Blog of the Week: 11 November 2022 – Homework: three big questions (plus one more)

Dr C's Science Classroom

I have spent a lot of time thinking about homework. I used to absolutely hate it as a child and became indifferent to it early in my teaching career. Eventually I realised that setting good quality, routine pieces of work can make a difference to my students’ learning. See this and this I have previously written on homework.

For the past year, I have been leading on homework throughout my school, in addition to being a full-time classroom teacher. This has given me an insight into homework beyond my own classroom and it has been fascinating!

This year, at researchED London, I spoke about what I do with homework throughout school as well as in my classroom.

I was honoured to have Bradley Busch amongst the people choosing to hear me speak. Following my session, he posed three important questions about homework. I am responding to these questions here together…

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Blog of the Week: 4 November 2022 – Set high expectations by

A Chemical Orthodoxy

Adam is in his PGCE year and is working on his portfolio of evidence to meet the teachers’ standards. His mentor tells him that he does not yet have enough evidence to meet standard 1:

Adam isn’t quite sure what to do about that.


Regular readers of this blog will know that my recent focus has been on concrete actions and drilling down into the specific components of expert practice*. One of those components relates to the way teachers set high or low expectations for their students.

This isn’t something that is particularly well explored in my experience. There is plenty of material out there that relates to high expectations at a macro level: how we build challenging curriculums, robust behaviour policies, rigorous assessment regimes and strong school-level accountability for student outcomes. But at the micro level – at the level that says “what does this look like in…

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Blog of the Week: 21 October 2022 – Five Ways To.. the Booklet


Following the demand for our Five Ways one-pagers, David Goodwin and I have made them into one downloadable booklet. Here it is as a pdf for you to download and print out as you wish.

The individual one-pagers and posts can all be accessed here in the summary post:

Thanks to David for his incredible work on this.

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Blog of the Week: 14 October 2022 – Using mini whiteboards in English

According to TeacherTapp, 72% primary and 45% secondary teachers use mini whiteboards (MWBs.) There are big variations between different subjects in secondaries with 69% of MFL and 57% science teachers claiming to use them but just 28% of English teachers.

Why might this be? Are MFL and science lessons just better suited to using MWBs? Are English lesson much more concerned with the kind of extended writing that best lends itself to exercise books? Judging from the poll responses above, primary teachers appear to be more concerned with checking students’ understanding during lessons. Charitably, we might claim that in secondaries – and especially in English departments – we are simply more interested in marking books in order to work out how effective our teaching is. Of course, it could also mean that we have less understanding of the …

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Build Your CPD Around A Learning Model.


I’ve found that a hugely effective and engaging element of my CPD sessions is, early on in the session, to revisit a model for learning – as discussed many times on this blog including this post:

There are several reasons for this:

  • It sets the scene – introducing various learning challenges so that the CPD to follow is offering solutions to problems that people recognise. There will be a rationale for any techniques we discuss located in an understanding of this model.
  • It gets people talking early on. I find this is important. Sometimes circumstances dictate that you just have to deliver things lecture style but if you’re running an interactive in-person session, it’s great for people to start talking through their understanding of how learning happens and why it might not happen.
  • It provides an early opportunity for you to model key techniques like Think Pair Share, Cold Calling…

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Blog of the Week: 16 September 2022 – The What and Why of Routines in School Culture

Much of what occurs in successful school cultures and classrooms is invisible. More often than not, when observing a highly effective teacher or simply witnessing a calm transition between lessons, there is an innate feeling that something exceptional is occurring in the atmosphere of the classroom or corridor. However, it is often difficult to pinpoint what is being done for this to occur. Underneath nearly every action in an effective lesson or purposeful management of unstructured time is one key ingredient, guaranteed: routine.

Routines (or, as cited in other fields such as health, business and sport – habits) are actions triggered automatically in response to contextual clues associated with their performance. In other words, we wash our hands (routine / habit) following using the toilet (contextual clue). I should hope, at least. In our schools, routines offer an incredible …

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Blog of the Week: 9 September 2022 – Dissecting an instruction

Dr C's Science Classroom

When I was an NQT, my mentor oberved a Maths NQT and praised the fact that her instructions were crystal clear. So, obviously after that, I focused on how I gave instructions in my own lessons, trying very hard to make them as clear as possible.

But I noticed a few issues. Here is an example of how I gave instructions early in my teaching career:

‘I am going to hand out this worksheet on the magnification equation and I’d like you to stick it in your books and work on the questions.

Seems simple enough. But within two minutes of handing the worksheets out, a deluge of questions would follow:

Miss, I don’t have a gluestick.

‘I don’t get it.’

‘What do I do when I’ve finished?’

‘I don’t know how to rearrange this, Miss.’

‘What is 5 mm in μm?’

‘Do we answer on…

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Blog of the Week: 15 July 2022 – Curriculum as Window and Mirror

Emily Style

First published in Listening for All Voices, Oak Knoll School monograph, Summit, NJ, 1988.

Consider how the curriculum functions, insisting with its disciplined structure that there are ways (plural) of seeing. Basic to a liberal arts education is the understanding that there is more than one way to see the world; hence, a balanced program insists that the student enter into the patterning of various disciplines, looking at reality through various “window” frames.

Years ago a Peanuts cartoon illustrated this vividly for me. Schultz’s dog Snoopy was pictured sitting at his typewriter, writing the cultural truth “Beauty is only skin deep.” When the dog looked in the mirror however, it made more sense (to the dog) to write …

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Blog of the Week: 8 July 2022 – Set the bar high!

3-Star learning experiences

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

There’s an undeniable trend to lower the bar in education. Arguments like ‘Grades are demotivating’, ‘Participating and trying are just as important – if not more important – than performance and must be rewarded’, ‘Having specific knowledge is less important than soft skills (as we can Google most things)’, ‘Standardisation is horrible as we’re all different and want/need to learn different things’, and so forth, are abundant. They show that we’re slowly muddying the waters – throwing all kinds of things into the education mix – moving away from setting high standards for our children.

We also see, looking at the final exams (e.g., in the Netherlands) of the past period, that what children now need to know and do nowadays is sometimes only a glimmer of what used to be needed. For example, if you look at the PISA results versus final…

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Blog of the Week: 1 July 2022 – Retrieval practice: recalling the end goal

Evidence for Educators

Sherrington (2022) wrote a brilliant blog called “When daily quiz regimes become lethal mutations of retrieval practice”. In it, he suggests that retrieval practice regimes may not be as useful as teachers and leaders think. As he puts it –

“Rather than it being a consolidatory reinforcement of their learning, plugging a few gaps, students feel they are being quizzed on the thin air of vaguely-encountered wisps of disconnected factoids from a dim past.”

We’re pretty confident that retrieval practice has the potential to improve learning. So why might the way it’s used change how effective it is?

Here’s my hunch:

I think sometimes, we lose sight of the end goal.

What’s the end goal?

You might say, the end goal is pupil learning. You wouldn’t be wrong.

But I think the word ‘learning’ can be misleading.

I think we might…

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