Fall down 7 times get up 8


This is a beautifully written and remarkable book. Naoki Higashida spent years enduring ‘wordlessness’, until he learned to communicate using an alphabet grid.

I mentioned the book in response to a thread started on Twitter by @nancygedge and began thinking some more about who might find the book useful, as well as beautiful.

Anyone who is learning to be a teacher could benefit by dipping into this book. It explains very powerfully the experience of someone who is not neurotypical. It is part of our work as teachers to understand how other people think, but it is a struggle with so many other other things to learn. Naoki spends much of his book thinking about how other people think, busting over and over the myth that  people with autism cannot do this.  In a chapter on inference, he thinks about how his mum responds when she hears the sound made by raindrops, as she rushes outside to get the washing in. His mental processes in reaction to the sound are so different. It made me think that those of us who consider ourselves neurotypicals really need to up our game.

Anyone who is a parent of a child who is not neurotypical might like this book. There is a bitter sweet chapter where he tells the story of managing to say two words: ‘Carnation: buy’ when out shopping with his helper.  ‘Giving flowers to my mum on Mother’s Day was a dream I’d been harbouring for years’.

Anyone who is a form tutor might find it useful to read a chapter from the book in form time. We can all understand his desire to buy a present for someone he loves. Perhaps we have more in common that we might have thought? I think this could be a useful topic for discussion. Listening to young people is also something we all need to do, as parents and as teachers.

I had a conversation with my daughter this week about kindness and fairness. I was inclined to argue that fairness usually has to come first, but she said I was wrong. I will leave the last word to Higashida here. This is the end of a chapter in which he speaks honestly of his obsessions and fixations and the stress they cause for those around him, (in this case a railway station, where he went back through a ticket barrier -initially inexplicably-  to revisit a shop just to check where some merchandise decorated with a kitten character was on sale).

‘So: people with autism might talk and behave in peculiar-seeming ways… Please give us the benefit of the doubt and act on the assumption we are good people. If you suspect we are a lost cause, we pick on that. The value of a person shouldn’t be decided by the judgements of other people. Kindness brings out the best in us all.’







Pat Shaw at Sidmouth Festival, 2017

 “You can’t consider it music until you feel yourself dancing to it.”[1]

Here Jane Harrison and Ali celebrate Pat Shaw’s musical background and legacy.

We are honoured to be playing for the Pat Shaw dance workshops and ball at Sidmouth in 2017 in what would have been his centenary year and wanted to share and celebrate the uniqueness of Pat’s music. We will be working with caller John Sweeney.

Pat Shaw composed a large number of enjoyable tunes, some written for his own dances; there are many more, for dancing and listening, in a variety of styles and often recognisably within a particular traditional idiom. Sometimes, our hearts sink when presented with new compositions for modern dances, wishing that maybe the dance composer had just chosen some good old reels or jigs.  This is never the case with Pat’s music. What is remarkable is how he was able to create so many tunes that seamlessly match the dance and traditional style. We started thinking about what had influenced Pat when composing, and on the influences on our playing.

Being immersed in folk music and dancing from an early age gave Pat a life-long interest in traditional music – which he pursued after studying music at Cambridge.  Both of us were similarly born with traditional music around us, starting dancing early thanks to our dancing families, with  Ali’s father playing the accordion and Jane’s parents going on to follow Pat in collecting dance.  This created for us an understanding of traditional dance music, the ‘metre and rhyme’, the 8-bar phrase, repeats, keys and rhythmic and modal variety.

Pat inherited his mother’s collection of published folk music, which he continued to add to over the years, developing an encyclopaedic folk-musical knowledge of the British Isles and far beyond. This must have helped when he first visited Shetland in the 1940s and found a strong culture of fiddle music, recognising some Scandinavian influences, with very little recorded or notated. In 1947 he returned to Shetland and started collecting, learning to play the accordion along the way so that he could join in the music to help as an icebreaker.  From the renowned Unst fiddler, John Stickle, Pat noted some 92 tunes [2].

Shetland music has a strong rhythm and identity, which we love, and is great for many styles of folk dancing we were lucky encounter early on. Jane’s father met the Shetland fiddler and teacher, Tom Anderson on his dance collecting trips and took the family back for a holiday where they first heard the ‘Da 40 Fiddlers’.  Aged 18, Jane went to study with ‘Tammy’, as he was known, at Stirling and later in Lerwick. Ali played with Blue Mountain Band, led by Rick Smith and Maggie Fletcher who had known Pat and visited Shetland`,  adding several Shetland tunes to the repertoire.  We made a very memorable joint trip to Shetland in 1988.

Pat continued to collect tunes wherever he travelled, able to absorb the styles he collected into his own tunes. His dance tunes often follow the most normal 32 bar, 2As, 2Bs pattern but sometimes have a more varied 16 bar B part, as found in a quite a few Scottish and Shetland tunes, but he was not bound by this and his version of the traditional Three Sea Captains has 36 bars. He was adept as well at providing tunes in two different rhythms enhance the dance. He even wrote triple-time hornpipes (3/2) that have more generally been replaced by jigs or 4/4 hornpipes.

For his dances, Pat thoroughly researched the early printed versions, such as Playford, Wilson and Bray, producing and teaching his own interpretations (not always without controversy) and obviously appreciating their associated tunes, created some of his own that would not appear out of place in these early publications.

Pat’s influence though was greater than just the composing and collecting tunes. Jane found from her own parents’ dance collecting that the collecting process is not just one-way – Pat was always keen to disseminate what he collected but he also  wanted to ‘plough back’ locally. Tom Anderson talking in 1977 [3], just before Pat died, describes how great an influence Pat was on music in Shetland from his accuracy in transcribing tunes, before he even had a tape recorder, to making his collection available. We were both to benefit.

Pat was also happy to write dances to existing traditional tunes, such as from songs or those for morris dance, and when given some small books of old Dutch tunes, he very quickly composed a number of dances, which were later published in his,’ New Wine in Old Bottles’. In the 1960s, Pat became involved with the Welsh Folk Dance Society, going on to research many dances and tunes as well as writing new tunes, such as Coleg y Brifysgol Abertawe (about and written for the University College of Swansea). More often though he would set his welsh dances to traditional tunes, such as Red House of Cardiff to the tune Tŷ coch Caerdydd or Waterfall Waltz to Caerdroea, and we may be playing some of these at Sidmouth.

Some of the most well known of Pat’s dances though result from his visit to America in the 1970s, which also have particularly memorable tunes in American reel or even rag-time style. Jane met Pat the year after he wrote Levi Jackson Rag and still has the original hand-written copy of his music.

For more years than we really care to remember we have played for dancing; English and Scottish country, American running set, squares and contra, as well as for morris, sword and step-dancing. Traditional players have influenced us in many ways, (Jane taking a night-school class in Irish fiddle no less).  We both particularly enjoyed the playing of the three Northumbrian shepherds but occasionally we get to play with more recent musical influences, (once playing with the band Peeping Tom). Like Pat we are try to understand the ways in which traditional music and dance work together, to make the moves, the steps, and the patterns in the dance,  meaningful, sociable, energetic, beautiful, fun, happy, and elegant, depending on the idiom of the dance. Hamish Henderson of the School of Scottish Studies, singer, collector and poet, said of Pat’s music: ‘they were mostly catchy tunes and lay as close in to their dances as the skin to the apple”.  We are looking  forward to Sidmouth, and to playing all Pat’s tunes ‘close in to their dances’.  Please join us!

Postscript from Jane:

Letter Pat Shaw to Joan Flett Feb 1977

Pat’s letter to my mum, Joan Flett in February 1977, refers to a film by Ion Jamieson of dancing in the Scottish Borders around 1930 which my Mum donated to the School of Scottish Studies. Pat was there when was it was first shown in public in 1977. We hope to show some of the film at “Talk – The Collectors. The work of dance collectors Tom and Joan Flett”, Chris Metherell in discussion with Jane – The Arts Centre, Sidmouth, 9.30 Monday, 6th August.

A playlist you might like to listen to after reading:


  1. Jeremy Morfey quoting Pat on the Pat Shaw Legacy Group ‘His most memorable quotation was that you could not consider it music until you could feel yourself dancing to it.’ http://www.patshaw.info/forums/topic/jeremy-morfey/


  1. A Shetland Fiddler and His Repertoire, John Stickle, 1875-1957. Patrick Shuldham-Shaw (https://www.jstor.org/stable/4521648?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents). Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Vol. 9, No. 3, Dec 1962.


  1. Pat Shuldham-Shaw’s influence on the Shetland fiddle scene.
    02.16 – Track ID: 79819 – Original Tape ID: SA1977.013
    Pat Shuldham-Shaw’s influence on the Shetland fiddle scene. Tom Anderson discusses the influence of traditional music collector Pat…
    Contributors: Tom Anderson
    Reporters: Tom Atkinson

Thanks to Jane Harrison for the photographs below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Can bottlenecks have benefits?

It would probably be easier for everyone in education if learning always happened step by step in a predictable fashion. Instead, learning can be uneven, with some steps so much harder to take than others that they can be experienced as something akin to a rite of passage when we finally manage to move on. We may be most aware of these bottlenecks when we make the transition from one stage in our education to another, for example when we first go to university. But wouldn’t it be interesting if these bottlenecks became teaching opportunities?

Díaz, Middendorf, Pace, and Shopkow (2008) thought so, writing about  ‘a mismatch between what college history teachers expect of their students and what those students imagine their task to be’ . Díaz and colleagues became involved in a research project designed to ‘decode’ their students’ difficulties, and then to develop teaching approaches that might be helpful to their students. They identified a series of bottlenecks, shown here.


These bottlenecks may be an example of threshold concepts. These are ideas within a discipline,  Meyer and Land (2003) ,  that are so fundamental to our understanding within a subject, that  we need to grapple with them successfully to make progress in our thinking. Many subjects since 2003 have taken an interest in this idea, recently referenced by BERA in a publication called Making the case for the social sciences- Education.

Turning these bottlenecks into opportunities for learning is something that interests school teachers as well as university lecturers. David Didau @learningspy has written about threshold concepts in  What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology  (2016).

If this is an idea that interests you, then Twitter is a great place to find other enthusiasts, including @MrsThorne (History) and @chemDrK  (Chemistry) who has a blog with an extensive reading list and some fascinating ideas about teaching implications. To read more, see:

https://sallythorne.com/2015/05/10/threshold-concepts-in-history-part-1/ and https://ndhsblogspot.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/threshold-concepts-4-confidence-and-retrieval/

But is there empirical evidence for the ideas of Meyer and Land? Interestingly Nick Rose, aka Evidenceintopractice,  who wrote What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology  with Didau, is sceptical, arguing that learning is more incremental. I agree that the extent of the claims made for threshold concepts should give us some pause for thought. Nick referenced this paper as an example of research suggesting that weaker, earlier theories are not replaced in a transformative fashion, but merely suppressed. The researchers do say though, that ‘ Science educators are thus charged with two tasks: not only must they help students learn the correct, scientific theory at hand, but they must also help students unlearn their earlier, less accurate theories.’ (Shtulman and Valcarcelas 2011).

My current take on this is that although misconceptions are problematic for us as learners, they are pedagogically very interesting. If, as teachers, we take an interest in the bottlenecks created by misconceptions, we will be in territory rich with teaching opportunities. If these bottlenecks are stressful or alienating for students of any age, all the more reason for us to find approaches to dealing with this kind of ‘troublesome knowledge’ (Perkins 1999 in Meyer and Land, 2003).

Bottlenecks that then produce benefits?

Does Twitter need some intersubjectivity? 


Does edu-Twitter need a bit more intersubjectivity?  Do I?

This blog is about why I am so interested in edu-Twitter and also about how it might work better (for me, and perhaps for you).

Perhaps Twitter works  best if the participants have a shared understanding of the reasons for their engagement.

Perhaps this means pausing the conversation occasionally, just for a moment, to ask how we want the conversation to be conducted.

Since Twitter works well with lists, here is a list of ways in which I want edu-Twitter  to work, and ways in which -sometimes- it doesn’t work for me.

Good Twitter     angel emoji

  1. I want to follow teachers who teach everyday, because I want to know what you are doing, what bothers you, what excites you. I follow new teachers and very experienced teachers, primary and secondary teachers, teachers of my subject (History) and others, from my country (England) and from around the world. I want Twitter to keep open windows into other worlds.
  2. I want to hear about things happening in the real world, like research events, teachmeets, museum exhibitions,  government announcements, conferences, many other things, and to share these so that if I can’t attend, a contact on Twitter might.
  3. I want people I follow to suggest things I should read too, especially research  about teaching and learning, articles about the the past, about history and historical thinking, about the politics of education and much more besides.
  4. Twitter can connect me to other people when there is a burning issue, for example in teacher education, the study of the past, or the educational system here and internationally. I often hear important news on Twitter before I hear about from any other source. Cool. Edu-Twitter: you are an inspiration!
  5. I want to use Twitter to explore ideas and issues. Here I am in intersubjective mode. Notice the use of ‘perhaps’ above. I am trying to share the ‘rules of play’ I am looking for on Twitter. Play here means playing with different ideas and bodies of knowledge, trying to open up debate and not close it down. Using the word play doesn’t mean I am not serious about professional and other issues. Play for me doesn’t mean messing around. When musicians play music it isn’t a game. It might even be art. When children play it might enable learning (#controversy) .

Bad Twitter devil emoji

  1. I don’t want to use Twitter to win-or lose- arguments. Debate yes, point scoring no. I am trying to move away from this. Thank you for those tweeters who model this for me every day. You know who you are. (Is this direct instruction or constructivist? #controversy)
  2. I don’t want to be told by other tweeters what I DO think,  on the basis of one thing I say or do.
  3. I don’t want to be told what I SHOULD think. (I might still follow you if you do this, though it is hard work for me. Trying to keep an open mind is very difficult if the debate seems threatening, but it is vital).
  4. I don’t want to attack anyone personally or be attacked. (This post is not about being attacked, as my experiences on Twitter have been very positive overall). Simple right? Well this is another place where intersubjectivity comes in. We all have areas where -suddenly-  we are deadly serious. Our professional identity is at stake. We need to look out for these reactions in our fellow users of Twitter and have the self-awareness to realise that we might close down debate, when -in my view- it needs to stay open. This means taking time to jump out of the debate and, perhaps, think aloud about how we want the debate to be conducted.

So thank you edu-Twitter, but please take play seriously.We will all learn more from each other if we  play nice.




School based teacher training: do we need any other kind? part 3


Michael Gove has argued that moving ‘trainee teachers out of college and into the classroom’ would create liberated professionals.  Are schools full of teachers overwhelmed with a sense of freedom? Under pressure from Ofsted, and performance related pay linked to league tables of examination results, much of the evidence seems to point the other way.

And the new enemies of promise ?

There are socially and economically disadvantaged children in England who are not doing well in school. Some gaps in achievement between children from different socio-economic groups are not necessarily closed by even the most effective schools, (Strand 2014). The political strategy may be as follows. If educationalists argue that child poverty is the bigger issue, they can be attacked as ideologues with low expectations. This tactic diverts attention from economic and social policies, and positions the education system, and teacher training, as the problem. We are a soft target, and not natural rebels.

We do have a great deal to offer, though, and here are some ideas.

  1. University-based teacher educators maintain a focus on beginning teachers as learners (not workers)  and this is vital for their resilience
  2. University-based sessions can provide the time and space need to reflect on and analyse learning opportunities provided by schools, and we have specific pedagogical skills and knowledge to support adult learning
  3. Like the best teachers, university-based teacher educators have a ‘research-informed knowledge of schooling and pedagogical content knowledge for subject teaching, two vital areas for improving the quality of both pupil and teacher learning’, (Murray et al, 2014: 302).
  4. We write stuff for teachers (and not just academics, though some of us can do this kind of writing too). It is this ‘published, practitioner-voiced theorizing’, that forms a bridge between school-based ‘situated craft knowledge and… systemized, abstract knowledge’, in universities (Counsell, 2013: 134-135).  The school-based teacher educators Counsell works with use such texts as ‘framework, exemplar, foil or critical target’, (Counsell, 2013: 1670) to enable their beginning teachers to think through their plans like a teacher. Who will have the time and expertise to produce this literature if the role of the university-based teacher educator disappears?

The problem with schools as a place for adult learning is that they first have to work as a place where children learn. It is not possible to reduce the ‘fundamental variability’ of experiences in the school (Burn and Mutton, 2013).

Shulman argued that the signature pedagogy of a profession should focus on enabling novices ‘ to think, to perform, and to act with integrity’, (Shulman, 2005:52).

If we want to enable new teachers to become thinking, decision-making professionals the road we should be going down will keep universities in. This will make a difference.


In August 2016 I wrote the following, published in the BERA blog series: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/initial-teacher-education-is-about-sojourning-the-role-of-universities-in-developing-know-that-to-inform-know-how