A reading curriculum: Gap-widening vs gap-narrowing

The idea that education acts as a Matthew Effect that disproportionately benefits those who start with most is an uncomfortable but well-understood phenomenon. Everything we do in schools either widens the advantage gap between the most privileged and least privileged students, or narrows it. This is, I think, a real dichotomy: anything that, on balance, appears net neutral is in fact acting to keep the gap a yawning chasm of inequity. This allows us to look at any potential intervention or policy and ask whether it's likely to widen or narrow the gap. Take, for instance, Renaissance Learning's ubiquitous quizzing software, [...]

2021-03-24T12:24:23+00:00March 21st, 2021|Featured|

How should writing fit into the English curriculum?

I think like many English teachers I've long been conflicted about the position of writing in the curriculum. On the one hand, of course writing is central to students' experience of studying English. Not only should we aim to make them technically proficient, but we should explicitly teach them how to master a range of written styles and genres. But, on the other hand, writing units are turgid. Although I always dreaded the moment in the academic calendar when the inevitable writing scheme of work hoved into view,  I felt guilty. Clearly, the fault was mine and I just needed to [...]

2021-03-06T18:48:23+00:00March 3rd, 2021|Featured|

Making Meaning in English: An exploration of the role of knowledge in language and literature

I'm pleased to announce that Making Meaning in English is available now. (Quote MME20 for a 20% discount) The book is a discussion on the role of English as a school subject: What is it for? How has it been shaped? What’s been done in the past? What’s gone wrong and what’s been successful? It particularly examines what knowledge means in English. Clearly the approaches to acquiring knowledge that work in subjects like maths and science are less appropriate to a subject more concerned with judgement, interpretation and value. I suggest there is important disciplinary and substantive knowledge that tends to [...]

2021-02-10T16:23:49+00:00February 9th, 2021|English|

Reforming GCSE English literature and language

Seeing as all sorts of folks have decided now is a good time to try to get rid of (or at least, reform) GCSEs, I thought I'd offer up my opinions. I should start by saying that, on the whole, I'm in favour of retaining exams. If the last two years have taught us anything it's that for all their problems (and despite all the noisy rhetoric to the contrary) no one has been able to suggest anything better. Exams continue to be the worst possible way to assess children apart from all the other ways. The problem with all forms [...]

2021-02-20T15:43:26+00:00February 8th, 2021|Featured|

Making Meaning in English: Book launch

My new book, Making Meaning in English - the final fruits of the burst of productivity I enjoyed during the first phase of lock down - will be available for your delight and edification on 10th February. It is (although you may feel this is a low bar) the best thing I've written. So much so that I'm reluctant to forego the opportunity to mark its entry into the world without a (suitably socially distanced) launch event. For those that missed it, here it is: https://academy.learningspy.co.uk/library-content/making-meaning-in-english-book-launch/

2021-02-19T14:49:19+00:00January 31st, 2021|Featured|

Educational dog whistles (and how not to blow them)

As in every sphere, there are certain phrases or topics that act a dog whistle in education. When people use terms like 'progressive,' 'knowledge-rich,' 'no excuses,' 'deep dive,' or 'fronted adverbial' they are  tapping into a groundswell of - usually negative - opinion which stirs up like minded folk into predictable paroxysms of fury and outrage. What happens is, I think, something like this: for some people 'fronted adverbial' stands for soulless, mind numbing tedium and clunky, inelegant writing. For others, the term conjures up the thought that children are - at long last - receiving some of the much needed [...]

2021-01-25T12:12:32+00:00January 21st, 2021|Featured|

Using grammar to make meaning

As a writer I know that I must select studiously the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, etcetera, and by a careful syntactical arrangement make readers laugh, reflect or riot. Maya Angelou, Conversations with Maya Angelou Every human culture has developed a spoken language and, by inference, a system of grammar. No one ever sits us down and teaches us how to speak, we just soak it up from our environment. All children, regardless of their culture, seem to go through very predictable phases of language acquisition: first they learn nouns, then they start to pick up verbs and then start to combine [...]

2021-01-19T11:21:19+00:00January 19th, 2021|English, writing|

The best 3 sentences in education?

I slide I used in a presentation on the ideas in my book, Making Kids Cleverer has been getting a bit of love on Twitter, with New Zealand school principal referring to it as containing what might be "the three best sentences in education". This could be the three best sentences in education. Thanks ⁦@DavidDidau⁩ pic.twitter.com/cXn37GTeZG — John Young (@JohnYoung18) December 9, 2020 Apart from the missing apostrophe in the second statement, this is obviously very gratifying, and I thought it would be useful to add some context and clarification. The most advantaged will succeed despite what schools do. This is [...]

2020-12-14T11:12:08+00:00December 10th, 2020|Featured|

Curriculum related expectations: the specificity problem

If we are going to use the curriculum as a progression model, it's useful to build in checkpoints to ensure students are meeting curriculum related expectations. So far I written about replacing age related expectations with curriculum related expectations, and another on replacing grades more generally with curriculum related expectations. But how specific do these expectations have to be in order to be useful? If they're too specific we risk generating endless tick box checklists, but if they're too broad there's the risk they become meaninglessly bland and tell us nothing about how students are progressing. It seems tempting to suggest [...]

2020-11-22T09:44:54+00:00November 21st, 2020|assessment, curriculum|

High jump vs hurdles: Replacing grades with curriculum related expectations

I've recently argued that one way to ensure schools are explicitly using the curriculum as a progression model is to assess children against curriculum related expectations. Briefly, this means that if your curriculum specifies that students have been taught x, they are then assessed as to whether they have met a minimum threshold in their understanding of x. So, for instance, if I've taught you about, say, the differents of metrical feet and their effects, are you now able to demonstrate this knowledge? If you can then you have met a curriculum related expectation; if you cannot then they haven't. In [...]

2021-04-28T09:12:25+01:00November 18th, 2020|assessment, curriculum|

The problem with grades: Are they worth keeping?

Grades are so much a part of the educational landscape that it's hard to imagine what schools would be like without them. In the debate over whether or not we should retain exams this year, no one is suggesting we should do away with 1-9 GCSE grades. But what if we did? Clearly, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but maybe it's worth conducting something of a thought experiment. In 10 Things Schools Get Wrong, Jared Cooney Horvath and David Botts, propose that grades are one of the things schools are currently getting wrong. They make the point that grades are [...]

2020-11-15T21:19:35+00:00November 15th, 2020|myths|

Making analogies in English

… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. Last month I wrote about 'creative reading' and the art of noticing what is read. This post focusses on [...]

2020-11-14T14:02:18+00:00November 14th, 2020|English|
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