Getting Started with Postgraduate Research⤴


Online course Oct 21, asynchronous 2-hours-a-week. Provided by IAD via the University Learn platform. This course relates to domains A1, B2, and C2 of the RDF.


Week 1: Introduction, getting to know you and starting out

Aims are to introduce the course; introduce students to each other; to signpost essential information and resources for postgraduate research at Edinburgh; and to encourage PGR students to consider, discuss and reflect on expectations.

I completed the five tasks presented in the first week of the course: an introduction post; reading basic policy and information on PGR at Edinburgh; another post on my hopes and fears; uploaded a photo of my workspace and another post describing my research to a 10-year old. I read and commented on a few posts in the various forums attached to these tasks. There were some useful links to pick up on, mostly Twitter or RSS feeds related to (hashtag) PhD Life.

Week 2: Achieving first milestones

Aims are to identify key milestones; to introduce the importance of planning time and research; to highlight some tools; to encourage reflection into your own personal and professional development and identifying strategies for it; to discuss expectations of the supervisory relationship and consider different styles of supervision.

This week introduces more basic tools and strategies for planning including to-do lists, mind-mapping and timelines. I like and use many of these, and think I have settled on a decent workflow to help me with the PhD, however I may try some more sketch-based ideas too, in this week’s task for my supervisors (which I am oddly stuck at). There is a course on Learn to help you choose a reference manager, too closely linked to another called, Producing your thesis or dissertation in Word., which to me sounds like, Building your extension in Lego.

One of the reasons I took up this PhD is that I feel that my productivity levels are higher than they have ever been, not least because of the rate I can write and assemble information but also because of the workflows I have established in my working life.

Task 1 – planning approaches and tools

  1. Approach to planning work and time I have a full time job, but one that varies from day to day and requires detailed planning using a range of tools. These same tools are needed in studying with a few exceptions I will try (see question 2). Current tools include to-do lists; Gantt charts; GitHub documentation control; text editors; diary and calendar including writing blocks; out-of-office.
  2. What new approach could you try? Some students have organised themselves into day-long writing sessions which are semi-social in that they are located in a cafe, have 90-minute writing blocks with 15-minute social breaks. I think I’d like to try one of these if I can find a day but I think they will be effective if I can add cadence to that habit by making it every Friday, for example.

    The other “new” approach is the visual timeline, related to the third part of this first task. Pen and paper – sketch note style, to start with, before committing to text and code.

  3. Create a planning timeline for your first three or six months I don’t feel comfortable sharing my detailed plans as they are subject of current discussion with my supervisors. I will post the current generic Gantt chart, only slightly different from the proposal.

Task 2 – training needs analysis and the RDF

I am familiar with the RDF from previous travel along this road but still completed a training needs self-assessment against the framework. This tool is available here as an Excel spreadsheet.

Task 3 – Working with your supervisor

This was quite easy for me to think about because I already know the work and styles of both of my co-supervisors who are colleagues at Moray House. We have begun working out our modus operandi, with habits and expectations emerging as we meet over the coming weeks.

End of week activity – Picture my research

We are asked to post an image of something related to your research topic and describe (it) in a few words. I found this delightful quote from Doris Lessing to go with those few words:

My research begins with an analysis of a particular genre of radio broadcasting with the aim of identifying and revealing its hidden pedagogy. I hope to go on to try it out.

Week 3: Making the most of your time and overcoming common challenges

Avoiding feeling overwhelmed

I’m confident that I have some fairly good habits when it comes to time management, and yet am still prone to distraction. I’m trying to use a Pomodoro application on my laptop and phone to make spaces in which I can focus on blocks of work and study. This has been quite effective at sustaining focus, although the keep-awake ticking of the electronic pomodoro is really irritating. I’ll probably ditch it as more unnecessary distraction!

Impostor Syndrome is a very real thing but both of my supervisors have been very good about helping me feel that the work I am doing is both interesting, worthwhile and new.

Noting down achievements is a habit I have been using now for over a year in my work, and this has carried over into my PhD. Partly for fear of forgetting something important I keep detailed lists of thing to do, arranged into a timeline. This remains open on my desktop except when I’m diving into one of the blocks of work or study. I mark tasks that are completed and at the end of each “reporting cycle” (i.e. a month), export a pdf as a record achievement (and proof I have been worked very hard, boss). This method is easy enough because all of the writing I do, including these task lists, is done in Markdown, which has a checkbox syntax built in to the versions I use.

I am appreciative of the advice based upon experience shared by other PhD students more advanced than the rest of us, in particular their frank and heartfelt sharing of how they responded to setback and other challenges they experienced as researchers.

Making the most of time

This part of the course opens up possibilities for collaboration and networking, which I am not ready for yet. I have discussed these briefly with my supervisors and will pick up on this idea a little later.

Focus on writing

From a self-audit of how I feel about my writing skills and abilities, I am confident…

  • in the basics of academic writing – eg. sentence structure/ grammar
  • about the academic writing conventions for my discipline
  • about writing about data
  • about referencing and know what is required
  • in writing about my research in other ways eg. for a blog


This was a useful “getting started”. My final post on “one take away from the course”:

More than anything else, I’ve learned that being insecure, impostor syndrome, being distracted and worrying about things going wrong are normal. I’m especially thankful to those who have shared with us here, because I am encouraged and feeling stronger now, more than ever, about my PhD.

5 in 1 story⤴


Grab the 5 nearest books around you. (Novels or textbooks, whatever story you’re wanting to make.)

Create a story from the following:

The first sentence on p. 1 of the first book.
The seventh sentence on p. 5 of the second book.
The first sentence of the third paragraph on p. 20 of the third book.
The fifteenth sentence on p. 47 of the fourth book.
The last sentence on the last page of the fifth book.

Give it a catchy title! #TDC1102


Pace #MonthlyWritingChallenge⤴


Pace Verb Definition move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed.

Often associated with sport in particular football and running, but mentioned frequently within a school context, pace is a term which is used with both negative and positive connotations.

Whether it is discussing pace of lessons, pace of teacher talk or pace of change, there are many things in education which require us to consider the speed at which something is developing.

During the recent October holiday, I used the communal laundry to do not one, but two, loads of washing – the joy of caravan life! Whilst some people might find this hugely inconvenient and time consuming, (traipsing back and forward until a machine becomes available, timing the cycle, setting a reminder to return so that someone else does not need to unload your clean underwear, and then waiting patiently while the seconds count down and it is tossed through the tumble dryer) there is something I love about this opportunity to be mindful of this period of time we usually take for granted. As I stood watching the tumble dryer timer tick down and querying the pace of my own tumble dryer, I realised that I’d never actually stood in the same way, mindfully counting down until the end of the cycle. By contrast, the whole laundry experience provided a useful pause to reflect on the pace of something which often goes unnoticed. I wonder how often we get an opportunity like this in school?

Now from the outset, it’s important to recognise that pace of change is not the same as pace of improvement. It can be very easy to feel like within a school context there is constant change. Especially within the context of the past 18months. Changes to the structure of the school day, changes to safety measures, changes to the way in which courses Are taught and changes to assessment. Never before has education experienced such rapid pace of change. It has forced teachers to be flexible, adaptable and reactive in a way which has arguably been needed but for many, has been faced with reluctance. Without doubt, some of these changes have had a positive impact. I wrote a little about this here. But change for change sake is not useful. Instead, schools need considered, sustained improvement and this is perhaps more difficult to see.

‘Sometimes we can become impatient with the pace of improvement.’

Just before the holiday, amidst a mix of family covid scares, extreme end of term tiredness two new jobs and the stress of being unable to find a more permanent home for our family, I reflected on the pace of improvement within my new role. I was pretty hard on myself. I wanted to see immediate impact, measurable improvement and real change as a result of my leadership. I felt like progress had been slower than I might have liked. In the laundry during my holiday week when forced to pause and consider pace from a different perspective, I reminded myself that it’s only been 10weeks in post during a particularly challenging term amidst a global pandemic and I should probably cut myself some slack. I realised that whilst there may not have been huge visible changes outwardly, I hope that incremental improvement is evident in the meaningful conversations which have taken place, and the building of strong foundations through positive relationships with both pupils and staff. This I hope is a more sustainable pace of improvement and is more valuable in the long run.

I’m no plumber, but I reckon the pace of my washing machine cycle at home would be similar, if not slower, to the industrial laundry machines I used this holiday. However the laundry experience itself, provided a different perspective to consider the pace of this everyday household task. Whilst in the midst of change, it can often feel difficult to see our progress, but by changing perspective it is possible to become more aware of the subtleties of improvement. Take some time to remember your impact both individually snd as a team.

To all those beginning post graduate student placements tomorrow, all the very best. Be mindful of the huge learning curve you are on and the pace of improvement you will experience over the next few weeks. Reflect on your incremental improvements and learn from every experience. I wrote this post last year to remind us we were all student teachers at one point. All the best. Have a great week.

COP26 and Education: Change in the Making⤴

from @ @robin_macp

In a few days’ time, Scotland will play host to COP26. The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, and the conference has been discussed in terms of being a last chance opportunity to create the change needed for human life on this planet to be sustainable. What is meant by sustainable development needs to be defined clearly, and the best definition I’ve come across goes back to the UNWCED in 1987. It stated that sustainable development was:

“development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)
OECD iLibrary

This has the beauty of simplicity, and also broadens the definition beyond purely environmental issues. It is also about the economy, political structures, education, culture and society. Whilst I am no expert on climate science, I am comfortable to talk about the role that education has to play in creating a sustainable future. In fact, I would argue that the single most important intervention we can make in the battle for a sustainable future is actually in education. Here’s why.

The Problem of ‘Peak Human’

Peak human is the moment when population growth plateaus. Population growth globally actually hit a high point in the 1960s and has been slowing ever since, but we have yet to reach peak human. There are two key issues here:

  1. The date at which we reach peak human – for this to be sooner is more desirable.
  2. The level at which we reach peak human – we want this to be lower. 

Projections on the date and level vary, as shown by this graph from the UN Population Division. 

The high variant shows the global population at over 15 billion people in 2100 and still climbing. The low variant shows peak human coming around the mid-point of the 21st century at around 9 billion and then a gradual decline following. Needless to say, the former projection will exhaust all resources no matter what we do, whereas the latter makes it much more likely that we can find solutions to the problems we currently face. The most recent projection published in the Lancet suggests that the peak will come in 2064 at 9.7bn which is more optimistic than we might previously have thought.

What will make the difference? Educating girls around the world. Where girls have access to secondary (and ideally tertiary) education they are less likely to be forced to marry early and have multiple pregnancies throughout their life. This leads to a natural reduction in population growth and makes the challenge of feeding, housing, and providing energy for the world much more feasible. In this respect, education – and SDG 4 – are of critical importance.

The New York Times Climate Hub – Educate on Climate Programme

I’ve been working with the New York Times, Summerhouse Media and Kite Insight on the Educate on Climate programme at COP26. The NYT has created a Climate Hub which is a brilliant venue (Es Devlin’s ‘Conference of the Trees, the featured image of this post, has to be seen to be believed). We’ve spent the past few months thinking about which issues to tackle. The NYT are looking at various strands so education is just a part of this, but on November 5th we have a programme which tries to explore as many core education issues as possible. Online tickets are still available and are free, with content being recorded and available to view later on. 

So what are looking at? Here are the debates that we’ve got lined up:

  • Forming Partnerships With Schools in the Global South
  • Creating a Research-Informed Manifesto for Environmental Sustainability in Education
  • How Schools Can Prepare Their Students for a Changing Climate
  • The U.N.’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Is It Working?
  • From Climate Change to Change-Making: Firing Up Youth Activism
  • Future-Proofing Pupils: Preparing Students for Work in a Changing World
  • Teaching Critical Thinking in an Age of Misinformation
  • Reboot the Future: How Do We Move Faster, Together?
  • Climate Tech Will Be Bigger Than the Internet Revolution
  • Explore: Urban Nature Teacher CPD

The steer given to all speakers is that the audience should have practical takeaways from their session. The dynamic we are looking to create is a platform where students and educators can really put policy makers and those in power on the ropes. 

It’s impossible to be comprehensive when exploring the ways in which education can be the solution, and we were left with so many good ideas that we couldn’t fit into the time we had. We’ll think of how we can use these ideas to carry on the conversation long after the UN has packed up and left Glasgow.

What Do We Want to Achieve at COP26?

In the many meetings and discussions I’ve been involved in over the past year, it’s clear that we’re way past the point of raising awareness. What we need to do now is tackle two key things: attitude and behaviour. 

Many young people are left struggling with what to know and think about the crisis we are facing. ‘Climate anxiety’ is a term that has come into public discourse, and I think it’s unhelpful. A recent study led by Bath University found that 56% of young people believe that “humanity is doomed”. The narrative that underpins this makes it less likely that our students will feel motivated to tackle a problem if they are led to believe that it is futile. Self-fulling prophecies are not what we need or want.

Instead, what we need to do is persuade students that a) the problems we face do have solutions and b) that they have agency to make a positive contribution. It is not too late, it is not insurmountable, and it is something that every one of us can influence. That should then lead to a change in behaviour. It is not only about the behaviour of all school age pupils, but the positive impact that their action can have on older generations. Making everyday decisions, even at a very basic level, will affect change. 

I’ve written about this before, but Generation Z clearly cares about this issue more than any other. The Greta Effect has led many students to believe it is better to miss school and campaign for change than stay in a class and learn more about the issues. That is either a damning indictment of education on sustainable development (ESD), or evidence that it has energised young people and created a global call to action. The jury is still out on that, but we’ll be discussing it at the Climate Hub. 

What we definitely want post-COP is a paradigm shift, with change ranging from macro level policy to micro level behaviour, so that humankind has a future beyond this century. There have been many mass extinction events in earth’s history. Our species will either be the first to be the architect of their own demise, or the first to escape this fate. I hope that COP26 is looked back on as a significant turning point, for the better. 

Towards A new Curriculum and Assessment Agency in Scotland Part Two⤴

from @ ...........Experimental Blog


image of exam hall in school gym

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I did promise a follow up to my first post upon hearing the news that SQA and Education Scotland were to be re-engineered. Having taken part in some of the initial consultations.  It was good to hear that the reform will be phased and planned. But I am no clearer on what the destination will be. 

I can see that there will be the same impasse around both what content is in any national qualifications and how it should be assessed. I'll leave that to the end. 

I am going to jump to other side of challenge. There are some parts of the Scottish system that need fixed and would support any future system. If we stay fixed on the contentious parts of the challenge, there remains as I covered in my last post the real and present danger that by making the reforms all about schools then lots of other useful parts of the system could be lost. 

  • Data : I think that as a system, the Scottish system small as it is , is very poor at capturing and sharing data on what is actually happening across the learning system. To future proof the system we need to acknowledge that everything is now data and we need to set up a new awarding system that is more effective at providing learners , teachers , centres, employers  and the broader community access to reliable information.
    • It should start by making everything digital by default. Start by designing a system that is future proof.
    • This could be as simple as making proper use of the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN)  it has been used  for decades but is not used consistently by Higher Education Institutions. If you really wish to track attainment gaps being closed and impact of FE, HE and work based learning this needs to be addressed. It is there already don't invent something new just ensure no one gets any public money unless they use it to report on learners' progress.   
    • More ambitiously and much more productively would be to publish any outcomes or eventual curriculum in a machine readable way. Yes , other countries do this already ! . Then if a PDF document is the  output you need you can have it but by creating data in this way the assets can be easily reused across the system. No more collective keying of unit descriptors , outcomes etc into lots of spreadsheets and databases.
  • Certification :There is a quick easy win to make all certification digital and online. SQA were almost there, but lacked political support to push this across the line.  A new agency should start by making sure no learner ever needs to worry about a lost certificate again. The system should be set up to allow learner to share a secure view of their certification on any job application etc. Smoothing recruitment processes for all. It would also be cost effective way to deliver richer information to learners. 
  • Subject Communities Who owns and decides what is in the assessable certifiable bits of learning in the Scottish system ?.  It should be transparent and clear to all learners , parents , teachers and for teachers and learners there should be clear ways for them to suggest and shape the content of awards. There have always been subject panels - you do still need experts - but make the process more open. Qualifications could be maintained by an iterative yearly online process to keep them current. This with clear stakeholder engagement. Solves relevancy issues with computing and some sciences subjects. It needs to be clear to that what arrives in a qualification is actually informed by national occupational standards when this is relevant. 
  • Learner Communities for learners sitting national assessments the national system should have figured out a way by now to give learners some safe secure spaces to allow learners to access peer support. If the system is not brave enough to tackle this, it should be brave enough with caveats to highlight services like The Students Room. 
  • Courses and Assessment  Direct to Learners If most learners now have laptops. The new agency  should work towards having a clearer offer direct to learners. In partnership with relevant agencies Education Scotland, SDS and College Development Network. It can be piloted, it does not have to be a big bang. Any learner should have access to any national subject anywhere in Scotland and the opportunity to be assessed and certificated in that subject. This is something that any new agency should be able to coordinate - Colleges ,local authorities and other partners can deliver. 
  • Open Learning Materials  If you follow my blog you will see a lot about this. If the learning content is created by lecturer , teacher and or funded by public money whether through an institution , agency or local authority . The learning material should be made open and available under an appropriate open licence Non Commercial Share Alike to allow teachers and learners to remix and use.  Simply aligned to UNESCO global standards in this area. This does not replace a teacher or trainer but gives learners and teachers access to better learning resources.
  • Staff Development  The new agency should be seen to be lowering the administrative burden on teachers and College staff while not diminishing their responsibility to understand any national standards – There should be pilots around roll on and off secure assessment ( Solar mkt 2) The system  can collectively maintain standards while lessening the assessment burden on teachers and learners
    • Validation process In Colleges and work based learning the centres actually have to have teaching staff and resources in place to deliver new courses . This includes ensuring that staff have adequate training to deliver new courses.  This may be bridge too far but in many subject areas staff do need annual development. 
    • Verification processes:  it still has not really been picked up but some staff do feel insecure on their decision making. Make sure that there is robust internal, regional and national mechanisms to support teacher decision making. Make sure everyone knows that standards they are working to. 

  • Digital Portfolio We should aim to give every learner a digital profile a portfolio of their learning.  They build it and they can decide who and or which components of this they wish to share. This more than an online CV and could include link to their digital certification from a range of sources. 
The list above I hope is non contentious and looks beyond the battle around what should or should not be included in school programmes ( this is actually not about assessment at all) 

If the reform is because the current system is no longer fit for purpose. Then I really would expect to see the end of paper based examinations. 

I would go further and re-look at the subject silos - perhaps looking again at the experiences and outcomes and stretching these to end of formal schooling. But that is probably a bridge too far.  The suggestions above will support a new landscape whether we are assessing latin , maths, english, astrophysics, languages , welding , music , digital literacy,  meta-skills  or tap-dancing. 

Novice and expert learners⤴


Building on a post I wrote a while ago here, and having read a bit more on the subject since, I felt that there might be worth in exploring this a little further within a subject specialism.

This week I’ve been reading @ttdelusion Bruce Robertson’s second book – The Teaching Delusion – Teaching Strikes Back. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend. I’m a huge fan of Bruce’s work – his knowledge of excellent learning and teaching, and passion for using this is a key driver for improvement is hugely inspiring. I find myself furiously nodding along to what he writes or regularly reading out quotes to my poor husband. So I found the first chapter on Curriculum Delusions particularly struck a chord with me.

Exploring my ‘why?’ as a teacher, I feel strongly that my purpose in the classroom is to allow ALL learners to flourish. Not just those who find it easy to draw, or those who have natural ability in drawing. Not just the ones who go to weekend art classes, or come along to lunchtime art club. Everyone. Every. Single. Pupil. I’ve always been passionate about ensuring everyone can succeed. For me, it is hugely fulfilling to see learners find success in Art and Design, building their confidence and in turn their motivation – even more so when they may not have experienced opportunities to shine in other areas of the curriculum. My track record for this is strong, with many young people achieving much better in art and design than in their other subjects. Now believe me, that’s not because art is a skoosh. Far from it. But I do believe that the way I teach has a lot to contribute to this. Strong relationships and direct instruction, have allowed me to impart my expert knowledge to novice learners to improve their ability before encouraging them to apply this in creative contexts. I believe it is my job to help young people become better at seeing, recording, creating and designing. And to do that I play an important part – not just as facilitator of this learning but in the initial stages as the expert in instruction. Especially in the initial stages. I’ve written previously about the advantage of having knowledge such as colour theory committed to long term memory, and the same applies when we consider the progression of the curriculum.

From The Teaching Delusion – Teaching Strikes Back Chapter 1

But I know this will be met with some criticism, especially from art specialists. Where is the personalisation? Doesn’t this stifle creativity in the BGE? Shouldn’t young people be free to create work in their own way? How creative is it if all pupils are learning the same techniques?

Well yes. Possibly. But I believe there can be room for both. Like I wrote in this post on Dichotomy, it’s not either/or. For me the planning, sequencing and coherence of the curriculum is absolutely vital in order to equip young people with the knowledge, confidence and success they need early on, gradually allowing them to develop the tools and confidence to use these to be creative. Creativity flourishes when we have tools to be creative with. By providing young people with the foundational knowledge, in turn their confidence to be creative and explore the knowledge in different ways, opens up. If we know the rules, we can break the rules. But we need to know the rules first.

However, I think it’s important to look at what happens when we don’t teach like this. Because I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve not always thought like this. And as a fresh faced, early career teacher I did my fair share of creative lessons which had a distinct lack of teaching. When I started out teaching I remember feeling completely disheartened and just rubbish because my lesson on portraits hadn’t gone well. I’d let pupils discover the facial proportions by looking at their classmate, allowed free reign over materials, ideas and approaches. I thought I was allowing them to be creative. But in reality, a very small number of pupils excelled and the rest were pretty disastrous. Those who didn’t have knowledge of how to measure, observe, and understand the properties of different materials were left to flounder. They could experiment, they could explore but ultimately it was the luck of the draw whether they discovered a successful approach. Despite, me the expert, being in the room alongside them.

And pupils always know when their work hasn’t been successful. In S1 pupils are pretty hard on themselves, so if their work looks like it could have been done by their sibling in Primary 2, they very quickly lose confidence. In both themselves and their teacher. This in turn leads to disengagement and behaviour issues.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for what Bruce Robertson describes as non-specific teaching. Pupils would become bored without the opportunities to apply their knowledge to different contexts. Pupils need to look at the work of other artists and analyse their approaches. But like the way in which a good design brief is written featuring constraints, there needs to be a structure and focus on what we are learning. So it is vital to plan the art and design curriculum in a way which allows for this learning progression and confidence to build – initially through direct instruction, with growing independence and opportunity for non-specific teaching. Otherwise we risk failing the pupils who need it most. If pupils come to secondary with varying levels of knowledge about art materials, the design process, observation and colour theory we do them a disservice if we don’t attempt to give them the strong foundation to go on to be creative. If we focus on creativity alone with unlimited freedom and lack of specificity, very often pupils (and staff!) become frustrated, learning becomes more fragmented and the gap between the most naturally talented and those who struggle most, increases.

And at a time when there is such a focus on ‘closing the attainment gap’ a big part of me, agrees with Bruce Robertson. Those who love and excel in art will continue to do so regardless of the way they are taught, but those who need the most support to build their toolkit will suffer if we don’t allow our teacher expertise to be shared in an explicit way.

For those who worry that designing a curriculum in this way discourages individuality and creativity I would argue the opposite. Some of the most creature design solutions have come from the constraints of a design brief. Pupils grow in confidence when we instruct directly, but that’s not enough, we then need to give them opportunities to apply their knowledge in creative ways. We hold their hand until they are ready to take their first steps. And when they do, they are far more likely to succeed. Instead of narrowing the opportunity for whom art and is a possible career pathway, this curriculum design opens up the possibilities for all learners.

It’s worth noting that despite the need for creative thinking, creative ability and innovation as desirable skills in young people – I agree they are vital – employers, SQA, art schools and colleges will all still ask to see evidence of basic art and design skills within a folio. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We must do all we can to help ALL our learners discover their creative toolkit.

Yet again, like so many things in education, it’s not an either/or.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

Introduction to Text Analysis⤴


I booked on to the CDCS Introduction to Text Analysis 2-hour course and installed nltk in preparation. This 2-hour “silent disco” online event is an intermediate Python course on using the NLTK package.

Introduction to Text Analysis

The workshop uses Notable but I ran the notebook in Visual Studio (because it’s a good IDE). The notebook is written in markdown text with code blocks interspersed in “cells” throughout the document.

The workshop begins with some exercises in the IDE to get used to running python code within the cells to do something with text strings, using variables, e.g.

first_name = "ada"
last_name = "lovelace"

full_name = first_name + ' ' + last_name # combine strings with a space inbetween

print (full_name)

File handling

Basic file actions are rehearsed including opening and reading a file, and using text manipulation functions:

file = open("origin-intro.txt")

txt =
txt = txt.lower()


The Python package NLTK provides a set of natural languages algorithms e.g. tokenizing, part-of-speech tagging, stemming, sentiment analysis, topic segmentation, and named entity recognition. We played with some of these using the text extracts we had been given.


Text analysis begins with breaking down a block of text into smaller chunks such as words or sentences. This is called Tokenization.

import nltk
from nltk.tokenize import sent_tokenize # or word_tokenize for words

f = open("origin-intro.txt") # open file

txt =          # add file contents to variable



Cleaning text

The initial part of this process in preparing for analysis is:

  • Open the file and assign it to a variable
  • Convert to lower case
  • Split into tokens
  • remove stopwords

“Stop” words are sometimes called filler words: they are the common words that don’t add much meaning to a sentence.

import re
from nltk.tokenize import word_tokenize

f = open("origin-intro.txt") # open file
contents =          # add file contents to variable
contents = contents.lower()  # lower case text
contents = re.sub(r'[^\w\s]','',contents)  #remove punctuation (note use of regex)


for w in tokenized_word:
    if w not in stop_words:
print("Filterd Words:",filtered_word)

Further functions and libraries

Working through the notebook, running code and downloading libraries as required, I was able to easily clean blocks of text; tokenize and count words; plot frequency distributions; tag parts of speech; identify common bigrams and n-grams (word pairs and n-word groups).

Fun with Trump

A delightful bit of fun was had analysing President Trump’s Tweets using this code to fetch the text:

import csv
import urllib.request

url = '' # download the file
csv = urllib.request.urlopen(url).read() # assign the contents of the file to a variable (csv)
with open('tweets.csv', 'wb') as file: # create a new file and save the contents of 'csv' to this file
    print('CSV file created')

What do you think was the top 4-gram in all of this data?

make america great again! 390

Of course it was.


This was a very nice way to run through a tutorial notebook and learn a few tricks in python for text analysis, with support running in the background if I needed it. The format is powerful; it focuses you on the task within the time window allocated and helps you avoid distractions. Although it’s self-study (and as such relies on good quality materials in the first place), it’s OK to play a bit too, because there’s help at hand if you come unstuck. Well done, CDCS.

#WalkCreate: a different view of a research project⤴


I try to keep both sides of my professional practice separate, but there are inevitable intersection points. This is post is one of those. As you know, dear reader, during lock down last year, walking became a really important part of daily life. Partly because it was the only thing you could do, particularly in the first lock down. Making time to get away from the screen and get outside became increasingly important to well being too.

Walking has always been a part of my daily routine. I’ve always tried to walk to as many places as possible and not use a car or public transport. But it did take on even more significance during lock down, and my daily walks along the Forth and Clyde Canal where I live inspired an unexpected and enriching source of inspiration for my artistic practice. I created a couple of digital stories about it last year – another intersection point

Walking Publics/Walking Arts  is  a  research project  funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council  exploring the potential of the arts to sustain, encourage and more equitably support walking during and recovering from a pandemic at Glasgow University. Part of the research is “to understand how artists from across the UK have used walking as part of their artistic practice, adapting existing work or using walking as a resource for the first time during COVID-19. What can we learn from artists and how can their expertise be shared to support more people, and more diverse people, to enjoy walking?

I participated in a short survey for artists and I’m delighted that the project has created an online gallery showcasing the varied responses the project has received. It’s been refreshing to be involved in the “other side” of research, and there a few more things that the team have been in touch with me about too which is quite exciting too – great to be asked about a different type of citation!

It’s a really fascinating project and well worth checking out the online gallery and the rest of the project website too. Walking is so important for well being that we need to continue to explore its impact, and also not allow ourselves to get out of the habit of walking as we transition from lock down to whatever this “new normal/flexible working” scenario is.

Feedback. Part 2.⤴


In last week’s blogpost, which you can read here., I considered how we build the foundations for effective feedback in the classroom. Establishing a culture where feedback is a gift. Creating the culture where both giver and receiver value and trust each other. And ensuring high quality learning and teaching precede and therefore minimise the need for feedback. These were some of the approaches I discussed. I also asked these questions:

How do we ensure that within a busy classroom, teachers racing through the curriculum don’t fall into the trap of feedback which is easy and comfortable? Instead, how do we make use of these optimal conditions for feedback which we have created, and that our practices really maximise the impact?

I think as busy teachers, who absolutely want the best for our young people, often we can be guilty of wanting a ‘silver bullet.’ A quick fix which will create high impact with low effort. From the EEF findings it is clear that Feedback most definitely has the potential for high impact, and for relatively low cost. But the findings don’t mention low effort. Unfortunately there are no simple strategies which can be parachuted into a lesson in isolation which instantly improve feedback. Like many things in education, feedback deserves more than a quick sticky plaster approach. It is not just about completing a feedback task which ticks the box. For feedback to make a difference, it needs to be ingrained as part of the continuous loop. A habit which both teachers and students are well practised in and understand. There are no simple ways to ‘do’ feedback.

Dylan William states ‘’Rather than thinking about feedback as an isolated event, this report makes it clear that feedback is likely to be more effective if it is approached systemically, and specifically.’ By becoming aware of and adopting some of the principles below and embedding them in our practice, we can and will positively impact our learners’.

So apologies but this post will not contain templates of feedback strategies to try or classroom activities to improve feedback. Instead it will unlock some of the characteristics of effective feedback. Notably in a way which allows the teacher to use their professional judgment to decipher the best delivery yet built on the strong principles of what effective feedback might look like.

It is an unfortunate a myth that to be effective, feedback needs to be instant. In fact much of the research on timing of feedback is of mixed evidence. From the EEF report, ‘The evidence regarding the timing and frequency of effective feedback is inconclusive.36 On the one hand, immediate feedback may be effective as it could prevent misconceptions from forming early on. However, delayed feedback could also be beneficial as it may force pupils to fully engage with the work before being given an answer.37 In turn, this may lead to them working hard to retrieve information they’ve already learned, which could help pupils to remember more of the learning.38

Some feedback needs to be instant. For example if it relates to health and safety. We do not want pupils to wait until next lesson to hear that the way they’ve been holding the saw in technical is dangerous. Or waiting til next lesson to remind pupils the correct way to carry a knife in Home economics. Sometimes it needs to be instant. And it can absolutely be more effective in the moment, particularly if it relates to specific errors which if repeated in learning could form dangerous misconceptions. Verbal feedback is advantageous here. Consider the visual nature of art and design, where misconceptions will be very obvious to teachers early on. And therefore straightforward to pinpoint and clearly feedback to pupils before others do the same. This may be quite different to extended written pieces in which it may be more difficult for teachers to recognise during a quick walk around the classroom. The report also suggests that sometimes feedback and subsequent reteaching of a concept after a delayed period is actually more beneficial to pupils as it brings into play the forgetting curve, forcing them to retrieve information from long term memory and indeed strengthening the learning. Therefore there is no best time to give feedback. But importantly, that we do give the feedback. And it focuses on the learning not the task, nor the pupil.

Another consideration is how we can best prepare students to accept the feedback positively and with a view to using it to improve rather than taking it personally. Harry Fletcher Wood discusses this in a blog post here. It specifically mentions how teachers can:

Convey high standards and a belief students can meet those standards ‘I’m giving you this feedback because I know you can get an A on this’, has a dramatic effect on student likelihood to redraft and student grades (Yeager et al., 2014).

If we think about it, it’s often difficult to accept feedback, even as adults. Especially if it contains a suggestion that what we’ve been doing previously hasn’t been good. So by preceding feedback with a comment explaining why you are giving this feedback – because I know you can do better, because I believe you are capable of more, because I want you to achieve even greater success – goes some way to ensuring students know this isn’t personal and instead it comes from a place of genuine care and desire to see them improve. The study by Yeager et al found that students were more likely to adopt a growth mindset and use the feedback to propel them forward when it began with an explanation about why the feedback was being given. Something to consider.

And finally for this post, and this was the absolute game-changer for me; Students need the opportunity to use the feedback. How often do we write out feedback, mark jotters or give whole class verbal feedback for it to be glanced at by learners and then never referred to again? Using effective feedback strategies should be built on the need for pupils to actually practically do something with the feedback. Pupils should be given time to go back and improve, redraft, rewrite or indeed attempt the assessment again in order to show the application of the feedback given. Too often I worry that we are intent on flying through what Mary myatt refers to as the ‘curse of content coverage’ that we forget that pupils need opportunities to show personal improvement. Vitally, this builds pupil confidence in the task and trust in the student/teacher relationship. In the past I’ve asked pupils to redo a prelim having provided feedback to help them improve answers. This can be a useful way to allow pupils to demonstrate the impact which feedback has had on learning. It is worth noting however that it is important to be careful that feedback does not solely focus on task specific improvement. Remember our end goal is not a snapshot performance pupil who can answer one specific question well. Instead feedback should be about the deep learning, and transferable to the next piece of work so that learners can apply knowledge and skills in different contexts.

I hope this has been useful. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Future feedback posts will explore practical feedback strategies in the classroom as well as establishing a culture of effective, honest and open staff feedback.

Have a great week everyone – for many our last before a well deserved break!

Engaging with families⤴

from @ lenabellina

Back in the spring I had the huge good fortune to speak with Clare Pirie on her Connectrio podcast about what makes for effective engagement with parents and carers.

You can hear the podcast episode here:

Below are also the notes that I spoke form (roughly) which are based on my recent reflections around our relationships with the families we serve.

– Why do you think effective parental engagement is important?

Before I answer that question and if it is ok, I’d actually just like to start with an explanation, because having worked with care experience children for the last two years I always like to give a heads up that when I talk about parents that encompasses birth parents, carers, foster carers, adopters and anybody who has that responsibility to care for a child, so to love them, give them a home and be part of helping them thrive, learn and develop.

I suppose for me this comes back to that African proverb that says that it takes a village to raise a child.**It’s very easy to work in silos and talk as if education is the sole responsibility of schools and teachers but actually what I’ve come to realise through my career and in fact what systems and practice models like GIRFEC, or getting it right for every child acknowledge is that you absolutely need the adults around the child to work together if we are going to make sure that children grow up living the best lives possible.

** I do want to apologise here and say that since recording the podcast, I have come to learn that this reference to an “African proverb” is in fact offensive in the way that it references Africa and that the proverb is also more accurately attributed to international oral tradition.

What that means in practice is really good communication and shared understanding amongst those adults of purpose and of the fact that we are all working together because we really care about each and every child. And the reality is that every parent is entrusting us with the thing that is most most precious to them and therefore we need to engage with them so that they know that they can trust us with that most precious thing.

It is interesting that In Scotland we have just incorporated the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child because in fact absolutely inherent in protecting children’s rights is the idea that adults as duty bearers all work together in the best interests of each child.

I think that when suddenly we went into lockdown just over a year ago and there was that blurring of those clearly defined adult roles in terms of what teachers do and what parents do, it gave us an opportunity to really look at what the purpose of school and education is, what teaching and learning is and who can play a role and how important communication and engagement between adults around learning is.

One of things I’m also really interested in is how we engage with those parents and carers who might have been labelled as non-engaging. I think there are parallels here with how we engage with pupils who might have been labelled the same way. It’s absolutely crucial that we realise that if a parent or carer isn’t engaging with us then it’s far more likely to be a result of something we are doing or a result of an invisible barrier that we might not have acknowledged, than as a result of them being deliberately difficult or resistant.

And if we fail to be curious about that then the child who we are working together to support and who we as education professionals, have a duty to support, will inevitably suffer.

– Please share an example of effective parental engagement that you have experienced as a teacher or parent.

As we came to the end of lockdown last year and I was working with many parents and carers whose children had experienced complex developmental trauma in their lives, it became obvious that several of those children had actually thrived during lockdown and developed much stronger relationships with their parents, carers and family members than had been possible before and in many cases had also learned really well and maybe made more progress in their learning than they would’ve done if they had been at school. Now the reasons behind that are complex but we do know that nationally we saw an increase in applications for home education after lockdown.

Some of the reasons might simply be to do with the fact that some children struggle with places that are busy and very people-y because their difficulties are associated with trust and relationships.

But some of it was also to do with the fact that in some households there was an opportunity for an adult to work with a child on learning in a way that was more focused and intentional and curious and wasn’t dictated by school bells ringing or timetabling.

And at the end of this one of the carers that I was working with said that she felt that she had learnt a huge amount about her child during lockdown in terms of how she learnt best and that the little girl had grown into quite a different child to the one that the school had known previously …she wanted the opportunity to share that back with school so that the school might be able to adapt some of their ways of working to help the little girl with her transition back to school.

And I think that this carer felt slightly reserved in doing this because she had this fear that the school might see it as her trying to tell the experts how to teach whereas in fact I absolutely encouraged her to do this and said that any school would absolutely embrace intelligence and information about a child that would enable the child to succeed.

– In your opinion, what are some of the barriers to effective parental engagement?

We need to be curious.

There is potential for us to jump to judgements and labels but we need to be curious about what is really going on.

So for example if we start to become curious about that parent who never returns phone calls and discover that they have an anxiety disorder which means that they can’t respond to a phone call but they would respond if we sent them a text message or email we begin to engage more effectively. Or could we swing by the house or knock on the door?

And if for example we become curious about that parent or carer who always seems to write negative and critical messages about school on the Facebook page and discover that their own experience of school was extremely negative and unpleasant, they we can maybe begin to engage more effectively and bring them on board by helping them to see that things have moved on.

Schools can come with such baggage and culture and the experience that a parent or carer had at school may be a really strong indicator of how they are going to respond.

It is difficult because sometimes as schools we lack time and space to be curious but we need that to make this work .

We need to decide what schools are about and why we need these relationships to be at the heart of what we do.

– How might we overcome barriers to increase representative parental engagement?

For me, it is very much about us challenging others to truly see and listen to each individual human being that they encounter and to develop what I have referred to as a quality of knowing.

You will have maybe heard me talk about this in relation to the children we work with in schools – it means that we use all the information, data and intelligence we can gather to ensure that we respond to and meet the needs of the actual child in front of us, rather than some generalised concept of “a child at that age and stage”.

But actually, it is also what we absolutely need to do in every single relationship we have with other humans in our lives so that we really knowing each person and all the qualities, experiences and physical and emotional aspects that make them who they are and that includes the parents and families of the children we are caring for.

We need to really know what our children and families are going through.

We need lots of ways of engaging with families….and not just the parent council model, which I sometimes despair of a bit because although many parent councils are truly amazing, they don’t allow for inclusion of the people who would never set foot in the room, for all the reasons we have discussed above.

How do we reach out to the people who would never make it to parent council?

Your ideas, Clare, on using digital platforms, are really exciting.

I love a Google form that is anonymous – I think you can get a real quality of feedback from an anonymous form. Once you have to walk into a room and be visible, how honest can you be about the things you might want to say?

We now have a whole range of ways to engage so that it does not have to be one size fits all.

Engagement is about more than talking – it is about opportunities to build trust and allow communication . We have a chance to strip away power hierarchies so we don’t view teachers as superior – yes, we are the professionals who are paid to do a job but we can learn so much form the other adults in a child’s life and work together with them to do what is in the best interests of every child.

We also need to consider that communication is often non verbal. How do we get the parents and carers with the quiet voices to be heard and express themselves?

How do we get those parents and carers in who may have a fear of walking into school? Maybe by providing less formal, communal, village-like opportunities where we build relationships and trust?