Blog of the Week: 8 November 2019 – Taking Curriculum Seriously

Curriculum is all about power. Decisions about what knowledge to teach are an exercise of power and therefore a weighty ethical responsibility. What we choose to teach confers or denies power. To say that pupils should learn ‘the best that has been thought and said’ is never adequate. Start the conversation, and questions abound: ‘Whose knowledge?’; ‘Who decides on “best”?’.

Such questions reflect concern about whether schooling reproduces inequalities or interrupts them. Such questions matter. But reducing knowledge to voice will not get us far either. The contentious questions – Which works of literature? Which historical stories? Which art? – cannot be resolved by some optimal blend of diversity, some nirvana of neutrality, as though distribution across the sources of knowledge or types of knower will settle things. No matter how redemptive of former injustice, no holy grail of content selection will be reached.

Nor does adding in preparation for the 21st century help. How can we decide what is relevant to the ever-shifting ‘now’? Worse, relevance quickly merges with perceptions …

 

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Blog of the Week: 1 November 2019 – The curriculum as progression model

Clio et cetera

What does it mean to get better at history? One of the problems we have in answering this question is that history is an incredibly diverse discipline: there are thousands of possible things that one might legitimately study at school. In one school pupils might be learning 18th-century French history, but in the next town pupils might never study this, and instead learn about 15th-century Italy. In one school pupils might learn about analysing monastic records from the eleventh century, yet pupils in another school might never encounter this source material, and instead focus on analysing Cromwell’s speeches in Parliament in the 1650s. To get better at history, you have to have learnt a sufficient number of things, but very few of those things can be understood as strictly necessaryin the sense that someone has to have studied them in order to be understood as…

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Blog of the Week: 18 October 2019 – An “Ah-Ha” Moment with Spaced Practice in the Classroom

I’m sometimes asked by other teachers how I show my students the positive effects of spaced practice. By definition, it takes time to see the results of spacing out your practice of material and this fact makes it more difficult to demonstrate in class. This past week, however, I was granted that perfect moment of instruction when it all came together and I was able to say, “See…I told you this stuff works.”

Please allow me to set the scene. We began class one day this week by completing a ‘Last Lesson, Last Week, Last Month’ review. Here it is:

I combined answering these questions with the ‘Color Coding Recall Attempts’* strategy.

Pretty simple. Answer three questions from differing units of material spaced out over different amounts of time. Intuition tells me my students should remember the material …

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Blog of the Week: 11 October 2019 – The #1 problem/weakness in teaching and how to address it.

teacherhead

I see a lot of lessons – hundreds of them in multiple contexts – and I’m going to suggest that there is one very common challenge that teachers face that is often not addressed well enough, even by experienced teachers. In my view, it’s the single biggest reason for lessons being ineffective or certainly less effective than they could be; it’s the main reason for learning not happening, for weaker students to fall behind and, over time, for gaps to widen. The prevalence of this issue is the main reason I feel we do more to address the needs of disadvantaged students and under-achieving subgroups by trying to teach everyone better instead of chasing interventions (To address underachieving groups, teach everyone better.). There’s just so much mileage in this; so much slack to take up.

The problem is this: In a class of multiple individuals, it is not…

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Blog of the Week: 4 October 2019 – Whole-class reading: how I do it

A Chemical Orthodoxy

For me, booklets have been a game-changer. The combination of lean explanations, worked examples and plentiful practice have made sure my lessons run smoothly and student productivity is maximised, and I wrote about how I use them day-to-day here. This year, I’ve been teaching GCSE biology, which is a new experience for me. My subject knowledge isn’t great as despite having taught physics and chemistry to GCSE, I’ve never done biology. The booklets I’ve been using were put together by Adam Robbins, and they feature a number of passages of extended text. I think teachers (and students) can be put off by passages of challenging text like the below, so I wanted to write about how I’ve approached them to ensure that everyone is engaged and thinking throughout. You don’t need to read the whole passage to get this blog, but it’s important to see the rigour and…

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Blog of the Week: 26 September 2019 – This much I know about…how I have transformed my own teaching

johntomsett

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 54, this much I know about how I have transformed my own teaching.

I never thought I would transform my teaching in my 50s.

After 31 years of being in the classroom, I have never enjoyed my teaching more. For the last term I have been teaching Business Studies, a new subject for me. We had a challenging, 22 student, all-male Year 10 class. Relationships in the class were broken. I agreed with the teacher that I would remove the ten most disruptive students and teach them myself. When I told those students to stand up, pick up their bags and follow me at the beginning of their first lesson after Easter, they had no idea what was going on. I took them to my office, cramped them round my meeting…

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Blog of the Week: 19 September 2019 – What have you learned this year?

Pedfed

This week I was honoured to contribute to Craig Barton’s education podcast. If you haven’t subscribed to yet, I couldn’t recommend it more. Fun, positive and full of incredibly insights from a range of guests from across education.

Craig asked me to record a message outlining what I’d learnt this year, to feature alongside other teachers answering the same question. It was really hard, as I feel that with every year that passes, I know less and less about education and am more and more confused. I decided to focus on Ratio, which I’ve been lucky enough to receive some training on at my school – Reach Academy Feltham – this year. I’ve found Ratio really difficult to get right and am only on the start of my journey to harness it to make my lessons more effective, but I’ve (I think) had at least one or two successes this…

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