Why the knowledge/skills debate is worth having


'I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike'. Maya Angelou I've come an awful long way since September 2011 when Cristina Milos took the time to point out that my view on the teaching of knowledge and skills were seriously skewed. I'm flabbergasted that, as an experienced teacher, I could have been so ignorant. I said at the end of that post that "I guess my conclusion isn’t that skills are more important than knowledge: rather that both are required for mastery of a subject." But I didn't really believe it. If [...]

Why the knowledge/skills debate is worth having 2015-01-26T08:41:20+00:00

The problem with progress Part 3: Designing lessons for learning


Over my last couple of posts I've suggested that you can't see learning in lessons, you can only infer it from students' performance. This means that as a teacher, when you get students to respond to exit passes, signal with traffic lights and otherwise engage in formative assessment what you see are merely cued responses to stimuli. What I mean by that is that the tasks we set students to check whether they've learned what we've taught only tell us how they are performing at that particular time and in those particular circumstances; they offer no indication whether the feckless buggers [...]

The problem with progress Part 3: Designing lessons for learning 2014-05-25T18:20:25+00:00

Knowledge is power


I've been having a bit of think this week. Firstly I read Daisy Christodoulou's post on Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum. She points out that Hirsch, oft-condemned for being the darling of ideologues like Mickey Gove is, in his own words 'a quasi socialist' and big mates with Diane Ravitch (who is nobody's fool.) Then I listened to the hugely entertaining Jonathan Lear give an excellent presentation at Independent Thinking's Big Day Out in Bristol on Friday and like any speaker worth their salt he got me thinking. His point, if I may make so bold as to attempt a precis, is that [...]

Knowledge is power 2013-09-25T21:14:34+00:00

The need for 'Why To' guides


I'm not a fan of telling people how to do things. OK, that may not strictly speaking be true, but I do believe that just explaining how to solve a problem is unlikely to result in much learning. The best way is to learn is to think about why a problem should be solved. As teachers we often bemoan the fact that we're not treated with respect as a profession. There are probably all sorts of reasons for this but one reason is the extent to which we've allowed ourselves to be told how we should teach. Consider how we're assessed [...]

The need for 'Why To' guides 2012-06-07T16:20:53+00:00

Is SOLO a waste of time?


Stop blaming your lack of experimentation, risk and innovation on your lack of time. Hywel Roberts - Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally It was pointed out to me recently that I can afford to expend my energies on such fripperies as the SOLO taxonomy and group work because I teach a subject which is rich in curriculum time. If, the logic goes, you only have 1 or 2 hours per week you need to spend it delivering content. Anything else is a waste of time. Clearly there's some truth in this: English does get more time than, say, French or RE. [...]

Is SOLO a waste of time? 2012-06-04T00:09:07+00:00

Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 2)


So, the risk paid off and I got the job. I am now Director for English and Literacy at Clevedon School, which has a pleasingly grand ring to it. You'll remember the brief of the interview lesson was to teach a 40 minute  Shakespeare master class to a group of 30 mixed ability Year 8 students which introduced a pedagogical thinking tool. Easy. My SOLO introduction to Shakespeare (or Shakespeare introduction to SOLO depending on your point of view) went well but wasn't as perfect as I'd hoped. Fortunately, I got time to arrange the room priory to the [...]

Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 2) 2012-06-02T15:12:38+00:00

Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1)


I have an interview on Monday. For me the most stressful part of interview preparation is getting the lesson right. I'm happy to take criticism over almost anything else but I really don't want to hear that my teaching is anything less than outstanding. Why? Because it's what I do all day. If I can't put together an outstanding lesson at an interview then, frankly, what's the point? But, as we all know, interview lessons are highly artificial. You have no prior knowledge of the students beyond some broad statement about their 'ability' and you don't have any kind of relationship [...]

Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1) 2012-05-26T16:47:30+00:00

SOLO taxonomy training


UPDATE: I no longer think SOLO taxonomy is worth spending any time on. Here is why. A few weeks ago I rather rashly offered to present on SOLO taxonomy to the North Somerset Aspire network. As always with this sort of foolishness it's made me consider my understanding of the subject in a lot more depth. Before the Summer I'd never even heard of it. But since then the whole world (or at least the very narrow teaching geek world I inhabit) has exploded with SOLO fever. Tait Coles and Darren Mead have done their best to help me understand some [...]

SOLO taxonomy training 2015-07-16T10:22:23+00:00

Hexagonal Learning


The mantra of all successful lesson observations these days is that students should be seen to be making progress. Perhaps the best way to show that you’re having an impact on their knowledge and understanding is to show that the learning is ‘deep’. By that I mean, knowledge that transfers from students’ working memories into their long-term memories. Students understand new ideas by relating them to existing ones. If they don't know enough about a subject they won’t have a solid base from which to make connections to prior knowledge. Students are more likely to remember learning if they "make their [...]

Hexagonal Learning 2012-01-28T14:52:41+00:00

Should we be teaching knowledge or skills?


It is a truth universally acknowledged that our education system isn’t quite up to snuff. And at that point virtually all agreement ceases. There are those on which we might loosely term the ‘right’ of the divide who point to PISA scores, claim that we’re in the middle of a crisis and suggest that a return to traditional values is the way forward. Oh, and Free Schools are good too. Then there are the proponents of the ‘left’ who think that the current emphasis of schools does not fit us for a future in which compliance will no longer be rewarded. [...]

Should we be teaching knowledge or skills? 2011-11-02T20:31:31+00:00

Objective Quest – Day 4


Am starting to feel slightly exhausted by all the different objective introducing techniques whirring around my head like a cloud of relentless cheerful wasps. I long to use the same one all day for all my lessons but am stubbornly committed to seeing it through. At least until the end of the week. And the surprising reality is that as of today I have only managed to plough through 15 of the buggers! Lesson 1 - Year 9 - Create Fun Signs This was a lesson I'd agreed to cover for a colleague so that she could go on a learning [...]

Objective Quest – Day 4 2011-10-13T22:59:25+00:00

Going SOLO


A few months ago I wrote about some of the concerns people have had with ubiquity of Bloom's Taxonomy and that there were other, perhaps more useful taxonomies around. Well, since then I've been quietly experimenting with SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) developed by Biggs and Collis. Biggs says As learning progresses it becomes more complex. SOLO, is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right. At first we pick up only one or few aspects of the task [...]

Going SOLO 2011-10-05T23:22:52+00:00