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Putting learners’ faces at the core of improvement

I know I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy for this, but one of the slight tensions you face when you leave daily working in schools is that you’re exposed to lots and lots of interesting ideas but you don’t have the context in which to walk in on a Monday morning and give it a go. I know, smallest violins and all that…


However, I’m currently reading Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence by Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche, if you haven’t got a copy yet you should totally think about getting one. It’s a great book in that it explores the nature of leading collaborative learning from the level of an education system to classrooms. One of their core ideas in the book is using data walls and putting learners’ faces at the core of collaborative improvement. I’m obviously corrupting their complex and rich research and ideas here to summarise what it’s about…best to read it for yourself!

One idea from the book which I would’ve loved to try is a data wall of learners. As a biology department we could’ve found a space in a base or prep room to clear a wall and stick up a little piece of paper for each student like the ones in the image above. Each piece of paper would have the student’s name, their photo, some prior assessment data and spaces to add assessment data from the learning they are currently undertaking. The wall could be divided into sections such as ‘excelling’, ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, ‘concern’. A big proportion of your weekly departmental meeting would then be spent in front of this wall discussing and moving students, adding data and, most importantly of all, discussing interventions which could be undertaken for those students which are at risk or a concern, or who aren’t yet excelling but could be. These could be added as post-its to the wall and reviewed at future meetings. The book also suggests the provision of case conferences for those students who you’re struggling to find ways of successfully supporting. In the absence of a whole school approach to this a work around could be inviting a member of the SLT, learning support and/or guidance teams to a departmental meeting to join the discussion with a focus on these most challenging learners.

As you can see, I’ve totally envisaged it but with nowhere to give it a go! I think the approach could work in primary also, I’ve just thought it through in the context I know best. I think this sort of approach would have the potential to meaningfully impact upon outcomes for learners and could significantly contribute to closing the attainment gap…it could also go a long way to improve many teachers’ experiences of departmental/stage meetings and make these truly collaborative, supportive, impactful and learner-centred.

If you’d like to discuss this idea further with me with a view to giving it a go, please get in touch, or alternatively have a read of Sharratt & Planche’s book for yourself and devise your own interventions…if you do though, I’d still love to hear about them.


  • Reply Barbara van der Meulen, LATITUDE Learning & Teaching |

    Very interesting – calls to mind these boards you see in police series where they’ve got photos, notes, arrows, questions, ideas and connections that can be erased, moved or extended – great for ‘thinking out loud’ and collaboration. I particularly like the fact learners’ info can be moved around because it assumes, by default, progress will be made and nobody is ‘static’.
    Do we know of any schools in Scotland who are doing this at department or school level? It’d be very interesting to see it ‘live’ in action!

  • Reply Darren McKinnon |

    Quite liked this idea. But looking for examples online it does seem that in the US these have ended up being used to rank pupils (sometimes publicly!) – quite a lot of critical articles. Any thoughts on this issue?

  • Reply fearghal |

    I don’t know of anyone doing this in Scotland yet Barbara.

    I’ve heard similar concerns from elsewhere Darren, but as with most things I guess it’s all about how you use it. That’s not how I’ve heard of them being used in Canada and that’s certainly not how I would envisage them being used. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the approach at the upcoming SCEL Conference in May.

So, what do you think ?