Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School, Oxfordshire

9 Nov 2019, 5:00


Robin Conway’s top edu-blogs of the week, 4 November 2019

How can we use the pupil premium to tackle disadvantage. Part one: Changing our approach


This is the first of three promised blogs and @littlemissDHT is off to a cracking start, outlining why our thinking about the use of pupil premium funding may need to change. Without dismissing anything out of hand, she identifies potentially problematic approaches to tackling the disadvantage gap, including some quite common approaches such as marking their books first and an over-reliance on interventions that take students out of core learning. She summarises research that suggests some approaches to learning greatly risk widening the gap – notably discovery learning – and puts forward a case that pupil premium should be used to improve the overall quality of teaching. In the next instalments she promises to explore research-informed, high-impact teaching strategies. I am looking forward to reading them.

Should mobiles be banned in school?


What I love about Jill Berry’s work is that she offers common sense based on a wealth of experience and careful reflection. This debate, however, sometimes has the hallmarks of moral panic. Does banning mobile phones prevent students from self-regulating? Is it a safeguarding issue? Is bring-your-own-device (BYOD) a powerful learning tool? Berry draws on her own experience and observations to conclude in favour of raising awareness of risk, and a conscious approach to reasonable use. I found myself nodding in agreement.

Cognitive load theory:  how has it changed my teaching?


So much has been written on cognitive load theory that you could be forgiven for skipping some offerings without a read. Sarah Larsen’s succinct summary of its impact on her teaching is not one of those. It is a short but powerful read. She details her journey from “jazzy” lessons to those which use cognitive load theory and Rosenshine’s principles to think carefully about the students’ learning. Larsen shares her thinking about different types of cognitive load (extraneous, intrinsic and germane) on her planning and delivery, and how she has dramatically reduced her marking. Her concluding sentiment that, despite having been in the classroom for 22 years “I know I still have much to learn” is one we can all share, and her honest reflection on her past and current teaching is an inspiring model.

A little better all the time


I really enjoy reading blogs where teachers share their own development journeys; this is another reflective piece that does just that. Elizabeth Mountstevens’s school has allocated INSET time to teachers to pursue individual projects (what a great model!). This year she has chosen to use the time to focus on literacy. This is a useful read for anyone whose goal is to improve their teaching of vocabulary. However, the piece as a whole is far more about the four stages Mountstevens adopts when seeking to develop her practice: making a commitment; learning the underlying principles; selecting specific strategies; making it a habit. In sharing her development target for this year, she models this journey in a way that is simple, clear and very useful.

I don’t even know what choux pastry is!


This is a light-hearted reflection with a serious point. In an extended metaphor for learning based on the technical challenge in the Great British Bake Off (beautifully explained for those of us who have never seen it), Zoë Paramour explores the problem with teaching based on minimal instruction. It makes perfect sense of the research that discovery learning may not help our most disadvantaged students and should encourage all of us to think about what we are assuming our students will know. As Paramour concludes “at the end of the day, our pupils deserve more than: ‘On your marks, get set, bake.’”

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