Blog of the Week: 27th March 2020 – Making meaning

Making meaning is the core principle in learning, on which all other principles build. Consequently, a lot has been said in education about how meaning making looks like in the classroom, what is meaningful learning, deep processing, transferable knowledge and how to achieve them. And yet it is also an elusive concept: the operational definition of ‘meaning’ is nontrivial and occasionally the importance of meaning is shadowed by other (also important) concepts in learning.

I wish to share here my operational conceptualization of ‘meaning making’, then highlight two instances where meaning is sometimes shadowed: when discussing Cognitive Load and Retrieval Practice, and altogether make the case for why we should consider meaning first.

What is ‘Meaning Making’?

Processing information meaningfully is known as the key factor to remembering learned information for the long-term, as was formulated by Craik and Lockhart (1972) in the …

 

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Blog of the Week: 20 March 2020 – Teaching in the Time of COVID

robin_macp

It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweetasking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.

A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of…

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Blog of the Week: 13 March 2020 – What does knowledge-rich mean when not all disciplines seek knowledge?

“Man lives in the meanings he is able to discern. He extends himself into that which he finds coherent and is at home there”

– Michael Polanyi, “Meaning”, 1975

What is the purpose of human endeavour? It’s not just knowledge. We seek beauty , expression, joy and delight. Art, music, literature and dance light up the world and lift up the heart, and it isn’t through knowledge, not in any standard or commonly shared meaning of the word.

There is a further issue with the term “knowledge”. The standard definition is “justified true belief” – but this doesn’t fit in pursuits like philosophy, theology and history, where interpretivism reigns.

“Making meaning” is a better term for what we do in our disciplines. We do the things we do to find patterns, rules, laws and principles, but also to make loveliness, humour, stories and sense. Out of the near-infinite data set…

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Blog of the Week: 6 March 2020 – Making the most of quiz books

missdcoxblog

Myself and Andy Lewis are proud to have some GCSE religious studies quiz books published by John Catt. I thought I would share what they are and some ways in which these might be used.

What are they?

The books are based on all GCSE specifications for the new, reformed GCSE religious studies courses.

They have quizzes on the main topics for each religion, repeated 6 times, but with the questions in a different random order. Students should complete a quiz, check their answers and write their mark on their mark tracker. At another point in time (see below) they should complete the quiz again and record their mark. The aim is for them to improve each time if not get full marks.

They are knowledge quizzes. They aim to help students to learn and retain key facts, quotations and reasons. They are the foundations for being able to…

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Blog of the Week: 14 February 2020 – Ratio

A Chemical Orthodoxy

I’ve observed a lot of lessons this year. Inside science, outside science, novice teachers, expert teachers. Lots and lots of other people’s lessons. I’ve also been observed lots. As much as I’ve been in others’ classrooms, others have been in mine. In general at TTA we take the philosophy that “feedback is a gift” and that if someone else has been gracious enough to let you into their room to learn from them, the very least you can do is provide them with some feedback that will help them be even better.

Within my department, the stakes are high in terms of the feedback I give. I don’t want to give feedback that’s so general and generic it can’t be acted upon. But I also don’t want to give feedback that’s so specific it won’t be actionable until this time next year when the lesson I observed is repeated. What…

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Blog of the Week: 7 February 2020 – Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice Part 1

TomNeedham

When I began teaching, I thought that a starter activity was there to ‘engage’ students in the learning, perhaps by providing some form of irresistible conundrum or puzzle for them to work out or maybe a multi-media, pyrotechnic laser show to wow them into compliance, competency and submission. By creating overblown and incredibly time consuming activities, I thought that my lessons would be memorable, burning themselves into the minds of my awestruck students and ensuring 100% retention. The lesson was everything: I thought of learning in 60 minute episodes. Learning over time, and by implication the notion of long term retention, was not something that I really considered, dazzled as I seemed to be by the allure and promise of engagement, novelty and the hallowed ‘hook’.

Oh how wrong I was! Not only was this desire for novelty and edutainment exhausting, but it implicitly sent the message to my students that…

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Blog of the Week: 31 January 2020 – 7 Rules of Rosenshine

Reflections on schools, teaching and education.

Last weekend we (United Learning) launched our Expert Teacher Programme. We are using Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of instructions as a core text for this course. At our launch I proposed 7 Rules of Rosenshine to support teachers in developing expertise through these principles.

Rosenshine Rule 1: Theories of teaching begin with theories of learning

Whichever Rosenshine paper we choose to read, from his classic 2012 PDF published in the American Educator, to the lesser known 1982 Instructional Functions paper, it’s clear that his guidance on teaching is rooted in his understanding of how we learn. We see this in these lines from his 1986 Teaching Functions paper:

“When too much information is presented at once, our working memory becomes swamped. This suggests that when teaching new or difficult material, a teacher should proceed in small steps and provide practice on one step before adding another. In this way, the learner…

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