16-18 year old grey area. After lunch non contact time became phone calls to agencies about updating them on situation. Just before last lesson let HoD to keep a weather eye on me as focusing wasn’t easy and I was shaking slightly. He did as he had all day tbh. The lesson went well and I had taught and not fallen apart.

Home, club taken by a colleague. More phone calls. A new category learnt : Concern for safety – learnt and lodged. A tense phone call with son but later in evening capitulated and took phone charger (our idea) and meds to address the police had found him at.He was not looking good and then confessed he had not been feeling well for a few weeks – encouraged him to share with his professional support team and to avoid the risks thatstoppedthe meds working. Then we left.

Saturday, out in the morning at a blustery seaside that became warmer. Yes he was discussed but we enjoyed our time to. Got home and for about two hours ate and net surfed. Then the need for diversion kicked in. Start shed clearing, a pile of rubbish, more space and prepare for new shelving. Evening drew in and made three shelving units indoors, sad but calculated between removing old shelves I had put in and new units I unscrewed or screwed 222 screws which was why sleep started well. Contact – when we checked re meds text back to confirm.

Sunday, the three at home went their separate ways; model boat club at the park, singing with the choir at a local sponsored walk and me. Load the car and off to local recycling centre. Unlike centre I normally use no provision for non-recyclable / general waste. So a large bag to take back home. Off to Staples for green marking pen restock. Then a diversion to usual centre and sighed detritus gone. Mind fighting behind get on and hide. Some down time and went for nap as eyes couldn’t stay open but first I phoned him and he answered ( rare in these circumstances) and checked re some stuff in she’d but was he avoiding stuff that affected meds? NO spoke calmly didn’t ask about coming home, resisted.

In conclusion so far, he has a need to go at times. Our wish, he’d let us know he’s safe. Feelings? Jumbled and exhausted… But at least we know where he is.


Well I posted on the 23 April 4 days into my eldest being missing. He returned on the 29th. May was not a productive month overall as the after burn caught up with us at home. There were good things happening and still I haven’t posted and Twitter has had a much reduced dribble as opposed to the normal torrent of ideas. My meds that I mentioned previously were struggling to cope and this time I made a preemptive decision to boost my defence. A sensible decision, unfortunately my body was drained of resistance and I then went through over two weeks of side effects to what was meant to be helping. I learnt to appreciate the relative stability I had before, three days of work were lost to violent shaking and trembling and then seemingly knockout drops. Over half term the second remedy was started, this time dizziness and severe pounding headaches stopped everything else. I stopped taking them and on returning to school I have had no headaches for four work days.

Back to school with a sense of joy, calm relatively at home. Lots of projects happening and a great week ensued. This afternoon I had my return to work interview, part of a support structure that helps me as I update them on how things are and I feel supported. “How are things at home, are they calm again?” My reply “yes until the next time..

Yep, got home, this time o idea where he is, who he might be with, so local detective work with contacts and then the inevitability as there is no answer on his mobile and he can not take his meds- phone the police and report him missing.

Then wait for the follow up car to come around and take more details, that’s where the post started…that’s where it ends waiting…..