Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School

27 Nov 2021, 5:00


Robin Conway’s blogs of the week, 22 November 2021

Does That Make Sense? Breaking Bad Habits


I wouldn’t normally nominate the same author twice in a row for this column, but this piece by Helen Skelton deserves recognition. There are always plenty of new(ish) ideas for teachers to build into their practice, but breaking old, bad habits is not something we talk about enough. And yet, doing so can be just as powerful in improving the quality of our teaching.  

Skelton has clearly reflected on this, and this useful read focuses on three particular habits: asking “Does that make sense?”, breaking the silence when students are working, and seeking quiet with a “Sshhh!”. Even if these aren’t habits you need to break (I am guilty of the first!), Skelton explains the rationale for making a change, and practical techniques to do so. A great post to start reflecting on how to make your professional new year’s resolutions stick!

Making Feedback a Dirty Habit


Continuing on the theme of bad habits – this time, students’ – this is also my second selection this week that quotes Aristotle. (It’s not an entry requirement, but it doesn’t hurt!) I was, I confess, a little uncertain as I started reading this critique of ‘directed improvement and reflection time’ (commonly known as DIRT), a practice I find very useful. But Haynes makes a convincing case that this form of feedback risks failing to address students’ bad habits.  

She therefore proposes a new structure based on identifying these, redirecting students’ efforts, and building in self-monitoring and lots of opportunities to practise. As Haynes argues, “It’s not a case of scrapping DIRT altogether but making a few tweaks so that it becomes as fertile a ground for learning as possible.” I will definitely try her approach with my classes in my next round of feedback.

How I Used Mini-Whiteboards in My Lessons Yesterday


I’ve long found the mini-whiteboard a very useful whole-class assessment tool, but not all my colleagues are persuaded. So this post by Kristian Shanks instantly gripped me, with his opening self-description as “a bit of a mini-whiteboard refuser”. Shanks goes on to explain why he was persuaded to give them another go and – in a blog written quite unlike any I’ve read – to talk us through his lessons of the day and how he deployed the mini-whiteboards in each.

The result is highly effective. He shares a wide range of activities and reflections on how each one went and what he learned from them. To conclude, he notes some limitations on mini-whiteboard use, but acquiesces that he “learned a lot more information about student content and procedural knowledge than I may have done using my traditional, habitualised teaching methods”.

Now to break those bad, old habits, I guess!

High Stakes Exams and Mocks – Let’s Go Low, Low, Low, Low


During lockdowns, there seemed to be a high level of recognition that students had experienced substantial disruption – perhaps even trauma – and needed to return to a nurturing environment in order to thrive. With the return of inspections and exams (as far as we know) this year, there is a danger this may have been overlooked.  

Here, Chris Curtis offers a powerful reminder of the costs that can accrue if we allow our stress to be transferred to students. Mocks are a particular concern in this regard. As he notes, they are “largely viewed in negative terms” because “every mock highlights what they cannot do”.  

As well as a powerful argument for lowering the stakes, this is a practical post too, with tips for using mocks to build a sense of the positive, to identify the successes students can build on and to encourage them to embrace mistakes.

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