Can grammar teaching improve pupils’ writing?

2017-12-13T09:10:51+00:00November 29th, 2017|research, writing|

Let me begin with an anecdote. The first time I ever really encountered the meta language of grammar was after finishing my degree in English Literature and embarking on a six-week course to qualify to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). I had to cram a whole host of previously unknown terminology in order to pass the course and it all seemed pretty pointless. Not knowing this stuff hadn't made a jot of difference to my ability to read and write as far as I could tell. After I got my certificate I bounced from place to place using my [...]

Two fallacies to avoid

2020-02-18T16:19:14+00:00August 14th, 2017|research|

Avoiding logical fallacies can be tricky and, as responses to some of my recent posts has made clear, anyone who spends time debating evolutionary psychology, behaviour genetics or science in general will find themselves having to hack through thick swathes of them in their attempts to get a little closer to truth. Two particularly prevalent and egregious fallacies we must strive to avoid are the naturalistic fallacy and the moralistic fallacy. The naturalistic fallacy, first coined by the philosopher G.E. Moore, is similar in construction to Hume's 'is/ought problem'. The fallacy, in essence, confuses what's natural with what's good and leads [...]

Do schools matter less than we think?

2017-08-12T17:44:15+01:00August 12th, 2017|research|

Disturbingly for all of us involved in education, it seems as if schools and teaching may matter a lot less than we would like to believe. Before setting out the arguments I want to make it clear that this is a struggle for me and I really don't want it to be true. That said, being professionally sceptical requires that we doubt what we want to believe as much - more - than the stuff that's obvious guff. In order to understand what comes next, I'm going to take the liberty of providing a quick refresher on the mechanics of behaviour [...]

Larkin was wrong: parenting makes less difference than we think

2020-02-24T07:00:03+00:00August 11th, 2017|Featured, research|

Being a parent is a terrifying responsibility. The message of Larkin's poem, ‘This Be The Verse’, is that parents cannot help but pass on their failings to their children, and that the reason we are as we are is an inevitable consequence of how we were brought up. The thought that I probably can’t help filling my daughters with my faults can seem an alarming inevitability, but one of the most troubling truths I’ve had to grapple with as a parent is that parenting doesn’t really matter. OK, that’s not quite right: parenting matters a great deal in how happy we [...]

What causes behaviour?

2017-08-24T17:29:34+01:00August 10th, 2017|research|

The age-old debate as to what causes human behaviour - nature vs nurture - shows little sign of running out of steam, despite having been emphatically resolved as far as science is concerned.  Although all knowledge is contingent and no scientist worthy of the name would ever say there are no facts established completely beyond doubt, the mountains of evidence that have piled up in favour of genetic causes for behaviour as opposed to environmental ones is solemnly impressive. No one argues that genes are wholly responsible for how we behave or that the environment has no effect on how we [...]

Are you fooling yourself? Education and epidemiology

2017-04-29T19:00:32+01:00April 29th, 2017|research|

Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. - Richard Feynman Epidemiology is the science of trying to find out what makes people healthier. Epidemiologists look at data to identify causal links between improved health and other factors. It is a correlational science which means that it can never really prove a causal link it can only suggest that a connection between two or more variables is unlikely to be caused by chance. Correlation is a tricksy business. Perfect correlations tend not [...]

What do teachers think differentiation is?

2017-07-15T22:11:41+01:00April 24th, 2017|research|

In Why Knowledge Matters, ED Hirsch Jr sets out the case against differentiated instruction, saying, "the attempt to individualize the content of the language arts curriculum has been a quixotic idea that has put teachers under enormous pressure to achieve the impossible." He explains further: When a teacher is attending to the individual needs of one student  in a class of twenty, nineteen are not receiving the teacher's attention. all sorts of techniques conspire to obscure that fact - group work, isolated seatwork on boring work sheets, and "independent study' with choice of books from the leveled-reader bin.(p. 72) In What If [...]

What do teachers believe?

2017-03-16T20:49:30+00:00March 16th, 2017|research|

It's well-established that various 'myths' about how students' learn are remarkably persistent in the face of contradictory evidence. In 2014, Paul Howard-Jones' article, Neuroscience and education: myths and messages revealed the extent of teachers' faulty beliefs: In the UK, 93% of teachers believe that matching instruction to students' preferred learning style is a good idea, 88% believed in some form of Brain Gym, with 91% being convinced by the left-brain-right brain hypothesis. He concludes with the following: Neuromyths are misconceptions about the brain that flourish when cultural conditions protect them from scrutiny. Their form is influenced by a range of biases in how we [...]

Unprofessional misjudgement

2017-03-01T14:50:08+00:00March 1st, 2017|research|

No, I’m not using evidence, but I’m not using prejudice either. I am exercising my professional judgement. Sue Cowley It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is. It doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. Richard Feynman A few days ago I wrote about why we shouldn't credulously accept evidence, and that it wasn't as simple as suggesting that teachers either use evidence or prejudice to inform their decision. We are all guilty of using prejudice whether or not we use evidence. [...]

Evidence and disadvantage: How useful is the EEF Toolkit?

2017-02-27T09:01:15+00:00February 26th, 2017|research|

Although everyone's education is important, the education of disadvantaged students is, arguably, of much greater importance than that of students from more advantaged backgrounds. The more privileged your background, the less it's likely to matter what happens at school. Conversely, the more socially disadvantaged your background, the greater the impact of what does, or does not happen at school.Sadly though, access to education is more than likely to experience a Matthew effect. Those who have the best chance in life are the most likely to get a great education. That being the case, it seems reasonable to suggest that whilst all children deserve that the [...]

Can all of learning be summed up by test scores?

2017-02-12T18:02:57+00:00February 12th, 2017|research|

Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not all that bothered about test scores. I mean, obviously I'd far prefer pupils did well rather than poorly on a summative exam, particularly if it is likely to have some bearing on their future life chances - who wouldn't? - but I'm certainly not interested in raising test scores for the sake of raising test scores. Which is why I feel taken aback when people say things like this: @C_Hendrick @DavidDidau @LearningSpy you all really do think all of learning can be summed up by test scores don't you? — David Cahn (@EYBrofessional) February 12, [...]

The power of 'best bets'

2017-01-15T17:40:00+00:00January 15th, 2017|research|

The other day I read Greg Ashman's post Why Education is like smoking which talked about the way teachers often generalise from anecdotes in the same way that when smokers are confronted with statistics about the health risks of smoking they might say things like, "Well, my nan smoked 400 cigarettes a day! She may have had bright yellow fingers but she lived to the ripe old age of 130!" Or whatever. Teachers do this sort of thing all the time. We say things like, "Well, the research may say x, but I find y works so much better for me!" Maybe it [...]

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