Harry Fletcher-Wood picks his top blogs of the week 22 June 2015

20 psychological principles for teachers

By David Didau

David Didau deserves a special commendation, or whatever the Blogs of the Week equivalent is, for this epic cycle. His discussion of use of evidence sticks with the issue of how and when teachers should read and synthesise the vast range of research available. Here, he does it for them. On each principle (for example, no 13: “Learning is situated within multiple social contexts”), Didau summarises the research findings based on his reading of the original papers, and then offers his own slant. No 11, on expectations, was a particular favourite, incorporating discussion of the Pygmalion, Golem and Hawthorne effects and making suggestions on how teachers might use this knowledge in practice. An excellent set of summaries, highly recommended.

Assessment alternatives 2: using pupil work instead of criteria

By Daisy Christodoulou

This post is the final instalment in another excellent series – although Daisy Christodoulou has confined herself to only four posts. Here she returns to her specialist subject of assessment, and begins by hammering another nail in the coffin of performance descriptors. She sets out what an alternative assessment method might look like, focused around questions and exemplar student work. While defining questions about fractions that we would expect students to answer is relatively straightforward, how we do the same for open questions in subjects such as English and history is more complicated. Creating rubrics “can descend into fairly sterile and unresolvable arguments about whether an essay is ‘thoughtful’ or ‘sophisticated’.” Christodoulou argues that we would be better placed collecting and comparing exemplar essays. Teachers could collaborate to reach a common understanding of the standard of quality that represents a “thoughtful and sophisticated” (for example) response to a given question. This has the added benefit of working with our understanding of psychology: humans have a lot of tacit knowledge, and are poor at making absolute judgments.

Leading People When They Know More than You Do

By Wanda T. Wallace and David Creelman

Sooner or later, the authors of this blog note, someone promoted for expertise is likely to manage people from areas outside their expertise, a situation in which many senior leaders and heads of faculty find themselves.

“Your subordinates will ask questions that you cannot answer and may not even understand,” they point out. What to do at this stage isn’t to work harder and master the detail. Instead the authors say: “If it took 10 or 20 years to master your specialty you are not going to achieve a similar mastery in a new domain in the first 90 days.” Instead, they offer four pieces of advice, and specific ways to achieve them, such as focusing on relationships rather than facts and focusing on enabling rather than doing.

I was sceptical of their last point: “As a generalist you must draw on that elusive quality of ‘executive presence’ to inspire confidence in others.” The idea that, as a specialist manager “you will want to pay attention to what they are saying, but the generalist should want to see how they are creating executive presence. Notice the relaxed body stance, the calmness in their voice, how their sentences are crisp and to the point . . .” seems a recipe for style over content in leadership. However, I’ve come across very little that addresses the genuine dilemma they describe, so this seems worth sharing as a starting point for a discussion.

What I’ve been up to recently: Knowledge

By Toby French

This is something that I read a few months ago that has stuck with me. Toby French describes how tempting it is when “battling with poor behaviour, a particularly North Devonian apathy and in-jokes designed to undermine authority” to turn to that “staple technique which many new, and especially young, teachers turn to in times of desperation: make it easier”. The more time I spend in classrooms, the more profound French’s subsequent argument has become: “It took me a long time to realise that the harder my lessons are the more my students work, and the more I get (and have) to read further into my subject.” French is not pretending that a more challenging lesson is a panacea that will solve poor behaviour or genuine struggle, but his prism – that a positive solution to apathy is greater challenge – is worth considering.