Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School

5 Feb 2022, 5:00


Robin Conway’s blogs of the week, 31 January 2022

Looking in the Mirror


Zoe Enser’s writing is always thought provoking, engaging and accessible. This post focuses on the important role of reflective practice and explores the tension between our desire to be reflective and the busy nature of schools. This is an all-too-familiar experience for teachers and leaders at all levels, and Enser’s five key ingredients – including “cutting the noise” and “protecting the time” – hold out the possibility of finding a better balance.

There are suggestions for individuals here, as well as structural advice for school leaders. Particularly important among them, I felt, was the advice to “zoom in” and focus on a smaller number of things to develop. The key message is clear: “If we want to improve, which we all do, we need to take a deep breath and peer in the mirror.”

4 Ways to Overcome Cognitive Overload in Your Students


It’s early doors, but this is the one to beat for blogs of the year. Some educational ideas are discussed so frequently it sometimes feels like too much, and then someone – or in this case, a team – comes along and expresses them so clearly or so originally that they feel fresh again. This piece does both.

In a straightforward, jargon-free post that explains its concepts clearly, the consultants at InnerDrive explore four reasons why students might experience cognitive overload in the classroom. Crucially for busy teachers, they offer simple principles for overcoming these, complete with useful graphics. Which makes this not only a practical and useful blog, but one that models what it advocates.

The Early Career Teacher Survival Handbook – “High Expectations” Part 1


At just over 2,000 words, this is one of the longer blogposts out there, so allow a little time. To be fair to it, though, Clive Hill is tackling a meaty topic and his reflections and advice are clearly expressed and well worth the trouble.

The post is targeted at early-career teachers but I think it deserves a wider readership. Hill explores the inextricable link between the first teachers’ standard (‘set high expectations’) and the seventh (‘manage behaviour effectively’). He then goes on to lay out his own pedagogical approach, rooted in research , which he calls ‘warm:strict’. “Keeping behavioural expectations high, even on the small things,” he states, “means that the big things rarely happen.” I’m already looking forward to part two.

Planting the Roots for Vocabulary Growth


As usual, Durrington Research School has taken a research-driven but practical approach to driving vocabulary growth. Recognising its importance for supporting the educational attainment of pupil premium students, literacy has long been a focus for them. This term, they are focusing on ‘root words’, knowledge of which will ensure students are “better equipped to decipher meaning themselves when they encounter words they do not know”.

The strategy is well worth reading about, and is likely to make many a magpie happy. Even if it’s not right for your setting, Fran Haynes sets out a handy selection of root words we can all use. And as they are advertised as the ‘first wave’, I am hoping the list will grow next term.

Making Wait Times More Productive


Closing this week’s selection by returning to our initial theme, this is a nice example of reflective practice resulting not only in adjustments to improve students’ learning but a positive contribution to wider professional knowledge.

The principle of ‘wait time’ is simple: to ensure there is enough thinking time between asking a question and calling on students to answer it. But getting the balance right is not always easy, and some students do not use the time well. Here, Jo Castelino discusses her efforts to ensure students are thinking during ‘wait time’ so that there is ‘no opt out’ from participating in the lesson.

“Given all the tools and facts to work an answer out, students are more likely to attempt the question and even be successful at it,” she states. As ever in teaching, it is all in the execution, and hers seems like a model worth following.

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