Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation - John Mason School

26 Jan 2019, 5:00


Robin Conway’s top blogs of Jan 2019

Our blog reviewer of the week is Robin Conway, who is director of research and innovation at John Mason School


Forming good habits, breaking bad habits: what works?


Harry Fletcher-Wood’s work is always engagingly written and combines relevant educational or psychological research with practical advice. This blog is true to form as he explores the challenges or breaking old habits and the “central components” of successfully forming new ones. He links the ideas to supporting students with building better study habits, although he warns that “the time and effort it takes to form a habit means choosing the most powerful habits to form is crucial”. The ideas need not only apply to pupils. I found myself thinking about my own habits and the uses to which I might put his ideas when trying to improve my teaching, as well as students’ learning.

Data’s Veil of Ignorance


I really enjoy blogs that make me think about something in a new way, something that this one did. Data is such a controversial and heavily debated topic in education that it is rare to read anything that is original and thought-provoking without being highly technical. Adam Boxer’s piece manages all of these. In applying Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance (the idea that “you decide to structure society – its rules and its norms – before you know which role you will take within that society”) to the principles of data-gathering, Boxer challenges us to reconsider fundamental judgments about what data is needed and by whom. This aim is not to offer practical solutions, but the piece would make a great starting point for conversations and policy meetings.

Letting the learning shine


I recently read a great blog by Alex Ford Who shot JFK? and other historical problems that probed the dangers of poorly framed enquiries and lesson activities that are fun, but which reflect poor subject scholarship. Inspired by his ideas, Mark Esner uses this blog to reflect how his teaching has changed over time. He particularly focuses on the shift he has made from novelty activities where “the nature of the task dominated the lesson” to tasks that focused rigorously on subject-specific learning. I definitely have fallen into the trap of focusing on the excitement generated by the task rather than the underlying history. Esner’s recurring analysis of his own lessons sees him asking where the geography was to be found in such activities and shifting away from those he found lacking. I love creative learning tasks when they work to open or challenge students’ thinking in a rigorous way but as Esner argues, it is important that the subject is “the most important element in the lesson”.

The Rosenshine papers


Rosenshine’s principles of instruction have been around for some time. In this blog Steve Adcock shares the journey of the schools in his trust as they use Rosenshine to help in “ensuring that each school’s approach was anchored in a shared understanding of the characteristics of effective teaching”. Adcock explains why they chose Rosenshine and how they have used his principles to deepen their understanding of learning across schools and subjects. Thorough and critical engagement with the research helped to build a shared understanding of how they could be applied in the classroom. The journey is ongoing, but Adcock’s reflections make for interesting reading and his summary of the intention behind the principles is succinct and practical.

Judging the quality of student work


Douglas Wise’s posts tend to be concise, practical and relevant with examples and resources shared generously. This one is true to form sharing six key things to look for when reviewing students’ work to help assess quality, rather than simple policy compliance. He also offers discussion questions for each point. My first thought was that this would have been helpful in my early days as a subject leader. Then, like many of the best blogs, it stuck with me and I returned for a second look. It has much to offer more experienced leaders and teachers experiencing “book monitoring”. A short, clear piece, worth saving for future reference.

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