Blog of the Week: 15 October 2021 – Literacy, Curriculum and Teaching

Everyone agrees literacy is A Good Thing, but I’ve struggled to be able to think clearly about it. I’ve just not been able to think of literacy as an object, a cohesive thing like “science” or “a schema” or even “an ability.” It seems slippery, shape-shifty. Sometimes the discourse seems to be around literacy as a curricular object (“we are all teachers of literacy”); sometimes it’s presented as an instrument of curriculum (“Secondary school teachers should ask not what they can do for literacy, but what literacy can do for them”)(1); sometimes it’s about the subject itself (“How can we support children to write like geographers?”) (2); sometimes it seems to be about generic literacy that students will rely on later for their life chances (“Young people who leave school without good literacy skills are held back at every stage of life”) (3).

One of the most powerful things the philosopher of science Hasok Chang ever said to me was “If something seems to be woolly or to not make sense, then it’s probably worth exploring, for one reason or another.”

I’ve spent a long time reading and thinking about this, and I’ve put down my contributions below. I have found it useful to substitute the word “language” for “literacy” until …

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Blog of the Week: 8 October 2021 – Homework: Getting the Wrap Around Support Right

Class Teaching

Homework has to be one of the most contentious and hotly debated topics in education. While most students (perhaps reluctantly) accept that it will form part of their educational experience, educators, decision makers, parents and celebrities routinely take sides on the issue. These debates can range from how we maximise the impact of homework and increase student engagement to whether or not we should set it in the first place.

In the recent revision of their toolkits the EEF accept that the evidence base behind the impact of setting homework is limited, however, they still indicate that homework (especially at secondary schools) has a positive impact – an average 5 months additional progress. Perhaps more importantly studies suggest a high level of variation in regards to this impact dependent on the quality of homework set, the support in place for students to complete it (including homework clubs) and the feedback…

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Blog of the Week: 1 October 2021 – Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning

All school leaders understand the importance of providing meaningful feedback. Done well, it supports pupil progress, building learning, addressing misunderstandings, and thereby closing the gap between where a pupil is and where the teacher wants them to be.

However, not all feedback has positive effects. Done badly, feedback can even harm progress. Nor is feedback ​‘free’. Large amounts of time are spent providing pupils with feedback, perhaps not always productively.

Historically, much consideration has been given to the methods by which feedback is delivered. Specifically, should feedback be written, or should it be verbal? This guidance report aims to move beyond this and focus on what really matters: the principles …

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Blog of the Week: 24 September 2021 – Curricular thinking has made me a better teacher

elements of learning

There’s been lots said in recent days about curriculum. Is it of utmost importance to what schools do, or is it the latest phase which will pass only for us to look back and wonder why we thought it was so important? My belief is that curriculum is fundamental to what schools do, and that a focus on curriculum should be here to stay. By curriculum, I’m not talking about intent statements and curriculum maps, but thinking, and thinking deeply about the knowledge we teach. I feel strongly about this because thinking about the curriculum has made me a better teacher and a better subject leader, and I’d be sad to see such thinking falling away.

Here’s my curriculum story.

For years as a teacher, I followed a scheme of work and taught what I was told to teach. I never thought about why I was teaching that particular content…

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Blog of the Week: 10 September 2021 – Teachers lead the scientific revolution in education: 44+ seminal articles

Joe Kirby

‘The scientific approach to identifying best practices is the best long-term bet.’

Prof Rob Coe

The scientific revolution dramatically improved medicine.

Doctors applied scientific research evidence to vastly improve healthcare over time.

Infant, maternal and preventable mortality fell worldwide; longevity and health improved for billions of people globally.

By 1999, evidence-based medicine had been established, integrating doctors’ expertise with the best available research evidence.


Teachers and researchers are now leading a scientific revolution of their own in education.

We are working out not just what works in teaching, but what works best for most, why and how.

In 1999, Professor Rob Coe published a manifesto for evidence-based education: for a culture of two-way efforts between teachers and researchers, similar to those between doctors and scientists.

By 2013, a grassroots, teacher-led, web-powered movement started up, spearheaded by education bloggers, symbolised by ResearchEd (led by teachers Tom Bennett and Hélène…

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Blog of the Week: 9 July 2021 – Why might children and young people with SLCN be vulnerable to mental health difficulties?

As a Speech and Language Therapist who specialises in working with young people with Social, Emotional and Mental Health issues, I often find my role is intrinsically linked to that of the Counsellors we work with here at Mable – especially with teenagers and those struggling with social communication difficulties and anxiety around communicating.

So, why is it that 81% of young people with Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties also have Speech, Language and Communication difficulties? I’ve talked previously about Adverse Childhood Experiences and their link with language development, but now I want to explore the reasons behind the direct relationship between limited communication skills and the difficulty in accessing support for …

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Blog of the Week: 2 July 2021 – The genius of DT Willingham and WDSLS.


This week I received a delivery of Dan Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School 2nd Edition from the bookshop and I’ve been reading through it, taking it in, refreshing my connection with the key ideas. It’s not a ‘Book 2’ but very much an updated version of the orginal. There’s an additional chapter on technology and some extra reflection questions at the end of chapters but, happily, it’s largely the same text. I absolutely love it. It can be an overblown statement that a book is a ‘must-read’ but there is no other single text that explores so comprehensively and clearly, the nature of learning and the challenges that students and teachers experience. The ideas in the book are certainly ideas that all teachers should know about and, in Willingham’s hands, you won’t find a better explanation of the learning problems that arise in schools and the solutions that…

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Blog of the Week: 25 June 2021 – The Early Career Framework: A Thumbs Up

Why should we welcome the Early Career Framework (ECF)?

I write this blog from the viewpoint of an experienced professional mentor working across all iterations of Initial Teacher Training through to Newly Qualified Teachers and beyond. The ECF is the single most important document to be produced in this area over the duration of my career.

The advances in evidence-based education and the use of research by teachers (pioneered through Research Schools) with high-quality CPD has further professionalised our teachers. This has given our most disadvantaged students access to the best teaching. I have felt that developments have not manifested in (some) ITT/NQT programmes and this has often caused a disjunction. Our newest teachers are entering the profession as our least evidence-informed.

Is mentoring a bolt-on?

There has also long been the issue of mentoring and support of trainees and NQTs. Supporting, developing and mentoring a new teacher is arguably the most important …

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Blog of the Week: 18 June 2021 – Three Pillars of Vocabulary Teaching

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that vocabulary knowledge is crucial for pupils’ school success. Pupils are language sponges, learning thousands of words each year. Like increases in a child’s height, it is a slow but inexorable development. On a daily basis it is near-imperceptible, but when you begin to count the passing of school terms, you can see significant differences occurring. For teachers, the key question is how can you best enhance and enrich pupils’ vocabulary.

For busy teachers, digging into the research on vocabulary development and language gaps can prove daunting. It is helpful to distil that wealth into consistent pillars of practice that are ‘best bets’ for supporting, and super-charging, vocabulary …

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Blog of the Week: 11 June 2021 – Curriculum: The Mirror and the Window

Reflections on schools, teaching and education.

Of course it was the working group of English teachers who came up with the image that stuck: the mirror and the window. The mirror signifying that all pupils would see themselves in our curriculum. The window representing our ambition to show all pupils the world beyond their immediate experience. And so it was that our work to enrich our curriculum to better reflect the diversity of our country became less about balancing different perspectives, and more about bringing all pupils into a shared story.

Our curriculum review was a collective effort by teachers across our schools. Teachers of each subject considered their curriculum afresh. We wanted to remain true to each subject’s unique quest for truth, and we needed the end product to be a coherently sequenced programme of study based on the National Curriculum, but it was time to widen the lens to include voices and stories that…

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