Lessons from Trivium 21st c

The title of Martin Robinson’s book, Trivium 21st c, stems from the three paths (trivium) to a classical education: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. In the course of writing, Robinson characterises three types of thinker and educator: grammarians, dialecticians and rhetoricians. The book initially acts as a chronicle of the way in which the views of these three groups have intertwined and gone in and out of fashion, before going on to establish some of the ways in which the Trivium could be utilised in schools today. Through carrying out his research for the book, Robinson seeks to define the kind of school he would want for his daughters.



In the book, Robinson traces the history of grammar from its beginnings as the study of Greek and then Latin and Hebrew, on to its evolution into a deep study of literature and ending up with its later meaning of the study of the foundational aspects of a culture. However, in his 21st Century Trivium, Robinson takes it to mean the knowledge relevant to a specific subject domain. He argues that, “In order to be critical and creative, kids need to know stuff, to have a good grasp of the basics, the grammar of a topic.”

Robinson states that “Grammarians tell it like it is, either by agreed practice or imposed rules.” They are focused on facts and the way things are supposed to be done.

Implications of a grammar based approach:

The faculties in a school need to clearly define the factual and procedural knowledge which they need/ought to teach and which they want students to retain in order to be successful. There is a finite amount of time in a school day, so it’s important to consider whether your school is exposing students to “the best that has been thought or said” (Matthew Arnold) by looking at “those aspects that are proven by time to be enduring rather than ephemeral.” A couple of key questions to consider are:

  • How have you defined the knowledge which you want students to retain from Year 7 and how you will assess this in Year 8?
  • Have enough opportunities been built in for students to apply the knowledge they have gained in speech, writing, through problem solving, performance or developing products?

A second implication of this section of the book is that teachers’s subject knowledge needs to be such so that they can fully support and stretch children to learn knowledge to a level of excellence. They need the techniques to pass on new knowledge, explain new concepts clearly and precisely, model new procedures to their students, check they are grasping the new knowledge and return to this knowledge in their ongoing teaching so that it is both retained and built on.

Students, meanwhile, need to develop effective strategies to memorise new material and retain and recall old material. They also need opportunities to deliberately practice different steps and whole procedures which they have learnt.


Robinson defines dialectic as a questioning of principles and abstract ideas using reasoning, logic and debate. To aid understanding, he characterises three types of dialectician.

  • Socratic dialecticians argue for arguments sake. They “will ask about it until it is no longer.”
  • Platonic dialecticians “will discuss it until the ultimate truth is revealed.”
  • Aristotelian dialecticians will seek to uncover all of the possible “truths” and can accept that more than one position or “truth” is possible.

Implications of a dialectic based approach:

Here, it is important to define when, in each subject, in each unit and in each key stage across a school, you would want your students to be ready for debate, questioning and philosophising.

In order to do this effectively, teachers and subsequently students need the domain related knowledge as well as knowledge of the processes and conventions used in philosophical/logical debate.

However, it also seems important here to clearly define the practices which enable this stage of the learning process to occur effectively in classrooms and learning environments.


Rhetoric is defined by Robinson as communicating and expressing learning. This can be in written or spoken form or in the form of a performance or product – the form will suit the subject the student is focusing on. Rhetoricians seek to communicate knowledge, choosing and arranging words well, understanding and manipulating other’s emotions, with great culture, sensitivity, humour and memory.

Implications of a rhetoric based approach:

Here, schools need to ensure that tasks are stretching of all students and prepare them for the next stage in their lives.

Teachers need to demonstrate to their students that they are expected to aim for and be able to achieve excellence. Likewise, in homework, it’s worth considering the balance between recalling knowledge and applying it.

The movement from dependence to independence:

Towards the end of the book, Robinson explains how the trivium can also be used as a model of teaching students to move from dependence to independence. He suggests that we move from the directive phase, through the guided phase and onto a phase he calls receptive-exploratory. In the directed phase we focus on the grammar. We also set the context and provide the big picture. At this stage there is likely to be plenty of teacher explanation and modelling. During guided discovery, leadership is shared by the teacher and student. It is likely to feature modelling, shared construction or deconstruction of new models as well as deliberate, possibly supported, practice. This is where students will do much of their questioning (dialectic) of both the grammar and the models. During the receptive-exploratory phase, ownership moves away from the teacher and increasingly to the student. Students apply their knowledge of content and the models they have seen in creation or performance. This is the rhetoric stage of the process.


Lessons from Making the Leap

In Making the Leap: Moving from Deputy to Head, Dr Jill Berry explores the lessons which can be gleaned from her own experiences of becoming a headteacher as well as the doctoral research she carried out into other people’s experiences of this transition.

There are hundreds of lessons one could take away from the book. Trying to condense them down is tough, but I’ve separated the key bits of guidance and advice from the book into five categories.

Lesson 1 Purpose:

Your educational values and aims will have been formed over your time working in schools and even prior to this. Be aware of their importance as well as the fact they’re likely to be affected (either strengthened or remolded) by working in a new context. In applying for headships, Berry tells us to be sensitive to the school’s context and aware of our own skills, strengths and preferences.

Lesson 2 Planning and preparation:

These two aspects of leadership are crucial in the lead in period to your headship, the early stages of taking up post as well as the ongoing improvement to the school and on your departure to the next phase in your career.

Lesson 3 Knowledge and Experience:

It’s tempting to think of this as being merely the sum total of your own knowledge and experiences. Berry highlights that your knowledge and experience need to be the right match for the school as it currently is as well as be right to take the school on the next step in its improvement journey. This includes being aware of the knowledge and experience of your new team and how to utilise them best.

Lesson 4 Relationships:

Berry draws attention to three relationships we need to be aware of in making the transition to headship:

  • The first is with ourselves. Our health, mental health and well-being are all pivotal here.
  • The second is with others in the school – your predecessor, governors, SLT, other staff, the community are all groups you may need to draw on or be wary of.
  • The third important group are those outside the school. This includes networks you’ve built in the past, role models, mentors, coaches, family and friends.

Lesson 5 Persona:

Here, Berry discusses the difference between role taking (where you fill the shoes of your predecessor) and role making (where you inhabit the role – making the headship and the school your own). Berry’s research suggests successful heads all, to differing extents, do the latter.

She also suggests we should be aware of how the differences between our perception of our leadership persona and the perception of other people may be harming the improvement of the school.

Finally, there may be a difference, Berry maintains, between the leader you hope to be, the leader the school needs and the leader the school will allow you to be. An alertness to these three things can be helpful in making the transition into headship.

The Voice

I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud. I was pretty decent at reading at primary school. I was the kid who volunteered to read in class at secondary school. As an adult, I’ve read more often at friends’ weddings than I’ve been Best Man. I never fully appreciated reading aloud, though, until I had kids.

What I’ve realised, whilst reading The Gruffalo, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, No-Bot The Robot with No Bottom, The BFG, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Chronicles of Narnia and Northern Lights is that there is a difference between reading aloud well in your own voice and finding and using the voice(s) of the text – the voice of the narrator and the voices of the characters. It’s a simple realisation, but one you rarely get to see secondary teachers, even English teachers, acting on when they read aloud in class. Perhaps things are different when no one’s looking, but I can only recall two occasions on which I’ve seen non-drama teachers adapting their voice to find the voice of the text. I rarely did the voices in texts before having my own children. Now, I can rarely help myself.

Unlocking this at home has, I think, helped me understand three important aspects of the teaching of reading:

  1. Modelling finding the voice(s) of a the text helps students hear the text and feel brave enough to do so themselves.
  2. Reading expressively, whether with non-fiction or fiction, aids students’ understanding of the text. The melody of the text can be really helpful to hear, alongside the lyrics.
  3. Hearing the teacher read expressively can help students fall in love with texts. I remember my A-Level teacher, Mr Graham, stomping round the class, kicking over chairs as he spat our the plosives in Ted Hughes’ “Pike.” He was alive as a teacher bringing the text alive.

In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov codifies what I discovered by terming it (somewhat unfortunately for his English audience) Show some Spunk. He says, “The verve and energy you bring to your oral reading will be modelled in your student’s oral (and silent) reading.” Don’t be shy. Give it a go and find your voices.

I bet Mike and Scott were spunky readers. 

Habits of Studiousness – Part 1

How do some people get the run in to an exam or high stakes assessment so wrong? Why are some people less successful than others? Perhaps it could be any one or a combination of the following:

  • Not having a sense of purpose in learning the material/processes covered and/or taking the exam and being successful.
  • Not wanting to or not being able to put the time in – sometimes due to leaving beginning to study until it is too late when the volume of material is overwhelming.
  • Not having the best resources to help them succeed and/or ineffectively maintaining and organising the resources they do have.
  • Not knowing or not using the strategies which will help them in preparing best for that specific exam.
  • Not approaching the exam positively due to a perception of or anxieties about their past levels of performance.

She’s actually hidden her phone inside the book to play Candy Crush. Sugar rush!

Clearly, with each of these barriers to success there could be all kinds of contributing factors. Many students overcome these issues or never have to confront them at all. Over the next few posts, I’d like to explore how schools and students overcome or even avoid these barriers altogether. Exploring this should help inform a strategy to support even more students to be successful in terms of their academic outcomes and help them develop a set of habits of studiousness.

Please do let me know if you think I’ve missed any key barriers to success.

Bold Report Reading

Here are seven things I’ve learnt from watching the debate about the Bold Beginnings report this week. They are not a critique of any one individual, but rather a reflection on the errors I think we can make in responding to official education reports.

I saw the opposite of each of these things being done by different people in reaction to the Bold Beginnings Report, but I think they are applicable to the way school leaders and education experts interact with official reports more generally.

  1. It’s probably best not to assume the whole of a report is about the part of the education provision for which you are personally responsible – this applies to the positive and negative aspects.
  2. If something is mentioned as a positive in the key findings or executive summary, it’s less likely (though not impossible) for it to also be mentioned as a recommendation.
  3. If the report writer doesn’t mention a strength as a recommendation, then it doesn’t mean they’d like everyone to immediately stop doing that thing.
  4. If you read a recommendation and think to yourself, I do that already, it doesn’t mean everyone else does it.
  5. Exemplification is just that. Exemplification is not the same as a further recommendation.
  6. Some people will use extreme readings of recommendations in a report to further their own careers. Read the whole report from start to end yourself before making decisions based on it. The business of school leaders is being strong enough, knowledgeable enough and confident enough in their own vision to make decisions about what will benefit the students in their context.
  7. It is worth considering how recommendations which challenge your current beliefs may be beneficial to some or all of the students you work with.

Lessons from Practice Perfect

Following on from Lessons from Fierce Conversations, here are some lessons from the book Practice Perfect by Lemov, Woolway and Yezzi. In the book, they set out forty two principles for effective talent development through practice. The book crosses a number of areas of talent (sports, music and medicine for example) but focuses in particular on how to develop effective teachers.

The summary notes below, which I made whilst reading the book about five years ago, outline the forty two principles. The concepts are based around a model of whole staff practice in training sessions, practice during coaching sessions and practice during actual lessons.

Looking back, I now realise that this book was pivotal in terms of influencing how I’ve attempted to develop the CPD process for teachers at our school, just as Teach Like a Champion was vital in informing our teaching model. It’s been exceptionally helpful in returning to this list as it’s reminded me of some of the principles we’ve yet to crack. It should also help in the work we’re doing currently in terms of supporting the development of our leaders.

Rethinking Practice

1 Encode success

Establish what success looks like, breaking it down into small parts. Watch for it, checking constantly and addressing where it isn’t happening (responding to failure). Don’t double the difficulty of success before the person/organisation you are coaching is ready, but focus on the fastest possible correct version and the most complex right version possible.

2 Practice the Twenty

Focus eighty percent of your attention on the twenty percent of skills which will have the most impact. This is essentially the Pareto Principle. Keep practicing and drilling these at a mastery level, even when you’ve mastered them.

3 Let the mind follow the body

Look to make processes automatic through repeated practice and reflection.

4 Unlock creativity…with repetition.

Drill to develop automaticity and free up your brain for more creative tasks.

5 Replace your purpose with an objective.

We should set ourselves objectives which are SMART, just like we do for our students. These should integrate already mastered objectives so that mastery doesn’t fade or become rusty.

6 Practice Bright Spots

Keep practicing things you’re already good at and make them even better.

7 Differentiate drill from scrimmage

Focus on practicing small parts/skills both in isolation and in a version close to the real thing. This is similar to rehearsing lines to memorise them and dress rehearsal in a play. Neither are the real performance, but they bring you closer to it.

8 Correct instead of critique

Don’t just give guidance (critique). Instead, ensure participants redo the work or task, but with improvements as swiftly as possible (correct the issues) following advice which is as private as possible.

9 Analyse the game

Use data to pick top performers or elements of performance. Analyse what skills top performers have in common. Use this to provide a clear map for others to perform at the same level.

10 Isolate the skill

Break skills down into small parts and practice each part in isolation before practicing the skill. Sometimes a strength in one skill area can hide or mask the need for practice in another.

11 Name it

Name each skill and ensure people stick to these names to ensure precise feedback is given, rather than accepting terminology can be changed.

12 Integrate the skills

Create practice opportunities which are as close as possible to “real” situations, including environments and human reactions. Ensure people you are coaching learn to match the right skills to the right situations.

13 Make a plan

Plan with the performance of your classes in mind. What will make the biggest difference to your classes’ performance. Plan down to the last minute for your area of development. Rehearse and revise the plan. Record yourself and reflect on your sessions.

14. Make each minute matter

In whole staff or group training sessions, cut back on wasted time by using do now tasks. Use opportunities through the day to cut back on wasted time by using it to drill strategies. Turn ways you save time into routines.

Using Modelling

15 Model and describe

Use modeling to help learners (including teachers who are learning) replicate, but use description to help then understand. Use both to ensure they can more flexibly apply.

16 Call your shots

When you send people to observe or shadow someone else, make what you want them to observe explicit.

17 Make models believable

Model in a context that is similar as possible to the one in which the people you are coaching must perform. Modelling in person is often more believable than modelling by video.

18 Try “supermodeling”

Model the way you want learners to perform explicitly with the skill you are looking for learners to develop, but also with other skills.

19 Insist they “Walk this way”

When asking people to follow a model, a useful first step is for them to imitate the model exactly.

20 Model “skinny parts”

With complex skills, model one step at a time. Play games of copycat with initial learners.

21 Model the path

Don’t just provide a model of the product. Talk through the process you went through in learning the skill.

22 Get ready for your close up

Use film as an easy way to capture models.


23 Practice giving feedback

Build a culture where people give feedback a lot. Cause people to put the feedback into practice quickly. Observe feedback being put into practice to see whether your advice works.

24 Apply first, then reflect

Spending too long on reflection during whole staff training can become a barrier to further practice. This:

1. Practice

2. Feedback

3. Practice again

4. Possibly practice this multiple times

5. Reflect

Is better than this:

1. Practice

2. Feedback

3. Reflect and discuss

4. Possibly practice again

25 Shorten the feedback loop.

Give feedback right away. A simple, small change implemented right away can be more effective than a complex rewiring of a skill. Often the simple change will have a domino effect on much broader skills.

26 Use the power of positive

Use praise:

• To identify specific successes and help people see what they have done right more clearly.

• To make a statement of replication to tell the person to drill the same thing again, possibly with a slight amendment to improve it or just to build it into muscle memory.

• To make a statement of application to indicate where else they might use the skill they are now experiencing success in.

27 Limit yourself.

Limit the amount of feedback you give, individually and as an organisation. If more than one person is coaching someone, make sure there is a system in place to track feedback, so people aren’t being overloaded.

28 Make it an everyday thing

The more you make a habit of feedback, the more normal it becomes. Use sentence starters when you begin to help everyone give both positive and constructive feedback. Experts begin by copying pastmasters.

29 Describe the solution, not the problem

Try to move from “Don’t…” Or “You shouldn’t…” To telling the person what to do. Make sure actions are specific and actionable. Look for ways to abbreviate commonly given guidance in your organisation. For example.

30 Lock it in

Summarize the feedback. Prioritize the actions. Ask recipients to restate the feedback to check for understanding.


31 Normalise Error

Push people beyond any current plateaus by pushing them beyond their current performance in practice sessions.

Don’t ignore errors in practice sessions. They’ll become ingrained.

Help performers identify their own errors.

Practice your techniques for responding to errors.

32 Break down your barriers to practice.

Anticipate that some people will feel awkward practicing.

Identify and name the barriers.

Overcome these barriers by diving in.

Use these phrases to help:

33 Make it fun to practice

Make use of friendly competition at training.

Don’t allow fun to detract from or take over from the objective of the training.

Encourage encouragement.

Incorporate elements of surprise in your training by, for example, putting a post it note under the chair of the next person to practice.

34 Everybody does it.

Be willing to model yourself as leader of a workshop.

Ask for advice/feedback on your modeling.

Use language that is inviting and assumed everyone will practice.

35 Leverage peer to peer accountability.

Allow your team to self-identify particular skills and areas of growth they want to focus on, based on feedback.

Encourage teachers to see themselves as Academy teachers, rather than classroom teachers. “Together, we are the teachers of all the students at the Academy.”

36 Hire for practice

Before employing someone, carefully consider the practice tasks in the interview process. Use the opportunity to gauge their openness to feedback. Get them to repeat part of the task.

37 Praise the work which exceeds expectations.

Normalise praise which supports good practice. Praise actions, not traits. Differentiate acknowledgement from praise. Acknowledge when someone meets your expectations with a thank you. Praise when Simeon goes above and beyond expectations with praise.

Post practice

38 Look for the right things

After practicing, observe for the practiced skills in the final performance. Allow leaders to practice observing for discrete skills which have been practiced.

39 Coach during the game (don’t teach)

Don’t try to teach new material during a performance. Coaching during a game should only cue and remind people to use what they have already learnt.

40 Keep talking

Name all the discrete skills and drills you practice. Use the names when discussing the skills to keep them alive in your organisation.

41 Walk the line (between support and demand)

Frame feedback, not as helpful advice, but as something required to improve performance. Move away from “You could…” or “Try…” towards “This week we’re going to…”Next week, when you…” Communicate a sense of urgency when improvement is necessary. Be transparent about your role as evaluator when it is necessary.

42 Measure successes

Use teaching over time information – books, learning walks, assessment/progress data, staff self assessment – as a gauge of the effectiveness of practice sessions and to decide what needs to be practiced next.

It’s Rude Not To Point – Analyse This Part 5

Over the past four parts in my Analyse This series, I’ve explored the barriers to analytical writing about literature and established, I think, that we should stop reinforcing the idea that every paragraph should contain the same elements.

Though I think this is the case, it would be exceptionally difficult (more likely impossible) to craft a successful analytical response to a text without building it around a sequence of relevant and developed points. These do not necessarily have to come at the beginning of every paragraph, though you might initially teach students to position them in this way to develop a habit.

What’s the Point?

At what point in the sequence of instructions below do we stop if we wish to get the best out of our students?

“Make a point about the text.”

“Make a point about the character in the text.”

“Make a point about how the writer presents the character in the text.”

“Make a point about how the writer presents the character, ensuring it’s relevant to the task.”

“Make a relevant point about how the writer presents the character as a representative of upper class society in the 1940s.”

“Make a relevant point about the way the writer uses the character to support the view they seem to have of the upper classes in the 1940s.”

“Make a relevant developed point, including a reason, about the way the writer uses the character to support the view they seem to have of the upper classes in the 1940s.”

“Craft four relevant and developed points about the way the writer’s presentation of the character links to the view they seem to have of the upper classes in the 1940s.”

Careless talk costs lives.

The instruction seems to move, during the sequence, from being vague, to being helpfully supportive and on to being overly wordy. To teach point making well, we have to consider which point in the sequence we will lose our students. Careless talk costs lives.

A question worth asking, therefore, is what makes a well crafted point?

The answer is dependent on:

  • The quality of the wording of the task.
  • The student’s ability to decode the requirements of the task.
  • The student’s knowledge of the aspects of the text(s) which are relevant to the task.
  • The student’s knowledge of the aspects of context which are relevant to the task.
  • The student’s knowledge of vocabulary and ability to select from their vocabulary precisely.
  • The student’s knowledge of grammar and punctuation and ability to express themselves accurately.

Where students are week in any of these areas, they will struggle to craft what we might think of as being a good point.

To exemplify this, as well as to give a sense of progression from a very basic point to a more developed one, I’m going to share what Matt Pinkett (@positivteacha) describes as the evolution of a point. This photo shows how a three word point that gives the impression that the student views Scrooge is a real person, moves through a number of steps to become far more developed. The steps Matt has taught are:

  • Adding the writer’s name.
  • Using a conjunction to encourage further thinking about the point.
  • Including the first piece of evidence in the same sentence as the point.
  • Including terminology in the same sentence as the point.

I would add to this a development relating to the world outside the text. This would take the final point to:

Prior to his redemption, Dickens uses the simile “solitary as an oyster” to present Scrooge as a lonely man who lacks emotional attachments to friends or family, thus conveying the impact of greed on social cohesion.

To take this further, have a read of this post from Chris Curtis Beyond the Show Sentence. Chris’ post is based on one from Katie Ashford which she has currently taken off line as her school are amending their approach.

Alex Quigley has written this post on How to Train a GCSE Essay Writer which is also very useful in this area.

Other Posts in this Series:

Analyse this Part 1 Thoughts Feelings And Actions

Analyse this Part 2 The Higher You Build Your Barriers

Analyse this Part 3 PEE-Nuts

Analyse this Part 4 Baking Up An Essay