Improving Learning and Managing Emotions

A roundup of a few fairly random pieces today.

“I couldn’t sit in front of a desk and concentrate for more than a minute. But when I was learning to dance, my attention was focused for hours.”

– Dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.


With yesterday’s 3D Eye post in mind – on public versus private schools – if you have half an hour to spare have a look at this video of Professor Dylan Wiliam speaking at The Schools Network Annual Conference

In it he tells his audience that, controlling for social class, pupils taught in classes of 25 in state schools do better than pupils taught in classes of 15 in private schools. Which simply means that pupils from similar socio-economic backgrounds do better in state schools than they do in private schools.

Prof Wiliam then goes on to reiterate, as he’s done for very many years, that formative assessment is the key to improving learning and teaching. Students must be made aware of what they need to do in order to improve or to move onward in any area of their learning. Teachers must ‘mark’ pupils’ work formatively rather than summatively. Giving grades and scores does not help – either for the less able or the most able pupils


Regarding professional development for teachers, there are two key elements to consider.

1. Choice
Every teacher’s path to improvement will be different. Just like the pupils.

2. Flexibility
We can have a number of improvement strategies, but every teacher must translate them into practice in their own classroom in their own way.

Prof Wiliam goes on to say,

Teachers are the most important variable in the system.

They must continuously improve on their previous personal best.

It’s very hard to change teachers’ habits. Teaching is a difficult and sometimes impossible job. You have to stop teachers doing good things in order to give them time to do better things. Each teacher must choose what they’re going to work on and improve – slowly but steadily.


Something for contemplation and reflection – quotations from Einstein, via the “A Grateful Man” blog:


Some interesting thoughts from Montrose42’s Blog:


Well the simple fact is that we are indeed doing pretty badly on the Pisa ratings – though this isn’t to say that our schools are necessarily bad or that education in England is failing to improve. It all depends on what you’re trying to measure.

We should keep in mind Einstein’s belief that “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything that one learned in school.”

It’s indisputable that more and more pupils are achieving 5 GCSE passes at grades A to C, and our secondary teachers have striven mightily to raise standards of attainment. The question remains, however – so what? If this means that more young people can go on to higher education, then good. If, on the other hand, those test scores have been attained as a result of narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the tests and exams, failing to nurture creativity and imagination, failing to develop other crucial intelligences (personal, social, emotional, spiritual, etc), failure to develop a love of learning for its own sake – then not so good. In fact, not good at all.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one crammed into one’s head in order to pass examinations.

Hopefully what remains is the ability to solve problems, to think critically, constructively, creatively and imaginatively, to collaborate and communicate effectively, to want to go on learning throughout life, and so on.

Pisa sets out to measure whether young people can apply learning in practical, real-life contexts of problem-solving, etc. Surely this is far more important than whether pupils have been successfully crammed to get high marks in timed examinations that are no more than a test of students’ ability to recall various bits of information, and their ability to show their understanding of various concepts used in science, maths, technology, geography, etc?

So the question still remains – why are pupils better-educated for life and for work  in places such as Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai? And do we really care enough to find out and to begin to transform our own system of education?


Some interesting thoughts on the benefits and hazards of social media, in a blog written by Professor Tracey Dennis of the Psychology Department and the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Doctoral Program at Hunter College, The City University of New York.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Are Social Media Anti-Social?

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being a panel member for a debate at the UN on social media.

Social media are neither good nor bad in and of themselves because the impact of social media depends on how they are used. Moreover, from a scientific standpoint, we know almost nothing about whether social media are actually making us more “anti-social” – less socially connected and less socially skilled.

Social media, as this era’s technological bugaboo, are absurdly polarizing. It’s either the scapegoat for all that is wrong, or the best hope for a utopian future.  And of course, the truth is always somewhere in between.

We know almost nothing about the cause and effect relationship between social media or the internet and mental health: Are these technologies making us crazy, depressed, anxious, etc, or are people who are already troubled in offline life troubled no matter what the context? How do we measure anti-social, or crazy, or any other outcome that reflects the well-being of an individual?

All we know is that neurologically, aspects of social media and internet use are rewarding, calming, and pleasurable. It’s a far cry from “highjacking our brain,” a phrase I used in the debate for the sake of argument and hyperbole. At the same time, a growing number of people think this is a viable hypothesis, and one that we must put to the test.

Whether social media are anti-social simply depends. It depends on who is using it, how they are using it, and why they are using it. And we just don’t have the scientific knowledge yet to understand these who’s, how’s, and whys.


Thanks to Prof Dennis’ blog – Psyche’s Circuitry – I also came across this interesting article –

Learning how to regulate emotions more effectively.

“The key may be to learn how to ‘look for the silver lining’ in each emotionally challenging situation before we have an emotional reaction,” Dennis says.

For example, perhaps an upcoming job interview or school test would normally make you or your child anxiously fear failure. This fear leads to a cascade of negative emotions, stress, and physical distress. Instead, try to see the situation in a more positive light: An opportunity to share your expertise or enthusiasm, or to learn.

“Like anything, this takes practice,” Dennis says.

To help your body influence — and soothe — your mind, these coping tips can be a big help.

Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Over-Excitement

  • Meditate. Focus on your breathing and what’s happening around you right now.
  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, then another. Let each breath out slowly. Repeat as needed.
  • Light exercise. Walking and stretching can soothe a stressed-out body or an over-excited mind.
  • Take a time out. Distract yourself with something you enjoy, like TV, gardening, playing with pets, or a visit with friends.
  • Visualize. Picture yourself facing and conquering fears. For example, see yourself succeeding in that meeting.
  • Get support. Call up a sympathetic friend or family member and talk.
  • Make a plan. Just thinking about how you’ll handle a problem can help you begin to feel in control.
  • Eat and drink right. Alcohol can make stress and anxiety worse. Overeating can pile guilt and nausea onto an already overwrought situation.
  • Rest up. Whether it’s stress, anxiety, or excitement taking your body on a roller-coaster ride, the unchangeable fact is you need to rest and recharge. So daydream. Take naps. And, always get a good night’s sleep.

These are surely ideas and strategies we need to introduce into all our schools as part of developing resilience and developing all the intelligences in every student. The importance of relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, physical exercise, good communication, setting priorities, eating and drinking properly, and resting properly, simply can’t be stressed often enough, and it can’t be left to chance as to whether young people understand the importance of these keys to wellbeing.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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