Author Archives: oliverlovelltas

About oliverlovelltas


ERRR #006. Jennifer Stephenson and Instructional Decision Making of Teacher Education Students

Listen to all past episodes of the ERRR podcast here.

In this episode we spoke to Jennifer Stephenson.

Jennifer is an honorary research fellow and associate professor at Macquarie University. She has a background in teaching students with severe disabilities and over 20 years experience in preparing special educators. Her research interests include the use of effective and ineffective practices in special education, augmentative and alterative communication for students with severe disabilities, students with autism spectrum disorder, challenging behaviour, and the use of iPads with children with disability. She has published over 80 refereed journal articles and book chapters.

Jennifer’s paper that we read was entitled ‘Factors in Instructional Decision-Making, Ratings of Evidence and Intended Instructional Practices of Australian Final Year Teacher Education Students’. This article details Jennifer’s survey with 290 pre-service teachers in their final year of teacher training. The survey aimed to discover how well these PSTs were able to distinguish between evidence based and non-evidence based instructional practices, and to determine which sources of information, and which experiences most influenced the practices that these PSTs planned to adopt in the classroom. This paper prompted a really interesting discussion, and even a little instructional practices quiz that was held for the attendees of the ERRR.

Jennifer’s nominated article was:  Factors in Instructional Decision-Making, Ratings of Evidence and Intended Instructional Practices of Australian Final Year Teacher Education Students. This article details Jennifer’s survey with 290 pre-service teachers in their final year of teacher training. The survey had two broad goals: 1. To discover how well these PSTs were able to distinguish between evidence based and non-evidence based instructional practices (From learning styles instruction to direct instruction), 2. To determine which sources of information, and which experiences most influenced the practices that these PSTs planned to adopt in the classroom (from experiences during placement to journal articles). This article will no doubt lead prompt a lively discussion on the role of evidence-based practices in the classroom, as well as various strengths and weaknesses of current teacher training programs throughout Australia.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Links mentioned during the interview

Links Mentioned in the Intro (Thanks to Max Lenoy for providing links)

The battle for deliberate practice

It’s exam time and your students are preparing. You’re going around the class, observing how students are studying and, shock horror, they are re-reading and re-writing their notes. The notes are literally going from one notebook to another notebook without going through their brains in-between. As a teacher this is one of the most frustrating things for me to see, and recently I’ve been on a bit of a war path to try to stop it.

This is a short post to celebrate some of my students doing deliberate practice. This year I’ve been stressing the importance of students re-doing questions (as opposed to just re-reading them).

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 9.54.23 amPictured right is how Ericsson describes deliberate practice (pg. 367)


They way that I’ve advocated for this is to ask students to 1. Identify questions that they got incorrect in our weekly tests, 2. Get a book or another sheet of paper and cover the answer, 3. Re-do the question, 4. Slide the book/piece of paper down and check, 5. Re-do again if they got it wrong, 6. Re-do again a few hours/days later to consolidate.

I’ve felt like a bit of a broken record but then, today, I had my day made when walking around the class I saw these two students!



To attend to the motivational segment of the task, I knocked up this sheet that I gave to students at the start of today’s revision session.

Deliberate practice for the win. Just wanted to celebrate. Hopefully it pays off in their exam.

Educating Ruby: Wot-I-Got out of the book, and why I read it

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.08.16 pmAs mentioned in my previous post I’m currently participating in the Bastow Institute’s Create: Middle Leaders program. In that previous post I talked about the great vs. typical learning activity in which we had to take photos in our classroom, then have a conversation with students in which they identified which images represented ‘typical’ and  ‘great’ learning. What I didn’t mention was the impact that the sharing element of the activity had on me. The students with whom I’d discussed the photographs were from my year 11 physics class, the students with whom one of my colleagues, Tamara, discussed her photos were from year 2. Here’s the kind of things that my students said:

‘I like the way that teacher explains and writes on the board to make sure that students understand the content.’

‘Reading books are a great way to learn.’

‘Looks like (the teacher is) helping a student out, it’s great when students asks when they’re not sure to consolidate their understanding. Two students in the photo are working out a question together. That’s great learning

‘I think it’s (using the spaced repetition software Anki) pretty useful. Helps you retain information.’

‘It’s just easier to remember. For doing [tests] and exams, because of Anki I can remember all of the formas and answers more easily without having to check my cheat sheet.’

Here’s the kind of things that were said by Tamara’s students (Thanks to Tamara for sharing with me her records of students’ quotes):

‘(this student) chose a good partner, different to usual, it’s a good decision to choose someone you don’t know well.’

‘(this student’s) writing shows they worked really hard and noticed where they got the letters wrong or used the wrong word’

‘This is great learning because this student is working hard and using his perseverance muscle.’

‘they’re trying really hard and using a different idea/ strategy’

It might not come out as powerfully through the quotes as it did in our discussion, but what surprised me was the meta-language that Tamara’s students used in analysing what makes ‘typical’ and ‘great’ learning. These Year 2 students had a metalanguage for learning including words and concepts like ‘perseverance’, identifying different ‘ideas/strategies’, and they went beyond the general to talk not only about group work but specifically about with whom individuals had chosen to work. Moreover, the students talked not about what the teacher was doing, but about what the learners were doing. In fact, none of the photos that Tamara’s students chose to represent great learning included Tamara, or any other teacher! In sum, these year 2 students appeared to have a more developed and nuanced understanding of what it means to be a ‘great learner’ than did my year 11s, and that was scary!

So, I had to ask the question…’Why?’.

Luckily I’d used pretty much interview question that I had in my arsenal (see my Education Research Reading Room Podcast!) on Tamara the night before and she’d told me about the massive positive impact that Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ program has had on their school. This warranted a closer look.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.05.53 pmAt this point I’ve got to mention how much of a sceptical consumer I am of this stuff. I find the analogy of ‘learning muscles’ a bit cringeworthy, and I’m not the only one. But, with the (anecdotal) evidence from Tamara in front of me, and the Quaker passage pictured right in mind, I thought it worth checking out further. I knew that even if I wasn’t sold by the whole thesis, there’d still be stuff in the book worth taking away.

I went straight ahead and read Claxton’s most recent book, Educating Ruby. What did I get out of it? Well, I guess inspiration is the main thing. Through all of the explicit instruction that I’ve been doing, although both highly stimulating and effective, I’ve had this feeling that something’s missing. I don’t think I’ll be advocating for the implementation of BLP at my school any time soon, there are many other programs and approaches out there worth exploring first and I need a better understanding of how each of the elements of such a program would tangibly fit together in my school’s context. But I am definitely more inspired to work out how to build my students into more independent learners, and furnish them with a better understanding of, and metalanguage around, what it is to be a great learner. Watch this space!

Here are my notes from the book, arranged in a semi-sensical order.

Note: Something that surprised me was how explicitly Claxton seemed to argue against the ‘trads’ that are so prolific on twitter and the ed blogosphere. He literally referred to the articles that they cite, and provided counter-sources and counter-arguments. I was impressed by his awareness of the dynamics at work within the current educational landscape, and I think he did a good job of transcending much of the bickering that occurs within it in order to try to find common ground and paint a positive picture of how evidence and inspiration can be combined to make schools a more empowering and relevant place for students.


  • A letter from a parent
    • ‘Dear Head Teacher, I want to write and thank you for recently running the parent workshops on how to support our children in ‘Building Learning Power’. Your talk has given me a vocabulary to use when talking to my children to help convey some truly important values that I have always believed to be vital to both success and happiness. Specifically that ‘effort is more important than ability’ and ‘mistakes are part of the learning process/to succeed you have to be prepared to take the risk of failing’. I loved the analogy you used of the brain being a muscle that has to be exercised and made fit for learning. I have been talking a lot about overcoming adversity with my children.'(location 1825)

Some of the key pts

  • A great summary of  the ‘Three educational tribes: Roms, Trads and Mods’(location 360)
    • E.g., ‘It is perhaps not surprising that Trads are over-represented in the worlds of politics, the law and journalism, where skills in adversarial debating and point scoring are highly prized. Such sophistry is, of course, very different from real thinking, which is an often hesitant, difficult and slow attempt to get closer to the truth. Mods like to discuss and wonder, edging their way towards ideas that feel more solidly appropriate to the unprecedented challenges of the present.’(location 438)
    • Because Trads like to keep things simple, they reduce knowledge to facts (and ignore the fact that most knowledge actually consists of webs of ideas that have withstood empirical tests). They reduce the subtle art of teaching to ‘knowledge transmission’ – just telling. They like to make assessment as rigorous as possible by making everything right or wrong – which, of course, ignores thinking. And they have a simplistic view of students’ minds which revolves around memorising: putting facts into storage and hauling them out on demand. This world view obliterates much of what is interesting and true about the mind as something which grapples with ideas, copes with degrees of uncertainty, interprets and muses – and sometimes improves – on what it has read or heard and, critically, is capable of getting better at grappling, interpreting, musing and, indeed, memorising. Young minds are full of habits and processes that are capable of being stretched and strengthened by the right kind of teaching, but which are often not. A major study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and other partner universities found that students’ performance on tests is powerfully predicted by their level of these mental skills and habits, but that studying in the traditional Hirschean way does not develop these skills.6(location 453)
  • The Sabre-Tooth Curriculum(location 639)
    • A nice little narrative that Claxton and Lucas develop in order to illustrate their point regarding how we must change curricula in response to changes in the world outside of school.
  • the seven Cs: confidence, curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity, commitment and craftsmanship.(location 863)
    • This is the basis of Claxton’s model
    • the ‘other game’ of school. If you cannot be a winner at the grade game, you can still come away having been a winner at the character game. The first requires losers; anyone can win the second.(location 864)
    • If you had to rank order the seven Cs, which would be at the top of your list? Which at the bottom? How would you adjust them?(location 894)
  • Education is not the same as school(location 927)
    • Education is a vision of what it is that our children will need if they are going to flourish in the world as we predict it will be:(location 929)
    • It is to do with what’s left at the end of their formal educational experiences, the residues of that experience which will enable them to engage intelligently with the ups and downs that come their way. This is a moral conversation, and it is necessary and unavoidable. If people disagree about the aims of education, this has to be within a conversation about differing values and differing images of the future.(location 939)
    • School, on the other hand, is a particular system that societies have invented for ‘doing education’.(location 942)
    • Education is the ends; school is the means.(location 943)
  • A really well thought out list of what are the core competencies in order to live a successful life
    • what are the core competences for living safely, sociably and satisfyingly?(location 987)
    • Here are some candidates. They were generated in the context of a very exciting ‘global summit on education’ held at the Perimeter Institute, an elite physics lab in Waterloo, Canada, in October 2013.3(location 988)
    • This list of competences is a bit of a rag-bag. We could tidy it up somewhat by dividing it into two groups: what we might call skills – which are techniques that can be learned or trained quite explicitly – and what we will call habits of mind – which are more general tendencies to respond to events in a particular way.(location 1033)
      • There are broadly three clusters of these character strengths(location 1066)
      • The first is called rather grandly ‘self-regulation’.(location 1067)
      • A way of teaching pre-schoolers in the United States called Tools of the Mind structures this kind of play – and it has shown that children develop self-regulation faster, and also show better development of literacy and numeracy. Self-regulation(location 1079)
      • The other two clusters are, if you like, the two main branches that grow out of this trunk of self-control. The first branch grows into the habits and attitudes of a ‘good person’: kind, friendly, generous, tolerant, empathic, forgiving, trustworthy, honest, having moral courage and integrity, and so on.(location 1082)
      • The second branch grows into the habits of mind that characterise a ‘good learner’.(location 1087)
    • Two recent books provide comprehensive reviews of the research that shows how important these habits of mind are for success in life. They are How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough, and Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman.4(location 1038)
  • What happens when you don’t develop positive habits of mind?
    • The problem was that most of them then dropped out. When they went on to college that high-powered support team was left behind, and without it many of those young people didn’t know how to cope. They had got the grades, but they hadn’t developed the resilience, independence and self-discipline that they now really needed.5(location 1050)
  • Claxton and Lucas’ take on the school curriculum
    • there are three kinds of things that deserve to be in the school curriculum. We call them utilities, treasures and exercise-machines.(location 1149)
    • Utilities are things which are self-evidently useful for young people to know or be able to do. They include being able to tie your shoelaces (if this is still essential since the invention of Velcro),(location 1150)
    • treasures: things which we all agree may not be directly useful, in a rather utilitarian sense, but which, we broadly agree, form such an important part of our (however we define ‘our’) cultural heritage that everyone who lives here should have encountered them.(location 1162)
  • What are the ingredients of generating change?
    • D x V x F > R It was dreamt up by a man called David Gleicher, who was trying to explain the three different elements which need to be in place if you are trying to overcome resistance to change. Here’s what each letter means: D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now V = Vision of what is possible F = First concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision R = Resistance to change(location 2293)

Great Quotes!

  • It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age. Margaret Mead(location 1147)

Use in class tomorrow

  • We have heard of one brave school where every term the children are each given a ‘joker’ they can play at any point of any lesson during that term. When they do so, the teacher has to stop teaching and try to give the class their best explanation of why that topic is important enough to be taking up the children’s time. The explanations are listened to respectfully and evaluated by the class. Trads might well be appalled by this apparent show of disrespect or lack of trust. Mods, however, will be open to the possibility that the thinking involved, and the discussion that could ensue, is a better preparation for life than passively accepting what you are told.(location 1192)
  • A ‘mistake of the week’ accompanied by an explicit attempt to tease out the insights it can bring the class is an example of the kind of curriculum we think children of this age need.(location 1259)
  • there is a great website called which shows short film-clips of all kinds of people talking about the journeys that led them to the work (whether employed or self-employed) they now love doing.(location 1371)
  • I had a really good history teacher, fun and full of energy. He taught us in a different way. Once before school he asked me, “Hannah, in the middle of the lesson can you keep on asking questions and I’ll ignore you, then you storm out?” So I was like, yeah. The lesson was about reliable sources, so after I stormed out he made everyone write a letter to the head teacher explaining what had happened. Then he called me back in and told everyone it was a set-up. We read all the letters out and some, of course, were really biased – my best friends vs. people who hated me, kind of thing. It was a really clever way to show us what we were learning about. Hannah, Year 9, London secondary school(location 1375)

One day I hope to use…

  • On the financial crisis, 15-year-olds could read John Lanchester’s Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay or John Coates’ brilliant exposition of the neuroscience of risk-taking, Between the Hour of Dog and Wolf.12 On climate change, George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning or James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia would be good.13 On the evolution and future of humankind, anything by Richard Dawkins is an exemplary piece of science writing, while Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee is a great read14 – there is even a version adapted to the reading level of 10-year-olds now on the market,(location 1406)
  • The Social Animal, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind are highly accessible, well-researched and very thought-provoking.15 Alexander Diener and Joshua Hagen’s Borders: A Very Short Introduction brings history and politics together in a way that illuminates many current post-colonial conflicts.16 Many works of fiction also address contemporary or historical issues of real importance in lively ways – for example, John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.17 Any would-be writer of fiction would learn hugely from John Yorke’s Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them.18 Olivia Fane’s The Conversations: 66 Reasons to Start Talking would be a terrific primer for debates about painful contemporary issues.19(location 1413)

Stuff to Check out

  • David Perkins wrote a very good empirical paper on this way back in 1985, called ‘Post-primary education has little impact on informal reasoning’, which about says it all.3(location 418)
  • a detailed, critical review of E. D. Hirsch’s work by Kristen Buras in the Harvard Educational Review, in which she carefully rebuts all of Hirsh’s claims, has gone unmentioned by many Trad defenders.(location 448)
  • Academics like Robin Alexander at Cambridge or Andrew Pollard at Bristol, innovative head teachers like Sir Anthony Seldon at Wellington College or Tom Sherrington at Highbury Grove School in London, or thoughtful ex-teachers and administrators like Sir Tim Brighouse, who have spent decades thinking about schools(location 481)
  • See Amy Finn, Matthew Kraft, Martin West et al., Cognitive skills, student achievement tests, and schools, Psychological Science 25(3) (2014): 736–744.(location 776)
  • Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton, Wider Skills for Learning: What Are They, How Can They Be Cultivated, How Could They Be Measured and Why Are They Important for Innovation? (London: NESTA, 2009). Available at: files/wider_skills_for_learning_report.pdf.(location 1140)
  • curriculum from New Zealand called Te Whāriki, which means a woven mat in Maori.(location 1247)
  • Some schools use the popular technique known as Six Thinking Hats, created by Edward de Bono, as a basis for making switching roles fun (the children wear different coloured hats to signal which ‘mode’ they are currently in).4(location 1266)
  • What the heck, students producing an academic paper?
    • On 22 December 2010, the prestigious science journal, Biology Letters, produced by the Royal Society, published a paper entitled ‘Colour and spatial relationships in bees’.6(location 1297)
    • Two researchers, Ann Brown at the University of Berkeley, California7 and Chris Watkins at the Institute of Education in London,8 have shown how, by deliberately seeking to set up classrooms as communities of enquiry, the level of understanding and quality of questioning becomes much deeper.(location 1320)
  • They are using a tool called the TASC wheel (Thinking Actively in a Social Context), which was created by Belle Wallace.2 The TASC wheel helps them orchestrate the task; their teacher is doing very little to guide or rescue them from the considerable difficulty of the assignment.(location 1578)

I don’t understand the value of this as yet.

  • Another similarly adventurous example which we liked was the decision by teachers at Coombes School, in Berkshire, to teach the Great Fire of London by having the whole school (and parent body) construct a scale model of London outside in the grounds, then to orientate it so that the wind was blowing in the same direction as it was on that fateful day, then to light it in Thomas Farynor’s bakery and see what happened. The children and assembled throng of parents potentially learned as much about the passage of fire as they did about the fragility of a capital city largely built of wood. The whole thing was filmed so that the learning could endure beyond the few minutes of the playground conflagration.5(location 1282)
  • Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) where children can work in groups, accessing the internet and other software, following up on a class project or taking them where their interests lead them. Mitra’s research shows that this self-organised enquiry works brilliantly – unless interrupted by adults.(location 1328)

What makes ‘typical’ and ‘great’ learning? Teachers’ perspectives

I’m currently participating in the Bastow Institute’s Create: Middle Leaders program. Our first major activity was to take photos in our classroom, then have a conversation with 4 students from the class and get them to choose 2 pictures that represent ‘typical’ learning, and two that represent ‘great’ learning.

We brought these pictures to day 1, compared and contrasted with a small group of other colleagues, then presented a poster ‘provocation’ to share with other groups. My group chose to contrast the typical/great dichotomy, and to set up a spectrum, inviting viewers to guess which end represented ‘typical’, and which represented ‘great’, here’s how it looked. 

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 11.46.22 am

And we posed a question?

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 6.02.32 pm

Have a look back at the first poster pic, where do you think teachers’ sticky notes would have congregated, further towards the left, or further towards the right?

Now, for the result… scroll down

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 11.50.12 am

No big surprise there. Here’s what the cluster looked like close up.


And here’s what the lone ranger in the middle had to say…IMG_20170525_112227The author of this post it made a really good point in conversation afterwards. He said that if we took the top right photo on the poster (see closeup below)

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 6.10.11 pm

And we replaced the student doing the building with a teacher. How would that change the interpretation of those teachers viewing. Would it suddenly invalidate the modelling of the person doing the modelling, or would there be no difference?

I think this suggested thought experiment was a really sensitive yet striking way to support teachers to question assumptions about what I would suggest is a somewhat false ‘learner centred’ and ‘teacher centred’ dichotomy.

And with that, here’s the answer that our group came up with…


IMG_20170525_112245In closing, I just wanted to feature the work of another group who I thought framed the ‘typical’ vs. ‘great’ learning debate really eloquently (not to mention in a very aesthetically pleasing way).

Enjoy the cherry tree!


TOT012: Knowledge Management, Efficient Marking, Evaluating Evidence, and Hiring the Right Teachers

Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways is a weekly post (and sometimes a podcast!) bringing together all of the fascinating things that Ollie read throughout the week! Find all past posts of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here

A great summary of Cognitive Load Theory

For those interested in CLT, I’ve found no better simplified account of it than this whole website by Michael Pershan. Here’s an excerpt or two.

From the page: The Difference Between Solving a Problem and Learning Some Math From It

If problem solving was ineffective for learning to win a simple game, then it would likewise be trouble for learning something more complex, such as an algebraic procedure. Sweller designed experiments that allowed him to observe novices attempting to solve mathematics problems. He saw the same thing: beginners chose “search” strategies that drew attention away from the sorts of observations that might lead to obtaining a more powerful strategy. If teachers wanted to foster expertise, they would need techniques to circumvent these learning-killing search strategies.

To discover a pattern or a rule, one needs to look away from the goals and their present progress, and instead turn to work in the past. What moves have you already tried? Which combinations of moves work particularly well together? Which angles in a diagram, when derived, help you calculate other angles? By eliminating a single, clear goal for participants to fixate on, participants were free to notice patterns in their past moves. (And if there was a gap between their current status and a goal? They could discard the goal and choose another, instead of working backwards to derive it.) This freedom to think about the past is precisely what is needed for discovering useful, expert-like shortcuts. Sweller’s results showed that these discoveries did, in fact, take place more frequently when problems were given with nonspecific goals. Therefore, nonspecific goals were better for learning than conventional problems.

Worked examples are not problems – they are explanations of how a problem is correctly solved. Goal-free problems function by eliminating means-end search, instead drawing participants’ attention to their past successes.

In another series of experiments, Sweller carefully tested this idea. His results confirmed the hypothesis: the quality of learning was the same whether students learned via worked examples or self-discovered solutions. The major difference was time – problem solving took a lot of it! Worked examples took far less time. In this sense, explanations were more efficient than discovery.

From the page: The Invention of Cognitive Load Theory

“There can be only one ultimate goal,” he wrote, “the generation of new, useful instructional techniques.” Goldman may be right — CLT can not explain learning, in general — but that’s not its purpose. The purpose of CLT, for Sweller, was inventing new teaching techniques.

The best article I’ve ever read on knowledge management within schools

This article by Harry Fletcher-Wood suggests a tangible template that can be used to help experienced teachers to sketch out key information, like student misconceptions, horizon knowledge (how current learning is related to future learning), and key sequencing, to help with knowledge management within a school. Here’s what Harry says about it.

More powerfully, I think a template like this can draw on and collate the collective wisdom of teams of teachers. Lesson plans and powerpoints rarely travel well: collections of representations and misconceptions will: teachers can easily use a good representation, no matter what their teaching style or context. A collection of good representations is transferable between different contexts, in the way that a lesson plan is not. Much of this knowledge is tacit, held in the heads of experienced teachers, passed on by word of mouth and implicit in resources. Collaboratively constructing such planning documents could also be a productive way to share knowledge within departments.

Quick Tip for Leading a Team

And here’s the key takeaway for me.

You need to remember, it isn’t your job to lead each item. The more others take the lead, the more you will be working as a team rather than as a group of individuals that are doing what they are told.

How much do different types of teacher training cost? (plus, info on dropout rates)

Great publication entitled .

The Do’s and Don’ts of effective and efficient marking

Hot tip: The students should spend more time reviewing the feedback than you do writing it!

Nel Noddings… What is caring anyway?

Turns out that to be caring, the cared-for has to interpret the caring as caring. Interesting… has implications for looking after those who are struggling with mental health issues in particular. I like how it sets up a kind of society where I know my autonomy will be preserved

Understanding the types of evidence in Ed Research

Dylan William Treasure Trove of info!

And there are lots of videos too! . This list is awesome. And so many of them are super short too, really easy to digest : )

Four questions to ask yourself at the start of any initiative

In this post, Mark Enser suggests that we need to develop systems and culture in tandem to achieve sustainable change.

And here are the four questions:

1. What is the purpose? What culture are we trying to achieve through this? What impact are we hoping for?
2. How will it be supported? What structures will we put in place to achieve this?
3. What will be the success criteria? Set in advance please! How will we know it has been successful when we evaluate it?
4. How does it fit in the time budget? Where is the time coming from? Most school leaders say that they feel their teachers are already working as hard as they can – so what are you taking out to make room for this?

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 2.47.41 pm

The ultimate question to ask when lesson/unit planning

I think that any maths educators would enjoy reading this piece in full!

6 Edtech tools to explore in 2017

Systematic review of mindfulness interventions

Conclusion: “The findings show that MBIs in schools had a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socioemotional outcomes, but did not improve behavior or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioral outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socioemotional, and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues found a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socioemotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behavior and academic achievement.”

Restorative justice questions

For more on this, listen to episode 6 of the ERRR podcast!

The ultimate guide to conducting school interviews

In this series of posts, David Didau brings psychology to bear on the teacher interview process. How do our unconscious biases skew our selections, and what can we do to get around this challenge?

Daniel Kahneman offers some useful suggestions in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

If you are serious about hiring the best possible person for the job, this is what you should do. First, select a few traits that are prerequisites for success in this position (technical proficiency, engaging personality, reliability, and so on). Don’t over do it – six dimensions is a good number. The traits you choose should be as independent as possible from each other, and you should feel that you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions. Next, make a list of the those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1 – 5 scale. You should have an idea of what you will call ‘very weak’ or ‘very strong’. (p. 232)

Didau offers just such a list for hiring teachers in blog post 2. Check it out!

ERRR #005. Pamela Snow, Phonics + How can we get the real story from students?

Listen to all past episodes of the ERRR podcast here.

In this episode of the Education Research Reading Room we were lucky enough to have as our guest Professor Pamela Snow.

Pamela is a registered psychologist, having qualified originally in speech pathology. Her research has been funded by nationally competitive schemes such as the ARC Discovery Program, ARC Linkage Program, and the Criminology Research Council, and spans various aspects of risk in childhood and adolescence, in particular:

-the oral language skills of high-risk young people (youth offenders and those in the state care system), and the role of oral language competence as an academic and mental health protective factor in childhood and adolescence;
-applying evidence in the language-to-literacy transition in the early years of school;
-linguistic aspects of investigative interviewing with children / adolescents as witnesses, suspects, victims in criminal investigations;

Pamela has taught a wide range of undergraduate health professionals, and also has experience in postgraduate teacher education. She has research links with the education, welfare and justice sectors, and her research has been published in a wide range of international journals. She is frequently called upon to address education, health, welfare, and forensic audiences.

Pamela’s Twitter handle is @PamelaSnow2 and her blog The Snow Report can be found at

This month we have two articles from Pamela. Guidelines for teachers to elicit detailed and accurate narrative accounts from children and The way we teach most children to read sets them up to fail. The first article is a truly gripping piece on how to talk to students in a way that makes them feel comfortable and willing to share what’s happening at home (when appropriate) or what happened following an incident at school. The second article is a concise and valuable overview of the current landscape of effective literacy instruction.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Links from the intro/outro.

Links from the body of the interview.

How do we know what to put on the quiz?

I’ve really enjoyed working my way through Brian Penfounds series of three (1, 2, 3) blogposts in his Journey to Interleaved Practice series recently. They detail how, prompted by a discussion with the Learning Scientists, Brian has been incorporating interleaving into his integral calculus class.

One particular instrument got me excited, it’s an excel spreadsheet that can be used to interleave questions when you’re planning both lessons and quizzes (see the blank version here (edit: Learning scientists just released a new version here) and Brian’s version here). Here’s a screenshot to give you a taster.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 9.11.59 pm

Being the focussed (and sometimes obsessed) learning strategist that I am, I really loved this idea. But it got me thinking, is this better than what I’m already doing? Should I adapt my current practice to incorporate this approach?

I’ve written about my assessment  and feedback process before here , in which I talk about the weekly quizzes that I give students, and how they incorporate content from the previous three weeks. This means that students see content for a month in a row (in the teaching week, then in the three weeks after that), then they’ll see it in the unit test (maximum 4 weeks later, as each topic is approx. 8 weeks long) then in the mid-year practice exam, then in the end of year exam.

I wanted to take the opportunity to share how I actually choose which questions to put on these weekly tests (or ‘Progress Checks’ (PC) as they’re called in my classes).

Each week I run the PC, students self mark in class immediately after, then I collect up the PCs. I keep them overnight and return them to students the next day (for two of my classes, the third class waits for 3 days due to timetabling) and in the meantime I enter the marks into my gradebook. When I return the PCs to students (I do this once they’ve settled into some question work), I carry around a little notebook and have a mini-conference with each student, the questions I ask are generally

“How do you feel you went?”

‘What did you get wrong?”

“What mistake did you make?”

“How much prep did you do for this Progress Check?”

And finally

“Which question numbers did you get wrong”.

From that, I collate the following.

MAFPCW5_Hard Qs (de-identified)

(For any student who doesn’t demonstrate that they prepared for the PC, they get a detention, which I also note on this sheet).

I then take a photo of this and store it with the progress check itself, like so.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 9.23.20 pm

Then, when it comes time to write the next week’s PC, I feed in the questions that were answered incorrectly (variations thereof) as well as new content, in addition to other concepts from the previous 3 weeks that I think also important to touch on again.

I was really excited by the excel approach, but I’m still very attached to the adaptive approach that I’m using. Perhaps the optimum would lie somewhere in-between, using both a more-complex structure than ‘the last 3 weeks’ (such as is offered by the excel spreadsheet), plus some element of adaptability to the questions and concepts that students are clearly struggling with.

An opportunity for further exploration!

TOT011: Teaching Curiosity, Is Pre-questioning effective? Interrelations between PCK and DI, and Illusory Superiority.

Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways is a weekly post (and sometimes a podcast!) bringing together all of the fascinating things that Ollie read throughout the week! Find all past posts of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here

How do we teach Curiosity?

In this blog post Michael Fordham writes that we can’t teach curiosity in the abstract, we need to teach students things that they can therefore be curious about.

Here’s an excerpt.

On this line, when I say that I want to cultivate the curiosity of my pupils, what I am in practice saying is that I want them to be curious about a greater range of things. I want to bring more parts of our reality into the realm of their experience. I cannot make them more or less curious per se: what I can do is give them more things to be curious about.

This is why memories are so important to me. A pupil who has remembered some of the things I taught her about neoclassical architecture is more likely to be curious about a building built in that style. Indeed, she may well be more likely to be curious about a building not built in that style. Another pupil who remembers something I taught him about the causes of cholera in the nineteenth century might have his ears prick up when he hears about an outbreak, or reads about it somewhere else. This is in part what I think people mean when they say that knowledge breeds more knowledge.

Should we use pre-questions?

This is a fantastic article detailing a study by Carpenter and Toftness that explores whether or not we should ask pre questions. Here’s what it found.

  1. The benefit of prequestioning prior to reading is that it improves students’ retention of the information that was asked about
  2. The cost of prequestioning prior to reading is that it reduces student’s retention of information that wasn’t asked about
  3. Interestingly, when pre-questioning for video we see a boost of retention of both prequestioned and non-prequestioned information.

So why is this?

Authors suggest that it could be because when an individual is reading, it’s easier for them to ignore information and focus on the pre-questioned information. When watching a video, the effect is for students to simply focus harder the whole time.

Podcast with Michaela Head of Mathematics, Dani Quinn

Well worth a listen, I’ll leave it at that.

The more a teacher knows about how to teach their subect, the more they should use direct instruction

In this post, Greg Ashman outlines how the work of Agodini and colleagues pitted two constructivist based approaches against two direct instruction approaches to middle years maths instruction (in a RCT). A recent analysis of their results by Eric Taylor found that for teachers who scored lower on a ‘Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching’ test (i.e., PCK), there was less difference between the outcomes of the constructivist and the DI methods. Ashman explains this as follows.

In a program where the teacher has to stand up and actually teach maths, their maths skills matter, but when the students have to figure things out for themselves then the more skilled teachers have no way of making use of their greater skill level.

And from this, Ashman makes the following suggestions.

  1. Primary teachers must pass a maths skills test if they are to teach mathematics (schools could perhaps reorganise so that maths was taught by specialists to get around the problem of getting all teachers to this level)
  2. Primary teachers who lack maths skills should be given training in this area
  3. Explicit programs for teaching maths should be adopted in primary schools

How to rebut an argument with style

With Name-calling at the lowest rung on the disagreement hierachy we move through Ad Hominem, Responding to Tone, Contradiction, Counterargument, Refutation, and conclude with Refuting the Central Point. A relevant article in these times of online jousting.

Why do some Immigrants Excel in Science?

The study by Marcos Rangel reported in the article found that a particular set of characteristics were associated with immigrant students doing particularly well in Science. The article states.

Bacolod and Rangel subdivided the immigrants in two ways. First, whether they arrived in early childhood, before age 10. Second, whether their native language was linguistically close to English — say, German — or less similar — say, Vietnamese. Most linguists agree that these two factors have a dramatic impact on someone’s chances of becoming perfectly fluent in a second language…

…among the subset of immigrants who attended college, the ones who arrived later and from more linguistically distinct places — think the Vietnamese teen, not the German toddler — were many times more likely to major in a STEM field.

The authors argue that this is simply specialisation suggesting “If it were just as easy for me to write with my left hand as with my right, I would be using both. But no, I specialize,”. So, in many ways, it appears to be a very rational decision. For those learning a second language later on in life, the greatest chance at success is to focus on an area where a potential language differential less threatens to be an achilles heel.

Hey teacher, are you really as good as you think at explaining things?

In this post, Ben Newmark details his somewhat humbling journey to clearer explanations for his students, and the role that videotaping himself played in this journey.

To remember: the phrase ‘Illusory superiority” coined in 1991 by Van Vperen. We tend to overestimate our abilities in relation to others.

Assessment feedback: Processes to ensure that students think!

We know that ‘Memory is the residue of thought’ (Daniel Willingham) and that in order for our students to learn they must actively think about the content to be learnt. This allows this content to occupy their working memory for long enough, and become anchored to sufficient elements in their long term memory, to trigger a change in long term memory, one of the well respected definitions of ‘learning’ (Paul Kirschner).

One of the arenas of teaching in which this can be most challenging is that of feedback delivery to students. Dylan Wiliam sums it up well in the following quote (Which I came across thanks to Alfie Kohn).

Note: The original quote is “When students receive both scores and comments, the first thing they look at is their score, and the second thing they look at is…someone else’s score”, and can be found here (beware the paywall). 

The challenge is, then, how do we give feedback to our students in a way that encourages them to actively think about their mistakes, and helps them to do better next time?

In the following I’ll share how I give feedback to students in two contexts. The first is on low stakes assessments that I carry out in my own classroom, the second is on major assessment pieces that contribute towards their final unit mark.

Assessment Feedback on weekly Progress Checks.

Before we dive in I’ll just paint a picture of how my weekly ‘Progress Checks’ fit into my teaching and learning cycle, and how each of these elements is informed by education theory.

At the start of each week students are provided with a list of ‘weekly questions’. They know that the teaching during the week will teach them how to answer these questions. Questions are to be aligned with what we want students to be able to do (curriculum and exams) (Backwards Design). Students are provided with worked solutions to all questions at the time of question distribution (The worked example effect). The only homework at this stage of the cycle is for students to ensure that they can do the weekly questions.

Progress Checks’ (mini tests, max 15 minutes) are held weekly (Testing Effect). Progress checks include content from the previous three weeks. This means that students see the main concepts from each week for a month (Distributed Practice). These PCs are low-stakes for year 11 students (contribute 10% to their final overall mark) and are simply used to inform teachers and students of student progress in year 12 (where assessment protocols are more specifically defined).

Edit: Here’s a new post on how I use student responses to these PCs to construct the next PCs. 

When designing the progress checks I had two main goals: 1) Ensure that students extract as much learning as possible from these weekly tests, 2) Make sure that marking them didn’t take up hours of my time. The following process is what I came up with.

Straight after the PC I get students to clear their desks, I hand them a red pen, and I do a think-alound for the whole PC and get them to mark their own papers. This is great because it’s immediate feedback and self marking (See Dylan Wiliam’s black box paper), and it allows me to model the thinking of a (relative) expert, and to be really clear about what students will and won’t receive marks for. Following this, for any student who didn’t attain 100% on the progress check, they choose one question that they got incorrect and do a reflection on it based on 4 questions: 1) What was the q?, 2) Which concept did this address?, 3) What did you get wrong?, 4) What will you do next time?

Here are some examples of student self-marked progress checks and accompanying PC reflections from the same students (both from my Y11 physics class). Note: Photos of reflections are submitted via email and I use Gmail filters to auto-file these emails by class.

Brandon PC

Note how this student was made aware of consequential of follow through marks on question 1.

Here’s the PC reflection from this same student (based upon question 2).

B PC ref

Here’s another students’ self-marked Progress Check.


And the associated reflection.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 7.18.54 am

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 7.19.47 am

Students are recognised and congratulated by the whole class if they get 100% on their progress checks, as well as one student from each class winning the ‘Best PC Reflection of the Week’ award. This allows me to project their reflection onto the board and point out what was good about it, highlighting an ideal example to the rest of the class, celebrating students’ successes, rewarding students for effort, and framing mistakes as learning opportunities.

I think that this process achieves my main two goals pretty well. Clearly these PCs form an integral learning opportunity, and in sum it only takes me about 7 minutes per class per week to enter PC marks into my gradebook.

Assessment Feedback on Mandated Assessment Tasks.

There are times when, as a teacher, we need to knuckle down and mark a bunch of work. For me this is the case on school assessed coursework (SACs), which contribute to my students’ end of year study scores. I was faced with the challenge of making feedback for such a test as beneficial to my students’ learning as the PC feedback process is, here’s what I worked out.

  1. On test day, students receive their test in a plastic sheet and unstapled.
  2. At the start of the test, students are told to put their name at the top of every sheet.
  3. At the end of the test I take all of the papers straight to the photocopier and, before marking, photocopy the unmarked papers.
  4. I mark the originals (Though the photocopying takes some time I think that in the end this process makes marking faster because, a) I can group all page 1s together (etc) and mark one page at a time (this is better for moderation too) and b) because I write minimal written feedback because I know what’s coming next…)
  5. In the next lesson I hand out students’ photocopied versions and I go through the solutions with the whole class. This means that students are still marking their own papers and still concentrating on all the answers.
  6. Once they’ve marked their own papers I hand them back their marked original (without a final mark on it, just totals at the bottom of each page), they identify any discrepancies between my marking and their marking, then we discuss and come to an agreement. This also prompts me to be more explicit about my marking scheme as I’m being held to account by the students.

In Closing

I’ve already asked students for feedback on the progress checks through whole class surveys. The consensus is that they really appreciate them and they like the modelling of the solutions and self-marking also. One good thing is that putting together this post prompted me to contact my students and ask for feedback on the self-marking process of their photocopied mandated assessment task. I’ll finish this post with a few comments that students said they’d be happy for me to share. It also provides some great feedback to me for next time .

I’d love any reflections that readers have on the efficacy of these processes and how they could potentially be improved.

From the keyboards of some of my students (3 males, 3 females, 5 from Y12, one from Y11).

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.09.34 am

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 9.23.09 amScreen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.17.38 am Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.06.27 amScreen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.08.26 am

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.32.22 am


A  fellow maths teacher from another school in Melbourne, Wendy, tried out this method with a couple of modifications. I thought that the modifications were really creative, and I think they offer another approach that could work really well. Here’s what Wendy said.

Hey Ollie,

I used your strategy today with photocopying students’ sacs and having them self correct. The kids responded so well!

Beyond them asking lots of questions and being highly engaged, those that I got feedback from were really positive saying how it made them look at their work more closely than they would if I just gave them an already corrected test, understood how the marking scheme worked (and seeing a perfect solution) and they liked that they could see why they got the mark they did and had ‘prewarning’ of their mark.

Thanks heaps for sharing the approach.
A couple of small changes I made were
  • I stapled the test originally then just cut the corner, copied them and then restapled. It was very quick and could be done after the test without having to put each test in a plastic pocket
  • I gave the students one copy of the solutions between two. Almost all kids scored above 50% and most around the 70% mark, and I didn’t want them to have to sit through solutions they already had.

if you have thoughts/comments on these changes I’d love to hear them.

Thanks again!


Find references to all theories cited (in brackets) here.