Review by Schools Week Reporter

16 Dec 2016, 5:00

Blogs of the year 2016

This week, our guest reviewers look back on 2016 and share their top picks from the education blogging world.


Harry Fletcher-Wood’s top blogs


This year the Learning Scientists take the top slot. Drs Smith, Weinstein, Wooldridge and Kuepper-Tetzel founded the blog, which goes a long way to respond to two perennial challenges: “How we can make research available to teachers?” and “How can we induce teachers to read it?”. Their frequent blogs summarise underlying principles of cognitive science or discuss individual studies, alongside guest posts. A particular highlight this autumn was their creation of a series of posters to popularise six key strategies that research has demonstrated are particularly effective in schools, and have now been translated into a range of languages, with the artful aid of Oliver Caviglioli.

Toby French, aka Mr Histoire has found time to blog more often this year, combining insightful discussion of specific aspects of history teaching with more general reflections on his own classroom and life in schools generally. His redesign of classroom discussion made me re-evaluate practices I had spent several years perfecting (I thought) and I particularly enjoyed his explanation of the way that improved subject knowledge, around topics as esoteric as collectivisation in Ukraine, helped him to explain particular concepts. Alongside this are moments of brilliance, such as his discussion of how he uses “Our good friend, Robert Peel” to help students hang on to key ideas.

My honourable mention goes to Andrew Old, who reached his tenth anniversary as a blogger recently. Whether you agree with him or not entirely, occasionally, or not at all, it is hard to understate the effect that his persistent blogging has had on education writing and on Ofsted and schools more generally.


Emma-Mattinson Hardy’s top blogs


Sometimes the things you fail to notice are the things staring you in the face. When considering my favourite blogger, I thought about whose timeline I always check, whose blogs I always read and who I recommend to others and the answer was obvious, it’s Debra Kidd. Her passion for teaching is contagious and the lens through which she judges the latest fashion in education is always guided by her steadfast principles; she is never swayed by who said them.

She does not court controversy, but will always challenge ideas that don’t fit with her principles, even when they can appear to be the Twitter hegemonic view on education. She combines the traits of being warm, friendly and compassionate with a steely determination to ensure that Every Child Matters. Her blogs make you feel angry, determined, amused, inspired or challenged; I can’t think of a single reason not to read them.

My runner up is Michael Tidd. Last year the Department for Education (DfE) proved it was as helpful and as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Primary teachers were left desperately searching for guidance about primary assessment and many turned to Michael Tidd. His detailed analysis of primary assessment, sometimes crowd-sourced on Twitter, offered the much needed clarification. His constant challenges to the DfE to prove itself worthy of government became a battle cry during the chaos of last year and I’m delighted that he shows no signs of changing.

My honourable mention is a bit of a cheat because it is a blog with many authors. Reclaiming Education provides the educational research and evidence needed to challenge the government’s rhetoric in bite-sized chunks.


Jill Berry’s top blogs


My choices this year are all English specialists, although what they write about goes far beyond their specialism.

My first choice is Helena Marsh, an executive principal who still finds time to blog for staffrm. I have followed her journey into headship then through the early months, with a combination of avid interest, admiration and profound respect. In her posts, she explores the challenges and the rewards of headship; discusses the role of women in educational leadership and what they bring to and gain from it; and shows how her own leadership philosophy is firmly grounded in her strong core values and clear vision. She is an excellent role model for leaders at all levels and of all genders.

Second, I have enjoyed the writing of Alex Quigley, both in his blog, and his book, The Confident Teacher, which came out this year. He covers a range of subjects, including feedback, managing workload and the importance of developing confidence as we hone our craft in the classroom. His writing reflects his clear judgment, contains practical strategies and grounded advice, and is always succinct, balanced and readable. Alex is committed to, and knowledgeable about, the power of research to inform and strengthen practice, but he wears his considerable learning lightly.

And my honourable mention this year is Andy Tharby, whose blog is gold dust for English teachers, but whose insights would benefit all teachers. He exposes myths, explores issues such as what makes for effective questioning and powerful analysis, and offers inspiring examples of work that often make me wish I were an English teacher again.


Andrew Old’s top blogs


My blogger of the year is English teacher James Theobald who writes “Othmar’s Trombone” (a Peanuts reference). While he does not blog that often, the arrival of his latest post always feels like a major event. He has a knack for finding perfect analogies and examples to illustrate educational issues, and an ability to present them graphically in amusing ways. This is the only blog where you are going to see the College Of Teaching presented as a Choose Your Own Adventure book; Shakespeare with headlines designed by education journalists; recent education debates reimagined as a Christmas hamper; or education policy as a Monty Python sketch. He is also capable of identifying fashions and crazes in education that deserve to be challenged, such as “takeaway homework” or criticising schools for being like factories. I don’t know of any other blog that is so carefully crafted or so frequently original.

My runner-up is The Quirky Teacher. Written by an anonymous primary teacher, it is a polemical account of primary teaching and the illogical practices she has encountered. She is scathing about attitudes to maths and science, and the priority given to creative activities and play. She describes poor management and excessive workload, and criticises low expectations. She argues for firmer discipline and for a greater priority to be given to academic subjects at a young age. She is particularly interesting when talking about gender and the expectations teachers have for boys in an environment with very few men.

My honourable mention is veteran blogger, Tom Bennett. This year he returned to publishing his own blog and was immediately involved in several major controversies, most memorably over the relevance of Minecraft to the classroom.

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