Most of us teach material that will be assessed in an examination of some form or another, but upcoming changes to GCSEs mean that for all of us the focus on teaching exam technique will become more and more important.

One of the major issues that I’ve found to be holding learners back from excelling at exams is the problem with retention of information after their in-class tests: whilst they may revise and practice for the actual test, their effort in keeping that knowledge fresh or making use of the exam result after it has happened is often disappointing.

The research into how we make memories indicates that it is the process of repeating the learning that causes information to be stored in long term memory, and the practical application of this that feeds those skills into working memory. What we need to be doing then is making the grade scored for each assessment less important that what we learned about the students’ recall and use of those facts to inform both the teaching and the revision strategies.

The first thing to tackle is the initial response of students to your exam marking: for most students the only thing that really matters is seeing that grade. They instantly decide if they’re happy with it or not then completely forget about the exam content, marking it up as a success or failure and moving on. In both cases the act of reducing all that learning down to a simple binary state can mean that students simply repeat the exact process of revision for future assessments without making changes.

One method of doing this is an exam reflection activity. Still go through the questions, still hand out grades, but force the students to actually reflect on what they’ve achieved. One strategy for this is Question Level Analysis: traditionally this involves keeping a record of every mark on every question for every student and using it to inform your teaching of which subject to cover again. This tool is too detailed to be much use with students directly, what works a little better is to group the results of the questions into topics and present percentage grades for each of the topics.

Showing this data directly to the student really allows them to get an understanding for which areas of learning they succeeded in and which areas that they need to improve.

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This is reasonably straightforward to set up in a spreadsheet, demonstrating a simple percentage for each of the areas of learning that the exam covered. It simply allows an overview that works particularly well when used with the following sheet.

Once each exam has been sat, the results returned and you’ve gone through the questions with your group; then going through something like the sheet above will force the students to engage with that so-difficult reflection on how the exam actually went. Please don’t feel that you have to replicate the questions on this sheet by they’re a reasonable attempt (and a fourth iteration) to get students to think about how they could do better from a variety of places.

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Firstly, the WWW and EBI are swapped for What Went Well? And What Went Badly? – the language here is specifically chosen to have more emotional resonance with the student so that they are more likely to value the list of problems. All of this can be informed from the QLA that you have performed and allows the students to not only identify which sections they performed poorly on, but using the remainder of the questions on the page it allows them to identify why and how they can improve.

What we’re basically doing is holding the students’ hands as they move themselves through a process of self evaluation and planning the next stage of their learning.

We’re asking questions about the time they need to use, what techniques they could try, even who amongst their friends and family could help them and how – all of these are techniques that can have impact and are often not used by the weakest students.

One of the most important things at this stage is to set a date for another test on the same topics, so that students can work to a deadline with the improvements they claim to want to make. When the next test happens you can perform the same QLA and reflection activity but the important thing on the second run is to compare this achievement to their previous attempt and make the students accountable for the changes they wanted to make. Celebrate success as much as possible.

By walking the student through the model for self evaluation, self reflection and planning for improvement then students are more likely to start to internalise this process and see the benefits of it. In looking at comparison data between two groups of similar ability over two years, class A that used the traditional methods and class B who used QLA and Reflection you can see that class B had more consistent and refined improvements in their unit-to-unit scores, compared to class B who were more variable and actually seemed to get worse in their exam technique for the first three topics.

This leads me to believe that the techniques of reflection and QLA do work, they’re not quite the be-all and end-all but they do have a noticeable impact on the long term and lead to more consistent results.

This is just the data from two groups though, why not give this a try yourself and report back your findings?

Stop Getting IT Wrong!

Workshop Summary

Digital learning is not something to be scared of or to be worried about.

It’s just learning.

No one called it ‘Pen based learning’ when we moved away from slate tablets, but I’m sure there were a few people reluctant to change their ways, or that didn’t quite ‘get’ the point of pens. In any case, digital learning is here to stay and should be a part of every lesson in some form, if only because it saves you time!

What not to do

We’ve all seen the classic ‘do a PowerPoint’ lesson. *Sigh*. Yes, you know what I’m talking about; it’s the end of term, you’ve got a section of work on something researched based so you say the immortal lines, “Do a PowerPoint on it”… and four weeks later these digital natives have done two slides that make the content appear one letter at a time.

If students *are* digitial natives then should a PowerPoint take four weeks?

Life after Death by PowerPoint

There is life after death by PowerPoint, and it’s all about the amazing things you can do with digital learning. In this workshop we covered my top-tips for getting started:

1. Get over yourself – you will never be as much of an expert in the technology as a student can be because they’ve got unlimited time to learn it. You have to just plan around that and have strategies for finding out: Classroom Genius: find someone in the class who’s the ‘genius’ at the tech you’re using and get them to be the first port of call for non subject specific questions

2. The connected student – they’re being pinged all the time by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Why not leverage the fact they’ve trained themselves to respond quickly to notifications by doing that yourself? Using a tool like edmodo to push out work and ask questions turns simple things into pings that use the same action-reward mechanism that replying to a tweet does; and most importantly, it gets things done!

3. Print on Demand – I’ve covered this in my blog, but essentially it boils down to getting custom printed exercise books so you can force student to improve skills you want them to focus on.

4. Blur your classroom – Use a VLE of some kind for taking in work (I wrote about this in the most recent Teach Secondary magazine) and then mark using your mobile device whenever you’ve got some down time. Stood outside Next waiting for your other half? Whip out that phone and mark one or two. Waiting in the car for the football crowds to let out? Your mobile is your friend for quick marking. This means that your work life balance gets much better because whilst you might be marking more often, you’re doing it in ‘dead’ time and suddenly you don’t need to sit down and mark in an evening anymore.

5. Record a learning dialogue – using many online tools it’s easy to record the feedback and conversations your having about work and display the progress over time to that tricky Ofsted lot. One piece of kit I’m enjoying at the moment is Kaizena [] which allows you to record audio annotation over a Google doc. This is the quickest marking ever because you can highlight a section, click record, then just speak your feedback. Wowzers.

6. Record everything – use the video camera in your phone (or something fancier if you have it) to record anything you think is useful, even yourself. This gives more flexibility in the type of lesson you can teach because if you spend five minutes recording yourself work through a particular exam problem then you can reshow that video almost indefinitely. Take a look at my youTube channel for some more examples of where you can take a lot of the repetition out of your teaching.

7. X-Factor your lessons – Why not use instant poll software like PollEverywhere [] to allow X-Factor style text voting in your lessons. AFL has never been so much fun. It means students can reply anonymously so closed questions work better, but it does have a free text response option which all updates live as a student texts in. Pure magic.

8. Plan for epic fails – so what’s going to happen if the computers don’t work? Make sure you’ve got a second strategy, an offline ‘go-to’ just incase because the very worst thing you can do in a lesson is wait for the IT guys to come along to fix things, you’ll lose your class’ attention almost instantly if they have any downtime, have something to do that requires dead-tree-tech so you can jump to it in an emergency. This doesn’t have to be well planned, just planned.

9. If you use new tech, use it more than once – because let’s face it. You’re probably not a Computing teacher, so if you do us a favour and teach a bit of software use then why not get a good return on your investment? Use the same tech three of four times, at least, which means that students stop asking you how to use it, and ask you what to use it *for*.

10. Sometimes you can do too much – I once had a year 13 student ask me, exasperated, if they could “just do things on paper today sir?”; so please don’t imaging that I expect every lesson to be an all singing, all dancing digital learning machine. No. What I’d like to see is more teachers using tech day-to-day and not worrying about it.

At some point we’ll forget we ever called it digital learning and find the very idea that we differentiated between eLearning and Learning as a bizzare artifact of a bygone era. When even the most old fashioned teacher in the class thinks nothing of slapping on a pair of video-recording glasses and rocking out an epic lesson.

If you’re interested in finding out more then head to my blog or read my book, which coincidentally has the same title as my workshop .

1. There is a time and effort overhead to starting anything new

So work with it. Build it into your planning and do not use the new ‘thing’ just once. It takes time for people to learn to use any new technology, so make sure that you have the time to deal with that before you expect return on your time investment.

2. Make sure that your learning content is prioritised over any cool stuff they want to do with the tech

So their brand new phone will record in 4K resolution that can only be seen by the very richest people in the world with the best TV sets. Who cares? Students who are not engaging with the learning objective as much as they could be often go off into flights of tech fancy, doing weird and wonderful things with it which look impressive, but ask yourself this – is the green screen effect they’re using really relevant to the learning you want them to achieve?

3. Get over yourself

Make peace with the fact that no matter how much of an expert in your discipline or subject, you will never be able to know everything there is to know about all the tech in the world. Even as a Computing teacher I am happy to announce that whilst I don’t know the specifics of how to use every piece of software; I can make some logical estimates of what different functions will do.

If you set the expectation that you’re all learning something cool together and that you’ll use your advanced problem solving skills to help your students out, then no one will be struggling.

4. Replace yourself

People that try out digital learning for the first time feel the pressure of being the sage on the stage more so than any other type of teacher. You have to be teacher, facilitator and tech support for your entire classroom. With this in mind why on earth are you still starting off with your didactic ten-minute scene setting exercise? Get it recorded, get it up on YouTube so that those elements of your lessons can be accessed when the students need them.

If you aim to replace yourself with technology then it frees you up to intervene and help the students that need it, when they need it most.

5. Set expectations

Especially in regards to a hand in date, digital content never quite feels ‘finished’ in the same way that three sides of A4 in your handwriting does, because we can version and edit as much as we want. Make sure students know that there’s a hard hand in date and that they have to achieve it.

6. Don’t fall for it

Don’t take any sob stories about lost memory sticks, Dogs eating hard drives or tablets computers being mistaken for actual tablets. These excuses tend to be easy to roll out, so don’t accept them. Do be fair and patient though, use the exact same expectations and chances you would with any normal piece of work.

7. Don’t use something because it is cool, use it because it is relevant

If you’re trying out a piece of software because it looks cool then chances are that the learning in the lesson becomes less about your topic and more about the software itself. That’s not to say that students don’t appreciate a little of the ‘shiny’ to get them over the barrier of using something new, but don’t rely on it as the catalyst of a fun lesson. A good teacher, with well-developed content can be augmented by shiny new tech. Shiny new tech cannot make up for poor resources, lax planning or a dud lesson.

8. Be positive about it

Okay, so a computer has died and you’ve got three students sharing a laptop. Don’t be negative about it. In the same way that’d you hate the game and not the player, you have to hate the fact things break and not the broken thing. Never whinge or moan about poor resources in front of the students because they will see your annoyance with the tech as an excuse to blame an inability to work on the rubbish tech.

9. Use the tool more than once

Whatever you do, do it more than once. If you’re going o al the fuss of teaching something new and exciting rather than relying on traditional educational resources, then at least get some longevity and return out of it. Repeat the use of the tech as much as you can and your students will impress you by showing you the variety of exciting and interesting ends they can get to with the means, if they only have time to learn how.

10. Encourage creative use of the tech

Do not reward the student who has stuck a bit of word art on a page and found some daft pictures to go on it. Reward the creative, innovative and fluent use of the tech. In the same way that you’re unmoved by a student who does the bare minimum of writing for homework, yet laud praise on the student who writes their own sonnet using a quill and ink, do not pour rewards for doing the bare minimum. If you encourage going above-and-beyond then they are more likely to do it again as they know you appreciate quality work.

Since I’ve turned to the dark side, and been developing A-Level resources for Python, I thought I’d take a stab at putting some of the more important syntax into poster form so that I can distribute them around the classroom. They cover a basic syntax of everything you’d need up to, and including, using lists as if they were arrays (I know!).

So far there are four posters, I’ve got them in my RedBubble shop if you’d like to buy them and support me. It’ll also brighten up your classroom considerably!

python-thumb-01python-thumb-03  python-thumb-02 python-thumb-04

Buy on Red Bubble Basics, Selection, Iteration, Arrays

I’m sure that some of you remember my post from last year: Print on demand for better Learning, where I explained the thinking behind my efforts to produce custom exercise books for my post-16 Computing students. Well, after a year of use and some very interesting impacts on teaching and learning we decided that it would be worth rolling a tweaked version of this out to the rest of our groups.

As such I have created a custom exercise book that both allows students to take notes in the Cornell style, as well as summarise and mark the notes; all this and target setting, planning, recording and analysis assessment have been incorporated into the exercise book. In short what we’ve got here is a generic, any-subject, any-level exercise book that focuses students and improves teaching and learning.

Please feel free to buy a copy from amazon (only £3.99) or download the PDF versions of all the files to construct your own, remembering that you must credit this site if you are using any of my materials, and then only non-commercially. Anyway, on with the blog post.

Lesson Learned from Version 1

There were a number of things we learned as a result of last year’s trial of the custom exercise books:

  1. Students needed more pages and flexibility for keeping notes
  2. Students needed simpler summaries of assessments
  3. Students needed more structure to planning and evidencing revision
  4. The self reflection and analysis contained too many similar questions
  5. A specific book per unit of work was a little too much faff
  6. We needed room to add marking comments
  7. Students needed a checklist of some kind before hand in
  8. Quality of the books needed to improve whilst cost needed to be reduced
  9. Use fewer explanatory or pre-printed pages as students just didn’t read them
  10. It needed to include the deeper questioning grid to allow use each and every lesson


This year rather than do all that work in Photoshop, illustrator and Word (as I had done last year) I decided to just bite the bullet and use InDesign, I’d been teaching myself how to use it in order to write my tl;dr books so felt pretty adept at this. Using InDesign meant that much of my hard work from last year seemed a bit pointless and crazy as industry standard software is just so much more refined at doing this layout malarky.

I started with going for the biggest size that was still affordable to have printed, selecting the US Paper size which allows more room for content. Working on the cover first and following the style of before, but with more generic content: such as the blank box for lesson, name, etc. on the cover. I then added the deeper questioning grid to the back, reasoning that this on a glossy cardboard surface would allow us to use whiteboard markers on them when using the grids.

ExerciseBookGenericCover  deeperQuestioning Download the PDF

The next step was the front page, because this would be an odd page on its own I decided to use it to hold targets and summaries of assessments. This made the design choices easier and cheaper as I wasn’t wasting resources including an enormous copyright page, the page here holds potential summaries for 8 units which is more than we usually cover in one particular unit of work but allows it to be used by many different groups.

 Download the PDF

The next stage was to get into the nitty-gritty of what I wanted the note pages to look like, in using a larger size this meant that I could keep all the aspects of the previous notes pages that worked so successfully: the lines pages, the Cornell sidebars, the summary areas, date and title sections. In going that extra mile to improve this the new size actually gives us more written space than before. I added a RAG rating to each page for difficulty means that students can, at a glance, see which pages need revising more than others. The top also contains a ‘type of learning’ box so we can identify classwork, project work and homework for work scrutiny purposes. Finally there’s an area to identify if this is self, peer or teacher assessment to engage students with assessment in different ways.

At the bottom of the page we now have a finished-page checklist, so students can check they’ve done everything before they hand in a book for marking, a key for our Literacy and numeracy marking policy and areas for What-Went-Wells, Even-Better-Ifs and a response from the student. Making these a double page spread means that the space can be used more effectively.

NotePages NotePages2 Download the PDF

Rather than doing what I did last year, and trying to estimate how many pages students need per topic, I made it more generic and ‘classic exercise book’ style by sticking in 100 pages worth of this layout, plenty for any student to write notes on most subjects.

The next step was to produce the Revision planning, logging and assessment reflection pages. Again, 8 of these were added at the back in order to ensure that students could go through a complete revision exercise to practice this skill and evidence what they have done. The revision plan was split into a more specific table layout that asks the students to describe the type of revision methodology being used from our standard taxonomy, this was joined by a more generic week planner so students can demonstrate thought as to when and what they’ll revise.

Of course, once they’ve planned revision they’ll presumably go and do it. To check this a page of revision logging is presented, in a new more specific table format that once again uses the revision taxonomy to push the students to revise in an effective manner. At the end we ask the student to summarise and WWW, EBI the actual revision they’ve done so that we can review it after the exam.

Assessment reflection follows a very similar pattern to before, with fewer, more differentiated leading questions and opportunities to force students to reflect upon their achievement and produce a plan of action. Student would then be asked to fill out the overview summary at the start of the book.

AssessmentPrepLogReview AssessmentPrepLogReview2 AssessmentPrepLogReview3 Download PDF

So, one more page to go. Last year the calendar was extremely useful, but if this is to be as generic as possible and be less work to create next year then I can’t have year specific pages. In thinking this through I realised that what students really want is to be able to write down key dates rather than having an actual calendar, thus I went for a much more generic, box based design so that they can be reused year-to-year.

KeydateCalendar Download PDF


If you’ve read my previous article then you’ll know that I’ve previously used to print this stuff, which is great because they allow you to create projects that don’t necessarily have to be for sale everywhere and meet a load of guidelines. However, the quality of their paper is not quite as nice as that from amazon’s createspace and me being a bit of a stationery snob decided that it would be nice to have better paper for the student’s notes. This has benefits and drawbacks: the benefits being that the cost was reduced slightly, now coming in at £2.99 rather than over £3 as before, but because createspace is designed for publicly available books sold through Amazon you need to adhere to a number of guidelines in producing the document. This is the reason the phrase ‘Exercise Book’ exists on the cover as the title of the book being on the cover is a requirement of the createspace process.

However, after all that and getting the samples ordered I ended up with a beautiful exercise book that does all I wanted it to do, then we got the full order in.

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Is it worth it?

Well, I’d say so. The difference we saw in the quality of both notes and revision last year was astonishing; and that was with a first attempt at streamlining the process of students making notes and reflecting on assessments.

It’s got to be better than buying 50 books of lined paper and expecting the students to organise themselves. It’s got to be better than expecting students to make their own plans with no guidance. It’s got to be better than giving papers back and asking them to think about what they needed to do better.

Yes, it’s much more expensive than bog standard exercise books but the beauty of this is that with a small investment of time and a little more money you can have books that are personal and specific to the way you teach, mark and reflect.

If the time investment’s too much for you then please just buy a few copies of mine and give that a go – at £3.99 a go it’s probably not there for the hundreds of people in your KS3 classes but it’s certainly affordable for KS4/KS5. Give it a go!

If you make your own let me know how you got on, I’d love to publish other examples here.

At #TMCotham last night I delivered a very well received 5-minute presentation, all about the best investment I ever made into the teaching and learning in my department. So what was it that I spent that fateful £30 on that really changed things for us?

Amazon link to buy the glasses

What Was I Looking For?

It was about a year ago and I was looking to stock up on a few more digital cameras, because whilst it is fine and groovy to have students use their own devices to record video on; it does also flag up a few embarrassing situations when you’re trying to get that video off their device and the student’s entire photo collection is visible for a few seconds. To get around that I’ve always kept a cache of relatively inexpensive (£100) point-and-shoot cameras around, but these had been breaking and it was time to get more.

The problem is that these are actually quite a large investment of capitation if you want any more than one or two, to get five it would be the best part of £500 and the quality wouldn’t be what the students are expecting.

I’d also been waiting patiently for Google Glass to find its way to the UK. I’ve got vision with this one, imagine a future where teachers are specced out with Google Glass and student face recognition technology: imagine seeing a student in the corridor and Google Glass silently displaying an overlay of the student’s data in your eye line as you talk – the implications would be amazing!

Anyway, whilst searching Amazon for cameras I suddenly had a bright idea and searched for ‘video recording glasses’.

Amazon link to buy the glasses

I immediately bought one, getting a 16gb TF card to use with it for £35 all in. This rocked. Firstly, it’s a fifth of the price of a generic, half-decent point-and-shoot digital camera, secondly it will allow for POV recording. So they took a bit of time to come but they worked wonders when they arrived. If so then I could get five of these for the price of a single point-and-shoot!

Why Care?



As you can see from this sample recording GIF it works really well for getting a student to record and explain a sample of their work. This example is from a group project where I’ve asked the group leaders to go and interview the members of the group to explain what they’ve achieved, how they met the marking criteria and discussing improvements that they should be making.

That’s amazing because now when I’m marking a group project I really can just sit down with the group leader and review their footage, this gives us more opportunity to review the learning, be honest and reflective and set more exciting targets than we would otherwise. It also serves as an implicit record of the achievement of students in your lesson and we’re certainly going to be showing that to Ofsted!

It also works really nice to watch bits of this footage as a class at the end, seeing clips of a group over the six lesson project go from strength to strength is highly motivational and the students really love having an X-factor style ‘best bits’ montage at the end of a project.

No Screen = No Vanity

Have you ever sent a group of students off with a normal digital camera to record something? They’re gone for an hour and come back with five minutes of poor footage, mainly because they’re busy watching, reviewing and deleting any video that’s not Hollywood standard. They never are Hollywood standard.

That doesn’t matter to us, but to the students it’s horrific and they’ll spend hours reshooting a five minute video because someone laughed, or someone’s hair looks awful or maybe just because they aren’t happy with the way they sound.

This is a distraction to the point of the video recording task, when you use a pair of video recording glasses then students don’t get to see the footage before you do, they can’t delete anything and so what you get is a full stream of consciousness recording. Much better for most purposes.

They also work better to melt away into the background, no one’s standing around unnaturally holding a camera for all to see and act up to, someone’s just wearing slightly naff glasses and students soon forget that they’re being recorded. It’s a completely different experience and because of that I thought it might be useful elsewhere.

Lesson Observations

8odneSo we bought another one. With two at my disposal I snuck them into lesson observations, and they worked a treat. Ever tried to record a lesson observation? The students act even stranger than if there’s just a member of senior leadership in the room! Not so with our video recording glasses, and better than that you get a pupil’s eye view of the lesson so you can really see what they get up to whilst you’re running around being inspiring.

One of the things that works for us is using Final Cut Pro X on the Macs to edit these two videos into one so that you can give different pairs of the glasses to different ability students. It’s very difficult to argue against the need for differentiation by task when you see for yourself the different abilities and actions of two very different learners.

Where it works well is for observations of long lesson in departments, the batteries last about an hour and a half, good enough for most lessons. We take the footage, edit it like in the gif above and simply all sit down together and watch it back: fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding as we see fit. The important thing is the conversation, it turns a lesson observation into a real-time coaching event and you can have some fantastically productive conversations to improve teaching and learning without struggling to remember what was going on.


Video recording glasses are brilliant, because:

  • It’s a cheaper way of getting video recording into your classroom
  • The only way to watch the video is with a USB cable into your computer, so no one can delete or review the footage until you say so
  • It allows students to naturally record work and progress
  • They are much more subtle than traditional cameras and so allow observations and pupil work recording with more natural behaviour
  • Footage is high definition with great audio so we can watch it back in our teams and have useful coaching style conversations about the teaching and learning happening
  • It implicitly records pupil progress

I’d really recommend giving it a go!

I was lucky enough to be asked to discuss the topic of Coding in Schools with John Darvall on BBC Radio Bristol today, I think it nicely explains the importance of coding whilst contextualising it in the continuum of learning.

If you’d like to listen you can either go to the BBC iPlayer (within 7 days) and fast forward to about 2hrs 37minutes, or download the MP3 recording of my appearance.

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It’s my penultimate sarcastic article for this term, where today I’m looking at something very familiar to a lot of us. It’s very pertinent

Sharing Large Files without Killing your Inbox

I get this a lot, I am forever having to wander over to the IT support guys, cap in hand, with a tear in my eye to beg for a bit more inbox space because someone’s emailed me a 1.2Gb video file and now I can’t actually send or receive any other email. Now with most emailing this isn’t usually a problem, if you’re sending messages across the interwebs then you tend to get an error and you rethink your strategy. but when an email goes across an internal system – like most of us have – then we can end up with us using email as a file storage area.


Sending any file larger than a few megabytes via email. If it’s getting above 4Mb do please have a think if there’s an easier way to do it. This could be a video, a zip archive of all the work for Y11 or just a REALLY huge PowerPoint file. Regardless, it fills my inbox with files that I sort of need but also are ridiculously huge.


I’ve just finished recording a lesson observation with my iPad, I’ve saved the file to my computer and I want to send it to one of my colleagues for a critique. Great! Very forward thinking! But there’s one problem, how do I get this file to them? I suppose I could stick it on a memory stick and walk down but come on! We live in the 21st Century so I’m going to send it through the internet.

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So how best to do this? Well all other files I send by attaching them to an email. That’ll work right? Yeah, there we go, it took a while to attach it but now I click send and… boom! Done!


The biggy is that you email dissapears into the ether, it’s far too big. Your recipient never sees it and sometimes doesn’t know they should be expecting it so you might as well not have bothered.

Or, you could be more unfortunate and you end up clogging up some poor person’s mailbox with your huge file sizes. This means that person’s having to scour their emails for the ones with the biggest attachments that they can delete lust so they can send and receive messages again.

These files take ages to upload and download again, fill up massses of bandwidth that we could be using for other things and sit, unloved, taking up space in our email for an age.

If you ever need to move email providers then copying over these huge files will be a massive problem! They may not even transfer over. (Guess what we’re doing on Friday?)

There’s also another issue in that people start relying on their email client as a place to store their large files. People often moan that they’ve run out of space on their email server but have several emails of a huge size that they ‘need to keep’. If it’s that important to you make sure you download the file and save it somewhere!


Okay a few choices here. First always check the size of the file you’re trying to attache before you click send, you can do this very easily in Windows. Right click on the file and go to properties, if the files is bigger than 3Mb then consider using one of the other methods.

If it’s a file you need to send then consider using one of the websites that deals with sending big files between people, a site such as will let you upload your large file and get a link to it sent to the intended recipient. This is great because I still get it in email, but the file is just presented as a link. Fantastic!

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There is a problem there too though, because as great as that is we can’t guarantee that emailing sensitive information is being done within our data protection regulations. One thing to look at would be in using your school’s Google drive account; you just log in with your school email and password and can upload and share a file. Even better here because we’re using our school’s own system so we should be on safer ground with transmitting sensitive data.

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Have a good think about the format though, in our example the video would be sent just to be watched. We don’t particularly need the person to keep the video so where do we normally go to watch videos reliably online? YouTube is your answer here; you can upload and secure a youtube video in the same way you can a Google drive document, if you’re using your Google apps for schools login then this is even better as you can share it with people just on your domain. It won’t show up in searches, no one will accidentally stumble across it but you can share the file in an efficient and easy manner with your colleague.

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Above is a real example of our department’s secure storage of recorded observations, shared only with the oberver and observee so they can be referred to if needed.


If you’re using your inbox as a storage area for coursework submission, important files or the like then make sure you move those things out of your inbox and onto your local folder as soon as you can! If you need to have a certain set of files available to you at all times you may need to look at a solution like Dropbox or OneDrive (i.e. SkyDrive) or even using the Google Drive sync application with your Google apps for schools log in. Just remember that if you are keeping files in the cloud that you should be careful about sensitive files and data going outside of your School’s data protection policies. Using their provided tech, like Skydrive or Google drive usually makes this a bit safer.


One of the worst things you can do is email huge files to people. It’s pretty much the same as, for a laugh, ordering a shed to be delivered to someone who lives in a flat because they once expressed an interest in gardens. It’s not neccesarily a bad thing to do. but it reeks of bad taste.

So please stop and think, if your attachement is taking a long time to attach then is it too big? Is there a better way to send your file?

There probably is. If not then you’re getting IT wrong, and you probably need my book…


Welcome again to the always sarcastic, sometimes helpful, weekly whinge about people getting things wrong in IT. This week I’m taking a bit of a break from moaning because I think that I managed to adequately vent in last week’s monster 3200 word article (thanks for the positive feedback by the way), so instead I’m tackling something a bit more fun. Cool stuff that you can use!

Why not try?

There are loads of great online tools to help you with your teaching and learning, here are just a sampling of some of my favourites which will let you get immediately improved engagement and reduce your workload significantly, all whilst being free!

1. The Differentiator

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Based at this website is all you need to create useful, differentiated learning objectives which include all the hard work like suggesting the Bloom’s taxonomy command words to use, suggesting a series of tasks for you (meaning that you can do things other than PowerPoints and Posters!) and even suggesting types of content that you can set. This is suitable for any subject lesson and not just one in a computer room.

You can customise it to your hearts content so it works just as well for me setting a target about floating point arithmetic, as it does the Art department setting work about David Hockney.

I love it, you’ll love it, and it takes a lot of the hard work out of setting a bunch of differentiated objectives than if you were simply typing them up by hand.


2. Edmodo

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I’m sure most people know about this, but edmodo ( is fast becoming my favourite online tool. It’s basically a much neater way of doing a VLE, and I’ve gone from being a complete Moodle fascist to becoming a bit cold on Moodle to the point where I think it’s not really suitable for purpose anymore.

If you want to collect and mark work online, set homework, quizzes, assignments and engage your students in a meaningful and straightforward learning dialogue then you can do so quite easily through edmodo with minimal fuss. It’s free to sign up for and use and, I feel, matches the style of a normal classroom lesson much better than any VLE ever has before.

What I like most about it is the fact that it is built for the Facebook generation, with plenty of notifications and a timeline of events so if you set work then all the students in your class get emails to tell them. If work is submitted to you then you get notified too! It’s got a great mobile app – when my car broke down the other day I was able to set work using edmodo from the side of the road and even marked a few before I got in.

If you’ve tried VLEs (like Moodle) before, and not been that excited by it then edmodo is for you.


3. Bloom’s Stems Question Generator

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Available from the John Cabot Academy Moodle page ( and using the Lesson Toolkit menu button gives you buttons for all the question stems from Bloom’s taxonomy. When I’m questioning students in lessons I will use these to select random question stems and construct questions based on the ability of the student I am asking.

This takes a lot of the fuss out of having to remember all of the Bloom’s Questions whilst allowing you to develop your questioning skills to mastery level. It also allows students to create their own questions of differing levels with little prompting, they love the random nature of it and if the question isn’t perfectly appropriate to the situation then just click the button again. Score.


4. LessonNote

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LessonNote ( is an iPad app that allows you to make a meticulous record of your lesson observation. I love this, nearly enough to pay for the premium version but the free version is ace, you start a timer and then every note you take about the lesson is timestamped. This gives you a clear record of what happened in the observation when you’re discussing or feeding back with colleagues. As well as this you’ve got the ability to take pictures, create seating plans, make note of transitions between types of learning activity and even reference the students directly in your notes.

This is the number one tool in my lesson observation arsenal, it really allows you to engage with the learning in the lesson and have a copious log of what happened to review later when you create the write up. It’s also a really nice document to refer back to and remind yourself of everything that happened in the lesson even when circumstances conspire to schedule the feedback for a few days later.



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This brilliant browser based tool ( allows you or your students to create those fantastic infographics without fuss, and end up with extremely professional end results. We had tried to incorporate inforgraphics into our lessons for a long time before we discovered how easily this website could be used to engage students with the dryer facts and figures that they need to learn in our lessons.

This is great for visualising analysis of exam results, showing students population or PSHE data, or even looking at stats for characters in a book being analysed. It’s great for us as Educators to knock up an interesting visual aid with minimal fuss, helping engage our students and even allowing for some implicit differentiation for students with literacy or numeracy difficulties. Students also have a lot of fun in building this sort of thing, because it’s a nice creative way to display understanding – and they’ve very popular on the inter webs so have a bit of geek-chich too.


So there we go, five interesting tools that may be worth a punt over the next few weeks. Give them a look, spend ten minutes with them and see if they’re something you’d like to use in your lessons – if so then great, if not then don’t be put off because there’s an entire internet of content there for you to use as you see fit!


This week I’ve been inundated with messages from colleagues who see the standard of emails being poor. Not from students, no – from other staff! You may have picked up on the passive aggressive undertones to previous articles on email behaviour from me; that this is one of my biggest pet peeves, I get so much email in a day that I see poor practice that would make your hair fall out (that’s my excuse anyway) so let’s try and address a number of issues.
This is a longer article than normal, and outside of my usual format – but for the best, I hope.

How to Write an Email like an Adult

One of the big problems with electronic communication is that whilst most of us were taught how to write a letter when we were at school, very few of us are of the age that we were taught to write an email. This is a problem for the way we communicate with each other, because most people have learned to communicate electronically with their friends using Facebook or text messages and now we’re sending messages to other professionals that make us sound like we’re about fourteen.
Worse still is that we’re showing this poor practice when we communicate with the students, and guess what? Not only do they think that type of communication is okay and replicate your behaviours but they don’t even think you’re cool because you can finish a sentence with LOL! What they think is that you’re trying to be hip. Guys, as Huey Lewis says – It’s hip to be square – so let’s tighten up our email style and demonstrate this practice to the students.


1. Use a descriptive subject line

One thing that makes me want to scream is people that send email without a subject line. Why would you do that? You know we’re all busy. If you’ve not adequately described your email in a short sentence beforehand then when I’m scanning which email to action next by title alone then yours is likely to be ignored. I’ve grown fascist in my own ways and students who send me emails without a subject line get the following message from me:

Which is very sarcastic, but you know me by now. The students do too. I will not action anything they have sent me unless they can be bothered to write me a proper email. Unfortunately you can’t really do that with staff…
It’s also worth remembering that the subject line of your email shouldn’t be the content of your email. If you send a message to a group of people with the message in the subject then in most cases, and most email programs, will just cut off your message half way through. Because of this titles should be short and sharp, with the content (however little it is) in the main body of the email itself. It certainly helps those of us with mobile devices as otherwise we can only see the first five or six words of the title.



2. Spell check your email

This was the one thing that colleagues hammered me with email about. People do not check their email for spelling before they send it. It’s really simple to do too. Click the spell check button, then you change any problems. In most email clients you can even force this to happen when you click send, so that you always have a nice spell checked email going out. Check the preferences of your email client and set this up as soon as you can, then you’ll look less like a prat when people are reading your hastily written emails.


3. Fonts

Arial. Size 12. Done.
Seriously though, you’re a professional so think very hard about your choice of font, colour and style for your communication. People read a lot into your presentation of your communication and if you’ve got size 20, bright green comic sans text then I immediately jump to the conclusion that you think you’re being cute and don’t know a thing about professionalism. Fonts are a very subjective thing so it’s best to stick to something that’s easy to read and looks professional. Fonts like Helvetica or Arial are great for reading on a screen as their lack of serifs (the pointy bits) make them look better on normal computer screens than fonts like Times New Roman.
It’s one thing to send a charming, overly bright, layout to very, very young children but as soon as someone becomes discerning this splattering of your personality becomes grating; especially if you’re not a design expert. Does the style reflect the content of the email? Imagine receiving a notice of expulsion in bright pink Comic Sans. They style implies a lot. What of other professionals receiving these emails from you? Do you think they appreciate having to claw through all the animated gifs and bright red text for the important technical information you’re sending them? The answer can be seen by every book ever written because you never see a professionally published book that’s written in comic sans.


You might be wondering about our students with additional needs. Isn’t a fun font better to engage them? Shouldn’t we make the font huge just in case they can’t see it properly? Well first of all, what you consider a ‘fun’ font can be interpreted in a lot of ways; comic sans, for instance, can be seen as demeaning and derogatory to students with learning difficulties because “that’s a kid’s font”. There’s also no need to set your font to a ridiculous size because you’re concerned about people with visual or reading issues being able to access your content. This is a computer. Students with those issues should easily be able to turn on the accessibility features of the operating system and zoom in or colour overlay things themselves. The key thing for you is that the font is sensible and readable, don’t concern yourself with the size because they can sort that out for themselves!

3. Write it like a letter

Because it is. Email. Electronic Mail. It’s meant to be just an electronic delivery system for letters, so if you’re writing a letter make the slightest of nods to the format you should be adhering to. Do not write it all on a single line, don’t launch straight into it and do not every simply not even bother writing your name on it. These minor deviations from the message you are trying to deliver turns an informal email into one to take notice of, it gives you enough time and breathing space to process it as well as it being seen much more like a communication that matters.
Our students and our peers are trained to see most electronic text based communication as transient, what forms of communication tend to be massively informal and inconsequential? Facebook chat? Text messages? Yeah, and neither of those is written like a letter. Centuries of work on the letter writing format shouldn’t be lost because we’ve stopped using pens, it’s like that for a reason: to encourage the reader to engage with the text and understand the weight and importance of the message. As educators we need to model these behaviours and styles to students and colleagues who are being bombarded with the most informal text based communication they can get, by doing this we can help to support literacy and keep our culture alive for another generation.
Start with a greeting (salutation), Hello, Dear Sir, whatever – a nice friendly one is ‘Hi David’, a sterner one could be ‘Students’, and a proper formal one could be ‘Dear Mr. Morgan’. Whatever you decide is appropriate for the situation make sure you do it, launching straight into an email makes you look more like you couldn’t be bothered rather than the honest truth which is that you were rushing. The greeting is a great place to engage your reader because they can tell how personal the email is, writing ‘Hi Johnny’ at the top of an email let’s Johnny know that this is specifically for him and not just a mass email to your class.
Write the content in paragraphs, make sure it reads properly and makes sense. It’s this bit that holds the content that you are communicating so make it good.
Finally, end with a polite closing so that the person reading it knows that you have finished and that they can ignore your enormous signature bit, you know, the bit with all the quotes in it? A polite closing can be ‘Regards’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Peace out’ – whatever, just make sure it’s appropriate to the person you’re sending it to. You wouldn’t say ‘Love and Hugs’ to your boss, or (hopefully) not to that Year 8 class on a Friday.

4. Is it really urgent?


If your email isn’t really an urgent matter than needs to be dealt with there and then or else someone could die, then why not leave that urgent button alone?
Please. Leave it alone.
Only ever use it in a real urgent situation: for instance, I went to print something for a meeting and suddenly my pinter was out of ink. I needed that print out for the meeting desperately so I sent the email to reprographics using the urgent tag and lo and behold it was done for me. Urgently. That’s what that button should be for, not for every single email you send.
It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf, if you make every email, no matter how inane, seem to be ‘Urgent’ then when you do have cause to send an urgent email people will ignore it. If we over use the urgent tag then it loses all its power.
So think; is it really urgent?

5. Signatures

I know my email signature is a bit daft, but you know what – it’s concise and is obviously different from the rest of my message. Is yours? Most people’s email signature is a list of contact details, a pretentious quote about something-or-other and then a reminder not to print out the email to save the environment. Seriously, who prints out an email? What are they, insane? You’re wasting space there – you really are – all your signature really needs to be is some offline contact details just in case the person you’re conversing with has to make immediate contact with you or can’t seem to get an email message to go through.
Is your quote relevant? Will anyone receiving a message from you think anything else other than “well, THAT’S pretentious” – because that’s not the opinion you want to elicit from anyone when you’re asking them to do you a favour or turn in homework. I’m naturally pretentious but I don’t use signature quotes for that very reason. Well, I say that, but I once used “See, I can have a pretentious footer quote too” – David Morgan, as mine. But it was probably offensive.
Look at it this way; is your email signature bigger than most of the emails you’re sending out at the moment? When you look through your sent items is a sentence of content being overwhelmed by fifty lines of interesting and amusing quotes? Finally here, DO NOT put your email address in your signature. If they’re received an email from you then it’s hard coded into the email itself and they’ve already got it!


6. Textspeak

 You are likely not a fifteen-year-old girl. So why would you write like one? Sure, the odd LOL can slip out when we’re writing because we probably use it a lot in text messages, but it’s not appropriate to use every line in an email.
LOL, by the way, means Laugh Out Loud (not lots of love) and is an interesting societal tick as it doesn’t actually mean “I just laughed at that” – it’s really a nice concise way of illustrating that you recognise something is funny without having to say so. I like LOL, it’s got a real world function not filled by anything else in the virtual world.
What about shortening words? O rly? w8 a sec. This is infuriating, it really is. The only reason that we invented textspeak was because we had to fit entire sentences into the 120-something character limit of a single text message, when that disappeared it was habit, but still quicker when you were typing on one of those old phone keyboards. No one I know really uses textspeak any more because now we have full keyboards on our phones, and certainly if you’re sat in front of a full keyboard you have no excuse for not typing the words out properly.
My Dad does though. My father. Mr Morgan senior. Because he thinks that’s cool.
That’s what you look like when you use textspeak, someone trying too hard to be cool. Ignoring the fact that if you use it you’re modelling a behaviour that we’re all trying to suppress in schools for literacy reasons. If it’s a proper email, one worth writing, then just tap out the extra few letters because you’re not really saving any time, all you are doing is making yourself look like you can’t write a correct sentence.
We’re professionals, communicating with other professionals, members of the public and modelling best practice behaviour for students. We need to show that in every way, especially with the language we use in our communications.
You have dignity and respect. You don’t want impressionable people to think that you are stupid.


7. Sending files

I’ve covered this in

previous articles

, but sending files in an email is a bit of an art. Size and type of attachment are important, most emails over 2Mb in size do not reach their recipients as they’re too big so sort that out first, the type is important because if you don’t select carefully then the recipient may not be able to open the file at all. One thing I would remind you is that if you’re sending a file then you still need to add some content to the email itself, even if you’re just saying “Here’s that file you asked for”, because that’s just courtesy. You probably wouldn’t drop a file on someone’s desk without popping a sticky note on it to say it was from you, so make sure you do the same with email.

8. Quick emails

 I can see the rolling eyes from here. You’ll be thinking ‘well, that’s all well and good for him, but I’m busy, sometimes I don’t have time to write a full email’ and yes, fair enough, I’ve sometimes been tapping a keyboard as I’ve been trying to leave the room for a meeting. It does happen. There are there solutions to this:
* Take your time, if an email’s worth sending then it’s worth writing well.
* Write it on your mobile device and send it from there, you can always do a draft on your phone and tidy it up later if you need to.
* Apologise up front, “Sorry, having to send this quick. Can you send me that data please? “ – because then I know you’re rushing and will happily forgive you many of the sins expressed in this article.

9. Elipses, Symbols and Smileys

 What’s an ellipses? Well … is an ellipses. Highlight it. It’s a single character. What it is not is three full stops. Or four. Or five. Email shouldn’t replicate the pauses you make in natural conversation because that’s what a comma is for. An ellipses should represent you trailing off as if to make a point and should be used sparingly, if you litter your email with ellipses then your message reads like thinking is a little difficult for you. If you want to use an ellipses then do so; but please use the correct symbol and not three full stops! To get to the ellipses simply press alt + 0133 on windows, or alt + ; on a Mac.

There are myriad other symbols that people misuse, from the type of Quote marks they use, to replacing the word ‘at’ with an @ symbol. It’s even possible to include the degree (°) symbol really easily, in Windows have a look through the character map before you try and make up similar looking symbols because we’re striving for accuracy, and you have a wealth of symbols at your disposal. They all have a meaning and a use. Why not check out this brilliant guide to symbols on the computer to become as Picky and pernickety with it as I am!

Exclamation marks are another thing. This symbol ! means that you’ve exclaimed something, you’re making a big deal of it. Four of them makes it seem like you’re trying to make something seem more exciting than it is. You only need one exclamation mark. Please, just the one.
Smileys are great for expressing emotion in a message, a quick 😉 illustrates that you were joking or trying to be amusing, but just like textspeak if you over use them then they come across as you trying too hard to be cool. I know you use emoji and smileys when you’re texting, and you probably spam Facebook with them, but use them sparingly when conversing with colleagues and more so when using electronic communication with students. That way a smiley has more impact, it isn’t just noise in a message to be ignored because ‘Miss always uses smileys’. We also implicitly teach students what a formal email looks like so they don’t start emailing their future bosses with things like “not coming in today, am ill ;p’. Would you try doing that with your Principal?
Also, try not to use the poo emoji. It’s very hard to forget once you’ve seen it.

10. Proof reading

 The number one thing you can do before you click that send button is re-read your email. Does it make sense? Does it read properly to you? Proof reading is not really an IT based skill, but it’s something you should do because email is such a quick way to respond to someone that you can benefit from slowing down a little and checking that you’re sending what you want to send. More than this, it’ll give you time to reflect if your angry and intensely sarcastic rebuttal to something was warranted or if you’re simple feeling tech-rage. There’s nothing worse than ending up in an email argument simply because you didn’t proof read your email and it sounded angrier than you meant it to.


So, that’s it. That’s most of all there is to being a professional when your using digital, text-based communication systems. Especially if you’re working with email, students and colleagues; because your electronic persona is summarised more succinctly in the presentation and style of your written communication than ever in today’s world. It’s much better to sound a bit more formal and well thought out than the general populace because, It is hip to be square.

If you’re still treating email like a text message then you’re getting I.T. wrong. And if you are then maybe

you need my book

. Which is good because

it’s on sale

and was

recently reviewed by Teach Secondary magazine