Reviewer Harry Fletcher-Wood shares his top picks from the edu-blogosphere this week
“On a blustery autumnal morning, I reached my desk in my classroom, switched on my computer, opened my first PowerPoint presentation for the first lesson of the day and pressed the ‘on’ button on my projector. Nothing happened.”
When this happened to her, Emma Smith decided to “turn this unexpected turn of events into an opportunity to hone my teaching” and explains what happens next and what she learned as a result. She found her students had to listen more closely, she was more selective in the way she used the whiteboard and was more inclined to go “off-piste”.
She says she “perversely enjoyed the challenge that day of having to adapt lessons quickly, to simplify activities while making instructions explicit. But out of those stripped back lessons came important realisations about the current state of my classroom practices which has helped me to refocus. I’m not advocating a mass anti-projector movement (mine is back in working order and I’m very glad that it is), but I would challenge any teacher who feels that their teaching has become stale to do a day without one.”
“There are so many good ideas in education at the moment”, Phil Stock notes, that “it is hard to keep up”. He wonders whether as a “profession we still tend to rush towards implementing each and every new idea that comes along without engaging in any real process of critical evaluation. We’ve eschewed some of the guff from the past, but I am not sure we have learnt how to handle research evidence in a disciplined way, and as a consequence we risk creating future brain gyms.”
He argues for the merits of “stepping back and thinking things through”, but also, importantly, develops “the discipline to resist acting immediately”. He concludes on a cautious note, offering a series of questions we should be asking before we adopt new approaches.
The 3D curriculum that promotes remembering
Clare Sealy reaches back to her first years in teaching, halcyon days when schools and teachers were free to teach what they wanted and her mother’s colleague, a primary teacher, didn’t teach maths because she didn’t like it. Primary schools, she explains, taught everything for a term linked to a topic: a term on weather meant rain gauges, stories about storms and Noah’s Ark, but no history.
She wants to maintain the inventiveness and the links between subjects and year groups this allowed, but within a curriculum that builds students’ knowledge in a structured, systematic way. She demonstrates how the curriculum has “vertical”, “horizontal” and “diagonal” links: students come to understand tyrants through study of the pharaoh, King John and Mrs Trunchbull; key ideas and concepts recur and echo across years and subjects, promoting understanding and retention.
She is “not saying building such a curriculum is easy”, but her model and explanation demonstrate how it can be done, and its value.
Teacher time and energy are finite resources
In a short, powerful post, Roxanna Elden notes that “two of the most finite resources in education are teacher time and energy” and offers two ways to examine a problem: the amount of time we want to spend, or the quality we want to achieve.
“Both options are fine,” she writes. “Just be honest with yourself about which one you’re choosing.”