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My most viewed posts of 2019

2019-12-31T16:18:24+00:00December 31st, 2019|Featured|

For those of you who are interested, here are the top 10 most viewed posts on my blog during 2019 Closing the language gap: Building vocabulary (16th November 2014) It's a bit of a puzzler why a post written 5 years ago is proving so popular but I can only imagine anxious teachers are looking for Alex Quigley's wildly popular book are are somehow stumbling onto this post. How do we know pupils are making progress? Part 1 The madness of flightpaths (23rd March) The first of a four part series about how we might go about stating with any degree [...]

The importance of play (and why it’s better to avoid bullshit)

2019-12-11T14:29:47+00:00December 10th, 2019|Featured|

Play is an essential part of learning. The young of many species play in order to test their physical limits, form bonds with others, explore the environment, practice hunting behaviours and generally mimic their elders. Human children are no different in this respect: we play in order to learn about ourselves and our environment. It's probably true to say that the instinct to play is 'hardwired' into us and, short of locking children in a box, there's no way to prevent them from playing. Social learning is the basis for the transmission of human culture and play is an unavoidable component [...]

My favourite reads this year

2019-12-09T16:58:19+00:00December 9th, 2019|Featured|

In no particular order, these are the books I have most enjoyed reading during 2019. Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, Tom Holland As a long-time admirer of Holland's brand of history, I was very much looking forward to this. In this he retreads some of the basic territory covered in Millennium and In the Shadow of the Sword, but takes it in a new and startling direction. His basic thesis is that all every aspect of modern Western culture has been shaped by our Christian roots. He begins by addressing the cultural norms of late antiquity and the struggle [...]

The distorting lens of perspective (and why teachers need to be professionally sceptical)

2019-11-26T19:24:32+00:00November 26th, 2019|Featured|

We view the world from our own stance. Our view is unique which means we have unique insights and observations to offer, but it also means other people, viewing from different perspectives, see something different. I was interested to read Tom Sherrington's recent blog levelling the blame for substandard teaching at the feet of teachers he describes as 'Bad Trads': The teacher is up there, trying to teach in an instructional manner but finding it hard.  They’re struggling to marshall [sic] the material and control behaviour; they’re not explaining well; their questioning is weak; their resources are poorly designed to support [...]

The road to hell

2019-11-29T23:01:34+00:00November 24th, 2019|Featured|

My default assumption is that everyone working in education has good intentions. We all want children to be happier, healthier, safer, more creative and better problem solvers. But, good intentions are never enough. Over the past eight years I have used this blog to campaign against the nonsense that used to pervade the system. In the bad old days, Ofsted was the ‘child-centred inquisition’ burning teachers who talked for too long at the stake. Group work, ‘active’ and ‘self-directed’ learning were held up as unquestioned good things and all dissent was crushed with inadequate judgements. We can look back with a [...]

What works best for children with SEND works best for all children

2019-11-18T16:58:14+00:00November 17th, 2019|Featured|

What works best for children with SEND? That, of course, depends upon the precise nature of children's particular needs. That said, we can draw some generalisable conclusions by thinking about some of the more common areas of special educational need. For instance, a child with a working memory deficit is likely to benefit from having information carefully sequenced and instruction broken into manageable chunks. But all children have limited working memory capacity. Dyslexic children have the best possible chance of learning to read fluently if they are given carefully sequenced systematic synthetic phonics instruction. This is equally true of children who are [...]

What should schools teach?

2019-10-29T13:20:54+00:00October 29th, 2019|Featured|

All knowledge may be precious, but it's hard to argue that it's equally precious. The time children spend in school is strictly finite and so, when deciding what to teach we must must make choices. Often these choices will necessarily be brutal. I was recently contacted by a marketing company who wanted me to write about some 'research' conducted by SellHouseFast which analysed search terms used on UK search engines to find out which queries related to "the real world" are most search for. Here's the result: The argument appears to be that if people are searching for these things then [...]

In praise of uncertainty

2019-10-07T13:20:36+01:00October 7th, 2019|Featured|

I want you to conjure up the spirit of one of your primitive ancestors. Picture yourself hunting for food on the savannah or in a primordial forest. Imagine, if you will, that you catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of your eye. Is it a snake? Although you can't be sure, the only sensible option is to act with certainty, assume that there is a snake and takes immediate steps to avoid it. We're primed to act with certainty on minimal information. This incredibly useful survival instinct has served the species well for countless millennia. If [...]

The curriculum: Intent, implementation and impact

2019-07-24T18:07:15+01:00July 23rd, 2019|Featured|

This article first appeared in the marvellous free periodical, Teach Secondary. Do pop over and subscribe.  Most teachers will be aware that Ofsted is launching a new inspection framework this September. The big shift in focus is away from inspectors attempting to judge the quality of teaching and learning by observing lessons and towards attempting to judge the quality of education a school provides by, at least in part, interrogating the curriculum a school has in place. In an effort to assist schools in assessing the quality of their curriculum, Ofsted has divided matters into three baskets: intent, implementation and impact. [...]

Why ‘just reading’ might make more of a difference than teaching reading

2019-10-01T14:01:02+01:00June 22nd, 2019|Featured, reading|

Few people would disagree that improving children's reading ability would make a good thing. Not only would it open up greater opportunities in life, it would boost their cognitive development and increase the likelihood of them being able to access an academic curriculum. One barrier to children being able to comprehend what they read is the finding that an estimated 20% of children leave primary phase each year unable to decode with sufficient fluency to read the kinds of texts they will encounter at secondary school. Essentially, the more slowly you read, the more working memory capacity is taken up by [...]

A few thoughts about teaching poetry

2019-06-04T19:36:15+01:00June 3rd, 2019|Featured|

It is, I hope, uncontroversial to say that poetry is not a popular art form. While it's wonderful to hear the sales of poetry rose by 12% in 2018, with over 1.3 million volumes sold, that's dwarfed by the 190.9 million books sold in the UK in the same year, and is still a lot less than the 3.4 million copies of Michelle Obama's autobiography, Becoming. Why is it that so few people read poetry? I'm sure there are a whole host of complex reasons but I suspect it has a lot to do with our prior experience of the form. [...]

What’s the big deal with Big Questions?

2019-05-31T10:48:32+01:00May 31st, 2019|Featured|

You might know them as Fertile Questions, Enquiry Questions, or plain old, Big Questions, but the idea that the curriculum ought to be organised around broad, disciplinary, substantive enquires is a popular one. It seems to be an especially popular approach with the history teaching community. Christine Counsell goes so far as to say that such questions are "vital in history because without [them] you can't learn how the second-order concepts of the discipline work." As an example she goes that a question such as 'Why did Russian Revolution happen in 1917?' are required for students to get a feel for [...]