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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Blog of the Week: 24 June 2022 – What makes great teaching? Beyond a list of strategies…


What constitutes effective teaching?

What kind of things do the most effective teachers do?

Take a minute to jot down some ideas.

What we’re doing here is parsing the practice of teaching – breaking it down into it’s components in order to understand it better. You might have a list of several things that you think are important. And if you compared notes with someone else, you’ll certainly find some similarities and some differences based on individual preferences and prior knowledge.

Many have done this and their work has been extremely useful in curating a body of formal knowledge (easily stated and shared) that teachers might acquire in order to develop their practice:

Many more have done similar work in…

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Blog of the Week: 17 June 2022 – Knowing, richly

Occam's Hairdryer

When I first led CPD on curriculum in my school, I was mindful of the need to counter the suspicion that a knowledge-rich approach is just about rote learning of facts. I did this by talking about how the verb ‘to know’ is used to mean a wide range of different things in English and I used the slide below to illustrate the point.

At the time I was most interested in propositional and procedural knowledge and I said little about the final bullet point. Recently, however, it has come to interest me a lot more and I do not think enough attention is paid to this type of knowing in curricular discourse. I cannot remember why I picked Jane Eyre, but since I did, I would like to use that example briefly to consider what it means to know in this sense.

For practical purposes, to say that…

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Blog of the Week: 27 May 2022 – Building on what they know

Evidence for Educators

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

What are the best conditions for helping pupils build on what they know?

In this blog we look at updating memory through a process of reconsolidation and what this might mean for teaching pupils.

Updating memory

If our memories are going to serve us well (i.e. make accurate predictions), they need stay relevant. This means they need to update when the environment suggests updating is necessary (Pine et al., 2018).

What are we talking about when we say ‘updating’ memory? Updating is just another way of saying we are changing what we know, i.e., learning.

For our purposes here: memory updating = learning.

Consolidation and reconsolidation

New information begins life as a fragile memory trace. Over time and with repeated access and usage, it becomes less fragile and more stable.

The process of stabilising memory is called consolidation (Dudai, 2004). Consolidation is storing memory…

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Blog of the Week: 20 May 2022 – An Honest Assessment

We all need people who keep us honest; those who can celebrate our wins, but are also able to point out our blind spots. I’m lucky enough to have a few people who sincerely do this for me. Recently, Dr. Kripa Sundar very kindly pointed out one such blind spot in my writing about retrieval practice. It went something like this…although, I’m paraphrasing and I’m very sure she said it in a much more ‘constructive criticism’ sort of way:

“Blake, you write a lot about retrieval practice, but teachers can’t spend the entire class period retrieving information. How do they know what information to cover during retrieval practice?

Again, she didn’t really say those exact words…but that’s what I heard and it got me thinking about …

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Blog of the Week: 6 May 2022 – Tackling tricky classes: Michael hits the big red button

Michael dropped the pile of books a couple of inches above his desk. It landed with a satisfying thud. Just these to mark, then he could go home. He picked up the first book, flicking past titles and dates, scribbles and doodles, missed pages and loose worksheets, to the most recent work. Next, he rifled around his drawer, rejecting three red pens before finding a green one: his most recent resolution, to make his marking seem more friendly. Committing himself, he leaned forward, hunched over the book, head resting on his left hand. A missing letter added, a messy squiggle circled, two question marks by an astonishing factual error. Each pen stroke was reluctant, dejected almost. Another error, this one bigger… had Emma-Rose missed …

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Blog of the Week: 29 April 2022 – Knowledge Organisers: Facilitating Elaboration

In our series so far, we started with a definition of a Knowledge Organiser:

A Knowledge Organiser is a one-page document which presents curated, essential, organised knowledge with clarity. Knowledge is presented in a format which facilitates retrieval practice, elaboration and organisation, in order to develop a schema.

Following our last blog on how we can facilitate retrieval practice using Knowledge Organisers, in this blog we will focus on elaboration.

Put simply, elaboration is when we associate to-be-remembered information with material that is already known. And again, we’ll point you towards a good summary of the evidence in this paper from Weinstein Y, Madan CR, Sumeracki MA (2018): Teaching the Science of Learning.

Elaborative interrogation

One of the simplest forms of elaboration is asking how or why. We call this ​‘elaborative interrogation’, and it works because the question makes us link to other information. Not only does this make the material stick, but it also helps to build …

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Blog of the Week: 22 April 2022 – Forming meaning

Evidence for Educators

Photo by DS stories on

Exposition… explanation… ‘I do’…

The parts of the lesson where we introduce new ideas, concepts or processes may be the most perilous of all. They may determine the fate of the new memory trace (at least until recall) (Albo & Graff, 2018).

Let’s say I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet and I’m explaining what’s meant by ‘star-crossed lovers’.

If my pupils are paying attention and therefore, if they are encoding (forming a memory trace) related to what I’m saying, even then, this trace is fragile – prone to forgetting.

What’s more, if pupils form the new knowledge, I can’t be sure they’ve taken away the meaning I was trying to convey!

In some ways, teaching pupils a new idea is akin to attempting the intact delivery of a delicate ornament across potentially perilous terrain… blindfolded.

Two main problems we face when trying to get…

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