Sarah’s gleanings

Day One

Morning everyone! Or evening! Or just hello!

I thought I would get some of this down before our second day at HTH begins – there was so much to absorb yesterday and I do want to share some of that before it’s replaced by today’s visit.

Q: When is display not display?
A: When it’s stapled to a wall.

I have been amazed first of all by the physical spaces that make up the High Tech High Village. ‘Village’ seems to be one of those words which has been adopted to mean ‘community of learning’, yet it is far from being small and insular as the word also suggests. HTH consists of a series of middle and high schools all within walking distance of each other – like junior, middle and senior schools on the same huge site. Once inside each school, however, the various personalities and characters of each are really apparent – a visible ethos in a sense, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron. Look at these pictures, for example:




Every space in the school is devoted to displaying the students’ work. In fact, the public exhibition of their work is the final step in a process which has involved multiple drafts and critique sessions and – most importantly – students cannot NOT display their work. It is a requirement that they must fulfil if their project is to be successful. And that displayed work has to be the result of their striving to deliver a personal best.

So Caroline’s question, ‘how is a culture of achievement created?’ is in one sense straightforward to answer. The students themselves create their own culture of achievement. They choose what goes up where, along with a team of staff who get up ladders and hang from ceilings. There is in effect an after-school club for Display/Exhibiting – and it isn’t a one-off. It is an ongoing, ever-changing display of learning.

For us in the English team, inspiration comes in the form of published work. This can be short stories, transformed from a perhaps standard A4 sheet of ‘best work’ to a simple but effective booklet with a front cover, and an author’s blurb. The students have become authors – they haven’t simply written a short story. They have learned to write as a writer would, and think about how to present their work as a writer would.




A set of perhaps 25 ‘books’ like these stand on a windowsill in the Middle School Grade 6 area. These are books created by students when they come into HTH from their junior schools. The books are simple, inexpensive to create, and are perhaps no different in content and learning to the short stories that Katherine’s Year 7s wrote for the Cadbury Heath children. But look carefully at the photograph and you will see that each book is resting on a stand, not stapled to a wall. The window-sill looked like part of a bookshop – where you definitely never see books stapled to the wall!

By this time it was dawning on me that displaying work isn’t simply a cheap way of decorating, but a visible part of the process of enquiry and collaboration. More on that later.

I now appear to have lost Claire’s and Caroline’s questions! Arrgh!!

Q: When is a book not a book?
A: When it’s stapled to a wall.

Now, what do you think this is?


Well, yes, I know it SAYS. A journal of student work. But take a closer look:


It’s published by HTH, and made up of student work. Essays, graphs, short stories, field investigations (I will buy one and bring it back), produced using a publishing platform called Blurb. Check it out here. What makes it cost-effective for the school (or department – I think it’s a Creative Media anthology) is that it is ‘at request publishing’ which I think means that you pay for the run that you want – there is no minimum run size. And it looks like a book. And, again, a range of these books sit on the window-sill in the classroom. It really made me question why we ask our students to produce reports, short stories, poetry, anthologies (especially at KS3) if they are simply going to sit in a box or at the bottom of a cupboard – or taken down after being stapled to a wall.

More in a bit.

Day … what day is it?

Wow. Jetlag is a terrible thing. But no matter. I have found all my questions from CSl, CMa and CJo, and herewith is my attempt to answer a couple of them – but bear in mind that I will be unpicking what I have seen for many weeks to come with you all once things have had time to settle. But in the meantime, these are some of the insights that I gleaned from various group sessions with Directors and teachers. Punctuated with some pictures.

What are the transition arrangements?

Surprisingly, there are none. Students here are not tracked from their primary schools. The only students who are, are those with IEPs (Individual Education Plans). Teachers say that they don’t want the ‘baggage’ of previous knowledge. And there is no equivalent of SATS at KS2, so there are no test scores to consider.

Students with SEN here have what they call ‘intellectual disabilities’. It used to be called ‘mental retardation’ – um….. yes. Interestingly, students with weak literacy without an IEP are only picked up by an individual teacher or a parent. Once they have been identified for support, they have an Academic Coach (equivalent to our own ACs) who work with them within their projects, helping them to identify their group roles, explaining the essential questions, creating mini-deadlines (effectively ‘chunking’). These students are still expected to display work – they are simply supported along the way. Goals for these students are reviewed once a year. The timetable (or ‘schedule’ as it’s called here) allows for an elective session once a day which weaker students can be guided towards (in their case it would be an equivalent ‘skills’ or literacy support session – an hour at the end of the day.


Teachers are called by their first names in the High schools. Miss Sarah, Mr Dan, Mr Stu. Got a nice ring to it don’t you think?

Digital Portfolios

These are great. For an obsessive blogger like me, the HTH digital portfolios are a wonderfully individual way for a teacher to a) share their resources with staff and students b) showcase student work c) share rubrics, assessment deadlines and test results. I don’t know whether there is a centralised data system like we’ve got (see Dan’s questions – I think he was dealing with data and assessment) but there is a requirement that all staff at HTH maintain their portfolios. A wonderful example is here, the blog of an inspirational art teacher who professes to have been ‘crap’ for about 15 years before he started to really understand how PBL works, and how he could use his passion for his subject. His blog is inspirational – part PBL exploration, part blog/musings, part resource-sharing, part showcasing of his own work and his student’s work.

The first thing I’m going to do when I get back is start one of these up – not as Literacy Coordinator, or as Skills Resource Maker, or as Professional Learning Dabbler, but as English Teacher in the classroom trying out a few things with my low-ability year 10 boys. For example. And the best thing about these DPs as they call them is that they are all individual. They are your creation and your responsibility – but there is an expectation that you maintain them. I think that they are used as part of the review process that happens once a year between teacher and Director. So, if you’re an Art teacher, make it arty. If you’re a DT teacher, make it arty. If you’re a C&M teacher, make it arty. If you’re a Maths teacher… well, do your best…

I loved this outside a teacher’s room. We could all make our doors personal, like Dave Andrews does. Why don’t we try doing that? Then opening them a bit? 🙂


More later, next time on Critique.



4 thoughts on “Sarah’s gleanings

  1. Christine Johnson November 30, 2012 / 9:05 am

    Hi !
    The learning environment looks just fantastic!
    It is obvous that and engaging environment makes a massive contirbution to attitudes to learning. I would love to ‘feel’ this.

    Please could you ask my questions around transition and Hwo they support the children with SEN/literacy etc.

    Thinking of you all!

    • Sarah S. November 30, 2012 / 12:56 pm

      Hi Christine
      Literacy and transition provision are very interesting… and surprising. I will talk to you about this!

  2. Christine Johnson November 30, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    I have started to work on a sort of scheme that I would like to call 100 steps literacy. Will be good to talk in more detail. Looking forward to more communication/news and interesting bits.

  3. Sam Scott December 2, 2012 / 7:36 pm

    I love the way that the school is just one big gallery … mmmmmm … thinking of ideas.

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