Ask James a Question

If you would like to ask James a question about the theory or practice of feedback, challenge, P4C, Visible Learning, Growth Mindset, leadership or progress then please complete the form opposite.

Answers to the most popular questions will be shared below.

Challenging Learning

What does ‘Challenging Learning’ mean?

I chose the name Challenging Learning partly because of the double meaning: challenging the way in which learning takes place and at the same time, making learning more challenging. Many people say that parents these days wrap their children in cotton wool, smoothing the way to ensure their little darlings don’t encounter difficulties. In educational terms this is problematic because it is only when children and young people engage in challenging tasks and come across problems that they have the opportunity to develop important life skills such as problem solving, higher order thinking and collaborative skills, as well as personal attributes such as resilience, determination and self efficacy. So, as a company we look at ways to challenge the way learning takes place – at school, pre-school and at home. We draw on the most up-to-date research about challenge, feedback, thinking skills, dialogue, Philosophy for Children, Visible Learning, and Dweck Mindsets to identify the best strategies for making learning more challenging, engaging, motivating and successful.


Why do you not like the term ‘feed-forward’?

The problem with the term ‘feed-forward’ is that it suggests feedback does not include looking forward but it does and it should. Indeed, feedback has to look forward as well back if it is to be the significant influence on learning that research tells us it can be.

Having said that, Deirdre Burke (2009) discovered that many students ‘interpret the term ‘feedback’ literally and use it only to look back on work they have completed, and are not aware or able to use teacher comments to ‘feed-forward’ and contribute to their on-going development.’ So this makes it even more important to emphasise to your students that feedback needs to answer all three questions:

1) What am I trying to achieve?

2) How much progress have I made so far?

3) What are my next steps?

Making feedback work

What is your advice for making sure feedback works?

My advice would include:

  1. Feedback should relate to clear, specific and appropriately challenging goals
  2. Feedback should reduce uncertainty in relation to how well your students are performing on a task, and what needs to be accomplished to attain the goal(s).
  3. Feedback should focus on the task, process and/or strategy; it should not be focussed on the person
  4. Feedback should be timely: coming after the initial teaching and first attempt but before your students finish their learning
  5. Your students should be expected to use the feedback they receive
  6. Feedback should answer the 3 key questions: what am I learning; how much progress have I made; and what should I do next?
  7. Grading should be kept separate from feedback Feedback should be unbiased and objective.
  8. Feedback from a trustworthy source will be considered more seriously than other feedback, which may be disregarded
  9. Feedback should allow for learning from mistakes rather than making students fearful of failure
  10. The quality of feedback should be judged not on what is given but on what effect it has.  In other words, don’t give feedback just to ‘prove’ you have given it; instead, look for the effect of the feedback in the improvements in your students’ performance and understanding
ASK Model

You write a lot about the ASK Model. What are the Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge that you aim to develop with students?

I would include the following personal habits, abilities and attitudes:

  1. An inquiring outlook coupled with an ability to articulate problems
  2. A tendency to be intellectually proactive and persistent
  3. A capacity for imaginative and adventurous thinking
  4. A habit of exploring alternative possibilities
  5. An ability to critically examine issues
  6. A capacity for sound independent judgement

And these social habits and dispositions:

  1. Actively listening to others and of trying to understand their viewpoints
  2. Giving reasons for what you say and expecting the same of others
  3. Exploring disagreements reasonably
  4. Being generally cooperative and constructive
  5. Being socially communicative and inclusive
  6. Taking other people’s feelings and concerns into account
Philosophy for Children

What makes Philosophy for Children (P4C) so special?

Philosophy for Children (P4C) improves pedagogy for the lasting benefit of all participants. P4C builds higher order thinking, questioning, speaking and listening skills. It creates respect for others, promotes engagement with learning and enhances educational development. I have used P4C with students aged 3 to 18, as well as with adults, and the effects are always positive and long-lasting. To find out more, I recommend you visit www.p4c.com and www.sapere.org.uk

Question 6

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