Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School

24 Apr 2021, 5:00


Robin Conway’s blogs of the week, 19 April 2021

This week’s top blogs cover verbal feedback, non-specialist teaching, video lessons, re-aligning priorities and the transition ‘language leap’


Making the Move from Written Marking Towards Verbal Feedback. Some Practical Tips.


A powerful case for the validity of these feedback methods

I am probably not alone in still doing far too much written marking despite having seen the power of non-written feedback and experienced the positive impact on workload. Thus Sarah Larsen’s opening claim to have not marked a set of books for over three years instantly grabbed my attention.   

Larsen explains how after participating in the Verbal Feedback Project with a colleague, they moved towards using a combination of wholeclass feedback and live marking. The blog is highly practical, summarising her methods and sharing a very useful planning tool for wholeclass feedback.   

Larsen also makes a powerful case for the validity of these methods of feedback noting that what they have in common is that “they cause students to THINK HARD about any feedback given, and, crucially, the improvements that they subsequently need to make”.  That is the essence of effective feedback. 


Teaching a Subject as a Non-Specialist 


This makes a good list of specific support to ask for

It is not uncommon for teachers, particularly of foundation subjects, to have to teach outside their subject areas. Hopefully, few have faced the challenges and lack of support Miss Hudson experienced in her NQT year.   

However, what has come out of it is this nice piece which offers some useful, practical advice for those supporting non-specialists. There are always going to be additional challenges if we’re teaching outside our specialism but, as Hudson concludes, “Sharing, support and leadership are crucial in enabling non-specialist teachers to teach well”. 

If subject leads follow these suggestions then non-specialist teachers should be better supported.  And if you’re going to be teaching outside your specialism, this makes a good list of specific support to ask for to enable you to thrive. 


The Video Lesson 


A strong case that video lessons are not ‘lazy lessons’

After all the technological challenges of online learning, live lessons and remote meetings, Mr Taylor takes us back to something much more old-school. Conjuring a familiar image for many of us of the video player being rolled into the classroom, Taylor applies the principles of cognitive science to getting the most out of learning from a video. 

The prior reading of questions to help students focus on the key content and avoid cognitive overload seems a particularly important technique. Taylor makes a strong case that video lessons are not ‘lazy lessons’ and that “whilst videos shouldn’t be considered a replacement for expert teachers, they certainly do have some benefits which can enhance our classroom practice”.   


Systems not Goals 


A convincing and well-put case

It is quite possible that the next educational initiative to go the way of learning styles and brain gym will be the near-obsession with target grades. Mrs Ball is certainly of the opinion that the time is ripe for change.   

There have been good blogs on this before and Ball references two of these (by Ben Newmark and John Tomsett). However, her blog brings an original line of thought to the debate. Drawing on her reading of James Clear, she argues that the use of target grades forces a focus on goals. Instead, she argues, a focus on “building school systems with the highest expectations, a relentless drive and commitment to improvement and a focus on the highest quality curriculum” would be much more beneficial. A convincing and well-put case. 


The ‘Language Leap’ At Transition  


The issues are clearly explained and the solutions both practical and research-engaged

I have a conscious bias towards lesser-known bloggers for these reviews, but Alex Quigley is one of the ‘big names’ whose work I find so useful I will happily make an exception. Here, he responds to Johnson’s claims about an illiteracy surge by returning attention to the ‘language leap’ between primary and secondary education.   

The issues are clearly explained and the solutions both practical and research-engaged. Crucially, he argues that an emphasis on “training secondary school teachers in teaching reading, writing, academic talk and more, with the specific attention to their subject” is a good first step. While he rightly points out that these issues haven’t been created by lockdown, perhaps it will be the impetus we need to redouble our efforts in this vital area. 

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