Category Archives: Podcast: Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways

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)

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!

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.

TOT010: Sensitively ‘correcting’ students’ english, the limits of ‘evidence based’ education, and more

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

 Sensitive Instruction of English

Really enjoyed this episode of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. It can be a challenge to know how to correct the culturally-based idiosyncrasies in our students’ speech in a culturally-sensitive way. Jennifer Gonzales and Dena Simmons discuss how to do this with both respect and finesse. Well worth a listen!

Challenging the fallacious Fact/Value divide in Education Research

I’m naturally a very quantitatively driven guy. I seem to be drawn to numerical metrics of success, sometimes missing the forest for the trees. Something I’ve been exploring a lot recently is the assumptions underlying much educational research. Here’s just one of the blog posts that I’ve found stimulating in this space in the last few weeks. I’ll hopefully blog more about this in the not too distant future.

On the ‘Fact/Value’ false dichotomy. 

The one side asserts the importance of facts and thinks you cannot argue rationally using evidence  about values so excludes them from science, the other side asserts the importance of values and agrees that these cannot be put on a proper research footing so exclude themselves from science. But what if the claim introduced so casually by Hume nearly 300 years ago is simply wrong? What if we can derive values from an investigation of the facts?

And values are always present

Values enter into research when we select what to look at, when we decide how to look at it and when we interpret the meaning of what we think we see.(Standish, 2001). So values are always implicit behind ‘experimental designs’.

Double loop learning!

Double Loop Learning

My suggestion from this example is that what appears to many researchers as an unbridgeable divide between facts and values within educational research is perhaps better understood as the real difference in quality and temporality of these two intertwined research loops. On the one hand focused empirical research within a theoretical framework that embeds values and on the other hand the rather larger and rather longer dialogue of theory that can question and develop the assumptions of research frames. Both loops can be seen as united in a larger conception of science as collective ‘wissenshaft’ or shared knowledge. Both call upon evidence from experience and both make arguments that seek to persuade. While research findings from the smaller loops of empirical science based on narrow frameworks of assumptions can seem to progress faster and be more certain for a while than the findings of the larger borderless transdisciplinary shared enquiry of humanity this is an illusion because in fact the cogency of the assumptions behind narrow research programmes depend upon justifications that can only be made within the larger dialogue.

This boils down to the fact that we need to ask ourselves… ‘more efficient at what?’

And here’s another quote from a Schoenfeld article on the same topic!

Do Comprehensive Schools Reduce Social Mobility?

Just a paper that I thought some readers might like to check out on this subject!

Boliver, V., & Swift, A. (2011). Do comprehensive schools reduce social mobility? 1. The British journal of sociology, 62(1), 89-110

Maybe the source of PISA discrepancy is in large part due to paper vs. computer based implementation!?!


A Behaviour Management Guide for School Leaders

Google Drive Tools for Teachers

Addressing issues of cultural and political sensitivity in the classroom

This article is well worth a read! Here are some of my favourite quotes…

“When it feels more partisan, we walk more of a tightrope. For the ‘alt-right,’ I didn’t feel we had to walk a tightrope,” said Leslie, who viewed teaching about the alt-right as akin to teaching about the KKK. Racism ought to be a non-partisan subject, she said.

Learning about the alt-right, for example, is a lesson in political literacy. Teachers should not ask students to decide whether the alt-right is a good thing, but they can teach how it came about and how it has affected the political system, Hess said.



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

Astrophysicists and feminism

A great post, prompted by a meme shared for International Womens’ Day, on how young women aspiring to be astrophysicists is great, but os is little girls aspiring to be princesses…

What makes a good PD?

Turns out that almost all professional development for teachers fails, that is, it doesn’t have any measurable impact on student learning (great citations for this in this article). In the face of this, should we give up on PD all together? In this article @HfFletcherWood tells us some of the keys to good PD.

PISA and Technology in the Classroom

20 good youtube channels for Maths Teachers

The back and forth on explicit instruction

If you want to hear leaders in their field engaging in the constructivism vs. explicit instruction debate, the articles linked to in the comments of this article are a fantastic place to start. I’m working my way through them at the moment.

The performance of partially selective schools in England

Do partially selective schools improve results for students? Here’s a moderate scale study suggesting partially selective schools maybe don’t have such beneficial effects for those who attend…

Philosophy For Children. Effective or not?

Philosophy for Children is a program that aims to teach students how to think philosophically, and to improve oracy skills, and communication more broadly. Here’s a study attesting to its efficacy, see replies to this tweet for an alternative view…

The Mighty, A website highlighting the writing of Mighty People

Eloquent argument against the same old ‘new education’ assumptions

Tom Bennett argues agains a new film that rips on our educational system. Film states all the usual ‘stifles creativity’, ‘rote learning’, tropes. Great reply from Tom Bennett.

What to do when your child stares at another child with a disability?

Great post from Daniel Willingham. Hot tip, ensure it’s a social interaction. Follow the link for more.

Trump’s policies in perspective

Just because…


Find all other episodes of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here, find it on iTunes here, or on your favourite podcasting app by searching ‘Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways’. You may also like to check out Ollie’s other podcast, the Education Research Reading Room, here

Not a podcast this week, just a few notes on key takeaways : )

Seminal Papers in Educational Psychology.

Check them out!

Guide your teaching by setting questions that you want the students to be able to answer.

Birmo tweets about the new ‘My Induction’ app.

It’s pretty interesting, got some decent tips, and some good starting points for new teachers.

Collection of evidence on direct instruction.

This is gold! E.g., I knew I’d read somewhere in the last PISA report that inquiry learning was negatively associated with science outcomes, spent about 15 mins trying to re-find last week, then gave up. Low and behold, it’s right here!!!

Further dissecting Growth Mindset.

This has been a hot topic on Twitter recently. Here’s a collation of posts, well worth a look.

More evidence for Explicit Instruction in Maths

Effectiveness of Explicit and Constructivist Mathematics Instruction for Low-Achieving Students in the Netherlands

A must listen podcast!

I love the Mr. Barton Podcast, and this week was an absolute ripper. I can’t think of a better use of 2 hours of a teacher’s time than to listen to this!

How deep can a simple maths question take us?

A really simple maths questions, with some amazing results!

Here’s a sneak peek

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Just for Fun. Pie Graphs in Action!!!

Want to see an elegant example of scaffolding?

How to help students to move from concrete examples to generalisations. This is a short and sweet classroom snapshot of how to do this incredibly effectively.

‘When will I ever use this?’: The ultimate comeback!!!

Thanks for joining me for another week with Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways : )


TOT005: Why constructivism doesn’t work, evolution and cognition, the reliability of classroom observations, routines, and a classroom story

Find all other episodes of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here, find it on iTunes here, or on your favourite podcasting app by searching ‘Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways’. You may also like to check out Ollie’s other podcast, the Education Research Reading Room, here

Show Notes

Why minimal guidance during instruction doesn’t work

Ref: Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86.

The arguments for and against minimally guided instruction

  • Assertion:

    The most recent version of instruction with minimal guidance comes from constructivism (e.g., Steffe & Gale, 1995), which appears to have been derived from observations that knowledge is constructed by learners and so (a) they need to have the opportunity to construct by being presented with goals and minimal information, and (b) learning is idiosyncratic and so a common instructional format or strategies are ineffective.

  • Response:

    “The constructivist description of learning is accurate, but the instructional consequences suggested by constructivists do not necessarily follow.”

Learners have to construct a mental schema of the information in the end, that’s what we’re trying to furnish them with, and it turns out, the less of a schema we give them (as with minimal guidance) the less complete of a schema they end up with. Essentially, if we give them the full picture, it will better help them to construct the full picture!

  • Assertion:

    Another consequence of attempts to implement constructivist theory is a shift of emphasis away from teaching a discipline as a body of knowledge toward an exclusive emphasis on learning a discipline by experiencing the processes and procedures of the discipline (Handelsman et. al., 2004; Hodson, 1988). This change in focus was accompanied by an assumption shared by many leading educators and discipline specialists that knowledge can best be learned or only learned through experience that is based primarily on the procedures of the discipline. This point of view led to a commitment by educators to extensive practical or project work, and the rejection of instruction based on the facts, laws, principles and theories that make up a discipline’s content accompanied by the use of discovery and inquiry methods of instruction.

  • Response:

    …it may be a fundamental error to assume that the pedagogic content of the learning experience is identical to the methods and processes (i.e., the epistemology) of the discipline being studied and a mistake to assume that instruction should exclusively focus on methods and processes. (see Shulman (1986; Shulman & Hutchings, 1999)).

This gets to the heart of the distinction between experts and novices. Experts and novices simply don’t learn the same way. They don’t have the same background knowledge at their disposal. By teaching novices in the way that experts should be taught we’re really doing them a disservice, overloading working memories, and simply being ineffective teachers.

Drilling down to the evidence:

None of the preceding arguments and theorizing would be important if there was a clear body of research using controlled experiments indicating that unguided or minimally guided instruction was more effective than guided instruction.. Mayer (2004) recently reviewed evidence from studies conducted from 1950 to the late 1980s comparing pure discovery learning, defined as unguided, problem-based instruction, with guided forms of instruction. He suggested that in each decade since the mid-1950s, when empirical studies provided solid evidence that the then popular unguided approach did not work, a similar approach popped up under a different name with the cycle then repeating itself. Each new set of advocates for unguided approaches seemed either unaware of or uninterested in previous evidence that unguided approaches had not been validated. This pattern produced discovery learning, which gave way to experiential learning, which gave way to probem-based and inquiry learning, which now gives way to constructivist instructional techniques. Mayer (2004) concluded that the “debate about discovery has been replayed many times in education but each time, the evidence has favored a guided approach to learning” (p. 18).

Current Research Supporting Direct Guidance

List is too long, here are some excerpts

Aulls (2002), who observed a number of teachers as they implemented constructivist activities…He described the “scaffolding” that the most effective teachers introduced when students failed to make learning progress in a discovery set- ting. He reported that the teacher whose students achieved all of their learning goals spent a great deal of time in instructional interactions with students.

Stronger evidence from well-designed, controlled experi- mental studies also supports direct instructional guidance (e.g., see Moreno, 2004; Tuovinen & Sweller, 1999).

Klahr and Nigam (2004) tested transfer following discovery learning, found that those relatively few students who learned via discovery ‘showed no signs of superior quality of learning’.

Re-visiting Sweller’s ‘Story of a Research Program. 

From last week: Goal free effect, worked example effect, split attention effect.

My post from this week on trying out the goal free effect in my classroom.

See full paper here.

David Geary provided the relevant theoretical constructs (Geary, 2012). He described two categories of knowledge: biologically primary knowledge that we have evolved to acquire and so learn effortlessly and unconsciously and biologically secondary knowledge that we need for cultural reasons. Examples of primary knowledge are learning to listen and speak a first language while virtually everything learned in educational institutions provides an example of secondary knowledge. We invented schools in order to provide biologically secondary knowledge. (pg. 11)

For many years our field had been faced with arguments along the following lines. Look at the ease with which people learn outside of class and the difficulty they have learning in class. They can accomplish objectively complex tasks such as learning to listen and speak, to recognise faces, or to interact with each other, with consummate ease. In contrast, look at how relatively difficult it is for students to learn to read and write, learn mathematics or learn any of the other subjects taught in class. The key, the argument went, was to make learning in class more similar to learning outside of class. If we made learning in class similar to learning outside of class, it would be just as natural and easy.

How might we model learning in class on learning outside of class? The argument was obvious. We should allow learners to discover knowledge for themselves without explicit teaching. We should not present information to learners – it was called “knowledge transmission” – because that is an unnatural, perhaps impossible, way of learning. We cannot transmit knowledge to learners because they have to construct it themselves. All we can do is organize the conditions that will facilitate knowledge construction and then leave it to students to construct their version of reality themselves. The argument was plausible and swept the education world.

The argument had one flaw. It was impossible to develop a body of empirical literature supporting it using properly constructed, randomized, controlled trials

The worked example effect demonstrated clearly that showing learners how to do something was far better than having them work it out themselves. Of course, with the advantage of hindsight provided by Geary’s distinction between biologically primary and secondary knowledge, it is obvious where the problem lies. The difference in ease of learning between class-based and non-class-based topics had nothing to do with differences in how they were taught and everything to do with differences in the nature of the topics.

If class-based topics really could be learned as easily as non-class-based topics, we would never have bothered including them in a curriculum since they would be learned perfectly well without ever being mentioned in educational institutions. If children are not explicitly taught to read and write in school, most of them will not learn to read and write. In contrast, they will learn to listen and speak without ever going to school.

Re-visit Heather Hill.

I asked: Dylan William quotes you and says ‘Heather Hill’s – – work at Harvard suggested that a teacher would need to be observed teaching 5 different classes, with every observation made by made by 6 independent observers to reduce chance to really be able to reliable judge a teacher.’

Heather replied.

Thanks for your question about how many observations are necessary. It really depends upon the purpose for use.

1. If the use is teacher professional development. I wouldn’t worry too much about score reliability if the observations are used for informal/growth purposes. It’s much more valuable to have teachers and observers actually processing the instruction they are seeing, and then talking about it, than to be spending their time worrying about the “right” score for a lesson.

That principle is actually the basis for our own coaching program, which we built around our observation instrument (the MQI):

The goal is to have teachers learn the MQI (though any instrument would do), then analyze their own instruction vis-a-vis the MQI, and plan for improvement by using the upper MQI score points as targets. So for instance, if a teacher concludes that she is a “low” for student engagement, she then plans with her coach how to become a “mid” on this item. The coach serves as a therapist of sorts, giving teachers tools, cheering her on, and making sure she stays on course rather than telling the teacher exactly what to do. During this process, we’re not actually too concerned that either the teacher (or even coach) scores correctly; we do want folks to be noticing what we notice, however, about instruction. A granular distinction, but one that makes coaching much easier.

2. If the use is for formal evaluation. Here, score reliability matters much more, especially if there’s going to be consequential decisions made based on teacher scores. You don’t want to be wrong about promoting a teacher or selecting a coach based on excellent classroom instruction. For my own instrument, it originally looked like we needed 4 observations each scored by 2 raters (see a paper I wrote with Matt Kraft and Charalambos Charalambous in Educational Researcher) to get reliable scores. However, my colleague Andrew Ho and colleagues came up with the 6 observations/5 observer estimates from the Measures of Effective Teaching data:

And looking at our own reliabliity data from recent uses of the MQI, I tend to believe his estimate more than our own. I’d also add that better score reliability can probably be achieved if a “community of practice” is doing the scoring — folks who have taken the instrument and adapted it slightly to their own ideas and needs. It’s a bet that I have, but not one that I’ve tested (other than informally).

The actual MQI instrument itself and its training is here:

We’re always happy to answer questions, either about the instrument, scoring, or the coaching.



Post from Gary Jones: Do you work in a ‘stupid’ school on functional stupidity and how smart people end up doing silly things that result in all sorts of bad outcomes, one of which is poor instruction for students.

Here are two of the 7 routines that the post highlighted for avoiding functional stupidity (originally from ALVESSON, M. & SPICER, A. 2016. The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work.).

Newcomers find ways of taking advantage of the perspective of new members of staff and their ‘beginners mind.’  Ask them: What seems strange or confusing? What’s different? What could be done differently?

Pre-mortems – work out why a project ‘failed’ before you even start the project.  See for more details


From the classroom…

TOT #004. John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory, Using Question Stems, and What does Ed in Australia Need?

Find all other episodes of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here, find it on iTunes here, or on your favourite podcasting app by searching ‘Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways’. You may also like to check out Ollie’s other podcast, the Education Research Reading Room, here

Show Notes

Cognitive Load Theory, John Sweller.

Edit: See a blog post of mine on trying out some CLT informed practices in my classroom here.

Wiliam then posted a link to Sweller’s article entitled ‘Story of a Research Program‘. The following excerpts are from that article.

It starts off biographically,

I was born in 1946 in Poland to parents who, apart from my older sister, were their families’ sole survivors of the Holocaust.

With touches of dry humour…

At school, I began as a mediocre student who slowly deteriorated to the status of a very poor student by the time I arrived at the University of Adelaide…. 

Initially, I enrolled in an undergraduate dentistry course but never managed to advance beyond the first year. While I am sure that was a relief to the Dental Faculty, it also should be a relief to Australian dental patients.

Given the physical proximity of the teeth and brain, I decided next to try my luck at psychology. It was a good choice because my grades immediately shot up from appalling back to mediocre, where they had been earlier in my academic career. I decided I wanted to be an academic.

Sweller eventually ended up at UNSW. Then he details the seminal experiment. 

After several non-descript experiments, I saw some results that I thought might be important. I, along with research students Bob Mawer and Wally Howe, was running an experiment on problem solving, testing undergraduate students (Sweller, Mawer, & Howe, 1982). The problems required students to transform a given number into a goal number where the only two moves allowed were multiplying by 3 or subtracting 29.

Each problem had only one possible solution and that solution required an alternation of multiplying by 3 and subtracting 29 a specific number of times. For example, a given and goal number might require a 2-step solution requiring a single sequence of: x 3, – 29 to transform the given number into the goal number. Other, more difficult problems would require the same sequence consisting of the same two steps repeated a variable number of times.

My undergraduates found these problems relatively easy to solve with very few failures, but there was something strange about their solutions. While all problems had to be solved by this alternation sequence very few students discovered the rule, that is, the solution sequence of alternating the two possible moves. Whatever the problem solvers were doing to solve the problems, learning the alternating solution sequence rule did not play a part.

Cognitive load theory probably can be traced back to that experiment.

But this was an isolated case. Sweller needed to demonstrate it in an educational context. Research was taken to the fields of maths and physics education, and it did indeed show the effect. I’ll talk briefly about  some of the Cognitive Load Effects in education, and we’ll save some more for the next two or three episodes of TOT. 

The Goal Free Effect: 

If working memory during problem solving was overloaded by attempts to reach the problem goal thus preventing learning, then eliminating the problem goal might allow working memory resources to be directed to learning useful move combinations rather than searching for a goal. Problem solvers could not reduce the distance between their current problem state and the goal using means-ends analysis if they did not have a specific goal state. Rather than asking learners to “find Angle X” in a geometry problem, it might be better to ask them to “find the value of as many angles as possible”.

A couple of other effects are worth noting, these are the worked example effect, the split-attention effect.

Using Question Stems in the Classroom

Jennifer Gonzalez’s ‘Is Your Classroom Academically Safe?’

Gonzalez’s question stems to scaffold student questioning:

  • This is what I do understand… (summarize up to the point of misunderstanding)
  • Can you tell me if I’ve got this right? (paraphrasing current understanding)
  • Can you please show another example?
  • Could you explain that one more time?
  • Is it ______ or _________? (identifying a point of confusion between two possibilities)

I said:

  • What is ___ in the diagram
  • Am I right in thinking that ___
  • What’s the difference between ___ and ___

Would love more suggestions.

What Would it Take to Fix Education in Australia?

Full article here, but I’ll just talk briefly about two comments made in question time.

Larissa made an interesting point on the role of literacy. Following up on a question from Maxine McKew on the inclusion of Australian literature in Australian schools, she suggested that the literature studied in schools must represent the diversity of our Australian society. If we don’t do this then we’re effectively saying to vast swathes of our society ‘You do not have a place here’.

Glenn: There’s a misalignment between the locus of policy making and the locus of accountability in Australia. We’ve increasingly got federal bodies making decisions that have implications for education right across the country (locus of policy making), whereas the accountability to the impacts of these decisions actually falls not at the federal level but at the state levels. Fundamentally this is a broken feedback loop (my terminology) that undermines improvements and accountability right throughout the system.

Several times whilst I was listening to this very high level discussion on education a quote came to mind that I heard a couple of years ago,  ‘If you change what happens in your classroom, you are changing the education system.’

TOT #003. A student reflects on learning strategies, Edu podcasts for kids, computers vs. paper for note taking, and the rise of randomised control trials.

Find all other episodes of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here, find it on iTunes here, or on your favourite podcasting app by searching ‘Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways’. You may also like to check out Ollie’s other podcast, the Education Research Reading Room, here

Show Notes

A Student tries out effective learning strategies

Original Author,Syeda Nizami

The Strategies: Spaced Practice, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration, Interleaving, Concrete Examples, Dual Coding

“Overall, each of the six strategies had their strengths and weaknesses, and it somewhat depends on which method is preferable to you, but I think the two that are truly essential are retrieval practice and spacing. Retrieval practice was and is my preferred way of studying for a quiz or exam, but this experience made me realize how truly useful it is. To be perfectly honest, spacing was a strategy I had never tried out before, even though teachers had always stressed that cramming wasn’t effective.”

Edu Podcasts for Kids (or for inspiration!)

The Show about Science: This science interview show is hosted by 6-year-old Nate, and while it has some serious science chops, it’s also just plain adorable. Nate talks to scientists about everything from alligators to radiation to vultures, in his distinctly original interviewing style.

Episode on Ants! Nate’s first interview : ) 

Are laptops and tablets a help or a hindrance to note taking?

The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Trial at the United States Military Academy (Carter, Greenberg and Walker, 2016)

We present findings from a study that prohibited computer devices in randomly selected classrooms of an introductory economics course at the United States Military Academy. Average final exam scores among students assigned to classrooms that allowed computers were 18 percent of a standard deviation lower than exam scores of students in classrooms that prohibited computers. Through the use of two separate treatment arms, we uncover evidence that this negative effect occurs in classrooms where laptops and tablets are permitted without restriction and in classrooms where students are only permitted to use tablets that must remain flat on the desk surface.

One of the highlights of my day at researchED Amsterdam was hearing Paul Kirschner speak about edu-myths. He began his presentation by forbidding the use of laptops or mobile phones, explaining  that taking notes electronically leads to poorer recall than handwritten notes. The benefits of handwritten over typed notes include better immediate recall as well as improved retention after 2 weeks. In addition, students who take handwritten notes are more like to remember facts but also to have better future understanding of the topic. Fascinatingly, it doesn’t even matter whether you ever look at these notes – the simple act of making them appears to be beneficial.

The rise of Randomised Controlled Trials

Original article by Robert Slavin, told us about reciprocal teaching effects in TOT001.

A nice quote to end on


TOT #002. Teaching ‘The Scientific Method’, Growth Mindset Hoax? Instructional Techniques, Class Sizes, and Addressing Visible Disadvantage

Find all other episodes of Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways here, find it on iTunes here, or on your favourite podcasting app by searching ‘Teacher Ollie’s Takeaways’. You may also like to check out Ollie’s other podcast, the Education Research Reading Room, here

Show Notes

Teaching ‘the scientific method’

Superb post from @mfordhamhistory, on how we can teach students the discipline through a curriculum of case studies:

— Harry Fletcher-Wood (@HFletcherWood) January 10, 2017

Original post by Michael Fordham

‘1. Disciplines are characterised as much by their internal differences as their similarities.

2. There is no Platonic ideal of each discipline

3. Generalised models of disciplines rarely reflect what happens on the ground

All of these points lead me to great scepticism about curriculum theories in history, science or other disciplines that work by distilling the ‘essence’ from those disciplines, and teaching those. I am not all convinced that we can teach children ‘the scientific method’ in a general sense before they have learnt a number of cases of scientific research in practice.

History teachers have produced numerous examples of this over the last few years. Steve Mastin, for example, designed a scheme of work in which he taught his pupils how one historian (Eamon Duffy) had worked with a particular body of source material to answer questions about the impact of the reformation in England. Rachel Foster has a similarly well-cited example where she designed a scheme of work around the way two different historians (Goldhagen and Browning) had interpreted the same source material (a report from a police battalion involved in the Holocaust) in quite different ways. In examples such as these, children are taught about a specific example of where historians have undertaken research. Over time, as pupils learn more and more cases of disciplinary practice, we can then teach them the similarities and differences between different approaches: we thus end with abstract ideas, rather than beginning with them.

This means that I would suggest the following as an alternative way of teaching disciplinary practice to school children. Rather than distil some general, abstract ideas about ‘how the discipline works’, we would be better off specifying a range of specific cases of disciplinary practice for children to learn, from which we can as teachers tease out the similarities and differences in approach that characterise our respective disciplines.’

Is Growth Mindset a Hoax?

Original article by Tom Chivers, about hype of Growth mindset, being able to do everything from help struggling students to bring peace to the middle east.

‘Scott Alexander, the pseudonymous psychiatrist behind the blog Slate Star Codex, described Dweck’s findings as “really weird”, saying “either something is really wrong here, or [the growth mindset intervention] produces the strongest effects in all of psychology”.
He asks: “Is growth mindset the one concept in psychology which throws up gigantic effect sizes … Or did Carol Dweck really, honest-to-goodness, make a pact with the Devil in which she offered her eternal soul in exchange for spectacular study results?”

Strongest evidence from Timothy Bates’ research…

‘Bates told BuzzFeed News that he has been trying to replicate Dweck’s findings in that key mindset study for several years. “We’re running a third study in China now,” he said. “With 200 12-year-olds. And the results are just null.

“People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study.”

Dweck told BuzzFeed News that attempts to replicate can fail because the scientists haven’t created the right conditions. “Not anyone can do a replication,” she said. “We put so much thought into creating an environment; we spend hours and days on each question, on creating a context in which the phenomenon could plausibly emerge.’

Reply by Scott Alexander.

‘it mentions a psychologist Timothy Bates who has tried to replicate Dweck’s experiments (at least) twice, and failed. This is the strongest evidence the article presents. But I don’t think any of Bates’ failed replications have been published – or at least I couldn’t find them. Yet hundreds of studies that successfully demonstrate growth mindset have been published. Just as a million studies of a fake phenomenon will produce a few positive results, so a million replications of a real phenomenon will produce a few negative results. We have to look at the entire field and see the balance of negative and positive results. The last time I tried to do this, the only thing I could find was this meta-analysis of 113 studies which found a positive effect for growth mindset and relatively little publication bias in the field.’

‘I guess my concern is this: the Buzzfeed article sounds really convincing. But I could write an equally convincing article, with exactly the same structure, refuting eg global warming science. I would start by talking about how global warming is really hyped in the media (true!), that people are making various ridiculous claims about it (true!), interview a few scientists who doubt it (98% of climatologists believing it means 2% don’t), and cite two or three studies that fail to find it (98% of studies supporting it means 2% don’t). Then I would point out slight statistical irregularities in some of the key global warming papers, because every paper has slight statistical irregularities. Then I would talk about the replication crisis a lot.’

‘Again, this isn’t to say I believe in growth mindset. I recently talked to a totally different professor who said he’d tried and failed to replicate some of the original growth mindset work (again, not yet published). But we should do this the right way and not let our intuitions leap ahead of the facts.

I worry that one day there’s going to be some weird effect that actually is a bizarre miracle. Studies will confirm it again and again. And if we’re not careful, we’ll just say “Yeah, but replication crisis, also I heard a rumor that somebody failed to confirm it,” and then forget about it. And then we’ll miss our chance to bring peace to the Middle East just by doing a simple experimental manipulation on the Prime Minister of Israel.’

Using private school instructional techniques in a public school

Greg Ashman pointed me to an article by Joe Kirby on how public schools can adopt some of the practices that high achieving private schools implement, without the massive cost barriers.

e.g., ‘Teaching writing is heavily guided, even up to sixth form. In History, for instance, starting point sentences are shared for each paragraph of complex essays on new material. Extensive written guidance is shared with pupils. Sub-questions within each paragraph and numerous facts are also shared.’

Does class size matter?

Original article by Valerie Strauss
(read whole article)

How do visible disadvantage impact student outcomes?

Original post by Megan Smith.

Asking students to raise their hand to signal their achievement (when they knew an answer) highlights differences in performance between students, making it more visible. This can lead to students in lower social classes, or with lower familiarity with a task, to perform even worse than they would have. In other words, highlighting performance gaps with no explanation for the gap can make the gap even wider! However, making students aware of the fact that some are more familiar with the tasks, due to extra training, can mitigate these issues.