Our blog reviewer of the week is Harry Fletcher-Wood, an associate dean at the Institute for Teaching
Hannah Wilson hit the front pages over half term when an angry parent’s complaint to a local newspaper reached the national press, and then the trolls. Wilson’s list of offences included “serving water, banning packed lunches, insisting on family dining”, and she notes that these policies have been in place since the school opened in September.
In the face of vindictive and personal attacks, Wilson’s response is characteristically calm, collaborative and constructive. Her values are her “shield”, she explains, not because “I do not have feelings, that I am not taking it personally, that words do not hurt me. It is not that I am not taking this seriously, because I am, but I will not allow the loud shouty voices nor the hateful insults sink in.”
She carefully controls her reactions: “I have held my head up high. I have sat on my hands and I have bitten my tongue” and focuses on the positive and supportive messages she has received. She models a positive response to an extremely challenging situation.
Becky Allen is worried about progress. We’re pretty good at measuring attainment, she notes, but “relatively short, standardised tests that are designed to be administered in a 45-minute/one-hour lesson are rarely going to be reliable enough to infer much about individual pupil progress”. Having examined a number of tests, she sets out the reasons why she is “no longer sure that anybody is creating reliable termly or annual pupil progress data by subject”, noting the way that tests distort teaching and pressure on teachers distorts testing.
Shechallenges us to reconsider whether we can really measure progress: “What if we all – teachers, researchers, heads, inspectors – accept that we are not currently measuring pupil progress? What then?”
Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen begin by reminding us that “feedback is one of the most, if not the most important tools for supporting learning” and take us to the logical consequence: “Let’s just give as much feedback as we can to improve learning, right?”
They highlight why it’s more complicated than this: “There are many types of feedback, it’s not unambiguous what we mean when we say ‘feedback’. A number of factors influence the effectiveness of feedback. And last but not least, although we know feedback is one of the most important ways to improve learning, we know from research that it can negatively affect learning.”
They provide clear guidance around what helps, what hurts, and how “the right feedback at the right time, acted upon by the learner and the learner works”.
The anonymous author began their career in sales, where “we were taught a number of ‘closes’, which should be deployed at the time when the customer was getting near to making a decision and just needed a nudge over the line.” These include the “Ben Franklin” – “you sit next to your customer and help him or her compile a list of the pros and cons of doing what you are proposing. Hey presto! The list of pros is longer. Much longer.”
Then there’s the positive choice “at the point at which the customer is teetering on the edge of a decision, you tacitly assume he has already made it, and you give him a choice. ‘So would you like the doors in glossy white or chrome?’”
The author shows how these approaches can be used with Harry, one of their students, such as the prophecy of doom: “I know you want to chill Harry, but the trouble is that if you don’t do what I’m asking, then it all starts to get serious fairly quickly: I give you a demerit, then you get a det…” and so on.
Or try the “positive choice”: “Hi Harry. I can see you’re having some difficulty starting. Tell you what, you don’t have to start right at the beginning – do you want to start with exercise two or exercise three and then you can go back to the beginning later on?”
As in sales, the author concludes, “these won’t always work, but they offer you the chance to be a little creative in challenging situations where you’re finding it difficult to move forward with a student. So, will you start with the Ben Franklin or the puppy dog?”