Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation at John Mason School

16 Mar 2019, 5:00


Robin Conway’s top blogs of the week 11 Mar 2019

On the right track


In this piece, Zoe Esner explores how the push for a knowledge-rich curriculum has developed her teaching. Esner shares a journey that will be familiar to many of us. First, there is the process of questioning how “unique” her discipline area (English, in this case) really is, and whether the accepted belief that the higher skills could be divorced from knowledge was really working for her students. Her reading led to Kirschner’s two key questions for any teacher (“What is it we want students to know? What do we want them to do with it?”). Like any reflective practitioner she has taken this back to her own planning, and shifted her approach accordingly. Crucially, Esner has not lowered her ambitions for her students: she still wants them to draw inferences, write creatively and analyse texts. But, with knowledge at the heart of her planning, she has found that “the quality of what the students now produce is by far some of the best I have seen”.

Examinations: the gilded age


Alex Ford’s analysis of Ofsted’s findings on “Marking consistency metrics” (November 2018) makes compelling, if somewhat worrying, reading. For anyone without the time or statistical knowledge to digest the original, Ford’s blog gives a clear explanation of how unreliable marking is in some subjects and uses this to question, not unreasonably, the validity of the outcomes. For those teaching maths the news is positive, with the GCSE giving “a good example of how marking should operate when it is really effective and rigorous”. However, those teaching in a significant number of subjects should have more concerns. Ford does a masterly job of explaining the issues, and goes on to explain why the issue of “agreement rates” is an important one; for schools, teachers and, crucially, students. The blog does not end with practical actions or suggestions for implementing the “fundamental change” Ford calls for, but it certainly makes the case for opening a discussion, and soon. It is one in which subject teachers will want to be closely involved, and Ford’s piece makes a great introduction to the issues.

What is academic language?


It is inevitable that the attainment gap created by competent learners failing to express their ideas in the appropriate academic language mostly hurts the disadvantaged. In this blog, Diane Leedham attempts to “map the territory” by sharing some of the key concepts needed to help students learn this style of communication. She warns against “simple rules and sweeping proscriptions”, and considers nominalisation, vocabulary development, polysemy (a new concept for me) and fluency. Complicated techniques are well explained and the importance of learning to communicate in academic language clearly emphasised. Considering the worrying conclusions of Alex Ford’s blog on examinations, this is a must-read for teachers in many subjects. Leedham’s piece is the first in a promised series and I am very much looking forward to subsequent instalments.

Metacognition ……. just good teaching?


Since the EEF produced its “Metacognition and self-regulated learning” report in 2018, it’s everywhere. James Bullous has looked at the model carefully, action-planning how to trial it with students. The blog draws links with established tools and techniques such as @adamboxer1’s SLOP (Shed Loads of Practice) sheets. These connections help to demystify metacognition and reinforce Bullous’s message that excellent practice already exists. Despite the questioning nature of the title, Bullous does not seek to tear down metacognition, but offers an important and reassuring insight: “Most great practitioners are naturally very metacognitive and so, by producing this guidance, the EEF models perfectly making the implicit, explicit.”

Social mobility


If you’re in the mood for something a little different, The Grumpy Teacher’s blogs are always passionate, articulate and engaging. The Grumpy Teacher is unafraid to take unpopular stances, and shares ideas that are always thought-provoking. This blog challenges the concept of education as a tool for creating social mobility (with sideswipes at the government and the baby boomer generation). Aside from the fact that it is always good to see educational shibboleths held up to scrutiny, the blog makes a powerful case for the preservation of “the intellectual heritage of mankind” even without direct economic benefits.

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