Review by Harry Fletcher-Wood

15 Apr 2018, 5:00

Harry Fletcher-Wood’s top blogs of the week 9 April 2018

Reviewer Harry Fletcher-Wood shares his top education blogs this week.


Helping students’ memories – utilising elaborative retrieval

Paul Moss begins this blog with a virtuoso explanation of Lord Byron’s life and loves, and how this might inform our reading of the line “A heart whose love is innocent!” He describes Byron’s reputation, his affairs, his daughter Ada Lovelace and her pioneering computer programming with Charles Babbage. This knowledge “serves to make the last line of the poem, and indeed the poem’s central focus, which is the inner goodness and beauty that radiates from the character, an all the more admirable achievement”.

Moss suggests that weaving such stories has other functions too: it creates “numerous pathways” by which students may remember the content – “the story facilitates the memory”.

He challenges teachers to delve into their understanding of the topic and engage both students and themselves in an awed fascination with stories. “To enjoy stories seems to be an inherent ingredient to be a human, and students of today, with all their fascination with technology, are of no exception.”


In search of senior curriculum leadership

This essay introduces a series in which Christine Counsell advocates senior curriculum leadership and establishes what it entails.

She seeks to show “what can senior curriculum leadership mean, that is, leadership of curriculum in the whole school, given that one cannot know about all these subjects in their distinctive channels?” Her first post shows how an absence of such leadership has contributed to the “fundamental and longstanding problems in schools with which we have all wrestled, from weak assessment systems to problems with generation and interpretation of data, from problematical judgements about teaching and learning, to attraction and retention of fine teachers, from teacher development to the effectiveness of CPD”.

In the next, the first of seven on the knowledge senior leaders may need, she argues that “curriculum is content structured as narrative over time”. We can therefore ask of any topic, “what is this bit of content doing?” What is its immediate and ultimate function? Does it represent the core or the hinterland of what is to be learned?

Counsell shows how such questions can help us understand why prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells are introduced in year 4, and why Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope may be a good way to introduce them.


Teacher shortages: Are a handful of schools a big part of the problem?
@profbeckyallen @Sam_Sims_

Becky Allen and Sam Sims meet “Ellen”, who had been “delighted to get her first teaching job in an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ primary school in North London” but was astonished to realise that the school “had lost 100 per cent of its classroom teaching staff since the previous academic year”.

The authors set out to identify “schools that recruit an unusually high proportion of NQTs and see an unusually high proportion of such teachers leave the profession within a year” without including those which have just one NQT who then leaves.

Through a “funnel plot”, they identify schools which both “use and lose an unusually high proportion of NQTs”, and show that 122 schools lose NQTs at three times the national average.

Were these schools to lose teachers at an average rate, this would fill 22 per cent of the national shortfall rate.

“Very high turnover schools are rare,” they conclude, but they are still too common. Allen and Sims’s funnel plots may help us identify and support those schools, and better advise new teachers.


An art history of exam season

James Theobald continues his seasonal cycle with the “art history of exam season”.

He begins with Mark Rothko’s gold-washed painting, ‘Highlighting the Key Ideas in the Text’ (c.1950-2)’ in which the artist shows how “the pupil has smothered the entire text with his yellow highlighter, showing a lack of discernment between ‘the key ideas’ and ‘everything the writer has written’,” and continues by way of Jackson Pollock’s ‘A Mindmap of Everything I Know About the Hydrological Cycle’ and Robert Braithwaite Martineau’s ‘After Four and a Half Years of Avoiding Work, It’s Finally Clicked for Bobby’ (1852) ending in the sunlit uplands of Sir Frank Dicksee’s ‘Arriving for Prom’, for which, Theobald assures us, Sir Frank chose “one of the more understated and austere entrances”.

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