In conversation with Dominic Norrish Shooting Azimuths – Episode 1

Shooting Azimuths is a podcast in which I get to chat with the people I admire the most in education.

In this episode, I talk with Dominic Norrish, who is Chief Operating Officer at United Learning, a large group of academies and independent schools in the UK.

Dominic and I discuss what impelled him to pursue a career in education; the challenges and opportunities brought about by the forced pivoting to remote teaching and learning due to the Covid-19 crisis; and the importance of life-long education.

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Teaching and learning in lockdown What does the future hold for education?

En un lugar de La Mancha… so opens Don Quixote, Cervantes’s masterpiece and a founding work of modern Western literature. Usually translated as “Somewhere in La Mancha…”, the line evokes a sense of impenetrable remoteness and bewildering isolation. La Mancha was and remains a secluded, windmill-strewn and arid plateau in central Spain, sparsely inhabited by people but densely populated by Manchego cheese producing ewes. An unlikely place if ever there was one for a chivalrous knight-errant from which to hail and where to pursue romance.

These days the heroic efforts required to court the object of one’s unrequited love are performed by invisible code wrights and computer smiths, whose incomprehensible algorithms manifest themselves as apps on our devices and ensure that we remain together regardless of physical absence. We may be locked down, but we need not be isolated.

My school’s decision three years ago to implement a class-leading digital strategy to support and extend teaching and learning may now appear prescient. We couldn’t have foreseen the arrival of Covid-19 or the impact of the measures to counter its spread, but the early implementation of our digital strategy and the considerable concerted efforts of pupils, parents and staff have allowed us to segue into remote teaching and learning with poise, aplomb and relative ease.

Our digital strategy never set out to vanquish completely the tyranny of spacetime: the need to be in a particular place at a specific time. Instead we devised it to be firmly grounded on evidence and sagely informed by practice. To us technology was never a substitute for effective teaching, but rather its enabler; nor was it a distraction from successful learning, but rather its accomplice.

So, although never designed for fully remote teaching and learning, tools like Showbie, Seesaw, Microsoft Teams and our bespoke Digital Learning Spaces have allowed us to transcend many of the physical limitations of school closure. We all look forward to the time when schools can welcome its pupils back to the havens of curiosity, inspiration and knowledge we call classrooms. However, in schools with a well thought-through digital strategy, we can continue to learn, separated only by distance.

Remote teaching

Remote teaching differs only superficially from classroom teaching. At the core of successful teaching lie key principles of instruction that remain the same whether you are in the same room as your students or in the middle of a wind-swept, dusty plateau in central Spain.

If you examine a good remote lesson closely you will find that lessons still comprise a review of prior knowledge; the introduction, modelling and scaffolding of new content; the provision of opportunities for both guided and independent practice; and the receipt of the feedback necessary to reflect, adapt and make the requisite progress.

But great teaching is more than the imparting of knowledge and the delivery of content. The human element and the development of personal relationships continue to be essential, that is why at Embley, we incorporate videoconferencing into our remote lessons routinely. Not only does this offer students who might not be able to see each other the opportunity to interact with peers and work together in a subject-specific, academic context, but also to hear the encouragement, support and kind firmness implicit in each of the teachers’ instructions, questions and explanations.

Despite all the advanced technologies in use, ours is not the whizzy approach, but the solidly researched and pedagogically effective one. Remote lessons will contain a variety of approaches that will vary from teacher to teacher and from subject to subject, as they would in a normal school day. And they will include opportunities for pupils to work independently, as they would in a classroom-based lesson.

Remote learning

Learning remotely places unique demands on pupils, who suddenly find themselves outside the normal context within which they are used to working. This is challenging for them on three counts.

Firstly, pupils will miss the rules and expectations of classroom behaviour and etiquette. With this in mind, we acted promptly to update our Responsible User Agreement for the Use of ICT, so as to provide our pupils with the rules and expectations that frees them to be able to participate productively in remote lessons and to continue learning in a safe environment.

Secondly, we ensured that our pupils retained the routines and structure of the school day as much as possible. Tutor time, assemblies and teacher-led timetabled lessons all continue to provide the scaffold around which learning and progress are woven.

Finally, the sheer amount of work that students are able to complete in a normal school day cannot be faithfully replicated in the remote learning context, as it would place an unreasonably large workload on them that could quickly become unmanageable and lead to a substantial detriment in wellbeing. To avoid this, our lessons are carefully structured to provide students with the time and opportunity to complete work that can be submitted to teachers at the tap of a screen.

The role of parents and guardians

The consequences of the school closure and subsequent nationwide lockdown have also placed an unprecedented set of demands on us parents, who suddenly find ourselves juggling our jobs, childcare, and the continuity of our children’s education.

From a parent’s perspective then, the best possible way to support children at this time is to reinforce school routines and expectations, which derive directly from extensive knowledge and expertise in education. It may be tempting to relax expectations and routines, maybe as a result of peer pressure, but learning will not be as successful without clear yet reasonable expectations and routines can only support those who follow them regularly.

In addition, providing pupils with a quiet, interruption-free and appropriate environment within which to work is ideal. We know that this may not always be possible, but at the very least parents should take care to plan household routines so that they do not clash with school.

Above anything else, please remember that we are here to help in whichever way we can. What at first may appear to be hulking giants or marching armies, may, with our help, support and guidance, turn out to be graceful windmills and grazing sheep, as Don Quixote found much to his chagrin.

What does the future hold?

As the old Danish adage goes, most famously articulated by physicist Niels Bohr, “it is very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”. It is only natural to speculate at this time about what changes to schooling and education, if any, will result from the forced pivoting to fully remote teaching and learning. Will remote teaching and learning revolutionise how schools operate? Or will we rejoice in eschewing technology as soon as schools reopen?

In reality, the debate isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, this polarised. While some may be tempted to tilt at these windmills, at Embley we pride ourselves in taking a more clear-eyed approach that has allowed us over the years to entwine technology seamlessly into the processes involved in teaching and learning and so to marry innovation with tradition happily. As a result, we are enviably well placed to weather the current crisis while ensuring continuity of learning for our pupils, whatever the future holds.  

This article was originally published in the Embley school website. Our digital strategy is summarised here.

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Are we listening? —Why technology use in schools needs better critics

“The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction.”
― Bertrand Russell

When I first started teaching, I used to blog exclusively about digital technology in education. In my blog I curated a very popular list of online tools for teachers to use in schools for a variety of purposes, and it regularly drew praise from teachers who had found the resources useful but also criticism from folks who raised questions sceptically and, mostly, helpfully about technology’s utility, purpose or opportunity cost.

To me, the blog was mainly a tool for self-reflection—for sifting out the better thinking, ideas and reasoning from the fancifulness that makes absolute sense in your head, cuddled in the comfort of your own biases and prejudices, but turns into nothing but hot air as soon as you begin to articulate it to a critical audience.

But, on occasion, I also encountered those critics who disagreed altogether with the notion of digital technology having a place in schools. This kind of criticism usually came from more normative, passionate stances, e.g.: technology is inherently pernicious, antagonist to all that is good and proper; paper is best because you can feel it and you can smell it; pixels are bad because their ephemeral presence on screens are a metaphor for today’s egotistical youth, who prize shininess and immediacy above that which has been shown through the ages to be good. Or at least so goes the pseudo intellectual trope that usually accompanies the dismissal of technology as a potential tool to support teaching and learning or its witting or unwitting association with harmfulness and health, both physical and mental.

When Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson asked me whether I thought technology was used too much in teaching and learning and whether I thought there should be a healthy balance for their book What does this look like in the classroom?, I disagreed with the premise of the question on two counts:

“First is the implied assumption that there is a limit after which, if exceeded, technology is somehow bad for teaching and learning. Second is the implication that, to remain healthy, there needs to be a cap on how much technology we use.

This approach biases our evaluation of the advantages or disadvantages of the use of technology by assigning intrinsic characteristics to technology – in this case harmfulness – and leads us to an ultimately fallacious argument about whether technology should be used at all.

Since the notion that technology can support teaching and learning when used effectively is quite rightly not in dispute, instead the question should have sought to ascertain how teachers can use technology to support teaching and learning and how students can benefit from screen time by focusing on controlling, not the length of time students spend on their different devices, but, as Professor Livingstone of LSE suggests, how they spend that time. Pathologising technology use serves no practical purpose and obfuscates the more important question that we should be asking: how is technology useful?”

However, the big flaw in dismissals of technology in schools remains this: the folks who most vehemently denounce technology are usually (not always!) the ones who know least about its practical pedagogical applications and implications. But what they typically object to is how they perceive technology is used in schools: edutainment, gimmickry, distraction. Their bone of contention is usually theoretical and philosophical: they assume that technology assists more progressive child-centred teaching or enquiry-based learning and focus their criticism on the tool rather than the philosophy, forgetting or ignoring that technology can also be used to support a knowledge-rich curriculum and the panoply of more traditional methods that surround it.

Let me explain why ignoring this matters. In Creating the schools our children need: Why what we’re doing now won’t help much (and what we can do instead), Dylan Wiliam suggests that curricula should prioritise the teaching of content over the teaching of skills, not because the latter are unimportant, but because you can’t think critically, imaginatively or creatively about something without first knowing about that thing.

Yet rarely a day goes by in which I don’t read well-meaning teachers using blogs or social media posts to virtue-signal their dislike of technology, as if the less technology one uses in support of teaching and learning, the more virtuous one is in teaching or learning. The very teachers who read Wiliam and nod vigorously about the need to know stuff before you can understand or do stuff in the context of curriculum are unable to draw parallels between their dismissal of digital technology and their own lack of knowledge about it. Rather than finding virtuosity and pride in learning about how what technology works best and in what context—so as to be able to discern the best tool for particular tasks—we seem happy to eschew whole new toolkits on the dodgy grounds of ignorance and misconception.

Last June, I had the privilege to address attendees to the Festival of Education at Wellington College, where I talked about how technology can support teaching and learning in their historic Chapel. As I went through what makes good teaching and learning and how digital technology can support it, drawing mainly from research by the EEF and the Sutton Trust, I used the example of how student work and teacher feedback can be transacted and acted upon using digital tools to illustrate the common misconception that digital technology reduces human contact and that this must therefore act deleteriously against effective teaching and learning.

This particular tool (see illustration, below) allows teachers to set work, students to submit it, and for a dialogue to take place using voice recordings. Below is an example of a piece of homework (Spanish, Year 8) set to give students the opportunity to practise the newly introduced vocabulary and grammar: conjunctions, adverbs and the preterit tense. Once I graded the work, instead of writing my feedback, I recorded a voice note on screen highlighting to the learner what they did well, what they could do better, and how.

This is what technology use looks like in the schools where it has been implemented well. There is no distraction or gimmickry, just sound pedagogical applications. Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, wrote a case study of how technology can be used to support the giving of feedback in secondary. Norrish found that:

“Teachers also consider the quality of feedback they are able to leave through a voice note to be much more effective for learning, due to a combination of factors. They perceive that students are more likely to access feedback in this form, that it reduces the ‘distancing effect’ of written feedback and encourages dialogue, that it forces engagement with the substance rather than the surface of ‘grades’, that they can make themselves understood more clearly, that ‘dense’feedback is more accessible, that it scaffolds self-assessment and target setting. […]

Social distance is reduced through feedback delivered by a trusted voice, using language/ inflection with which the students are already comfortable and familiar.”

Not only is feedback work and feedback transacted more expediently, but my students get to hear my voice, with the encouragement, support and appreciation that it carries. What reduces human contact more? Comments left in red pen at the end of a page, or the above?

To be clear, I’m not arguing that we should be using more technology. Technology can be done well as well as badly. What I am arguing is twofold: firstly that the many of the reasons commonly given against the use of technology are really not very good and betray a fundamental misunderstanding about how technology works to support teaching and learning; and, secondly, that you would be a much better critic of technology if you knew more about its application and its impact, both positive and negative. As Daniel Willingham suggests in Why don’t students like school? “sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.”

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Solving the Gordian knots of education – And the rise of populist educationalism

“For every complex problem, there is one answer that is simple, clear and wrong.”
H.L. Mencken

Cargo cults generally arise when tribal societies come into contact with comparatively more technologically advanced societies. One such cult arose after World War II, when native islanders in the South Pacific noticed that a huge amount of goods (cargo) flowed into the airfields and ports built by the American military.

Eager to reproduce the flow of cargo to their own villages, they thought that all they had to do to achieve this was to clear their own landing strips, build palm-roofed shacks on stilts in lieu of control towers, recreate their own aircraft out of leaves, twigs and branches, and dedicate it all to the spirits. But cargo didn’t flow.

Cargo did flow into American South Pacific airfields because of the architectural intricacy of the American war effort. What appeared to the islanders to be a problem of simple cause and effect belied the complexity of the modern, industrialised supply chain.

But modern, industrialised societies are not immune to the cargo cult effect. Simple, elegant solutions to Gordian knots are celebrated, so we readily think about our problems in terms of cause and effect even when studying any correlation closely might be wiser.

Our propensity to think “all you have to do to fix [insert complex problem] is…” charts our descent from the elegantly simple to the precariously simplistic. Populist politicians exploit this propensity to ignore inherent complexity in their advocacy of policies that purport to solve knotty problems in one simple, decisive stroke. And, in denying that complexity exists in the first place, they are hugely popular as a result.

This populist model that makes a virtue of the simplistic can sometimes find its way into educational policy too. It is then that we see pejorative labels when we should see teachers who are knowledgeable in their subject and experts in its delivery. It is then than we swing between facile solutions and false starts without ever stopping to grapple with the wonderful complexity inherent to the art in the science of education.

How many budgeting decisions have been justified at departmental, school and even national level in pursuit of shallow solutions to deep-rooted problems? Home many new interventions have been promoted as the answer to problems we sometimes didn’t even know we had?

Riding on these wild oscillations is the pivot of calm, measured leadership and practice, providing the cornerstone and reference points required for the kind of purposeful reflection that results in progress. But this can only be achieved by treating complexity as a feature, not a bug. For the more we embrace simplistic approaches to improving education, easy answers and facile solutions, the more we undermine the place of teachers, whose role in the education of children begins to be perceived as that of actor, rather than agent.

What all the greatest educational fads and snake oils of our age have in common is the belief that there are simple solutions to complex problems.

The EdTech revolution – And why we're still waiting for it

A little while ago the good folks at Wonderhub asked me some questions about EdTech’s ability to enthuse and exasperate in almost equal measure, and whether supporting people to better teach and learn should be its top priority. Below are my answers, originally published on their blog. (Spoiler alert: the answer to that last one is a resounding YES)

How did you start your journey with EdTech?

It was a seamless transition. You see, I wasn’t always a teacher and, when I worked in the industry, effective use of communications technology was part and parcel of being good at your job. When I took up my first teaching position, I was surprised that teachers were communicating with each other using notes written on slips of paper left in pigeon holes. And students would rarely use technology to support them in their learning, even when using technology would be beneficial, for example, by getting them to practise vocabulary and grammar using online exercises. It was then that I decided to put together a website – (sadly no longer online) – to help my students practise grammar and vocabulary frequently and effectively. My students and, to my surprise, students of Spanish across the planet lapped it up and my fascination with how technology can improve teaching and learning started.

What makes “great teaching” and how technology can complement this?

There is a lot of research and advice out there as to what works best in supporting teaching and learning. This is the essence of my new book “Using Technology in the classroom”, published by Bloomsbury. In it I suggest that teachers should use technology effectively to support great teaching and learning, and should look beyond the whizz and bang traditionally associated with the use of technology in the classroom. Instead, they should explore practical, pedagogically sound ways in which technology can improve outcomes and add value within a school’s context, both in the classroom and beyond. But it comes with the warning that their focus ought to be on the great teaching and learning that can happen when technology is used appropriately and successfully, and not on using technology for its own sake.

What are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed in the EdTech community in the past few years?

The edtech industry developed a bad reputation for itself when its focus was on eye-catching technologies that looked great in the boardroom but were of little actual use in the classroom. Investment in technology was so costly that teachers were often compelled by management to use the technology, even when not using technology might have been pedagogically the right call. Professional judgement was often ignored. Nowadays, edtech seems to be much more focused on learning from what makes teaching and learning great and then layering on technologies so that they support and improve the processes involved in teaching and learning successfully, instead of running counter to them. There also seem to be a much greater involvement of practising teachers in the development of edtech tools. Both of these things are very welcome and may well succeed in restoring the reputation of the industry.

In your work, do you see any specific instructional uses of technology that are emerging as being the most potentially impactful in terms of improving learning outcomes over the next few years?

Following on from the previous answer, edtech has always sold revolutions, which it has invariably failed to bring about. Teaching remains stubbornly in the classroom and pen and paper rule. I firmly believe that teachers, in addition to being experts in their subject and in its instruction, should learn to discern when it comes to using the right technology for the right reason and for the right purpose. Only when a teacher is well-informed as to what makes an impact, how and when, can she then think critically about what technology is best for a particular purpose. If we know that frequent retrieval practice helps us remember key concepts; that spacing practice and interleaving topics support learning; that dual coding facilitates conceptualisation; or that the quality of the instruction a teacher can give are all essential, then the question is: how can technology help us make these things even more effective? If the answer is, it can’t, then don’t use it!

Why do you think it is important for teachers to evaluate themselves with regard to the use of technology to support teaching and learning?

The key to using technology effectively is to know when it can be pedagogically valuable. In order to know this, you need to acquire a secure understanding of the principles behind great teaching and learning and of the challenges and opportunities of whatever technology you intend to use. Self-evaluation is key to understanding when to, and just as importantly, when not to use technology. The most vocal views about the potential of technology in the classroom often present as deeply polarised. To some technology is the answer to everything that is wrong with education, whereas to others technology is what is wrong with education. Needless to say, neither view is correct. Most of us sit happily somewhere along this spectrum and understand that technology can be put to good use depending on various factors, such as our context and an individual’s ability to use technology effectively.

Bear this in mind when self-reflecting about your use of technology. Where on this spectrum are you? Where are your colleagues? Are your expectations too high? Or are theirs too low? Only then are you in a position to identify more accurately what strategies for the use of technology you and your colleagues can apply successfully and resulting in positive outcomes.

What do you think is the biggest barrier preventing the adoption of technology in education?

Teachers tend to be very pragmatic folk. They will use whatever works for them, including technology on occasion. Quite probably, you will have noticed that some teachers are more keen on technology than others. Some will jump to be the first to use the latest gadget or web tool with little consideration of the pedagogical benefits while some others will proudly proclaim that they ‘don’t do technology’.

The good news is that the majority of us don’t inhabit these extremes and are somewhere in between. Schools need to have sensible and informed debates about the place of technology in their context, but first we must recognise the three obstacles standing in the way of technology integration: the notion that using technology is somehow a dereliction of good teaching, rather than an aid to it; the lack of support to move teachers beyond their current comfort zones; and the fear that, despite all our efforts, technology will let us down at the worst possible moment. In teaching, regression to the mean means eschewing technology.

What do you see are the three most promising technologies on the horizon for today’s educational environment?

As Physics Nobel laureate Nils Bohr once said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” But if I were to place a wager, I would say that the future will look much like the present does and that technology will continue making small, incremental contributions to the teaching and learning process. No revolutions, but plenty of evolution. Having said that, I am very intrigued by the role of AI in helping teachers make better-informed decisions about teaching and learning.

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Dancing in perfect stillness Rethinking the culture of interventions in schools

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
T.S. Eliot

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explains that, in Buddhism, “suffering is caused by our own thoughts and behaviour. When the mind experiences something distasteful it craves to be rid off the irritation. When the mind experiences something pleasant, it craves that the pleasure will remain and intensify. Therefore the mind is always dissatisfied and restless.”

As he continues to examine Buddhism, Harari concludes that “if when the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understands things as they are, then there is no suffering. Buddhism encourages followers to ask what am I experiencing, rather than what would I rather be experiencing. A person who doesn’t crave, doesn’t suffer.”

In schools we find the safety net of support and revisions sessions reassuring, even addictive. We crave interventions. It seems logical and intuitive that if we make students attend support sessions in English, they will do better in English. The same with Maths. And with Geography. And Physics. French. It goes on.

The questions are — putting aside for a moment the huge concerns about the students’ well-being, who, like us, feel intuitively that the way to improve in a subject is to do more of that subject times however many subjects they are struggling with —where do we stop? How many revision or support sessions are enough? Are there ever enough?

Gaining perspective

I fear the answer to that last question is a resounding no. The more revision sessions we put on, the more teachers and students rely on them. The problem is that once you start going down this road, subject after subject feel the need to schedule their own revision and support sessions, not primarily for the good of students, but just to just keep up with the joneses.

Students often feel that they need to attend as many revision and support sessions as possible, until all lunch breaks disappear and attending every available after school session means that school becomes an hour longer every single day, crowding out in the process opportunities for other educationally valuable co-curricular learning and activities. This is not sustainable, not just in terms of student well-being, but also because of its detrimental effect on increasing teacher workload.

Perhaps the solution, if there is one, is counter-intuitive. Since it is likely that a student who struggles in English will also find studying History a chore, or that a student who struggles in Maths might find Science more challenging, it may be more valuable to look at supporting students’ basic knowledge and skills across the subjects

Whereas we may usually assume that the best way for a student to do better in History may be to attend more History revision or support sessions, it may be that our fledgling historian finds remembering kings, queens and dates is no big deal but finds structuring her answers an obstacle to accessing the higher grades. Similarly, it may be that a physicist has no issue with the mathematical component of the Physics course, but struggles with reading and comprehension skills required to understand how to answer an exam question fully and thus correctly. Or it may be that a geographer enjoys and performs well in all aspects of Geography, except those that may rely on mathematical methods, such as statistics or interpreting graphs.

In all of these cases, the way to improve these students’ performance in History, Physics and Geography wasn’t to simply do more History, more Physics or more Geography, but rather to do more on essay writing, on reading and comprehension, and on graph interpreting and statistics.

Exploring alternatives

I am aware that skills, and not just knowledge, are highly subject specific and that therefore essay writing, reading and comprehension, and mathematical methods ought to have been learnt in context. The alternative that I propose below is mindful of this, but also takes into account the reality of teachers feeling the pressure to prioritise content delivery over competency in the subject specific skills that are essential to access the higher grades.

This year, at Emble, we are trialling an approach to exam interventions in Year 11 that focuses more on these essential skills and less on the traditional support or revision session. To be clear, we have not eliminated support and revision sessions altogether (they may be sometimes necessary) but we are working on readdressing the balance so that we can target our support more surgically to the specific areas of need.

To ascertain where the support was required, we sent out a survey to teachers of Year 11 classes asking them to identify specific areas of support for individual students. The survey returned some interesting results, below are five examples:

As you can see, most profiles identified one area where our support ought to be targeted, although some identified that no extra specific support was required (number 10) or indeed where a lot of support was required (number 19). This allowed us to put together a schedule of targeted support sessions aimed at helping individual students improve in those specific areas, as identified by their teachers. It also had the added benefit of highlighting to individual students (and their parents) where their focus and effort should be applied.

The direction of travel for us is to rely less on the traditional subject support / revision session and more on targeted interventions as described above. This might not be plain sailing and will require work and persuasion, as teachers are actually often resistant to letting go of the safety net, even though it only offers the illusion of safety.

As a result, we would like to see an increased and re-focused, co-curricular offer alongside a drastic reduction in support / revision sessions, allowing teachers more time to focus on the business of teaching — indeed more time available to plan lessons and feedback might eliminate much of the perceived need for support / revision sessions in the first place. We would also like to see a greater emphasis on the occasional essential skills workshop, where students, regardless of the subject they study, can hone the skills required to do well in a particular subject with the help of an expert instructor and with the aim to better apply and demonstrate their knowledge of that subject.

We’ll still be dancing. But perhaps it’s a kinder, slower, more thoughtful dance.

Your critique and comments are warmly welcome.

Further reading

This much I know about…how stopping Year 11 interventions will help protect our mental health and improve our well-being, by John Tomsett
Revision, assessment and the lies we tell, by Mark Enser
Metacognition and self-regulation, Education Endowment Foundation

How to do IT –Using digital technology to support effective assessment and feedback

Nothing polarises a staffroom discussion more than technology. The moment interactive whiteboards, virtual learning environments or mobile devices are brought into the fray, we’re revealed as either gimmicky evangelists of the new, or chalk-stained Luddites.

While there is limited research to suggest that greater use of technology will unequivocally result in improved educational outcomes, there does appear to be a correlation between the effective use of technology and improved outcomes (Higgins et al., 2013). The role of technology in supporting the processes and practices involved in effective teaching and learning needs to be more clearly identified.

According to Koehler and Mishra (2009), technology, pedagogy and content knowledge represent three bodies of expertise that can interact to produce the understanding needed to use technological tools well in the classroom. In short, they found teachers are most effective when they develop skills in using technology in addition to subject knowledge and understanding of pedagogy. I have found that technology can support better teaching and learning, but it depends on how it is used. Technology needs to be included in pedagogy, not considered in isolation, and teachers and students need to be supported in developing its use to support effective pedagogical practice. With this in mind, let’s look at technology in relation to two of the pillars of good practice in teaching: assessment and feedback.

Frequent assessment for better retention

Tests are used to determine how well a student has learnt the required material (summative assessment) and to inform future teaching and learning (formative assessment). Often, tests tend to be formal and are often high-stakes end-of-unit or end-of-module tests and end-of-year exams. However, frequent low-stakes tests are effective at helping with learning because frequent retrieval practice, through the use of flashcards, for example, helps students commit something to memory more permanently (Roediger, McDaniel and Brown, 2014). Given this, teachers would be wise to consider incorporating frequent, relatively informal retrieval practice through low-stakes testing and quizzing to help learning – and the implications of this for the use of technology to support learning are significant.

There are many software packages and digital publishing tools that facilitate the inclusion of frequent retrieval practice opportunities. Even if the resources we are using are primarily paper-based, teachers can create or curate web pages that learners can use to self-test and self-determine where they are in their learning and how to improve. Testing yourself is easier than ever these days, with a multitude of smartphone and tablet apps as well as web tools that allow learners to create their own flashcards and quizzes that can be used and reused as part of a revision routine. Good examples include Quizlet, an online learning tool that lets users create flashcards, and Kahoot, a game-based learning platform that can be used to generate quizzes.

Feedback as collaboration

Explaining to students where they are, where they need to be and how to get there is key to effective feedback (Wiliam and Leahy, 2015). To ensure the impact of feedback is positive, it should be accurate and clear, with specific guidance on how to improve. Though feedback can take many forms, marking is one of the most common – but the workload associated with traditional marking is problematic. Technology can be used to ameliorate the marking load while improving the timeliness and efficacy of feedback. Small but powerful tweaks to our policies and practice would allow us to deliver feedback to a whole class rather than to individual students. This is much less time-consuming and arguably as effective as individual ‘what-went-wells’ and ‘even-better-ifs’ for every student.

Teachers would still need to look through their students’ work, but instead of feeding back individually, they would look for and make a note of common misconceptions. Then, using screen or voice recording technology, the teacher could record herself highlighting what students have been good at, what they need to be better at and how to be better at it. This feedback could be delivered during a lesson without needing to use any technology, but if you do use digital technology to record it — and this would take as long as marking and writing feedback for one exercise book — you can then make it available so that students can access your advice at any point throughout the course.

With tools such as Google for Education or Microsoft Office 365, students can share their work with teachers. When both teachers and students can edit the work, the valuable drafting and redrafting process that would otherwise take a few lessons to achieve can be accomplished much more rapidly. Giving feedback becomes a kind of collaborative modelling.

So when it comes to adopting technology, the old adage applies: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Technology use can indeed be a bit gimmicky, but only if you make it so, because nothing engages a class better than expertise in teaching, and nothing is more likely to contribute to students’ distraction than the lack of it.

This article was originally published in Impact, the journal of the Chartered College of Teaching.

Further reading

Picardo J (2017) Bloomsbury CPD Library: Using Technology in the Classroom. London: Bloomsbury Education


Higgins S, Katsipataki M, Kokotsaki D, Coleman R, Major LE and Coe R (2013) The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. London: Education Endowment Foundation. Available at: (accessed 22 August 2017)

Koehler M and Mishra P (2009) What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 9(1): 60-70. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)

Roediger HL, McDaniel MA and Brown PC (2014) Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press

Wiliam D and Leahy S (2015) Embedding Formative Assessment. 1st edition. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences

Teaching: five things I wish I’d known fifteen years ago Reflecting on what I know now that I wish I'd known then

As I sat moderating a pupil panel who was tasked with asking candidates to headship the sort of awkward yet endearing questions only children can think of, one of the questions that caught my imagination was: if you could have a superpower, what would it be?

The most popular answers were invisibility and flying – a 50% split, in fact. This got me thinking frivolously. What would I choose? I first thought maybe teleportation – travelling instantaneously to any place on the planet does sound fabulous. But then I thought winding back time. Wouldn’t it be great if I could relive my teenage years with the knowledge and – hopefully – wisdom that I possess now as forty-something-year-old teacher, deputy head and father of two? If only I had applied myself better at school. If only I had been a better friend. If only I had known then what I know now. How would my life be different?

As I enter my 15th year in teaching, I wonder what the things are that I know and understand now that I could have done with knowing and understanding fifteen years ago. On reflection, I think this covers it:

1–Understanding how feedback works best

This would have had a massive impact on reducing my workload. There were times as I struggled trough another pile of exercise books when I wondered what on earth I had let myself in for with this teaching lark. A mixture of well-meaning but ultimately misguided school-wide marking and feedback policies and my own poor understanding of how feedback works best ensured that I sat marking and pointlessly writing individual what-went-wells and even-better-ifs for students, most of whom would almost certainly never read my advice or act upon it in any meaningful way.

As I gained experienced and read further about the nature of feedback, I started to understand that good feedback begins with making your learning intentions and criteria for success clear and explicit from the outset; that feedback is best given in the run-up to summative assessments (not after them); that teachers are better off focusing on how feedback is received, rather than how it is given; that feedback should challenge learners with a roadmap to achievable changes; and that alternative, effective ways to feedback do exist that don’t require teachers to be sentenced to evening after evening of writing purposeless personalised piffle.

Earlier this year I summarised what makes good feedback in this article.

Recommended read

Embedded Formative Assessment, by Dylan Wiliam

“In this book Dylan Wiliam argues that quality of teachers is the single most important factor in the education system. He outlines the many possible ways in which we could seek to develop the practice of serving teachers and concludes that of these, formative assessment has the biggest impact on student outcomes. […] Formative assessment functions to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted and used by teachers and learners to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better than the decisions they would have made in the absence of that evidence.”

2–Keeping up with research and educational debates

Imagine staff, heads of department or senior leadership meetings in which everyone is well-informed about teaching and learning practice and the most compelling anecdote doesn’t win the day. Imagine professional discussions in which professional judgement is informed by the latest findings from educational research and cognitive psychology. Imagine professional development that does not hang on whether the school can afford to send you on one over-priced, tangentially relevant training course per annum.

Keeping up with research and educational debates can be dismissed as too time-consuming, or as adding to an already excessive teacher workload. But is it really more time consuming than being browbeaten into applying pointless departmental marking and feedback policies without being able to challenge them constructively with facts and well-informed opinion, with a view to effecting appropriate change? More time consuming than being made to teach conforming to past or present orthodoxies without being able to offer or discuss well-informed alternatives? Isn’t being knowledgeable about what works well in our profession and what doesn’t the best antidote to daft school policies and thus, to a significant extent, excessive workload? I’ll leave you to think about those questions.

Last November I wrote about the five evidence-informed strategies I have found most useful in my classroom.

Recommended read

What Does This Look Like In The Classroom: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice, by Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson

“Educators around the world are uniting behind the need for the profession to have access to more high-quality research and evidence to do their job more effectively. But every year thousands of research papers are published, some of which contradict each other. How can busy teachers know which research is worth investing time in reading and understanding? […] In this thorough, enlightening and comprehensive book, Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson ask 18 of today’s leading educational thinkers to distill the most up-to-date research into effective classroom practice in 10 of the most important areas of teaching. The result is a fascinating manual that will benefit every single teacher in every single school, in all four corners of the globe.”

3–Not reinventing the wheel

Devising yet another worksheet. Creating the seventh bespoke interactive whiteboard flip chart in a week. Painstakingly finessing the mother of all powerpoints – senseless, elaborate transitions and all. These are all things that I frequently found myself doing in my early years of teaching and yet, given the amount of resources available departmentally and externally from specialist publishers, there was really no need whatsoever to spend all my non-contact time at school and time away from my wife and children at home doing something that I now understand to be pretty pointless. That is not to say that these things aren’t sometimes necessary, required or indeed ‘best practice’ – but rather that it’s about finding the right balance.

We all know the perfectionist teacher who dismisses all textbooks and existing published resources as unsuitable for not meeting their incredibly high standards and insists on creating their own texts and resources for KS3, 4 and 5 from scratch instead. If you know them, please tell them to stop and spend their time and effort doing something more productive and more likely to result in improved learning outcomes for students. This profession doesn’t need more martyrs, it needs teachers who can focus on being great at teaching, not on constantly reinventing the wheel.

Last year I wrote about how publishers could improve the quality of published resources, including textbooks, by applying key principles from cognitive science.

Recommended read

Why textbooks count, by Tim Oates

“High quality textbooks are not antithetical to high quality pedagogy – they are supportive of sensitive and effective approaches to high attainment, high equity and high enjoyment of learning. A failure to recognise this may be impeding improvement of education […].”

4–Planning (sequences of) lessons with learning in mind

For years I was a slave to the tyranny of individual lesson plans that focused more on what I, the teacher, would be doing, minute by minute, than what students would be doing and thinking over time. I bitterly regret that the charade that is the all students will…/most students will…/ some students will… style lesson plan was imposed on me and I did not know better than to spend hours upon hours essentially writing fiction in Word document text boxes.

Only later I realised that planning is best done at departmental level, pooling resources and collaborating; that planning what students will be doing and thinking is more important than choreographing the teaching; that detailed planning makes more sense on the scale of a half-term and not as individual lessons; and that the most important factor in planning sequences of lessons is to build in the highest expectations of all students, for a rising tide lifts all boats.

Last year I wrote about how the introduction of linear courses presented teachers with a great opportunity to review and adapt their schemes of work and programmes of study with learning as well as teaching in mind.

Book recommendation

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger and Mcdaniel

“Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights into how memory is encoded, consolidated, and later retrieved have led to a better understanding of how we learn. […] Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another.”

5–Using technology appropriately and effectively

I remember distinctively being told during my PGCE that technology in the classroom elicited engagement and thus it was to be recommended. But engagement then meant pacifying a class with an online game or a YouTube video. Many teachers quite rightly saw through the thin vail of edutainment and decided that technology as a gimmick added no value to learning. They were, of course, right.

But it doesn’t have to be so. It may not surprise the rational mind that in between the happy-clappy technology evangelism and the pseudointellectual doom-mongering about excessive screen time lies the notion that technology can be used well as well as badly, and that the appropriate use of technology in some circumstances may well contribute to improving teaching and learning.

Two years ago, I wrote in more detail about how technology, when used appropriately, can support the processes involved in successful teaching and learning.

Book recommendation

Bloomsbury CPD Library: Using Technology in the Classroom, by, well, me!

“The provision of technology focused CPD is often based on the whizz and bang approach, promoting the use of eye-catching digital tools and equipment in classrooms without due consideration to pedagogical factors and, crucially, the individual school’s context. [The book] provides research-informed strategies to help improve teaching and learning by using technology effectively. It focuses on the need to train staff in the skills required to choose the right technology to have lasting impact and combines not only information about how technology can best work in the classroom, but also what makes great teaching and how technology can complement this. The goal of the book is to help teachers integrate technology seamlessly into daily practice so that technology is used almost reflexively, effectively and without fuss.”

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CPD minefield! The secrets to planning and preparing effective technology CPD

In this article, I would like to explore what makes great CPD, as well as what the unique challenges are of organising technology-focused training for teachers. In addition, we will catch the briefest of glimpses into the psychology behind human behaviour and how this may affect how your CPD is received and, ultimately, the success of the technology implementation.

What makes great CPD?

We can all agree that effective CPD should inform and improve our practice. When planning a CPD programme, consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of training teachers? Is there a shared sense of purpose? Are teachers happy about receiving the training or do they view it as unnecessary?
  • What are the needs of the teachers in front of you? Make the training relevant to their practice and their daily experience of teaching in a classroom.
  • Would you deliver material to your pupils as a one-off, never to be revisited? Then why would you do it in a CPD session? Focus instead on spacing out the training so that it takes place over time, preferably throughout an academic year as a minimum, revisiting concepts and tools periodically during this time.

Perhaps the most important consideration, however, is that you should not embark on this planning process alone. Be affiliative and involve colleagues who can help you with both the planning and delivery of this programme. And hang a welcome sign on your door, keeping it open so that colleagues continue to join you as the programme unfolds.

Top tips for running technology CPD

Running technology CPD brings its own unique challenges, some of which are foreseeable, but others may well have the potential to catch you by surprise:

  • Wider than usual variance in teacher aptitude. Technology is one of those things in life – like not being good at maths – that many people feel a degree of pride in when stating their inadequacy with a shrug of their shoulders. And so some of your colleagues will be very technology-savvy but many others may need to start with the most basic training. It is crucial therefore to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach to CPD and build in differentiation into your CPD programme. It would be a good idea for you to offer one-to-one sessions to your most technologically-challenged colleagues.
  • Reluctance to participate. Technology is often seen as a not always welcome addition to the classroom: a luxury that is not really necessary at best or a hindrance to learning at worst. Section off parts of your CPD programme and dedicate them to explaining the whys and wherefores of the technology implementation. Illustrate your points with plenty of examples of the technology in action, achieving the purpose you set out to achieve.
  • Temptation to make the training all about the technology. Avoid delivering sessions that are all about learning to use specific bits of technology. There is nothing more tedious than guiding a large group of people through basic functionality, such us how to open an account or how to log in. Instead send out these details in advance and, during the session, focus on the intersection between technology and pedagogy, highlighting how the technology can help achieve specific pedagogical purposes, with built-in opportunities for initial practice for participants.
  • Does the technology actually work? I don’t mean this in a pedagogical sense, but rather in the sense of technology actually turning on and operating as intended. Double check and triple check that the technology your CPD session is built around is working well. Get your IT support team to perform a check on the technology at the venue. Don’t be fobbed off with an ‘It should work’ – either it works or it doesn’t. Be exacting. There is nothing worse than starting a CPD session on technology in which the technology fails at the outset, with someone quipping ‘That’s technology for you!’ Technology should work, and it is the ICT support team’s job to ensure that it does.
  • Forgetting about the children and their parents. The easiest thing in the world is to forget about the children, or worse: to believe that as children of the digital age they are somehow born with innate digital powers that negate any requirement to introduce the technology and its pedagogical purpose, and train them as you would the teachers. Don’t assume this. You will need to train them too, especially if you are rolling out the kind of technology that involves heavy student use, such as mobile devices (including Bring Your Own Device schemes) or new virtual learning environments. Consider also keeping the parents informed throughout the programme via newsletters or even information evenings.

In-house vs external CPD

External CPD can get a bad rap. Quite justifiably sometimes, as neither parachuting someone in to school for a day nor being sent away from school on your own for a course tend to result in the kind of long-term positive impact that is more securely associated with CPD programmes that are sustained over a period of time. This doesn’t mean that external CPD providers should be ignored, just that their participation needs to be built in throughout the programme, not just in one burst right at the beginning.

If you are purchasing a digital resource, then negotiate a sustained commitment to the provision and participation in a long-term CPD, preferably locking it in on the contract. Apple, Google and Microsoft all have certified trainers that you can draw on. Major educational technology providers will also employ or at the very least be able to recommend specialists that have experience of school implementations. Use them initially to train your group of digital champions – the folks who have been identified as potential allies, helpers and ambassadors for the technology implementations – and then as part of a wider staff CPD programme, alternating between sessions that are led by colleagues (most) and external trainers (fewer).

Planning and preparing your training

  • INSET. Negotiate time allocated to training staff during termly INSET with your school’s senior leadership. These are good times to bring in external trainers, should they be available or should you require them, or to run a carousel led by you and your digital champions.
  • Lunchtime and twilight sessions. Publish a programme of regular lunchtime and twilight sessions, ideally differentiated so that they attract participants of similar levels of aptitude or expertise.
  • Briefing takeover. With your senior leaders’ blessing, of course. Propose to them the need to dedicate a briefing to updating teachers on the progress made or to further illustrate how the technology should be used or, hopefully, how it is being used.
  • Residency. One idea that has worked really well in schools is to invite a specialist trainer to take residence periodically in the staffroom for three to five days. This facilitates a more ad-hoc approach in which teachers spend quality one-to-one time with the trainer when they have a minute, perhaps over a coffee. Heads of department can also invite the trainer to their departmental meetings to discuss the technology implementation in context. This may sound like an expensive luxury, but it may be offered at no extra cost if negotiated at the time of signing a contract or terms of purchase, for example.
  • TeachMeets. These are informal gatherings of teachers, generally after school or at the weekend, in which interested teachers – not just from your school – come together to share and discuss practice. Usually teachers volunteer to speak for a short time about a resource or an approach they have adopted. Not everyone is a speaker; folks are welcome to attend simply to watch and take note. Regular TeachMeets can be particularly successful if themed (e.g. technology) and organised in cooperation with other schools, taking turns as hosts.

Take-away tip

How human beings make and justify their decisions is a fascinating area of study. Psychologists have long warned about our proclivity to fall prey to irrational decision-making, logical fallacies, prejudice and bias, which often determine why new ideas are adopted. Psychology has shown that we instinctively place more importance on our own ideas than on those of others. It’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon called the Not Invented Here Bias. This bias suggests that your idea could be rejected by others simply because it is not their idea, and not on its actual merit.

This suggests that you should consider carefully how your message is being delivered to colleagues:

  • Be humble and avoid sounding as if you know best. Even if you do know best about the technology, you may not be as familiar with how technology is applied in a particular subject or context.
  • Challenge misconceptions decisively but considerately. Show that you understand the root of the misconception. Treat anything that you might believe to be a misconception as an opportunity to learn about where your colleagues are coming from. And always remember that you too are prone to misconceptions.
  • Don’t be prescriptive. Describe instead the technology use in broad strokes, focusing on how it supports learning and providing opportunities for colleagues to connect the dots so that a picture of how the technology might work in their context emerges in their own minds.

I have often heard colleagues quip that one of the best ways to get school leadership to adopt your idea is to craftily make it look as if it was their own. It turns out that this is backed up by science!

Further reading

The Teacher Development Trust has conducted research on the provision of CPD and has identified the features that characterise effective CPD. You can access their resources here.

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Five evidence-informed strategies for the classroom Signposting the way to great teaching and learning

Effective teaching and learning are highly contextualised. What works really well in one classroom could just as easily fall flat on its face in the next. This is true. But what is also true is that some things have been shown repeatedly to work better than others across a variety of contexts.

It would be foolish, I think, to dismiss what research suggests works well in the classroom on the grounds of contextualisation, ignoring the signposts set out by years of research that point toward what is most likely to contribute to great teaching and learning.

Here are the top five evidence informed strategies we discussed in a recent staff meeting:

1–Take account of what the learner already knows

Many lessons introduce new topics by referring to learning objectives and then diving into whatever new content needs to be covered. But it would make more sense for the instructor to begin with activities that require students to recall and, in a sense, to activate prior knowledge.

This recall approach is supported by cognitive science because it strengthens the connections between existing knowledge and the new concepts about to be learnt. Research suggests that learners are probably best served if we start the lesson with activities that require the retrieval of specific prior knowledge that will help make connections in the students’ minds between what’s already been learnt and what needs to be learnt.

Simply stating new learning objectives and ploughing on with a fresh topic? We may have no choice on occasion, but most times you’d bet better off connecting to previous learning before introducing new topics.

2–Interleave different but related topics and skills

Interleaving is the practice of alternating different topics and types of content. Intuitively we feel that we learn better by focusing on one topic or skill at a time. However, research suggests that better learning is achieved when students interleave different but related topics or skills, rather than focusing on one topic or skill, then another topic or skill, and so on.

Although the illusion of better learning is achieved by studying topics in blocks, it is by interleaving topics and skills that long-term retention and greater overall understanding are achieved. This is problematic for many of us, as many teachers and students might find it counter-intuitive when lessons or explanations, instead of focusing on one topic at a time, as is the norm, alternate between related topics and skills as they seek to connect to and build on already existing knowledge.

In linear courses (such as IGCSE and the new GCSE and A level), which typically last two years, it is conceivable that a topic that is covered during the first term of the course is never returned to before a hastily arranged revision session just before study leave. Although teachers can claim that the topic has been covered – it would have been – they can’t claim to have covered it in a pedagogically sound manner unless they have ensured the topic has been studied more than once during the teaching of the course.

Students and teachers may find interleaving related topics and skills in a programme of study less neat, but the research suggesting interleaving leads to better overall learning in the long term is strong.

3–Take advantage of the properties of dual coding

Dual coding is the idea that the combination of verbal association (spoken or written) and visual imagery results in better learning. Well-designed graphic illustrations contribute to depicting models clearly, representing abstract concepts and revealing underlying knowledge structures that help learners make the required connections to enable learning to take place.

That’s not to say we should populate teaching resources with superfluous illustrations – which in any case often contribute to resources becoming dated prematurely – but that we should focus instead on pairing text with carefully chosen graphics that will support learning by presenting examples and depicting overarching ideas or concepts and explaining how these ideas and concepts connect.

In short, we should avoid illustrations that merely ‘liven up’, ‘add colour’ or ‘add fun’ to a resource and use instead diagrams, tables, photographs or drawings that will serve a pedagogical purpose whenever possible. If the answer to the question ‘Is this illustration helping students to learn?’ is ‘no’, the chances are it is not needed and you should discard it unless you think it serves another purpose.

As a teacher, you are probably already capitalising on this dual coding by providing your students with relevant, learning-friendly graphics, tables or diagrams. Great teachers already make the most of the properties of dual-coding in every lesson, using the whiteboard or a PowerPoint to illustrate their verbal explanations.

But they might also want their students to create their own. Spending some time during lessons to explain to your students the importance of creating their own diagrams, illustrations and mind maps is time well spent. Not only will they find their own visual imagery very handy when it comes to revision, but it will also help them to organise and conceptualise their knowledge more effectively, so that they remember it more easily.

This example by Oliver Caviglioli, below, illustrates how dual coding works. Below are two sets of identical questions. How are you better able to answer the questions? After just reading the text? Or after reading the text and briefly studying the diagram?

4–Modelling solved problems

Modelling is a very effective classroom strategy, as it ensures that students become familiar with both the mechanics of problem-solving and the underlying principles required to master the topic in question. The student can then be guided to more complex but related problems or questions and, as the student becomes more proficient, the teacher can begin to increase the number of problems or questions for the student to solve or answer independently.

Great teaching already makes the most of the powerful effect of modelling by alternating problems with written-out solutions, worked examples – i.e. where the steps to achieve the correct solution are laid out – and problems that the student needs to solve independently. This is also a kind of interleaving (see strategy 2).

5–Teach independent study skills to boost metacognition

Although many schools already promote independent learning by, for example, pointing students to additional sources of reading, relevant websites, videoclips, films or TV programmes, few actively seek to teach specific metacognitive strategies to help students become better learners in a given subject.

The view could easily be taken that, say, a French lesson’s purpose is to teach students French, not to teach students how to learn, which is the essence of metacognition in this context. This view would seem entirely justifiable until one considers the important contribution that metacognitive strategies bring to successful learning. For example, research suggests that encouraging learners how to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning by providing subject-specific strategies and guidance has a great impact on learning.

Effective teaching already interleaves activities in which students are asked to identify where a task might go wrong; to lay out the steps required to achieve mastery of a topic; to produce their own worked examples; or to formulate appropriate questions and provide possible answers.

“This is obvious stuff… we already do this anyway…” are some of the typical reactions after these research-informed strategies are discussed with experienced teachers. Tacitly, that may well be the case. But why wait for tacit knowledge to develop spontaneously? Why hope that this knowledge develops from experience in the 4th, 5th or 6th year of teaching when it could be incorporated and reflected upon from the 1st?

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