What do students need to remember?

In an excellent blog on Knowledge Organisers in Primary Schools Jon Brunskill has outlined how he uses Knowledge Organisers.

Knowledge Organisers are an overview curriculum document that serves three purposes.

  1. As a planning tool for the teacher.
  2. As a resource for the child and parent.
  3. As an assessment tool.

A knowledge organiser is a summary document that tells teachers, students and parents exactly what students need to know by the end of the unit. Students are expected to commit the knowledge organiser to memory.

Here is the example Jon used.


I’m unsure of the need for students to commit so much detail to memory.

In the Google age, how important is it to know the significance of July 20th, 1969. Perfect for trivia nights but is it powerful to know?

What about Nov 16th, 2011.

Is the date the Apollo 11 crew were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour worthy of committing to memory? I think not. 

That is one of our dilemmas. How much content, in how much detail do we want students to remember?

In Victoria, Australia where I teach, we are increasingly allowing students to bring resource materials into to the final exams. For example in Maths students can bring in a textbook to their final exam. In Physics students can have a double sided A3 page of notes, often referred to as a “cheat sheet”. Students load this up with every equation and definition needed. In effect, they produce a Knowledge Organiser that they can use during the exam.

Why do we ask students to commit the knowledge organiser to memory?

The logical consequence of “open book” exams or letting students have the knowledge organiser with them during the test is the type of questions we ask. There is no point asking students “What is Newton’s Second Law of Motion?” They will just copy that off their Knowledge Organiser that they have with them. That means we must ask more high order questions; questions that students cannot just “look up” on the Knowledge Organiser. Questions that involve analysis and synthesis of information rather than recall. If you look at a Victorian Year 12 Physics exam, it is all from higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy. That is a desirable consequence of greater access to resources in exams.

Learning should be more than who can commit the most facts to memory. It should be about who can solve problems using those facts.

Will education evolve to the point where students will have access to Google in an exam?

That is a real challenge for exam writers. Design questions students can’t Google the answer to.

Jon’s summative assessment piece for this Apollo 11 unit is “to write an information text and great information texts are precise, detailed and accurate.

I agree this is a success criterion for informational texts but who sits and writes an informational text without access to information? It is not a task that is done under test conditions. Why wouldn’t you let the students have the knowledge organiser in front of them when they are producing the information text?

But let me argue against myself here.

The Sea of Tranquillity was on the knowledge organiser for the Unit.

An educated person should know where it is. Yes, Google tells you it is on the moon, but a quality education system should embed that knowledge in all students’ long-term memory. They should have “Sea of Tranquillity” in their long term memory ready to be brought to bare whenever needed.

Why did “The Eagle” touch down in the Sea of Tranquillity ?

Try answering that question with no prior knowledge!

Here is where the real dilemma starts. Which bits of knowledge are essential for students to have in long term memory and which are we happy for Google to provide for them?

I always tell staff to abdicate the responsibility of this important decision. It is not ours to make. Better minds than ours should have done this job for us. The people that write the curriculum we teach should have done this for us.

In some systems they have. I know the KIPP schools have an incredibly detailed curriculum with the essential knowledge clearly spelt out.

In Australia the curriculum is fluffy. It leaves so much up to individual schools to interpret what actually needs to be taught.

Here is a statement from the Science Curriculum.

The transmission of heritable characteristics from one generation to the next involves DNA and genes.

That is what I have to teach our Year 9 and 10 students about genetics. That is as much detail as the curriculum document provides.

How much detail should I go into?

Dominant, Recessive, Phenotype, Genotype, Co-dominance, Nucleotides, Frameshift mutations, DNA Transcription and Translation, The Hardy-Weinberg Equation.

It is up to individual schools to decide how to interpret that statement. A knowledge organiser like the one above would make life far easier for all concerned.

But staff then squawk loudly. “There is too much content. We are just covering content all the time and not doing deep learning”. When I ask them what deep learning is, they can’t tell me.

How much content is too much content is a discussion that will keep teachers in faculty meetings for years. I will never recover the time spent in meetings we have wasted on whether Year 10 students need to know the difference between Co-dominant Inheritance and Incomplete Dominance or whether we need to teach either.

What to leave in and what to leave out of the curriculum will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

So back to knowledge organisers.

They clearly show what has been left in the curriculum.

That is a valuable thing. If, for no other reason, this makes them a worthwhile artefact.

Do students need to commit what is on the knowledge organiser to memory?

Here is one view:

Don’t make knowledge the enemy of thinking. To apply, explore and predict we need lots of knowledge and this knowledge needs to be remembered. (Daisy Christodoulou)

I am convinced that to apply, explore and predict we need lots of knowledge. 

I’m not as convinced the knowledge needs to be recalled rather than just recognised.

An Open Letter to the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham

Dear Simon,

It takes a village to raise a child.

Much gnashing of teeth, furrowing of brows and pointing of fingers has resulted from Australia’s performance on the recent TIMSS and PISA tests.

The TIMSS tests measure a narrow band of maths and science achievement for Year 4 and Year 8 students. They have been conducted every four years since 1995. PISA measures maths, science and reading of 15 years olds.

For those who have not read a newspaper or listened to any news for the past week, the results for Australia were not great. On TIMSS our students performed about the same as they did in the past three to six years. On PISA they performed significantly worse than  in 2006.

My first complaint Simon is that we exaggerated the negative. It has been reported that Australian Performance in Maths and Science on TIMSS is slipping. In fact it is not slipping. It is not improving either.

Is Australia doing worse in TIMSS? No, we are doing about the same.

Is our ranking slipping? Yes. Other countries are doing better.

Semantic maybe, but let’s not catastrophize more than we need to.

On the ABC news last night it said we had plunged from 13th to 28th in Year 4 Maths, 12th  to 17th in Science. The media cried, “We’ve now fallen behind Kazakhstan!

Yes, we were previously performing better than Kazakhstan and now we are performing worse than Kazakhstan. Why is everyone singling out Kazakhstan? Borat has much to answer for.

On PISA Australia performs better than the US and the UK and is significantly above the OECD average.

Mention some positives too Simon.

You said the results are “appalling”.

You said we need to move away from “just throwing more money” at education and look at what teachers are doing in the classroom.

Fair point. But Simon, you should look at the fine detail of the data. If we judged Australia’s performance on these tests by the results of ACT students, Australia would be in the top five in the world. When you include the NT, Tassie and all those low SES and rural areas in the data set, we slip quickly down the rankings.

Australia is a low equity county in terms of education. Our kids from advantaged backgrounds with highly educated parents do way better than those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is more pronounced in Australia than in other countries and it is getting worse!

Gonski still matters Simon.

Inequity in the Australian education system is a massive problem. These international studies like TIMMS and PISA, and  our own NAPLAN, continue to highlight the growing gap in educational attainment between the haves and have nots in Australian society.

Sometimes people need hard data to see the picture more clearly.

Here are the six secondary schools in the local area where I live. We are 100km from Melbourne.


You can see that most high income families send their children to non-government schools. 

Notice that indigenous students are also concentrated in the government system.

To compound  disadvantage even further, the amount of money spent on education in a private school is more than at the government school. It is a classic case of the the rich getting richer. We are putting more resources into the most advantaged students.

The conservative governments argue that wealthy parents have a right to spend their money on their children’s education to give their children the best they can afford.

I agree, but the government shouldn’t then chip in as well to widen the gap between rich and poor. In the Australian education system that is exactly what we do. 

To quote the PISA report, “Generally speaking the smartest countries tend to be those that have directed more resources to their neediest children.”

Look at the table above. In Australia we do the opposite!! Not smart Simon.

As the Education Minister in charge, you need to do something to fix this.

And while you are at it, instead of jumping straight into the teaching profession as the only cause of these poor results look more broadly. Just blaming teachers for the TIMMS and PISA results is like saying doctors are wholly responsible for the overall level of Health in Australia. Teachers are one part of the picture. The other parts of the picture seem to have been completely overlooked.

Students and parents need to lift their game too.

In fact the whole village needs to get on board here.

Look at the Asian tigers at the top of the PISA and TIMMS tables. When their kids do badly at school Asian parents are ashamed. They take responsibility. They do something about it. They hire tutors; they insist their children put more effort into their studies. When I visited Singapore recently there were maths homework books and tutorial centres at every train station. Being educated, doing really well at school, is central in their lives. Central to the culture of the society is personal responsibility and hard work.

In Australia when students do poorly it is the teacher’s fault, or the school’s fault or the government’s fault. We need to change this attitude.

Simon your comments are not helping, in fact they are reinforcing this victim, “blame the teacher” mentality.

The PISA report has given you a good checklist for the agenda at the next Ministers for Education meeting.

Here it is …

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have:

  1. acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective;
  2. directed more resources to their neediest children;
  3. enrolled most children in high-quality preschools;
  4. helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement;
  5. applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Good luck Simon.

Get the village behind you.

Rob Monk


Cognitive dissonance and the Michaela phenomena

cognitive dissonance

  1. the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

For those of you in Australia who don’t read any of the English education blogs, follow twitter or read “The Times”, Michaela Community School is an English Charter School in London. It is a free school that takes in a largely poor and ethnically diverse cohort of students. Michaela has been labelled “The strictest school in England”. It has generated widespread acclaim or loathing depending on your notion of how a school should operate.

Tom Bennett described the Launch of Michaela’s book here in a wonderful piece of writing about the light and dark of 2016.

What have the Michaeleans done for us?

bennet michala.pngFew educators on social media could have failed to notice that the Michaela Community School/ Factory For Turning Children Into Glue and Tears (delete as your ideology dictates) ran a book launch that doubled as a rally for their unconventional blend of traditional teaching and 21st century learning- ultra trads, if you will. Live streamed, tweeted in real time, and punching so far above its weight that David and Goliath look like a fair fight, it represents a new model for how schools face the world. Scorned by people who have never visited, and often admired by those who have, I have yet to see an institution that, in the face of such antipathy, exposes itself so candidly to scrutiny, challenge and frontal attack. It’s almost as if they knew they were doing something extraordinary. Twitter sizzled with their battle cries, and it was inspiring to see so much positivity for a school that has worked hard to earn it. All credit to their head teacher Katherine Birbalsingh, who has two settings, as far as I can see: combine harvester, and dead. 

He also posted this contender for Tweet of the Year.


How many schools have published their own book? The Michaela PR machine is an amazing beast.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Michaela’s results are outstanding.

So what is it they do that is different?

This is the impression one gets of Michaela from listening to what the staff and others have said about the school.

  • Very high behavioral expectations. – They sweat the small stuff. Classroom default position is silence. Corridors between classes; silence. Demerits given for slouching in your seat, not having correct equipment, top button undone, calling out in class. No Excuses Discipline.
  • Pedagogy is “Teacher centered” – Constructivist= no, Instructivist = yes. Just tell them. Here is a school that says “No, we don’t want our teachers to be a ‘guide on the side’ or ‘a facilitator of learning’. We want our teachers to teach.” They seem to have taken much from the Lemov, “Teach Like A Champion” playbook. Lots of drill and practice and didactic instruction.
  • Differentiation: Not much – Lots of whole class teaching. High expectations for all. They don’t want teachers to design three levels of instructions. They want everyone to get it.
  • Group work: Not much. Think pair share seems to be as close as it gets.
  • Project based learning -No
  • Inquiry learning. – No.
  • Personalized Learning – No.
  • Technology – Not much. They had tablets in year one; electronic ones not stone ones as some would suggest,  but they decided the benefits were outweighed by the loss of learning time keeping them running. Now they proudly say they don’t even use powerpoints for instruction. Having said that the common homework involves the web based IXL , a maths drill program and Quizlet a vocab drill program. Students don’t have 1:1 devices in class but are expected to use them for homework.
  • Curriculum – The schools motto says it all. “Knowledge is Power”. Very content rich curriculum. Content matters at Michaela.
  • Reading – There is a huge focus on reading across the curriculum. The expectation is that children will read at home each night. There is a big reading program of classic literature unashamedly based largely around “Dead White Men” authors.
  • Work hard, Be kind. – What a wonderfully simple and all encompassing four word slogan. The things most valued at Michaela are hard work and kindness. A common vision and purpose and everyone rowing in the same direction are the hallmarks of any successful organisation. Michaela seems to have that in spades. Work hard, be kind. This applies to staff and students.
  • Dynamic, charismatic leadership – Principal Katherine Birbalsingh seems a little manic but no one could doubt her passion. Watch this  unscripted rant to see her in full flight.


I’m still chewing the food for thought.

My stomach is full.

Cognitive dissonance gives me indigestion.

Behavior Management: Learnings from the blogosphere.

The education blogosphere is an rich source of professional reading for teachers and administrators.

One of my personal favorite bloggers is Tom Sherrinton. His blog https://headguruteacher.com/ is is followed by nearly 45,000 educators. The blog has over 2.5 million reads. Tom has a big following. He is the headteacher of  Highbury Grove School in England.

Tom writes on all aspects of education but I have particularly enjoyed following his posts about Behavior Management.

The first post I suggest you read is Behavior Management: A Bill Rogers Top 10. It gives a good insight into Tom’s philosophy of classroom management.

It was interesting to see Bill Rogers being referenced in a British Blog. Bill Rogers came to our Australian Country School when I was a third or fourth year teacher in 1990 which was a long time ago. I thought he’d gone out of fashion but clearly he is still going strong. He recently appeared on Revolution School. I revisited some of his work on You Tube. It is still absolutely relevant today.

A divergence: Clicking through my twitter feed I came across this blog on Behavior Management by Greg Ashman. Greg is an Australian teacher whose Blog title “Filling the Pale” is well worth examining.

A link from it led to this paper from 1985. It contained this: BATPAK1985.png

Thought Bubble 1: Behavior management: There is nothing new under the sun.

I’m personally not a huge fan of number 5 but “tactically ignore” does have a place. The rest of the list is just as applicable in 2016 as it was in 1985. We are often obsessed with the newest “21st century” edubabble. The behavior charter above incorporates much of what others have written before and since. Everything old is new again.

The second reading from Tom Sherrinton is from 2014. 

He is trying to ramp up the teaching and learning agenda in the school but identifies clearly that impeccable student behavior is an essential element. Without calm and safe classrooms many teaching and leaning strategies cannot even be considered. Some say Classroom Behavior will take care of itself if the teacher creates a stimulating learning environment where students are “engaged”. In my experience this is not the case . Excellent teachers establish the three R’s first.

Relentless Rigorous Routines. 

I read this blog with almost a cheer leader like enthusiasm.

Yes! That sounds great. A solid organised system in place. Firm rules, known consequences and high expectations.

The implementation is outlined here.  Alarm bells for me were.

  • How to stop some teachers exiting students without warning?
  • What follow up does the classroom teacher do after an exit? Is it a situation where they send the child from the room to be “fixed” by someone else?
  • The sheer number of students who would end up in detention
  • How do you get parent support when students are given after school detentions?

I don’t endorse the “names on the board” warning system . I see it as gamifying misbehavior. I know it is a Bill Rogers strategy and I’ve watched young teachers come back from a behavior management professional learning workshops and start using it. I have usually seen it create more problems than it solves. The gamer boy in the class looks at the board 15 minutes before the end of the lesson and thinks, “I’ve got one life (warning) left.” I’ll use it now. He ramps up the off task behavior until the teacher publicly acknowledges it by putting his name on the board. All his mates call out “Woah you’re on two now Harley.” The whole class is now off task and focused on names on the board rather than learning. Praise in public, discipline in private.

The beauty of Tom’s blog is his openness and honesty. He doesn’t just write that everything in his school is wonderful. He reflects openly on what has and has not worked. Another advantage of a blog like this is that you are able to watch from the sidelines and see in minutes what another school has spent years implementing.

So how did “Behavior for Leaning” go?

Skip forward to the beginning of 2015. 

The flow diagram is becoming more complicated.

I’d like to know more about what students do in the Behavior Support Center. How does that work?

The consensus is still that the school is calmer, a better place for students to learn and for teachers to teach as a result of the “Behavior for Learning” journey.

Skip forward again to the beginning of 2016. 

Assertive but not autocratic. That is the secret. High expectations but warmth and caring as well. Teaching is not easy. Getting this balance between assertive and caring right is Art, not Science. This is where the champion teachers sets themselves apart from the just competent ones.

The latest installment from Tom is in response to the recent round of tabloid media hype about the so called “no excuses” schools. When you read the Highbury Grove School BfL guide it is all pretty black and white.

Late to class, out of uniform, using electronic devices, not bring equipment to class all have automatic, “no excuses” consequences.

Andrew Old, my favorite “Black Hat” blogger talks about school’s two discipline systems. One is written in the handbook, the other is what actually happens on the ground. He is correct. Rarely is the discipline playbook enacted to the letter but I would hope implementation is closer to documentation than he exemplifies here.

Andrew Old is the Leonard Cohen of the educational blogesphere. He writes some brilliant stuff but much of it makes you suicidal.

Here is where behavior management gets nuanced.

  • What about the child who is late to school because mum’s having Chemotherapy at the moment and needed help getting out of bed?
  • What about the child whose one uniform shirt was left on the line and it rained and dad was too drunk it bring it in?
  • What about the child who is couch surfing at the moment and left her books at a friends place?

Do we make excuses for them.

If you have a spare 55 minutes watch this debate about no excuses discipline. 

In this blog Tom talks about the nuances that make “no excuses” nearly impossible.

The term “pin ball” students is appropriately descriptive. These students bounce from one consequence to the next, to the next. Their behavior doesn’t seem to change. Anyone who has been in a school role with a significant student management aspect to it will know that the “pin ball” kids, the repeat offenders are the ones who take most of your time.

These students chose the consequence rather than chose to change their behavior. Their answer to many of our challenges to them is “I don’t care”.

These students often have parents who say, “He can’t do an after school detention because he has to catch the bus home.” or “I think the school is too strict on uniform.”

How many pinball kids are there?

I analysed the data for a school I have worked with. I don’t think this breakdown would be atypical.


At this school which has 940 students,  61% (570 students) of the students do the right thing just about all the time. They have zero or one discipline referrals for the year.  22% get into a little bit of trouble. (2 to 5 referrals). There are 33 pinball kids which is 3% of the student population. They have more than 20 discipline referrals.

50% of discipline referrals at this school are generated by 6% of the student population.

Dealing with these pinball students is an ongoing challenge. Teaching staff often say to administrators, “Get rid of them.” “Why are they allowed to keep stuffing up.” Getting rid of them is the absolute final option. Students who are expelled must be placed in another school. Passing on your failures to another institution is not a desirable option. The other option is sometimes the juvenile justice system.

In a small rural community like I live in, a student a school has failed to keep in education is often seen on the streets in trouble with the law and ultimately costing our society considerable welfare dollars. I would often say to staff who wanted me to “Get rid of ’em.” “When we get rid of ’em they may just pay us back by robbing our house or stealing our car.”

I’d like to hear more about Highbury’s Behavior Support Center. Does it work by removing the class wreckers to allow the silent majority of students to learn and teachers to teach while keeping the “pin ball” students participating in education?  How is that resourced?

It is too easy to focus on the pinball students. Systems like Behavior for Learning are all about moving the middle ground.  When we get more students in more classes displaying exemplary learning behaviors everyone benefits.

A rising tide lifts all boats.


How do we teach?

The Education landscape is littered with false dichotomies.

I am reluctant to perpetuate another one but I am also really interested in what teachers would say about where the balance between these two forms of instruction should lie.

Imagine there were only 2 modes of teaching. Yes, we know there are more but just imagine there are only 2.

Teacher Mode A

Teacher Mode B

You explain
You model
They practice
You check and give feedback
Test them.
Test them again a bit later.                                            teachcent.jpg
Explore; Discover
Hands-on experience
Inspire some AWE
Go off piste
Make things; do projects; set open ended tasks; give choices Project-Based-Learning-Photo

Modes were developed by Tom Sherrington

I’m sure you will agree that most teachers work in both modes.

Yes sometimes they will work in both simultaneously. We often throw in a little teacher Mode B “Inspire some AWE” during our Teacher Mode A “Explain and Model”.

I’d like to know what you would consider the right balance of Teacher Mode A and Teacher Mode B.

In your version of an ideal school what % of time would students be learning in Mode A and B.

100% Mode A : 0% Mode B

90% Mode A: 10% Mode B

80% Mode A: 20% Mode B

70% Mode A: 30% Mode B

60% Mode A: 40% Mode B

50% Mode A: 50% Mode B

40% Mode A: 60% Mode B

30% Mode A: 70% Mode B

20% Mode A: 80% Mode B

10% Mode A: 90% Mode B

0% Mode A: 100% Mode B

My plan is to ask as many teachers as I can the same question.

Please complete my quick 3-minute survey then share if you are interested in finding out what other practitioners are actually doing.

Click here to do the survey


Our aim is to get as many teachers around the world to do this survey. Please help us by forwarding the link on. Share via Twitter. Tweet

Here is the survey link to email to your friends. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DSXST5Y

Do you think we could get a 100,000 people to do the survey by the end of 2016? Help us “go viral”.

Increasing the reach of your comments on student work

Feedback is important – there are some ways we can allow feedback to reach more that one student. This also allows the comments to become a more “renewable” use of teacher time.

An open and collaborative classroom culture and skilful use of ICT can mean you get more “bang for bucks” for your investment of time in writing comments on student work. Lemov’s “Show Call” technique increases the reach of individual feedback to the whole class. While “Show Call” is usually used in class, it can be extended using technology.

Organise your students to submit work in Google docs. Comment on the work online. Share your comments with the whole class. This way more than one student benefits from your hard work.

Saving a good example of student work with your annotations for use in subsequent years makes a non renewable resource that would benefit one student into something that could benefit many students for many years.


This document was shared with the whole class so all students could benefit from the feedback given.

Non Renewable Teacher Energy

Sometimes you hear an explanation of something that reinforces what you have tacitly been doing.

In this debate Joe Kirby from Michaela talks about writing comments on student work. He talks about this practice as being a non renewable use of teacher time.

A teacher has a finite amount of time to invest during the week. They can invest time in any number of activities. These include preparing lessons, correcting work, writing comments on work, professional reading, attending professional learning, counselling students, contacting parents. There is never enough time in a teacher’s day to do all these things. A teacher’s life is a series of time based compromises. What will I invest the next 30 minutes of my time doing? There is always a choice and always more to be done than time available to do it. 

Writing comments on student work is a non renewable use of teacher time. It benefits one student probably once. Investing time in preparing lessons on the other hand is a renewable use of teacher time. Whatever you prepare will benefit many students and can be reused in subsequent years.

What will I spend time on now, preparation or correction?

Err on the side of preparation, especially if it is something that can be used many times over.

Preparing great learning activities is even better if your preparation can be used by others


Debates are good. We should have more of them.

I have been watching a series of education debates on YouTube that have been done by Micheala Community School, a British Charter School.

The debate topics are:

1.Personalised learning harms children
2. “No excuses” discipline works
3. Project-based learning prepares children for the 21st century
4. Schools should do “Whatever it takes”
5. Performance – Related pay is damaging


They are great debates.

Do yourself a favour and pick one to watch. (Sorry Molly Meldrum)

Before you do, ruminate on this cartoon.

and this one.

David Didau: The Learning Spy

I love the scoring system for the debates.

At the start they ask the audience what they already believe about the topic.

Eg “No excuses” discipline works. – The audience was 60 – 20 in favour of that statement before the debate.

At the end of the debate they ask the audience “Who has changed their minds?”

Great discourse.

Well worth a look. Refer to No.3


The best case scenario of Assignment Feedback and how LMS’s compare in allowing it to happen.

Much has been written about Feedback and it’s role in improving teaching and learning. It is rated number  one on the list of 34 interventions  listed on evidence for learning. With low cost to implement, improving feedback is a high leverage strategy.

But how do we do it effectively?

I want to look at “the best case scenario” for feedback to students before, during and after a major assignment;  an assignment that acts both as a summative assessment task to measure level of performance and as a formative assessment where the students are able to incrementally improve the quality of their work.

Examples of such an assignment are:

  • A prac report or research investigation in science.
  • An essay in English
  • A research assignment in History on “The causes of the Vietnam War”
  • A maths problem solving task, eg “How big a water tank is needed to collect all rainfall for a month from our school roofs”

I am referring to a task that would take students multiple lessons to complete.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at what not to do. The worst case scenario looks a bit like this.

  1. Teacher designs an assignment with what the students need to do.
  2. Teacher sets the assignment without discussing how the assignment will be assessed.
  3. Students complete what they think the assignment wants them to do and submit it.
  4. Teacher gives feedback on the assignment with comments and a final grade
  5. Teacher gives the assignment back to the students.
  6. Students look at the final grade, ignores the comments and moves on.

You have probably seen assignments like this. You may have been on the receiving end of them at school or university.  It is a case where the student needs to “Guess what’s in the teacher’s head.” The success criteria are a secret that will be revealed only after the assignment is completed.

When the student gets the task back it says “7 out of 10. Good work. You could have included more detail in the section on …… Include a list of references with your assignment.Research suggests that most students don’t look beyond the 7 out of 10. When students receive feedback in the form of grades and comments they invariably focus on the grades and often ignore the comments.

I don’t know many teachers who have not had the deflating experience of working late at night providing comments and suggestions for improvement on student’s assignments. The next day in class they return the assignments to their students.

What they usually hear from students. “What did you get?”.

“7 out of 10” is the response as the assignment is shoved into the folder, comments unread.

“Why did I bother?” A common complaint from teachers is, “The students don’t even read the feedback. They just focus on the grade. Then they make the same mistakes next time.” How do we get students to read our comments and act on them?

I have been investigating different Learning Management Systems recently. Edumate has an excellent white paper on Student Feedback and Progressive Reporting. The problem of students not reading feedback was cleverly addressed by Edumate using this Progressive Reporting Model.


While this model feedback loop is effective it could be even better if the student does a self assessment before the assignment is submitted.

The ideal assessment and feedback for a major assignment would look like this:

  1. Develop Assessment Criteria with the students.This is the ideal case but is a time-consuming process. If time is tight, giving students an Assessment rubric you have already written is adequate, but don’t skimp on step three below.
  2. Put Assessment Criteria into a rubric format. 
  3. Publish the rubric and assignment details to students and parents. Be sure students understand what is required prior to starting the task. In the best case scenario you would also provide exemplars so students can actually see what success looks like.
  4. Students complete the assignment referring to assessment rubric regularly during completion. Teacher frames formative feedback using the assessment rubric. For example “Look at the rubric. Have you identified the independent and dependent variables?”
  5. When the student submits the completed assignment they self assess against the assessment rubric. Self assessment must be completed as part of the final submission process. Ideally the LMS you are using supports clickable and commentable rubrics like Moodle and Canvas do.
  6. Teacher assesses the assignment using rubric and also gives student descriptive feedback.The teacher is able to see the students self assessment as they are completing their teacher assessment. Feedback is focused on around how the student can improve in the future. It needs to be in language the student can understand. For a comprehensive study of effective feedback see Focus on Formative Feedback.
  7. Teacher’s comments and rubric feedback are released to student without a grade.
  8. Student must respond to teacher’s written feedback with some reflection on the feedback and how they will adopt these recommendations in the future.
  9. When student has completed their reflection on the teacher feedback the final grade is released to the student and the parent.

That is the “best case scenario”. Hattie uses the term “assessment capable learners” to describe what we are trying to produce here. An “assessment capable learner” is one who uses the assessment criteria to hone in on what actually needs to be demonstrated and learned in completing an assignment. An assessment capable learner also responds to teacher feedback in a way that improves their performance in the future. 

My  Learning Management Systems research has shown how close to this ideal assignment feedback sequence we can get . The news is not good.

None will get us all the way there yet.


Canvas Compass Edumate


Create an assessment rubric in the LMS




No but can set up outcomes checklist from Curriculum Continuum No but can set up outcomes checklist from Curriculum Continuum
Student able to self assess against the rubric in the LMS at the time of submission Only if you use the workshop module not the assignment module.


No No


Teacher sees student self assessment when grading.


No No No


Teacher able to grade against the rubric in the LMS


Yes Yes No


Teacher able to release “comment only” assessment feedback to students before releasing the grades. Yes but then must go back in to regrade assignment to show grade. ???




LMS able to require student to complete reflection on teacher feedback before final grade is released.


No No Yes





“Creating Assessment-Capable Learners.” Education Week. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Helping Great Practice Become Common Practice.” Evidence for Learning. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Is the Feedback You’re Giving Students Helping or Hindering?” Learning Sciences Dylan Wiliam Center. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Student Feedback and Progressive Reporting – What Parents Say.” Education Advances. Web. 20 July 2016.

Classcraft Review and the search for the GUSITS

Teachers should try something new every term. With the plethora of IT related products out there in the education industry now, this is not a difficult proposition.

This term I have been trying Classcraft.

classc7Classcraft is a game that helps you establish and reinforce a positive classroom environment. You sign up your class. The students log in at take on a character in the game. Some are warriors, some are healers and some are mages.

My initial difficulty with Classcraft is my lack of knowledge of games. What is a Mage ? I didn’t know the value of experience points, activity points, health points and gold pieces but as usual, often your best resource to learn from is a student in your class. A couple of my students were hardcore gamers and they came to my rescue. I may even hand control of the game over to them at some stage.

You use the game to establish classroom routines and expectations initially. When students are in class ready to work before the bell they are given gold pieces or reward points in the game. This allows them to do different things like move up a level or earn rewards both game based and real life ones. These include the ability to change the appearance of their character in the game or to ask a question during a test. Some of the preset rewards in the game, such as “You can listen to music in class”, I deleted.



You can also be punitive and take health points away from students who do the wrong thing.

The behaviours lists, both positive and negative,  are completely customisable. One of my “pet peeves” is students packing up early. I added this one to my Remove HP list. I also added “Non charged netbook” for students who don’t have their computer charged to avoid the risk of falling over a chord.


There is a great phone app so when you are teaching you can easily allocate points from your phone or from your computer.

Another feature that I use regularly is the impressively named “Wheel of Destiny”. It is just a random generator of student names but it is great for cold calling students. Students can see you are not picking on anyone and they know their name will be drawn at random eventually to answer a question. There is no escaping “The Wheel of Destiny”. Eventually a question is coming your way.


There are other features that I have not made much use of yet. The site has a built in class countdown timer for timed activities and a stopwatch.

You can start your lesson with a random Classcraft event that is sometimes funny and other times just lame. The other day a student had to sing a song for 20 gold pieces. One of her teammates took on the challenge when she refused. The team aspect of classcraft does appeal to students.

Classcraft also has a quiz module for class quizzes. It also looks like developing into a Learning Content Management System. You can put assignments and quizzes into class craft and make the results of these part of the game as well.

Here is where I begin to hesitate: So often in education I see IT applications developing what in the IT industry is known as “scope creep”. A system designed to do one thing well starts to try and do other things too. The scope of the applications creeps ever outwards.

We already use Moodle as our content management system and as our gradebook. We don’t want Classcraft doing that but we love the slick game like interface that Classcraft brings with it. Quizlet and Kahoot are amazing apps for quizzes. I want Classcraft to be able to use a quiz from Kahoot rather than have to write my own quiz in Classcraft. I want it to integrate with Moodle as well so I don’t have gradebooks in two places.

In Science we have searched for the GUT; the Grand Unified Theory. The theory of everything. The theory that unifies quantum mechanics and classical physics. In education we need the Grand Unified School Information Technology Solution (GUSITS); a school system that includes timetable, attendance, student behaviour management tracking, markbook, learning content management, reporting and assessment including quizzes and online testing, . The system would be online and open to students and parents 24/7. It would have built into it “gamification” elements just like Classcraft is doing. A school IT system that does everything? Such systems are developing. We use Sentral to do some of these things. Many Victorian schools use Compass. These systems lack any gamification elements at the moment and they fall short of the GUSITS we seek. The ultimate GUSITS would incorporate some gamificaton and these system designers could look at Classcraft and borrow some ideas from it.

There is great potential in Classcraft. The interface is slick. It is easy to use. The behaviour management aspect of the program is great. You are quickly and easily able to identify and reward positive behaviours for students. This explicit recognition and acknowledgment of positive classroom interactions has a powerful motivating effect on most students.

Reward systems only motive students if they are motivated by the reward. Some of my students are not motivated by the game at all. They could not care less about being able to change the appearance of their character or being able to ask me the answer to a question in a test but they still respond to being recognised for positive classroom contributions.

I would like to try Classcraft with a teacher who is struggling to maintain a positive classroom environment. I am the Assistant Principal who teaches one class a semester and students do tend to respond to positional authority. “They are very good in my class.” is something no teacher who is struggling with a student wants to hear. I would like to see if Classcraft would make a difference to the battling first or second year out teacher who has a challenging Year 8 class.

My other hesitation with Classcraft is the investment of time in playing the game. You do need to devote five or so minutes of class time a couple of times a week to it. Every minute counts in the classroom. Is this too much time out of the regular teaching and learning program? It could easily be argued that investing five minutes a lesson on establishing and maintaining a positive and engaging classroom environment is time well spent. It could also be argued that this is equivalent to four hours of instructional time lost over the course of a semester to playing a game. This time could have been better spent on covering the curriculum.

I will continue my trial and let you know how it goes after a full semester.

So many toys. So little time to play with them all.