Graham Nuthall

Learning is liminal

2016-02-10T21:51:34+00:00February 10th, 2016|learning|

I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move. Tennyson, Ulysses I offered my definition of learning here, but there is, I feel, something more to be said on the subject. Learning is a messy, complicated business. Imagine yourself standing before a dark, ominous doorway. Through it you can glimpse something previously unimagined, but entering and crossing through entails a risk – anything might happen. Not passing through, while safe, means you will never know what’s on the other [...]

How do we know if a teacher’s any good?

2020-07-23T15:07:13+01:00May 9th, 2015|leadership|

Obviously enough, not all teachers are equal. But how do we know which ones are any cop? Well, we just do, don't we? Everyone in a school community tends to know who's doing a decent job. But how do we know? Rightly, most school leaders feel it important to evaluate the effectiveness of their staff, but how can they go about this in a way that's fair, valid and reliable? Over the past year or so I've spent a fair bit of time explaining why lesson observation cannot be used to evaluate effective teaching. Mostly, the message has been received and understood. [...]

Why AfL might be wrong, and what to do about it

2014-04-25T09:31:57+01:00March 12th, 2014|myths|

Some cows are so sacred that any criticism of them is fraught with the risk of bumping up against entrenched cognitive bias. We are fantastically bad at recognizing that our beliefs are often not based on evidence but on self-interest, and it’s been in everyone’s interest to uphold the belief that AfL is the best thing that teachers can do. When confronted with ‘others’ who disagree with our most fervently held beliefs, we tend to make the following series of assumptions: They are ignorant They are stupid They are evil When in the past I have been critical of AfL (or [...]

Focusing on performance is the enemy of the growth mindset

2014-03-02T22:06:46+00:00March 2nd, 2014|learning|

Over the past year or so I've been following a line of thinking which has gone something like this: Learning and performance are not the same thing. Pupils' performance in lessons does not correspond with learning. Learning is invisible and takes place over time. We may be able to infer something about what has been learned by examining performance, but more often than not, we won't. Learning may follow from performance, but it may not. Performance may indicate learning, but, again, it may not. Responding to cues when something is fresh in our minds is easy. Learning is only learning if skills [...]

Still grading lessons? A triumph of experience over hope

2014-03-17T11:21:08+00:00February 8th, 2014|Featured|

Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper. Francis Bacon To paraphrase Rob Coe's seminal research, yesterday's National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) conference at KEGS in Chelmsford was a triumph of experience over hope. just hoping we're doing the right things is potentially worse than useless: it might be downright damaging. This was a gathering of teachers and school leaders from a wide range of settings, all of whom are focussed on trying to move from a 'hopeful' approach to improving teaching and learning to a more expectant one. Finally there might the first faint glimmers of a new [...]

Has lesson observation become the new Brain Gym?

2013-11-17T11:30:15+00:00November 16th, 2013|training|

I've thought a lot about lesson observation over the past couple of years and have come to the conclusion that it is broken. What is most worrying is that it is almost universally accepted as the best way to bother hold teachers accountable and to drive improvements in the quality of teaching and learning in a school. My contention is that these beliefs are, at least in the way the observations are currently enacted, wrong. Lesson observation distorts teaching, makes teachers focus on performance instead of learning and creates a system which is more interested in short term fluff than real [...]

Motivation: when the going gets tough, the tough get going

2014-02-06T17:47:22+00:00August 26th, 2013|learning, planning|

If ever you get embroiled in a discussion on Learning Styles you may well be confronted with the chestnut of motivation. Learning styles, it seems to me, are all about motivation and management, and nothing whatsoever to do with learning. There is of course a correlation between learning and motivation but often they get conflated. Much of what goes on in classrooms is predicated on the belief that if kids are sufficiently engaged in an activity, they will learn from it. But it doesn't take a genius to spot that we can really enjoy something without learning a whole lot from [...]

Why can’t we tell a good teacher through lesson observations?

2020-07-17T15:38:53+01:00August 23rd, 2013|leadership, learning, myths|

No teacher is so good - or so bad - that he or she cannot improve. Dylan Wiliam The English education system is obsessed with ascertaining the quality of teachers. And what with the great and the good telling us that teacher quality is the most important ingredient in pupils' success then maybe it's small wonder.  As Michael Barber says, "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." And taken in the round, assessing teacher quality and then working to develop teachers is an entirely laudable aim. Bizarrely though, many schools seem incapable of seeing beyond [...]

Deliberately difficult – why it's better to make learning harder

2013-06-10T20:24:17+01:00June 10th, 2013|Featured, learning, myths|

The most fundamental goals of education are long-term goals. As teachers and educators, we want targeted knowledge and skills to be acquired in a way that makes them durable and flexible. More specifically, we want a student’s educational experience to produce a mental representation of the knowledge or skill in question that fosters long-term access to that knowledge and the ability to generalize—that is, to draw on that knowledge in situations that may differ on some dimensions from the exact educational context in which that knowledge was acquired. Robert A Bjork, 2002 Who could argue with this? Certainly not Ofsted who [...]

Planning Lessons – lessons I’ve learned from lessons I've taught

2013-06-09T17:07:42+01:00June 9th, 2013|Featured, planning|

This is a summary and a drawing together of several earlier posts. I consider it a refinement of my thinking and something which is painstakingly (and grandiosely) groping its way towards a total philosophy of planning. It does also attempt to offer something new but is this enough to deserve a new post? You decide. "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Smug teachers, everywhere Planning: still a good thing to do first As a new teacher, lesson planning seemed to suck up almost all of my available time and energy. Looking back over those frenetic early years it's become [...]

The problem with progress Part 3: Designing lessons for learning

2014-05-25T18:20:25+01:00February 16th, 2013|Featured, learning, planning, SOLO|

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 2: Designing a curriculum for learning

2021-11-19T09:27:05+00:00February 14th, 2013|Featured, leadership, learning, myths, planning|

Can progress be both rapid and sustained? We start out with the aim of making the important measurable and end up making only the measurable important. Dylan Wiliam Does slow and steady win the race? 'Rapid and sustained progress' is Ofsted's key indictor for success. Schools across the land chase this chimera like demented puppies chasing their own tails. But just when when you think you've gripped it firmly between your slavering jaws, the damn thing changes and slips away. You see, the more I look into it, the more I'm convinced that progress cannot be both rapid and sustained. You cannot [...]

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