Tag: education

I bought a piano… and am tasting my own pedagogical medicine.

I bought a piano… and am tasting my own pedagogical medicine.

I love music. Creativity has played a major role in my family for generations. My great grandparents played instruments. My grandma was trained to sing at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, touring concert houses across the globe with her beautiful voice in the 60s, 70s and 80s. My Dad had earned a place at RADA before opting for church ministry instead (quite a career change, yes) and has mastered jazz piano ever since I can remember. My mum is less musical – more adept at art – but brilliant in her own right. The majority of my wider family can play an instrument of some kind; guitar, drums, piano, didgeridoo, flute, banjo, euphonium etc. You name it; we’ve tried it.

As a child I had piano lessons, but my potential for Beethovenian genius was snatched from my little hands each time we moved for my parents’ jobs, making it difficult to continue successfully. (As an aside: as a result of moving I also studied the Aztecs twice and never learned long division until I had to teach it to my Year 6 class at the age of 22.)

I’m pleased to say that, this summer, I succumbed to my ever-increasing desire to play again and bought a piano. I am totally loving it. Whenever I can in the evenings or weekends, I’ll sit for an hour and strike away at the keys in the hope that the chord I’m reaching for resembles something of the graphical note representation I see on the page before me. It’s still hit and miss if truth be told, but I’m definitely way better than I was eight weeks ago.

Why am I harping on about a piano?

Simply, this process of learning that I’m becoming more and more committed to is opening my eyes to the journey we expect our students to travel. The fact that I possess a novice-level understanding of the piano and how it works already might mean that I am building any further knowledge a little quicker, but it’s certainly not easy. I thought I’d put together a top five set of ‘quick learns’ that seem wholly transferable from my own learning experience to the classroom:

    Learning anything new must build on prior knowledge, however weak the triggers may be. The brain seems to be constantly trying to make associations; between notes, within chords, from one piece to another.
    Making progress will be faster in the presence (and under the direction) of someone whose subject knowledge is far superior to your own.
    Practising in smaller measures – an hour here and there rather than a whole morning – seems to produce better performance. Opportunities for testing, resting and a chance to forget movements or parts of movements, then returning to a piece a day (or more) later is resulting in longer-term learning.
    Keeping your fingers locked into the incorrect keys, when you fail to produce the sound you thought you were about to, allows you to check each note and find the misplaced one (or two, or three…). From there, you can find real clarity in the assessment of your own playing over time. Once you’ve identified common error patterns you’re repeatedly making you can focus on the minutiae of specific chord movements and retrain your mind and muscles to move how they should.
    Having an audience who is willing to listen to you and give feed back on specific aspects of your playing is a real win. You can lose yourself in the precision of the notes a little, so to have those who possess a level of musicality themselves offering suggestions for development; this can only be a good thing.

In such a brief reflection as this, I’m surprised as to how much of what we preach in the classroom transfers to learning a musical instrument – and beyond. There’s comfort in that.

Watch this space for an invitation to a wonderful Christmas soiree. Or Summer.
Yes, that has a more realistic ring to it.

Reading for pleasure checklist

Reading for pleasure checklist

The BBC website published a short article yesterday on the fall in numbers of young people reading for pleasure after primary years. It’s not particularly headline news as we’ve seen this pattern emerging for a while, but it does help to keep this issue high on the radar (or ‘readar’ if you’re into less-than-average word puns).

This year, in addition to timetabled sessions in our reading lounge (once every two weeks during English lessons), we have also trialled an additional regular independent reading session for Year 7 students. They are not long enough really, but they are a step in the right direction towards greater opportunities for reading for pleasure. With one eye already looking to September, we are in discussion about how to consolidate and build on this year’s successes, to make sure this priority remains a real focus for our students.

We have a mixed demographic that boasts students from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds – highlighting a real range of reading experiences and habits too. Some students are fortunate enough to have regular support from home; others not. Some have parents who are capable, eager readers. Others have parents who cannot read at all or do not have the finances to buy books of interest at home. I’m quite sure we have a growing responsibility to develop systems that support students – and their parents – with reading, both at school and at home. This might be in the form of purchasing books, running workshops to demonstrate good practice, providing regular opportunities to celebrate reading, and so on.

I realise the risk of blogging about reading when you have experts like Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) and Robert J. Marzano (@robertjmarzano) who have offered so much in this field. I did just think I could offer the checklist of ten points below that I’ve started thinking about, which we will look to implement next academic year. It’s a working document, so do feel free to have a look and throw any comments or ideas my way.

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The words ‘checklist’ and ‘pleasure’ are not two words you’d put together often, but I do believe it’s crucial to have structures in place to scaffold independent reading.

Others have blogged about reading for pleasure here: Alex Quigley David Didau

Metacognition Series: 3 of 6

Metacognition Series: 3 of 6

Meta Session 3 8Dec
This is the 3rd blog post of a 6-post series on Metacognition. You can find post 1 here and post 2 here.
(If you’ve read the previous posts, skip straight to the key themes below. I’ll keep the intro the same at the top of each post.)


In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously. (*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.


Prior to this session, teachers were asked to bring two items that would aid them during the planning time allocated within the session:
1. Their research and enquiry question* – these were written independently by teachers, who selected a very specific teaching element and target group to base their research on. Questions were devised in accordance with the guidance* shared with staff and agreed by line managers during appraisal meetings in the first half of the Autumn Term.
2. Any planning or knowledge of subject content due to be covered in the New Year.
*Screenshot taken from Phil’s post
Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.06.19

8 themes from session 3:

  1. We addressed a query that arose in session 2
    During one of the rich discussions we have shared as a group, a question was raised regarding the difference between two the concepts of ‘self-control’ and ‘self-regulation’. At the time, I admitted to not knowing what the research would suggest on this and could only speculate at possible answers. After some reading around this, I found the following quotes that served as a basis on which to summarise that:

Self-control: definitions seem to possess a shared trait of explaining a physical reaction to a stimulus. Self-control requires an individual to make wise decisions in the moment.

Self-regulation: definitions suggest that this concept helps an individual to guide or adjust their behaviour in pursuit of some desired end state or goal.

Meta Session 3 8DecbMeta Session 3 8Deca






It is worth mentioning that these two terms are also often used interchangeably, so it is not quite as black and white as it may initially seem.

2.We recalled key themes from session 2

Once again, teachers were presented with a challenging multiple-choice quiz in order to familiarise themselves with themes from the first two sessions. These were completed independently, after which the answers were shared and discussed as a group. I should declare here that, despite the success of my first recap quiz used in session 2, I came under significant – though entirely civilised – attack from teachers present, for the phrasing of one or two of my questions.

In one section of the test, teachers had to judge statements to be true or false. For one of those statements I had written, “A regimented classroom culture can discourage self-regulation.”

Now, the response I had expected to receive was ‘true’, which was a little disconcerting when the choir of united voices before me replied ‘false’. This harmonious moment of unison soon became a cacophony when I overconfidently responded ‘WRONG!’.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.49.13

In my mind, the word ‘regimented’ looked like a classroom of learners who lacked autonomy, conjuring visions of a teacher who was spoon-feeding curriculum content, denying students opportunities for deep thinking.

In the minds of everybody else, the word ‘regimented’ looked like a calm, orderly classroom.

It was evident where I had gone wrong and apologised without reserve. Needless to say that everybody scored a point for that question, irrespective of the answer they had given.

This was a fruitful learning experience for me, reminding me how careful one needs to be when constructing questions for formative assessments. A high quality test is critical if we hope it might reveal any valuable window of insight into the on-going learning processes of our students.

  1. We shared reflections on the pre-reading**

As has been the case in all three sessions so far, teachers were brilliantly forthcoming in sharing their personal reflections on the reading we have engaged in. Conscious of time constraints on this session (mindful of reserving time for planning), we didn’t spend huge amounts of time dwelling on this though, again, some very interesting points arose. Two comments of note included:
a) The video talk by Dr Derek Cabrera greatly helped in provoking one to think about the value we place on thinking in our lessons. It leads us to question whether the pedagogical approaches we employ to share information about our subjects are the right ones.
b) Reference was given to a concept discussed in John Hattie’s chapter on self-control, called ‘ego depletion’. Many studies, including the work of psychologists such as Roy Baumeister et al (1998), propose that, “Self-control is a finite resource that determines capacity for effortful control over dominant responses and, once expended, leads to impaired self-control task performance, known as ego depletion.”

Teachers discussed the implications of this concept in relation to the demands we put on our students in a variety of learning situations.

**Pre-reading list focus: 
Dr Derek Cabrera, How Thinking Works (online video clip)
John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn
Chapter 26, Achieving Self-Control

  1. We took a shallow dip into the field of Executive Function
    In response to a dialogue that arose in session 1, a brief amount of time was spent considering the concept of Executive Function. An overview video from Harvard was shown, outlining the premise that EF is, in essence, the CEO of all cognitive processes. According to Harvard,

“Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

We are taught that EF skills depend on three types of brain function:

  1. working memory
  2. mental flexibility
  3. self-control
  1. We attempted a task that challenged our Executive Function ability

To understand the demands our EF skills are consistently required to monitor, we looked to the unfaltering wisdom of the Two Ronnies. While not technically qualified as cognitive psychologists, these men have been pioneers in broadcasting the complexities of EF. Watch their informative Mastermind sketch here.

Following this, teachers were challenged to attempt the same task in pairs, responding with an answer to the previous question instead of the current one. Here is one of the two sheets I devised to test teachers’ mental flexibility.

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After a few hot minutes of serious brain activity (and much laughter), we reviewed how the task had gone. The two main comments that arose were:
1. It was more difficult to ask the questions, since your brain is having to read, listen, look ahead and score at the same time.
2. It was much more difficult to answer when you had to complete an operation in order to reach an answer, while also storing the next question in your mind.

One teacher raised a concern that this could have a significant negative effect on our learners. A student might easily fail to cling on to an influx of information we have given, if we have not considered the demands we are placing on their working memory at any one time.

6.We made associations between our questions and the Metacognition session content
As mentioned in the intro of this post, staff referred back to their individual research and enquiry questions, making connections between these and the content we have covered so far in sessions. This was a brief discussion, before moving into more tailored groupings for effective planning and preparation time.

7. We regrouped according to enquiry question focus and began planning
Prior to this session, I had spent time reminding myself of teachers’ enquiry questions and carefully grouped them according to the focus of their upcoming trial (not necessarily by department). These were broadly grouped around themes including: self-assessment or self-monitoring, applying technical or higher level vocabulary to work, social or emotional attitudes to learning, ability to apply strategies taught. This list is not exhaustive but incorporates many of the key focuses shared by teachers in our group.

In these subgroups, teachers discussed their hoped student outcomes as a result of new strategies they will seek to implement in the New Year. They also identified relevant strategies from a menu I had collated to best suit their subject area and enquiry focus. Strategies were selected from a range of research studies and articles I’d read in preparation for these sessions, including a reference table outlining many of the great techniques explored in Doug Lemov‘s book ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0‘.

Meta Session 3 8Decn

8. We looked ahead to January, considering how to monitor any progress
While a six-week period is a short time in which to measure improvement in the deeper learning of students, we will intend to pause and consider how the trial is going in February. Teachers were informed that, when we meet on February 10th, it would be great to hear from each member of the group:
a) what strategies have been implemented
b) what has / has not worked so well and
c) what improvements to learning, if any, have been noticed in that time
Any evidence can be simply anecdotal, video footage, photo evidence, student work, formative assessment, student interviews or surveys etc. It is left to the teacher to make the best decision as to how to measure any change, though it was advised that some form of pre and post comparison might be useful. The trial will continue for the remainder of the year, though this next session will serve as a good review point along the journey to reflect and revise the metacognitive approaches employed.
Following the session, I shared a step-by-step timeline of actions that need to take place between now and February. This includes arrangements for planning, delivery and reviewing. I will also be sharing any reading I find that links to teachers’ questions in the interim period, as well as being available for on-going support.
I’m geekily eager to see how the next phase goes.

Metacognition Series: 1 of 6

Metacognition Series: 1 of 6


In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously.
(*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)

The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.

I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.

Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15k.jpgaa
8 themes from session 1:

  1. We defined the term ‘metacognition’
    Put simply, metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’. It is the process by which a learner becomes aware of their own cognitive processes and, as a result of this, makes a deliberate response to any given stimulus.

  2. We considered the theoretical background
    A summary of Jean Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development were shared, comparing the similarities and differences between this earlier work and the later work of John H. Flavell on the Theory of Mind; namely that Flavell perceived metacognition as a skill that occurs much earlier on in development than Piaget first thought.
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15maa
  3. We acknowledged the distinction between cognition and metacognition
    = all mental processes and abilities in which people engage on a daily basis such as memory, learning, problem-solving, evaluation, reasoning and decision making
    = thinking about thinking. It allows us to complete a given task well through planning, monitoring, evaluating and comprehending, making a person more aware of his/her cognitive processes
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15daa
  4. We identified the two main strands of metacognition
    a) knowing about cognition and b) regulation of cognition
    We considered learning activities that would fall under each of these two headings, understanding that many cognitive psychologists would not consider metacognition to have taken place unless the regulation of cognition stage had been completed. If knowing aspects of one’s own learning does not lead an individual to adjust their working habits in order to lead to greater learning capacity, then the full process of metacognition has not yet finished.
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15z.jpgaa
  5. We analysed research ratings of metacognition
    Sharing the Education Endowment Fund’s (EEF) Toolkit rating, we acknowledged the positive impact that metacognition can have on learning, aware of the low cost and high strength of evidence in employing metacognitive strategies in the classroom.
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15laa
  6. We recognised the importance of teaching metacognition explicitly
    As teachers, we cannot possibly assume that all learners possess an innate ability in metacognition, a skill often determined by inherited traits or exposure to various models witnessed in the home. There is a real need for us to demonstrate how to employ metacognitive strategies in order to enhance the learning journey. Back in 1999, the DfEE stated,
    “There is a need to be explicit about what we mean by better forms of thinking. If students are to become better thinkers – to learn meaningfully, to think flexibly and to make reasoned judgments – then they must be taught explicitly how to do it.”
    I then illustrated this by showing a video clip on John Tomsett’s blog post (the student-student clip at the bottom of the post), where a student verbalises his own thought process, which he undertook to reach a correct mathematical answer. It is this environment of sharing thoughts and strategic steps that will give students the opportunity to question and reflect on their own thinking.
  7. We considered effective formative assessment techniques
    Drawing on the wisdom of educational researchers such as Dylan Wiliam, we looked at why and how multiple choice questions can act as a great metacognitive teaching strategy for learning, posing a demand on learners to adopt higher order thinking techniques to reach a particular answer.
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15p.jpgaa
  8. We learned that metacognitive strategies MUST be rooted within a subject domain
    A tecnique that requires students to step back from the learning process and consider their own thinking can not be taught as a discrete tool, isolated from a subject area. The purpose of metacognition is to reflect on your own learning in order to enhance understanding and, by the nature of learning, this can only be attributed to a particular subject area at any given time. Without the foundation of subject knowledge, metacognitive tools could be considered somewhat redundant. As Joe Kirby, Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Michaela Community School, Wembley, states,
    “Over the last three decades, cognitive science has come to a conclusion that is scientifically robust: critical thinking skills require broad background knowledge. This is the reason why teaching abstract skills devoid of facts such as ‘evaluation’, generic strategies such as ‘skimming’ and unchallenging content like celebrities, TV, Twitter and Cirque du Freak doesn’t help academic achievement: the opportunity cost.”
    He goes on to say,
    “When my class struggles to think critically about a text, it’s often because I’ve starved them of the deep knowledge they need.”

Questions that arose during the session:

  • Aren’t some of us employing some metacognitive strategies already in our classrooms?
  • Do some learners already possess strong metacognitive strategies and therefore require little instruction on how to employ?
  • Is there time to teach these strategies on top of curriculum content pressures?
  • How great is the role of genetics and do we have much influence?
  • What is the role of executive functioning in relation to this?

It was a super first session with a great range of contributions from the teachers present. Biased for sure, I struggle to think of a better way to enhance our own classroom pedagogy than through collaboration with other teachers who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that is different from our own. Surely gathering as a group of professionals to wrestle with these complex but game-changing concepts could potentially have significant impact on the lives of our learners.

Should reading ever be discouraged?

An article written in the TES News this week caught my eye and got me thinking. John Boyne, author of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, claims that we should be encouraged to read well, or not at all. He believes that there is little point in reading for its own sake. Citing titles such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, he asks, “Reading for its own sake – what’s the point of that, if people aren’t reading interesting or challenging books?”

Teenager reading on the couch

It’s a tough one, isn’t it. On the one hand, we have a duty as teachers to encourage students to find intellectually stimulating texts with challenging vocabulary and grammatical accuracy. As Literacy Leader, I am careful not to direct students to books that I feel would offer no opportunity for progression on their reading journey. We SHOULD be encouraging readers to embrace texts that demonstrate beautifully constructed sentences, take us to exciting and unfamiliar places, test our opinions and open our minds to new ways of thinking. With that, I don’t disagree.

What I would question, however, is the idea that a text that does not challenge is pointless. Boyne’s viewpoint neglects all those readers who read for enjoyment. Consider a student who has a very difficult home life and needs something to escape to. Or a struggling, weary teacher who finds reading a peaceful exercise, but doesn’t have the energy to be questioned or face anything too testing after a long day at work. Surely there is merit in the practice of reading in those instances?


I wonder if the analogy of running might help here. Suppose a runner has a marathon to undertake in a month’s time and is currently in the training phase. If the runner was to attempt a marathon-long run every day in the lead up to that event, they would surely reach a point of exhaustion before the event. Any experienced runner knows that a good training plan alternates run days with rest days and other forms of interval training. What’s more, many experienced runners without an event in the pipeline enjoy a short jog every now and then. It’s good for the mind and soul.

Could we not apply the same idea to reading?

As a teacher, I question what right I have to discourage a student from reading, if it gives them pleasure. While I would, of course, encourage students to be mindful of the text choices they make, asking them to review what a certain book may or may not offer, I would be concerned that having an opinion where students should ONLY read if it will pose challenge might put them off reading altogether.

Like any hobby, one must take ownership of a practice in order to develop a love for it and, I believe, there is no harm in reading, sometimes just for the sake of reading.

researchED 2014

Saturday 6th September 2014 saw the second national researchED conference take place; an event for those interested in teaching and research and the complicated relationship between the two. Tom Bennett (@tombennet71) and Helene O’Shea (@hgaldinoshea) captained the ship, welcoming onboard an array of speakers, all who possess a wealth of expertise in their own specialist area.


While I’ve been to a few education-based events before (both larger national gatherings and more local teachmeets etc.), being my first research conference I didn’t arrive with any predefined expectations of the day. On arrival, I was greeted with a customary lanyard and a less customary branded wicker bag, complete with free branded pen and educational paper. Impressive. After a warm welcome, delegates were invited to attend up to seven different sessions of their choice, all lasting roughly one hour. Session leaders had knowledge in their various different curriculum/research/government fields and the workshops reflected this.

Though I’m sure you’re fascinated to know which public transport route I took and what I had for my lunch, I’ll spare you the details and simply note the ‘takeaways’ I left with from the day. Ideally, this penultimate sentence of my intro would see me writing about how much better equipped I now feel to a) source accurate research around my own subject and pedagogy of Literacy and SEN, and b) know how to carry out my own effective research studies into the best methods of teaching and learning. However, I left the conference feeling a little more perplexed by educational research and yet, at the same time, very much refreshed.

Here’s why:


Nick Rose (@turnfordblog), a teacher/ researcher/ psychologist

presented his audience with a healthy challenge to approach pedagogical theories and highly regarded, well-known teaching programmes with caution. He was unapologetic in his quest to inform those that were present of the lack of authentic evidence behind some of the most widely used teaching methods we know of in the world of education. His ‘hit list’ included the likes of preferred learning styles (including VAK), right/left brain theory, NLP and even… wait for it… brain gym.


Rose proposed that educationalists need to develop a real ‘professional skepticism’ around research in education. He commented that schools tend to have a very low immune system, allowing a whole variety of costly approaches and strategies to pass through the door without thoroughly vetting their validity first. This is an interesting concept and one we need to be aware of. Nick’s own personal account of the conference can be found here.


David Didau (@learningspy), a teacher/ consultant / author

offered a number of interesting points to consider when looking into edu-research. He quoted Henri Bergson who famously said:


This supported his claim that brains are not rational but rather illogical and, as humans, we therefore fall into some of the well-known traps below:

Anchoring Effect: a tendency to use anchors or reference points to make decisions and evaluations, sometimes leading us astray.

Sunk Cost Fallacy: following through with a project because of our investment (time/money/effort), irrespective of whether evidence would suggest that is the best thing to do.

sunk-costs-557x371 1

He outlined that progress is not a linear journey but a complex messy one. Didau posed questions such as “How should we measure true progress?” and “With what educational ‘unit’ of measurement should we assess?”

He stated that evidence is not the same as proof, offering a comment on those strategies that ARE well researched and understood to be effective within the classroom environment. These include the ‘Spacing effect’ and the ‘Testing effect’ both of which are explained in his full presentation, available here.


David left the audience with a quote from Carl Sagan:

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John Thomsett (@johntomsett), a Headteacher from Huntingdon School in York and
driver of a new research project along with his Lead Researcher, Alex Quigley

outlined a number of essentials to consider around educational research. He quoted Tom Bentley, who said:


What is the point of research if it doesn’t alter the way you work/plan/teach?

While depth of teachers’ subject knowledge and choice of pedagogical approach is undeniably critical in the development of strong teaching and learning, if neither are realigned to best meet the needs of students as a result of research findings, there’s very little point in getting engaged in it at all. If the research suggests what you are doing currently is right, great! That’s welcome affirmation to keep on doing what you’re doing.


Interestingly, Tomsett commented on his blog this week,

Perpetual self-doubt is a relatively healthy condition in which to exist. At an event like yesterday’s [researchED] I look to take away some learning and what I took away yesterday made me doubt myself and our developmental priorities just a little bit.”

Research is a grey area and one that so many professions have wrestled with, both in the past and still today. But if we fail to recognise its obvious benefits, we are doing a disservice to our students.

Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam), a teacher ‘guru’, researcher, writer,
Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the IoE

gave a great talk entitled, “Why teaching will never be a research-based profession (and why that’s a GOOD thing)”.

You can find a link to his full presentation here.

One of the key points Wiliam made saw him challenge the audience to consider what part ethics plays in educational enquiry. He claimed that researchers have a moral obligation to pursue fair studies that are valuable to school teachers and students, rather than ones carried out simply in an effort to validate one’s own already-held opinion. He raised the interesting point that many published research studies already available in the public arena are selective in the results they share, omitting details of findings that do not support the cause behind their study.


While Wiliam sees a lot of value in Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) as a method of research, he recognises four main drawbacks.

These include:

  1. Clustering: in comparing two students within the same school, despite potentially being in different groups (ie. one in an active group and the other in a control group), there will inevitably be some similarities through their shared experiences in school etc.
  2. Power: the various teachers/leaders/students involved in an RCT may not follow direct instructions, thus reducing the fairness of th test.
  3. Implementation: there are nearly always logistical barriers to carrying out RCTs, which includes aspects such as timetabling, time allowed for interventions outside of curriculum subjects, relevant staff to support etc.
  4. Context: Perhaps the best way to sum up this point is to quote a blog I came across recently. Dave Algoso, Director of Programmes at Reboot (a social impact firm dedicated to inclusive development and accountable governance) states,

“I think the danger here comes from a false level of precision. We talk about RCTs as having a scientific rigor that distinguishes them from pseudo-experimental approaches. There is some truth to this. However, if the calculated average effect of a program is stripped of all the caveats and nuance about the things we were unable to measure and calculate, then we risk being overconfident in our knowledge. Science brings a potentially inflated sense of our own expertise. RCTs, and the development industry as a whole, would benefit from less certainty and greater humility.”

Food for thought.

Wiliam also made reference to the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit, highlighting how research studies have led educationalists to rate various aspects of teaching and learning based on their supposed level of positive impact on students. According to this list, interventions such as peer tutoring and phonics score very highly (of which I am in full agreement), in comparison to others such as teaching assistants and ability grouping, the latter actually being the only one listed that shows a negative impact score. While there may be some validity in some of these results, Wiliam leads us to question the authenticity behind the scores.

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For example, when considering ability grouping, Wiliam makes the point that in a large majority of cases the best and most experienced teachers are usually assigned to the top sets in any given cohort where groups are set by ability. Similarly, lower sets often do not get the access to the differentiated teaching they require to make solid progress. He argued that the gap widens in these cases, often as a result of the top set moving so fast that no students within the middle range of ability can progress to join those at the ‘top’ and, in contrast, the lower sets move far too slowly, thus preventing weaker students to make sufficient progress. This is a great challenge to schools and school leaders and one that, in my opinion, must be addressed in order for all students to make the most positive progress possible. Dylan Wiliam advised that those within the teaching profession should continue to improve their practice through the process of disciplined enquiry.


As a final reflection on researchED 2014, while my impression of educational research is perhaps a little more hazy than it was prior to the event, I’ve returned confident that authentic enquiry into “what works” in this profession is crucial. I’m quite sure that it is a responsibility of ours as educators to ensure we are providing students with the best foundation possible for their future. This includes a willingness to invest time and energy into exploring what “best practice” really is within education.

Videos from the event can be found here.  

You can also follow researchED on twitter @researchED1.

10 Things I Wish I’d Known: Behaviour Management

10 Things I Wish I’d Known: Behaviour Management














1. MASTER YOUR POKER FACE: “Don’t smile until Christmas.”


To be fair, someone did tell me this … though not until Easter, by which point it was much too late. It’s a ridiculous comment out of context but a helpful reminder when you’re starting out that you’re not being paid to be anyone’s best friend. Err on the side of caution initially – it is far better to go in tough and ease up with a class than go in easy and then have to toughen up.



2. ASSIGN A PRE-PLANNED PLACE: Do not underestimate seating plans

On paper, seating plans look like nothing. They are, essentially, the list of class names taken from your register and slotted into the desk positions that match your room(s!). In reality, they are so much more than that. This is one of those tips that will become more helpful as you get to know the students more but there is plenty of data and inside knowledge of colleagues you can draw upon to use this as a helpful behaviour management/ SEN support tool.

Consider: a) student needs, b) ability levels, c) possibility of progress, d) group dynamics

In my opinion, these are working documents – have one ready to go but be prepared to amend as necessary!


3. CONTENT COUNTS: Know your stuff

I’m stating the obvious here, but it needs to be mentioned. You’re there as an educator – it makes sense that you’d be expected to turn up with some level of expertise in your subject. From experience, behaviour of a class is far more within your control when you’re confident with the topic you’re teaching. I started my career teaching Primary and there was a clear correlation between my uncertainty around teaching a particular area of knowledge and poor pupil behaviour. Expected to deliver a Year 6 series of gym lessons on ‘The Haka’ or imparting my wisdom on refining football skills in Games, I was very much out of my depth. At least three of the boys in my class had rightfully earned places on county teams and there I was, teaching them how to dribble.

It’s okay to be more uncertain about an area of learning than others. We are humans. However, if there’s an area I have to teach that I can’t get my head around as easily, I’ll work hard to fill the gaps of knowledge. I would meet for a quick catch-up with my parallel Year 6 colleague each Wednesday afternoon before my physics lesson on a Thursday morning for a whole term, just to be at the ready.


4. NOT KNOWLEDGE FOUNTS: Model a ‘forever-learner’ attitude


In partnership with the point above, while a solid understanding of what you are teaching is important, you are not expected to know EVERYTHING. In my opinion, it is an incredibly valuable lesson for students to witness that we are not supernatural magical beings, brimming with limitless knowledge that seeps from every pore, created only to impart our incredible wisdom to the world.

As IF they think that anyway.

My point is, simply, there are times where you will need to say ‘Do you know what? I’m not sure…’ and then model to students the process of how to go about finding out, in order to fill the gaps of knowledge in question. This is a Growth Mindset all over, right?


5. COME CARER, COME BEDOUIN: Background context is important

Students are humans. We tend to forget this when we turn around from the board to find a troublesome student utterly disengaged with the work and giggling uncontrollably with her partner, having just successfully aimed a paper aeroplane at the nape of your neck*. Don’t panic – this is a worst-case scenario(ish).                                                *Wait for point 10

Consider this. Sophie is one of three children at home. Her older sister has been kicked out over the weekend after a string of late nights out; her mum not knowing where she’s been. Her younger brother has significant special needs and she has to care for him every evening until 7.30pm when her mum arrives home from work. Sophie misses out on the dance club she really wants to go to but can’t because she is looking after her brother. She comes into school tired, miserable and behind with her homework as a result of her home-life, impacting her friendships too.

I don’t condone teacher-targeted paper aeroplanes OR laziness at all, but there is a difference between an idle student and the scenario given above. I think it is helpful to remember that context matters.


6. BE TOTALLY GENUINE: Transparency wins



Students know when you’re being ‘real’. They have a 6th sense for it. Much like a working relationship with a colleague, the best professional relationship you can have with a class is one that is based on trust. This doesn’t mean you need to spend the first three timetabled sessions you have telling them your life story. It just means that, once you are comfortable in your own skin standing in front of a class, you can explore ways to introduce elements of your own personality a bit more, finding a balance that would hopefully make the learning environment a more ‘cushioned’ place rather than ‘cold’.



The naughtiest student in my very first class (Year 4) wrote something on a survey that, shamefully, reduced me to tears. I knew Tom’s home life was incredibly difficult – his Dad was in and out of prison and was banned from the school premises, and he lived with his Mum and his grandparents. Like with many students that we perceive to be difficult, on a 1:1 basis Tom was gentle, engaged and keen to learn. Within a classroom setting, however, he was disruptive, a crafty bully and completely inconsiderate of his peers’ education.


Around Easter time when I was nearly two terms down of my NQT year, students had to complete an annual questionnaire, designed by the school leadership team. It asked a range of questions related to learning and enjoyment of school. The class I had were incredibly difficult as a group of 31. It was the kind of class I was warned about in advance, from a number of different colleagues. They were well-known for not getting on with each other and were always at war in the playground. By Christmas I had almost managed to ban the phrase ‘Miss, at playtime…’ and encouraged them to approach whichever staff member was out on duty to resolve the issue there and then.

Back to Tom and his survey. Here’s what set me off:

Q: What do you think your teacher could do better?

A: Have stronger boundaries.

Here was the naughtiest student in my class telling me, as clear as day, that he wanted greater restrictions. I was caught up in a mixture of surprise, realisation and disappointment that I hadn’t provided what he needed. I suppose when we think to David Beckham, one of the world’s greatest footballers, he doesn’t despise his sport just because of the rules. In fact, the game wouldn’t exist without them. We need to know where we stand as humans, so if a teacher is always promising to carry out sanctions but not sticking rigidly to them, where is our safety?




Plan ahead. Setting clear boundaries at the start of the year with any new class is essential. Know what you’re prepared to accept and not accept (often dictated by whole-school behaviour policies already in place) and share these with every class of students at the start of the academic year. In Secondary, these can sometimes be department-specific but it is important you know the process for behaviours and their consequences. Never assume that students have remembered these from the year before and, if nothing else, by outlining these each time you encounter a new group of students, you have a reference point to refer back to, should any issues arise.


Connected to Point 7, this is simple. If you prescribe it, give it. I’d be very disappointed if I’d gone to my GP for a medical prescription that I needed and they gave me the signed, green slip but not the actual medicine. Likewise, if I’d won a competition and was promised a prize but it never appeared, I’d have something to say about it. I’d assert that young people feel safest when adults follow through with what they say they will do, so just do it. It’s worth sacrificing a chunk of your lunchtime every day for the first three weeks to prove you’re serious about this behaviour stuff than dishing it out and losing their respect for not going ahead with the sanctions promised.


9. ACCEPT RE-DIRECTION: Diversions are okay

Never work with animals or children.” (W.C. Fields)

Be prepared, be clear and be strong – but know that plans will need to change. One of the greatest skills a teacher can have is the willingness to adapt. Keep your goals firmly in mind – be that related to behaviour or another area of teaching – but redirect your route as necessary.


10. VALUE REFLECTION: It’s your oxygen

A teacher that does not value reflection is one that will not grow.” (J. Mingay)


I remember being at uni and yawning as soon as I heard those two vomit-inducing words: ‘Reflective Practice’. It was a perfect case of Classical Conditioning. Just as the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment (late 1800s) would salivate every time someone entered the room, I would automatically yawn on hearing even a whisper of these words. They were the two biggest buzz words around at the time and we were undeniably overfed on the phrase. However, in this profession you quickly realise that reflective practice is far less a cumbersome burden and more a lifeline.

To teach but not care to reflect on your practice is almost impossible and, wholly undesirable. I can’t think of any genius, friend or family member, colleague or famous authority at the top of their game who hasn’t taken the time to look back and consider their own strengths and weaknesses. To be able to objectively review your practice is critical to surviving in the world of education and, at times, this will sometimes require you to ask for other people’s opinions. Be open to constructive critique.

At the end of the first day / week / month / half term / term / year, stop everything, reflect and make necessary changes. Do this and then repeat. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. (etc…)



Follow me on Twitter… @JAMingay

How Far is ‘Too Far’?

How Far is ‘Too Far’?

In my role as Literacy Leader, I find myself constantly reflecting on what we are doing well as a school and what we could be doing better with regard to supporting student literacy. Embedded within this review process is a persistent thought that works its way into my conscience time and time again, leading me to question what reading or writing support students are getting at home.

Working in a great secondary school based in Greater London, rightly proud of its own active engagement with the local community, it welcomes students from quite a diverse catchment area. This results in the intake of a wide range of students who have vastly different backgrounds. This includes those who come from homes where literacy is rated as fundamental, being the foundation on which all other learning can take place, to those families who consider literacy as almost irrelevant, so long as their child is happy to step into the family business. In these cases (which thankfully are few but nevertheless real) being able to read and write is considered merely a ‘bonus’. Not an easy partnership to nurture when your aim is to equip every student with the same essential ‘toolkit’ to get through life beyond their compulsory education years.

Standing with most other educationalists in the teaching profession, I presume, I’m of the strong opinion that a positive home-school relationship with regular and valuable communication is the best approach to scaffolding student learning. For this reason, when I see articles like the two listed below, I question whether we are going far enough with sharing our expertise with students and their parents/carers. Take a look…

1. http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=alicia_molina

2. http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2014/07/24/Reading-should-be-a-family-affair-But-parents-can-t-help-their-children-learn-to-read-if-they-can-t-read-well-themselves/stories/201407240156


With my reading-instruction-radar firmly switched to ‘ON’, it seems to me that we are missing a step in the learning process, particularly for those students from homes where reading might not come naturally to their parents, either.

Geoff Barton, in his great book ‘Don’t Call it Literacy!’ (Routledge: 2013) outlines some of the key points taken from a survey carried out by the National Literacy Trust in 2010, named Literacy: State of the Nation, A picture of literacy in the UK today. Barton writes:

  • ‘Parents are the most important reading role models for their children and young people’
  • ‘One in five parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children’

That’s 80% of parents who don’t, then…

  • ‘Recent research has shown that the likelihood of fathers reading to their children is linked to their socio-economic background.’

21% of dads in £40-50k income homes read with their children compared to 11% in £10-15k income homes.

Various different research studies have looked into the positive and negative effects of adult support within education and, in all those that I have come across, results seem to suggest that TAs who have had the necessary, thorough training around how to deliver particular programmes to students are ones where impact is most effective. Just one of these examples can be found here: http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/Default.aspx?tabid=2438

With this in mind (i.e. the knowledge that training is essential in order for adults to have a positive impact on student learning), is it time for schools who have, for example, established reading programmes and interventions in place, to now take a step further and look to supporting parents as well? If research suggests that academic success is determined partially through the level of parental involvement in their own child’s studies, do we need to start thinking creatively about how to support the parents as well as the students? Perhaps that initially means just targetting families where illiteracy or, at least, a very low level of literacy is present, or delivering a series of workshops within different departments across the school to create greater discussion opportunities that focus on how parents can support their child’s learning best? 

Another superb book highlighting the importance of literacy within schools has been written by David Didau called ‘The Secret of Literacy: Making the implicit explicit’ (Independent Thinking Press:2014). In a section of the book on ‘Building a Reading Culture’, Didau lists the recommendations given by the Department for Education on reading. The very first point in the list advises,

  • ‘Engage parents by inviting them to become members of the school library, or by inviting them to workshops on how to support their child’s reading.’ 

This is useful advice and, while I’m confident we do this as a school to a point by engaging and training up some of our invaluable volunteer parents in how to teach reading to our weaker readers across the school, I don’t know if we are going far enough. For our weakest readers, in particular those ones who come from homes where parents are unable to support due to a lack of reading ability themselves, do we need to target the root of the problem here first?


Unquestionably, our biggest priority is to put our students first. This is our call of duty, our responsibility as facilitators of learning. I just wonder if we now need to start thinking outside the box with these home-school related issues a little more in order to best support our students and, as a result, advancing ever closer towards our goal for a more holistic approach to learning.