Blog of the Week: 17 January 2020 – Going Goal-Free During Formative Assessment

I’m making a simple modification to some of my formative assessment this semester. I’m incorporating the goal free effect. The concept behind this effect isn’t very tricky at all. Basically, instead of asking questions this way:

1. List and describe the function(s) of the following parts of the eye:

  1. Iris
  2. Cornea
  3. Retina
  4. Lens

I’ll simply ask this in this manner:

2. Tell me everything you can about vision.

This may seem like a somewhat negligible change, but the second option really provides a better opportunity for more working with the material to be retrieved from memory. With option 1, students have 4 very specific goals. Hopefully, students will know those four structures of the eye and their function(s). This is somewhat limiting. They will perform this task and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, if they can do this, that’s fantastic…much better than not asking them to retrieve any information. But, with option 2, students may include the four structures and functions from option 1 and then also include more information; perhaps they also state the functions of the pupil, rods, …


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Blog of the Week: 10 January 2020 – Bigger Than Words – It’s Meanings We Need to Focus On

Last weekend, I did a session on vocabulary for a National Association of Advisors in English conference, in which I presented a range of arguments, some of which I have already shared in previous blogs and in different contexts, some of which I have developed further. In brief here are some of the arguments I put forward.

  1. The ‘30 million word vocabulary gap’ research should no longer be used to argue for more work on vocabulary in classrooms. It dates from 1995, has been comprehensively critiqued for its limited size and methodology and its claims have not been replicated since. Indeed, the most recent attempt to repeat its work (by Sperry, Sperry and Miller), with a more legitimate methodology, failed to deliver the same results. There is much new research too on the greater significance of the quality of interaction as opposed to quantity of words in the early years (Dr Jill Gilkerson, Dale Walker and others).
  2. Even if it did have any credence, what would its value be in relation to older students? Even if one thought it might have any value, the Hart Risely study was focused only on children of 7 months to 3 years old and their learning of language in the home. This should not be uncritically extended to relate to the language of …

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Blog of the Week: 13 December 2019 – Modelling modelling: into the classroom with live drawing

A Chemical Orthodoxy

This post comes unashamedly on the tails of Pritesh Raichura’s excellent series on teacher explanation which you can read here. I’ve written recently on dual coding and the multimedia effect because, like Pritesh, I’m worried that dual coding is in danger of lethally mutating beyond its evidence base. For me, dual coding is a process that is best used when explaining difficult material, not when making jazzy posters or the like. To summarise my previous article:

  • The working memory includes two channels: verbal (language) and visual (things you see that don’t have anything to do with language)
  • Utilising both increases the capacity of working memory and allows for a greater number of entities to be processed at once
  • This is called dual coding
  • When dual coding is carried out effectively, there is a boost to processing and learning, known as the multimedia effect

Teachers have been using diagrams to…

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Blog of the Week: 6 December 2019 – Deep learning (2): structuring and organising knowledge – responsive teaching update

What comes next?

  1. James I, Charles, I, Charles II, James II, _________
  2. 2, 3, 5, 7, __
  3. Je suis allé, je vais, j’irai; j’ai été, je suis, _________
  4. A B A B C D C D E F E F _ _
  5. Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, _______

Some of these clues may feel frustratingly cryptic: readers know A, 2, and perhaps ‘je suis’; they know about neon lights, and probably something about Charles I.  Answering depends not just on what we know however, but on how it’s organised: the answer seems obvious once we recognise the structure (answers below).  Deep learning means developing mental models – organised knowledge structures – which allow students to apply their knowledge flexibly: this post discusses the architecture of mental models; what structures and organisation make knowledge usable?

Mental models: organising knowledge usably

Flexible knowledge is an important step towards deep learning.  If an item of knowledge is flexible, students can access it via a range of cues, not just the ones they originally learned.  So – for example – flexible knowledge of Charles I would allow them to think about him when asked about the Stuarts, Ship Money, or the Divine Right of Kings (more on this here).  This flexibility supports transfer of knowledge to …


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Blog of the Week: 29 November 2019 – EAL learners – five facts, five things you need to know and five things you can do to support them

This post discusses the recent research report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) with The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy, ‘Educational Outcomes of Children with English as an Additional Language’ [1] and looks at how teachers can use this research to help English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners to access the curriculum and fulfil their potential.

Behind the headlines of overall ‘average statistics’ about learners who have English as an Additional Language is huge complexity, meaning that making assumptions based on averages can be misleading to the point of being meaningless, and it fosters a lack of understanding of the complexity of this group. This post will start by looking at five facts about this cohort which are not widely understood, these facts will be explored in more detail in the second section and finally practical solutions to support EAL learners will be …

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Blog of the Week: 22 November 2019 – Not just a run in the park


Independent survey commissioned by UK-based charity parkrun gets more than 60,000 responses and shows that volunteering has a bigger impact on health and wellbeing than just running or walking.

The first weekend of October 2019 sees the 15th anniversary of parkrun. To mark the occasion, parkrun UK have released results from an independent survey, proving that participation in parkrun really does make people healthier and happier, and not just from running or walking.

The survey showed that more people who volunteer at parkrun feel an improved sense of happiness compared to those who just walk or run.

infographics volunteer FB

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Blog of the Week: 15 November 2019 – Retrieval Practice in the Classroom: Is Asking Questions Enough?

By Cindy Nebel

In our workshops, we often recommend that instructors start by making small changes in their teaching, instead of trying to do a massive overhaul to a curriculum or design from scratch. One possible way that an educator may choose to incorporate retrieval practice into their classroom is to simply stop and ask questions throughout a traditional lecture. By asking students questions, they will all be in engaging in retrieval practice without the instructor taking too much time out of their class to develop or grade quizzes. But is that enough? In today’s post, I review a study that asked just that question and has implications for student group work as well.

In this study (1), Magdalena Abel and Henry Roediger had students study Swahili vocabulary words in pairs. First, both students sat at a computer while the Swahili word was presented with its English equivalent (study phase). Some of the words were …

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