you're reading...
Teaching and Learning

Lessons from Berger: Austin’s Butterfly and not accepting mediocrity

Austin's Butterfly.  The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.

Austin’s Butterfly. The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.

I’m preparing a CPD input for teachers at my school sharing some of my current thoughts about teaching.  One of the ideas I want to share comes from Ron Berger – and I got this mainly from David Didau and this post here: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/assessment/improving-peer-feedback-with-public-critique/

The video by Ron Berger, as featured in David’s post,  is worth watching, even if getting a first grade class to ‘look like a scientist’ doesn’t feel too close to what you do in your lessons. :

I always love the boy early on, bursting with conviction in his knowledge: “It’s a Tiger Swallow Tail”;  “I knew it!!..

There are lots of things to take from this video:

1) The nature of effective critique. Most obviously, Ron is showing that critique that is kind, helpful and very specific, focused on a well-defined outcome is immensely powerful.  He is also showing that children can learn to do this.  Austin improved his butterfly based on feedback from his peers. David explains this in detail in his excellent post.

Lesson: It pays to give feedback in this fashion as teacher but also to teach students how to give feedback.  Not only does it help the recipient, it helps them to crystallise their understanding of what success looks like.  Let’s teach critique better and use it more.

2) The value of re-drafting.  Imagine if the teacher had just left it at draft one! Or even number three? There was more to come from Austin but he could have been allowed to stop short, to move on to something else before he’d fully explored this particular process. How often do we do that?  I’d suggest that too often we accept work from a student that is mediocre..far short of their best…and don’t enable them or insist that they go further.   Re-drafting or, more generally, improving work is under-rated.  Austin found out that he could draw a superb butterfly; the teacher found out that he could too – because he was given time and space to continually improve.  In fact he went back a bit in order to move forward… that was part of the process.

Obviously, with that experience or real success, you’d hope he could achieve a higher standard within fewer re-drafts on his next effort.  However, if he’d only done draft one or two of the butterfly, he’d have had a weaker platform of experience from which to base future work on.

Lesson: Let’s not accept mediocre efforts and move on.  Perhaps, as part of an approach to differentiation, some of our students could benefit from doing fewer pieces of work..with more time to re-draft selected samples of work until it is absolutely brilliant.  That would give them the experience of success as well as a message about standards and expectations.  If we settle for mediocrity, can we ever expect those students to dazzle?

3) The growth-mindset aspect.  The thing that strikes me most about this video is the contrast between Austin’s first and last drafts and the way that changes your perception of this unknown first-grader.  Presented with the first draft.. you might think that that was what Austin could do; that was him.  Presented with the final draft, you’d think he was a very much more talented young boy.  But it is the same boy… the final draft was always in him; it just needed to find a way out – with some help from his friends.

How often do we pigeon-hole students, fixing them into a category of attainment and more or less expecting their work to reinforce that pre-determined view? Do we challenge students enough when they hand in mediocre work and say ‘no – you are capable of so much more than that..let’s see what else you can do?’  I think that too often, we allow students to under-sell themselves; and so they do.

Lesson:  Let’s’ think about the possibility that every student  is a possible Austin.  With some judicious feedback, could we be getting Tiger Swallow Tails drawn like a scientist from each of them instead of the infantile sketches of a first grader?  Let’s challenge our early impressions of students and give them more time to produce work of the highest quality..so they know what it feels like; so they get that sense of achievement and get a taste for more.

I am no expert on critique per se but there are lots of people who are. As has been pointed out to me today, with thanks to Tait Coles, Darren Mead, David Fawcett and Martin Said, there are some superb blogs and documents about critique and feedback.  David has compiled them at the end of this excellent post:


I thoroughly recommend reading the post and following all the links at the bottom.

Update. Did Austin Learn Anything?

I always pose this question as a follow-up in any CPD?  Why? Because we need to deal with the possibility that, some time later, Austin might not remember how to ‘look like a scientist’. His butterflies of the future might revert back to his more basic offerings?  This  might be because he was too reliant on the critique feedback and that later, left to his own devices, he wouldn’t have been able to self-assess and make the changes needed to match the standard he showed in Mr Berger’s lesson.  This is ‘satnav’ syndrome – where we just follow instructions without thinking too hard for ourselves.  We reach the destination without learning the route.

To avoid this it would be essential for Austin to be given opportunities later on to capitalise on his new-found sense of self as someone capable of excellence, by trying a similar activity by himself – without all the help.  If he can produce the same standard of work independently, some time later, then we might say he’s truly learned something.

Further Update: Ron’s message!

I just received this message from Ron himself, with a link to his excellent website.


48 thoughts on “Lessons from Berger: Austin’s Butterfly and not accepting mediocrity

  1. Reblogged this on paddington teaching and learning and commented:
    The power of specific feedback and re-drafts – a must-watch!


    Posted by paddingtonteachingandlearning | November 5, 2013, 8:40 am
  2. Reblogged this on teachaldenham and commented:
    Ideas from Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher on peer assessment through Austin’s Butterfly.


    Posted by TeachAldenham | September 21, 2014, 8:07 am
  3. Beautifully expressed


    Posted by Snehal | May 30, 2021, 11:09 am


  1. Pingback: How can we create An Ethic of Excellence in our schools? | Improving Teaching - November 10, 2013

  2. Pingback: 'The Butterfly Effect' in Schools | HuntingEnglishHuntingEnglish - November 15, 2013

  3. Pingback: Defining the Butterfly: Knowing the Standards to Set the Standards | headguruteacher - November 20, 2013

  4. Pingback: My butterfly: the sentence escalator | Reflecting English - November 25, 2013

  5. Pingback: Life after levels: who’ll create a mastery assessment system? | Pragmatic Education - November 30, 2013

  6. Pingback: When Feedback Meet Bloom | Leading Learner - December 8, 2013

  7. Pingback: Slovenly language and foolish thoughts: how can I help my students write better history essays? | Improving Teaching - December 8, 2013

  8. Pingback: Taking Stock of the Education Agenda Part 1 | headguruteacher - December 15, 2013

  9. Pingback: Taking Stock of the Education Agenda Part 2 | headguruteacher - December 19, 2013

  10. Pingback: Teach to the Top | headguruteacher - December 27, 2013

  11. Pingback: Closing the Gap Marking – Twilight CPD | Teaching: Leading Learning - January 16, 2014

  12. Pingback: Dealing with Day-to-day Differentiation | headguruteacher - February 1, 2014

  13. Pingback: Feedback Strategies | Neil Atkin - February 3, 2014

  14. Pingback: Pedagogy Postcard #3: Live exemplars; iPads and visualisers | headguruteacher - March 23, 2014

  15. Pingback: Pedagogy Postcard #10: Personal Projects | headguruteacher - April 4, 2014

  16. Pingback: Pedagogy Postcard #19: Pitching It Up | headguruteacher - April 27, 2014

  17. Pingback: From first draft to excellence, the magic of feedback | Claude Lord - July 15, 2014

  18. Pingback: Contemporary educational ideas all my staff should know about | headguruteacher - August 18, 2014

  19. Pingback: Contemporary educational ideas (via headguruteacher) | Dan's Ed Tech & CS Blog - August 27, 2014

  20. Pingback: Teaching and Learning: Great ideas and practical tips from colleagues on social media and beyond | UptonTEEP - November 30, 2014

  21. Pingback: Assembly: Don’t Settle For Good Enough | Teaching: Leading Learning - January 3, 2015

  22. Pingback: The Butterlfy Effect | an under cover teacher - March 6, 2015

  23. Pingback: Modelling for Excellence | RGS Learning - May 12, 2015

  24. Pingback: Using technology to support SEN | researchatwix - June 25, 2015

  25. Pingback: Coursework | Reading all the Books - August 14, 2015

  26. Pingback: Blog of the week | 27th September 2015 | Never Stop Learning - September 27, 2015

  27. Pingback: Feeding back | researchatwix - December 16, 2015

  28. Pingback: Teaching and Learning Friday briefings – hdhstl - February 29, 2016

  29. Pingback: 10 Provocations. An interactive session with me and @PeterHyman21 at #ASCL2016 | headguruteacher - March 6, 2016

  30. Pingback: Focusing our Teaching and Learning Priorities: A reading list. | headguruteacher - March 19, 2016

  31. Pingback: Focusing our Teaching and Learning Priorities: A reading list. | Kesgrave High School - March 21, 2016

  32. Pingback: Bringing Meaning to Art in Early Education - May 4, 2016

  33. Pingback: Repurposing homework: the quest for excellence in homework | Learning Magpies - May 28, 2016

  34. Pingback: Repurposing homework: the quest for excellence | Learning Magpies - May 28, 2016

  35. Pingback: Love, fear and… CPD | NDHS Blog Spot - September 9, 2016

  36. Pingback: 10 Blogs for Great Teaching | teacherhead - April 6, 2017

  37. Pingback: Ten teaching techniques to practise – deliberately. | teacherhead - April 25, 2017

  38. Pingback: STEAM Reflections ending Term 1, 2017 – LIVERPOOL GIRLS' HIGH SCHOOL | STEAM CREATORS - May 14, 2017

  39. Pingback: Kesgrave High School - July 17, 2017

  40. Pingback: Did Austin Actually Learn Anything from his Butterfly? – Adventures in Instruction - March 22, 2018

  41. Pingback: Ten Teaching Techniques – Tom Sherrington | Kesgrave High School - May 24, 2018

  42. Pingback: SATs Reform: 50 Shades of Playing The System (And How To Reform It) - Teacher Tapp : Ask · Answer · Learn - May 28, 2019

  43. Pingback: Engineering Success. A positive alternative to generic mindset messaging | teacherhead - June 1, 2019

  44. Pingback: Understanding Assessment Part Two: More CPD Slides. | teacherhead - April 27, 2021

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow teacherhead on WordPress.com


Blog Stats

  • 7,319,402 hits


Follow me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 128,666 other followers

St Jude Songs. And others.

%d bloggers like this: