Mastery Of Learning

THIS is about mastery of knowledge, a subject, concept or learning outcome.

I have been thinking a lot about exams and testing in education recently… even more than normal! I suppose this is because we have recently seen A-level and GCSE results being handed out which has led to the annual discussion about whether the exams are robust and challenging enough for our young people. This blog is not about these debates directly but is designed to offer some thoughts about whether learners are truly mastering their knowledge, skills or competence through our educational system.

I am fully aware that many teachers will naturally teach to the test. Why not? That is what our education system has developed through a high stakes testing culture. I think all teachers would agree however that this is not really a positive way to learn. I think all teachers would also say that young people should develop a deep understanding of whatever it is that they are learning. This brings me around to the idea of ‘mastery of learning’.

It is my solid belief that if young people truly learn deeply and be able to use their learning within different contexts, then they will be able to gain the required grades when they take the exam. Is there the time (I have heard teachers ask)? Well yes, I think there is and we owe it to our young people to give them a fuller educational experience! Mastery of learning can be based around 3 stages of learning. Following a conversation with a colleague a few days ago we came up with these terms;

Practising – Learners are introduced to a piece of knowledge, skill or competence. They have a go at applying it themselves in a given learning situation.

Developing – Learners are then given the opportunity to use this again based on a different scenario or the application to a different set of circumstances which applies more challenge and deeper thinking to the learning.

Mastery – Learners are finally given the opportunity to apply this learning to a completely different scenario where they have to think outside the box and use the learning in a completely different way. This is where real challenge and critical thinking have to be adopted by the learner. It may even involve teaching and leading other learners.

Learners will therefore complete a piece of learning 3 times in increasingly challenging scenario’s to show that they have achieved mastery of their learning. In previous blogs I have discussed engaging learners by making the learning real to them and applied to the real world. The mastery of learning would be completed in the same way. I would personally link more and more to the real world throughout this process.

Mastery of learning is based around adding additional challenge for the young person at each stage and not a process of giving more of the same, which will ultimately become boring for the learner over time. This learning philosophy naturally lends itself to differentiation. You may wish to move some learners very quickly into the developmental phase based on previous knowledge or ability.

Here is a quick example from an Applied GCSE Business lesson that I have taught. Learners are introduced to Cash Flow Forecasting and the learner would have a go at completing some basic forecasts (Practising) based on a common business that they would know about. Learners would then be asked to apply this learning to a business that they are aware of, using some further costings that they would research themselves (Developing). Finally, possibly as a homework task, I would ask them to create a budget for owning their own home when working out income and outgoings using the principles of the technique of Cash Flow Forecasting (Mastery). This switches the learning into a completely different context. The mastery stage involves critical analysis of a given scenario, develops life and work skills and finally develops the knowledge learners need to achieve aspirational targets in an academic exam.

THIS is the learning that I want to see taking place in my department as a middle leader. I will support colleagues to develop their teaching and learning and develop mastery of learning for the young people within our care. This philosophy also meets the outstanding grade descriptors as identified by OFSTED (September 2015) for Teaching, Learning & Assessment. I have highlighted the relevant comments in this extract from the School Inspection Handbook.


I firmly believe that this would develop schools full of ‘Learning Jedi Knights’ who achieve aspirational academic grades using more than just ‘the force’ when learning basic content for an exam.


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Business Studies Lesson – Quality Control v Quality Assurance

THIS is a revision lesson for Business Studies teachers.

Please see the lesson plan and PowerPoint below. It could be used as a refresher or as a pre exam lesson for Quality Control v Quality Assurance within a Business Studies GCSE specification (Edexcel 2BS01).

QCvQA_Lesson Plan


I hope teachers can make use of this.

Gareth. 🙂

quality Assurance

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THIS Is About Being A Teacher!

THIS builds on my previous blog about a big decision I have made to become a teacher again…

THIS blog is about the type of teacher I was and I want to be again. I am trying to put down the points that I hope will form the basis of a learning experience that a young person would have in and around my classroom. This has been developed through 11 years of working in education and learning about teaching.

In my previous blog I stated “The simple fact is that I really believe that I can offer young people a broad learning experience where the focus is on skills and competence mastery. I will promote high expectations and challenge which will give the learner a desire to want to gain knowledge, to learn and to achieve academic success”. I aim for this to be my starting point.

I have recently become familiar with the book ‘Trivium 21c’ by Martin Robinson. In this book he discusses educational curriculum as either in one camp or another; ‘Traditionalist’ or ‘Progressive’ and learning will take place within these theories. He suggests in summary that educational curriculum should be based around a ‘Progressive Traditionalist’ approach, a mixture of learning styles which include the 3 main aspects of the trivium. Grammar (foundation knowledge and skills), Rhetoric (communicating persuasively and expressing how things could be) and Dialectic (value debate and dialogue as a way of creating new knowledge and challenge). Its a really good read and in my view suggests an approach to learning that could be adopted to suit all types of learner, with challenge and high expectations built in. My own interpretation of this as a teacher is to facilitate the learning of basic knowledge, with the added challenge of achieving mastery of the subject through discussion and communication. For me, this goes beyond the teaching of knowledge to pass a test. Although I think that the book has come up with a brilliant conclusion for education, the one thing that kept coming into my mind continuously was ‘This is just a common sense approach!’. For me I have always adopted this ‘Progressive Traditionalist’ style since becoming a teacher.

THIS is where am I on the traditional v progressive scale. My feeling is that I am on the progressive side of center. A couple of my educational peers have me down as a pure progressive i.e. I have children in my class running around doing whatever they want. That is an interpretation they have made based on some of my comments. It actually could not be further from the truth, ‘yes’ I do have the tendency to lean toward the progressive but I certainly do not see myself in that camp.

THIS is what you will see in my classroom. Learners will never be sat in rows… EVER! My learners will be sat in groups of 4-6 ideally. You will see direction or knowledge being given to learners, but this will always be as minimal as possible. You will see the teacher leading what is being learnt (facilitating if you prefer) and re-forming activities along the way. The challenge for young people will be to learn the knowledge by choosing their own way of acquiring that knowledge given the resources available. That does not mean that learners run around the classroom doing what they want. It could mean that it actually comes back to traditional knowledge based teaching when required. The key point is that the learner is involved in the decision making process and does not feel as though they are ‘done to’ but are more ‘involved in’ the learning process. It also means that they become engaged in a learning experience that has ground rules. Ground rules are important for this type of learning and that has to be trained into young people. Sometimes over a period of time!

THIS is how I aim to achieve the engagement in learning and to harness that deep learning environment. An environment where the mastery of skills and competence create academic learners who will pass exams at an aspirational grade. Not because they know enough facts that can be regurgitated onto an exam paper, but because they know how to learn which will enhance their future prospects in life and in the workplace.

I will base my teaching ethos around these principles:

  1. Robert John Meehan said “Set your classroom expectation high, the higher the better, Expect the most fantastic things to happen, not in the future but right now”. Young people need to be initially trained around high expectations that are needed for learning to take place. From the learning approach, to expected levels of work, to building aspirations of achievement and attainment. It may take a little time but investment in this early on will reap the learning rewards; the expectation is that it will happen quickly. This will be achieved through 2-3 simple learning agreements that can be easily followed. Then to consistently and respectfully enforce these agreements so that there is clarity. In 10 years of teaching I can count on less than both hands the sanctions needed for the learners approach to learning based around what happens in my classroom.
  2. Maya Angelou once said People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. The point is that mutual respect has to be developed between the leader of learning (teacher) and the young people. My goal is to find out about them, tailor learning to what interests them and help them to feel good about themselves. Which brings me onto the next point.
  3. Trilling & Fadel, 2009 suggested “Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom gathered knowledge to (the) real world…”. How many times does a teacher get asked; What is the point of this? When am I going to need this? So make the learning real to them. Show them that there is a point. Once the young people buy into the learning then they will engage more deeply, enquire more, develop a love of learning and ultimately enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
  4. Finally Bruce Lee who was a hero of mine not as a movie star but as a human being, once said “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself”. I believe in this mantra. It is not about standing at the front of the classroom being the ‘giver of truth’ (knowledge). It is about being a ‘pointer to the truth’ (facilitating or leading learning) that allows each learner to find their own way to the answer. Occasionally I will need to give further direction to find the answer. I may also need to provide answers on occasion but that will not be often if I am doing my job right.

Robert John Meehan further said “Your life as a teacher begins the day you realise that you are always a learner”. That is my biggest lesson over the last 11 years working in education. I have realised that I have to keep learning in order to better prepare young people for the 21st century. I have realised that I can learn from anyone and at any time, this includes the young people that I teach. Young people are capable of brilliant things or have knowledge that we, as adults, have no idea about.

THIS is what a teacher (or facilitator/leader of learning) needs to do. I need to be prepared to continue learning and remember that there will NEVER be a point where I am the fountain of knowledge… Learning is a collective thing!



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Becoming Me… A Teacher… Again!

THIS is the decision I have made… I would like to become a teacher… Again!

THIS is what I know about myself and education… Teaching or Leading Learning as I like to think of it is the best career in the world. That is what I genuinely think! Except for becoming a professional footballer, this is what I have always known for a long time… for me at least anyway!

At the age of 25 I gave up a good job, flourishing career and my flat (bought 2 years earlier) to go back to university and become a teacher. Why? I was working in a managerial role at an international car rental company. Part of my role was to recruit graduates for a management trainee programme. I interviewed graduates from Russell group universities including Oxford and Cambridge. The problem… I had to interview 10 of them to get 2 that may have fit the criteria required! Therefore only 20% of graduates demonstrated the skills required at interview. We were looking for motivated creative thinkers who could problem solve and think on their feet. Young people who used good communication skills and could show empathy towards our customers. I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference to the lives of young people and help them to be be better prepared for life and the workplace.

I was a teacher for 10 years which included 6 years as an Assistant Head teacher. It was at this point that I decided to leave the classroom and look for something different that would allow me expand my horizons and learn more about education on a national level. I had been a very succseful teacher ensuring that the learners within my care received the best teaching I could give them. My classes, and departments under my control would regularly achieve 90-100% GCSE A*-C. That was from working in a school which had learners from an area of high social deprivation. The area is still placed 4th in the whole country within that measure.

I am currently working as  a National Development Co-ordinator for ASDAN in Bristol. Geographically, I have moved a long way away from where I was and it has also opened up a new world for me. What does being an NDC mean? It means that I contribute to writing curriculum programmes and qualifications for schools and colleges, provide advice for centers and write/deliver workshops to provide teacher CPD across England, Scotland and Wales. All this is completed with a close eye on what is happening on a national level to make sure all the new criteria and standards from OFSTED, DFE and OFQUAL are being met. I have learnt a lot through talking to people from all levels in schools/colleges and in general educational organisations. I have learnt a lot more than I ever could have done through staying in the classroom for that time.

Through my experiences over this past 1-2 years I have rekindled a burning desire to be in the classroom. I always thought that I would not be away for many years but the time has come to make this happen. I have been having a continuing argument in my head; Look how many people are leaving teaching! Am I mad? Why do I want to put myself through this exam and accountability culture again? I work for a brilliant organisation who are so supportive? Am I really sure this is the right thing to do? The simple fact is that I really believe that I can offer young people a broad learning experience where the focus is on skills and competence mastery. I will promote high expectations and challenge which will give the learner a desire to want to gain knowledge, to learn and to achieve academic success.

When I became a teacher the first time round, I wanted to teach! I got carried away with leadership and promotions. I did not really want that, but as I said ‘I got carried away’ with the journey I was on. It was a great experience, but now I want to be involved directly with learning. Middle leadership is my goal but no further out of the classroom than that would be ideal. Again, I want regular involvement within the classroom and with learning.

So becoming a teacher (Leader of Learning) is what I would like to do for the rest of my working days. I am not daft enough to think that this will happen as a working life is a long time, especially in this modern era. However, while I think that I can offer something extra to enhance the lives of young people, then that is what I will do! I am determined to do everything I can now to make this become a reality.

I would like to concentrate on doing what I do best, or at least what I think I do best?

My next blog will be based on the teacher I have been and more importantly the one I want to be…


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The Great Learning Gap

Very, very inspiring blog! 🙂

Love Learning....

Sugata Mitra’s controversial new study summarised in the TES here suggests that self study on the internet can boost a child’s performance by seven years. Basically, 8 and 9 year olds studied GCSE content online before being examined three months later in examination conditions. They were successful. It sounds astounding, but it’s true, at least for the small number of children involved. And actually I don’t think it’s that surprising. To me, this is not a study about the power of the internet. It’s a study about the power of children.

Despite what the traditionalists may tell you, kids teach themselves stuff all the time. And they retain it too. The problem for us as teachers is that too often we don’t find out what it is they know because we have already decided we’ll tell them when we’re ready. And the other is that often the stuff they’ve learned…

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