Harry Fletcher-Wood’s top blogs of the week 29 February 2016

Transfer of learning: is there a solution?

By @surreallyno

In two recent posts, Cristina Milos has explored why it’s so hard for students to transfer knowledge from one context to another. Based on astonishingly-detailed reading of a wide variety of studies, she explains the biggest obstacles to transfer in maths: the over use of concrete materials, contextualised tasks, and authentic, real-life problems. She doesn’t duck the paradox this entails: concrete and contextualised tasks are more engaging and easier to process for students, but “while they provide short-term benefits they can be disadvantageous in the long run”. In her second post, Milos presents a series of strategies to support transfer, based on the literature and on international comparative studies. Among her suggestions are presenting students with multiple cases, asking them to compare and contrast, and offering them examples and “non-examples” of particular things. She exemplifies each strategy with concrete examples and real-life problems suitable to maths teaching … If you’re concerned with ensuring students take what they learn one lesson and apply it in the next, these posts are must reads.

Teaching poetry: five ways in

By @mr_bunker_edu

In an equally useful post, David Bunker shares his preferred approaches to introducing poetry. He describes teaching poems as one of the most difficult aspects of English teaching: “To so many students I teach poems are impenetrable puzzles, or written in language so unfamiliar that their first instinct is to balk before we’ve even begun”. He offers five approaches that have worked for him: for example, withholding the title and “encouraging students to figure out what it might be – essentially approaching poems like a riddle”, focusing on the most significant parts of the poem and ‘”going heavy on context”, “perhaps my favourite way to introduce poems”. Bunker’s post suggests he has taken a challenging task and fashioned it into a pleasure; in doing so, he offers sound advice.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, so build great teaching cultures

By @leadinglearner

Stephen Tierney questions the usefulness of the time spent on appraisal within schools. The process requires “an initial meeting to set objectives and targets, a series of lesson observations, an interim meeting and end-of-process meeting to review outcomes. In addition there is the requirement to complete the associated paperwork and invariably management time in ensuring greater compliance with policy or chasing up late documentation.” So is this worthwhile? Tierney thinks otherwise. He goes on to suggest an alternative path, in which staff focus more usefully on professional development: offered a menu of opportunities, including lesson observations, mini-observations and “making a difference projects”. From these options, staff would “select the one that is of most interest or relevance to them. The choice could vary from year to year. All would need to have a means for monitoring it is happening or showing it is having impact”.

The future of leadership

By @M_Heffernan

This half-hour BBC broadcast by Margaret Heffernan discusses the problems with “command and control” leadership. At a surprising variety of places she hears about the problems with competitive and individual models of “hero leadership”. At Netflix she learns about “Netflix Culture” in which important decisions and key responsibilities have been devolved to employees. At Rada, she is told that supermen and superwomen are turned away from auditions, while at Microsoft, the company has changed direction to prioritise teams and collaboration. Finally,
of all places, she meets with senior generals from the US and British armies, who tell her they have dispensed with command and control leadership. Heffernan pulls insights from diverse fields into a coherent and thoughtful set of conclusions about best practice.