Why bother with ‘turn & talk’?

2024-06-07T17:19:07+01:00June 7th, 2024|Featured|

Beyond the notion that it's nice for students to chat, or 'do oracy,' is there any real merit in getting them to talk to each other during lessons? Recently on Twitter, Barry Smith got in touch to go over all the things he sees that regularly go wrong with 'turn & talk': Kids don’t know a lot & simply aren’t able to articulate anything meaningful in the time given. Kids slow to start. Don’t have the words. Kids given very short time to express ideas. One child will dominate. Others don’t participate. Kids embarrassed Then there’s issue of kids teaching [...]

Messy markbooks: monitoring participation in (and across) lessons

2024-01-28T17:21:51+00:00January 20th, 2024|Featured|

Since taking the plunge with mini-whiteboards (see this post) over the past few years my ability to know whether students are paying attention, thinking and practising has dramatically increased. Because I'm usually teaching groups of children I've not met before, I always draw out a seating plan and make sure I have everyone's names recorded. With access to MWBs, it made sense to jot this information onto a whiteboard rather than a piece of paper. I'd then find myself ticking students off as I asked them questions or got them to participate in some other way to ensure I had [...]

Earned autonomy and shared responsibility

2024-01-06T09:24:14+00:00January 5th, 2024|Featured, leadership|

Having just gotten around to reading Matthew Evans' blog, The Earned Autonomy Trap, I feel moved to break my blogging silence of the past few months. In my book, Intelligent Accountability, I present earned autonomy as one of the principles required to balance trust and accountability and help create the conditions for teachers to thrive. In it, I argue the following: What if, no matter how hard a teacher works, no matter how successful their efforts are, they are still expected to follow the same constraints designed to support the least effective teachers? These problems are avoided if teachers are [...]

Should we seek to balance teacher-led and student-led lesson activities?

2023-11-25T11:17:48+00:00October 29th, 2022|Featured|

For as long as I've been writing about education, many commentators have argued that teaching should seek to balance teacher-led and student-led activities. Although this is often presented as self-evidently obvious, it rather begs the question. What's so great about balance? Should we seek balance for its own sake, because it's intrinsically valuable, or should we consider what we want to balance? Despite balance sounding - well - balanced, no one would argue that we should seek to achieve a balance between effective and ineffective activities so to argue that teaching should include both teacher-led and student-led activities we really [...]

Gapless instruction vs ‘teaching to the top’

2022-10-16T07:03:31+01:00October 15th, 2022|Featured|

Over the years I’ve recommended that teachers ‘teach to the top’ on too many occasions to count. For the most part, I’ve caveated this by included the need to ‘scaffold down,’ but, honestly, I’ve come to believe that the phrase ‘teaching to the top’ has the capacity to do more harm than good. I spoke at a conference recently where I asked participants to discuss what they understood by the term. After a brief chat, I asked them to respond on their mini whiteboards to the following question: What is the best definition of the term ‘teaching to the top’? A) [...]

Specify, teach, assess: using the English curriculum as a progression model

2021-06-25T17:20:36+01:00June 25th, 2021|Featured|

One of the biggest barriers to the successful implementation of an English curriculum is that all too often students are assessed on their ability to do things they haven't actually been taught. This may sound bizarre, but it is, I think, an inevitable product of the belief that English is a 'skills-based subject'. Let's say you teach students a unit on 'Greek myth,' 'a background to Shakespeare,' or Malorie Blackman's YA novel Noughts and Crosses. How will you assess students' progress? Typically, some theme or aspect covered in the unit is brought to the fore and then students are asked to [...]

A reading curriculum: Gap-widening vs gap-narrowing

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

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, [...]

How should writing fit into the English curriculum?

2021-10-30T14:38:37+01:00March 3rd, 2021|Featured|

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 [...]

Reforming GCSE English literature and language

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

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 [...]

Making Meaning in English: Book launch

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

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/

Educational dog whistles (and how not to blow them)

2023-05-03T13:22:09+01:00January 21st, 2021|Featured|

As in every sphere, there are certain phrases or topics that act as dog whistles in education. When people use terms like 'progressive,' 'knowledge-rich,' 'no excuses,' 'deep dive,' 'SLANT,' or 'fronted adverbial' they are  tapping into a groundswell of - usually negative - opinion which stirs up like minded folk into predictable paroxysms of outrage and fury. 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 [...]

The best 3 sentences in education?

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

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 [...]

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