Tag Archives: pedagogy

Beginning the World Over Again⤴

from @ robin_macp

I was encouraged to write this by Jill Berry and Lena Carter, who both wrote excellent reflective blogs recently that show why they’re two of the most important voices in education, and are people that I respect greatly (links are at the end). It’s been far too long since I wrote something for my own website, but I’ve been able to contribute pieces to various other blogs and media outlets this year. If you’ve never taken up writing about education, but have always had an itch to do so, I strongly recommend it. The thought process that goes into blogging is, for me, the best and most therapeutic form of professional reflection. 

James Furlong and Owain Bristow

There can be no doubt that 2020 was a year that brought many lows, but for me the loss of two colleagues far outweighs anything else that happened. When I was Head of History at Wellington College, James Furlong was in the same role at the Holt School in Wokingham. He was a lovely guy, with a sharp intellect and superb subject knowledge. I got to know him through professional learning events that we ran for history teachers, and he very kindly took on School Direct trainees from my department. They always came back full of praise for the wisdom and advice that he imparted. James was tragically killed in a senseless terrorist attack in Reading, and I can only imagine how that would have impacted on his school community – who, it must be said, gave wonderfully compassionate support to their staff and pupils. James was an active member of the LGBTQI+ community who went out of his way to help people; he was the very epitome of kindness. The Holt are raising money for a memorial garden in his memory, and you can make a donation here.

In August, our Head of Biology at Robert Gordon’s College, Owain Bristow, died in a tragic accident just after we had returned to school. Owain was a brilliant scientist, with a quirky sense of humour, and the tributes that poured in showed just how much he meant to everyone in our community. He loved the outdoors, and dedicated much of his spare time to volunteering with Aberdeen Young Walkers. He was also a top-level athlete, an enthusiastic pantomime performer, and a much-loved son, boyfriend and uncle. The book that we put together of all the letters, cards, pictures and messages we received shows just how many lives he changed for the better. 

Both men gave so much to their schools, but also to wider society. As teachers, we know what we do is important, but we perhaps underestimate just how much. The legacy left by James and Owain shows the true value of the teaching profession. They are greatly missed.

Life as a new headteacher

I started my first headship in August this year, and the phrase that I have heard many times is that I’ve had “a baptism of fire”. True, crisis management has been a consistent feature of my first few months, but ultimately you know what you sign up for when you become a head. It is undoubtedly hard, and it’s not for everyone, but the support you get is amazing. My advice is to try to build up a strong network around you; people who can advise you, provide a sympathetic ear, and also be a critical friend. The better your network, the more able you are to do your job. 

I wrote this blog a few years back about senior leadership, and reflecting on it now I think it holds up pretty well. The tweet by Amy Fast that inspired it is, still, excellent advice:

I did the Scottish MSc level qualification ‘Into Headship’ in 2019-20 at Stirling University, and I can very much recommend it. Everyone I know who has taken it has been full of praise, unlike many people I know who have done NPQH. The reading part is the most challenging for many, but I loved that aspect and picked up a few things along the way. The work on the Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) by Uhl-Bien et al (2007), although not on the prescribed reading list, was perhaps the best thing I read so if you have time then try to delve into it. I think it’s the closest thing to my experience of senior leadership so far.

Lockdown and remote learning

I described the second lockdown in a message to parents this week as “the sequel that nobody wanted, to a movie that no one enjoyed.” However, it won’t last forever and it has at least forced us to find creative solutions to problems that we’ve never faced before. Another colleague made a great point to me this week, namely that the paradigm shift that we’ve experienced has done much to destroy the ‘aye beens’ culture that affects not just Scottish education, but global systems too. That is to say, that we do many things because that’s the way we’ve always done them, without questioning why. I’ve never bought into that; I think we should do things because we know it’s the best way to do them. That’s now throwing national assessment into sharp relief, and I’ve been involved with other leaders in Scottish education in trying to open this debate up since before lockdown, as you can read about in this TES piece. We might, at last, be getting some traction. 

I wrote a piece when we entered the first lockdown about remote learning, and I think much of it still holds true. However, things have moved on, so there is scope to update this based on what we’ve learned over the last few months. It’s been interesting to see this blog getting a lot more hits in the past fortnight, so if you have fresher thoughts about what makes for effective remote learning then please do share them.

Srebrenica – the 25th Anniversary

Two of the things that I’ve been very sad to see fall by the wayside due to COVID were events for Remembering Srebrenica Scotland. I was supposed to lead a delegation of Scottish educators to Bosnia last April, and we’ve had to put this on hold until we’re able to travel again. My colleagues at RSS, especially Marsaili Fraser and Robert McNeil, put a huge amount of effort into curating an exhibition at the Kelvingrove to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. I hope that their efforts will be available to the public in due course. I did manage to record a podcast with Jasmine Miller (who I’ve been privileged to work with on many different educational projects), and her full Srebrenica Stories series is well worth listening to.

The point of what we do at RSS is not to vilify any groups of people, but to challenge toxic ideology. We’ve seen far too much of that in 2020, and the recent events on Capitol Hill show that misinformation and demagoguery holds the capacity to rip apart the fabric of civil society. We are in the midst of a struggle to establish the values that we want for the future, and I sincerely hope that the consequences of the death of George Floyd will lead to the better angels of humankind rising above our demons. If we are going to live in a world that is just and fair, we need to see diversity as strength, and build a culture that actively celebrates it, and doesn’t just acknowledge it. As one of my colleagues says, tolerance is a weak virtue. Let’s take allyship forward this year, and champion the causes that matter. 

Professional learning – a golden age?

One of the definite silver linings of the past year has been a flourishing of professional learning. I ran a series with Mark Healy called the Professional Learning Gaitherin’, which brought together some of the leading voices in Scottish education to give weekly talks and twitter chats each Saturday morning during the summer term. It developed a strong following and it’s been interesting to see people watching these long after the series came to an end. A key feature is that the PL Gaitherin’ was free, and the same applied to excellent collections produced by researchEd Home and the Teacher Development Trust, and new events like ScotEd 2020 (you can find me at the end, but you’re much better off starting at the beginning). Some have called this a ‘golden age’ of professional learning, which is correct in the sense of the opportunities out there, but perhaps less accurate in that teachers struggled to engage with anything beyond upskilling on technology. Still, the legacy is there and I hope 2021 allows people more opportunity to become research informed in their practice. 

Coming out of the curve

There will be a post-COVID world in which there will be incredible opportunities. I’m trying to use any spare energy and time to plan for that world, because it will be a unique moment in time in which we can capitalise on the gains that we have undoubtedly made. I’m genuinely excited by that, and what I’ve written above shows, I hope, that it has never been more important to be involved in education. As Tom Paine said, “we have it in our power to begin the world over again”. Let’s get it right this time.

Further reflective reading

Nurture 20/21 – Jill Berry

Pride After A Fall – Lena Carter

Teaching Walkthrus⤴

from

I was looking for a new book to read and was recommended this by a friend. It is excellent value, only £3 on kindle! A really good book and I loved reading it – the kind that you just want more and that motivates you to pick it up each time.

The book is structured into three main sections as outlined below in the sketchnote. For those interested in pedagogy, this book is for you. I particularly enjoyed the section called ‘Why?’ which delved into the research and theory behind high quality learning and teaching.

There are many many books out there all promoting high quality learning and teaching and at times it is difficult to know which one you are actually looking for or going to benefit from. This one is the one for me. It has handy top tips that are broken down into smaller ‘how to’ sections. I can easily see this being the focus of a faculty or whole school meeting.

Also, trying to engage all teachers should be an easy prospect, however not all teachers have the time or know where to begin. The focus on short sharp overviews if research really helps everyone to engage in research without become too overwhelmed.

@olicav

@teacherhead

If you have a spare few minutes this summer, purchase this book for the kindle.

@EduBletherJase

Episode 23 – Digital Learning⤴

from

In Episode 23 of EduBlether we discuss Digital Learning. We think about Pedagogy, the SAMR model, equity, access, professional learning and so much more. Let us know your feedback on Twitter @edublether

What is your experience of Digital Learning been? Why do you think we have not made the advancements in Digital Learning that we could have done up until now? What will happen to Digital LEarning when we return to ‘normal’? Let us know what you think.

Listen: https://soundcloud.com/edublether/episode-23-digital-learning

Let’s talk about race: a provocation for teachers⤴

from @ robin_macp

Let’s be brave. Let’s talk about race.

I’ll begin by showing my hand. I am white, male, middle-aged, protestant, heterosexual and read history at Oxford University. I have the exact same profile as many of the people who led us to this moment in time. It is now past the time for a paradigm shift in race relations, and education is how we will do this.

I am also married to an Asian muslim (who spent her early childood in a war zone and her teenage years as a refugee). We will let our daughters decide which, if any, religion to follow. I’m a board member of the charity Remembering Srebrenica Scotland and our aim is to tackle prejudice and intolerance in society. I’ve been a teacher for close to two decades and am currently a school leader. I hope, if you are profiling me now, it looks a little different.

The fires of protest are burning brightly just now; there is no doubt that millions of people are angry. I hope this cycle will be broken; that action will follow this tragedy which will change direction and give hope. If schools are going to be in the vanguard of this change, we need to take positive steps. Here are some thoughts on how to do this.

Step 1: Reinvent Protest

I subscribe to the view that teaching is a subversive activity. I am idealistic, but not ideological, and it is vital to teach pupils how to think for themselves without teaching them what to think. This is a fine line and I know I get it wrong when I teach topics like slavery – I don’t want pupil to think it is ok. I am happy with the dissonance in my head on this. I do want pupils to be active, or even activists, in shaping their world. I have adapted Edmund Burke’s maxim that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing (I dropped the gender specific part of that quotation). I totally support the right to protest, but in the midst of a pandemic I am concerned that the people who will pay a price are the NHS frontline staff, and the BAME community who suffer disproportionately from COVID. Can we reinvent ways to protest? The picture at the head of this blog is one I designed myself (hence the totally amateur nature of it), and it speaks to the idea of all colours in one heart. My call is for people to use their homes as a protest tool until they can safely get back on the streets. Put this heart up next to your rainbow, and add #blacklivesmatter or any other slogan you think expresses your feelings. Let’s keep them up until we have broken the cycle. Our pupils can start this today if we encourage them.

Step 2: Recruitment

I heard Prof Rowena Arshad speak several times this year on race, at researchED, at the Into Headship conference, and at EduMod. Her work on research in race in Scottish education is groundbreaking. There is definitely a perception gap around appointment and promotion in education between white and non-white. Why is this? Having an equal opportunities policy does not mean ‘job done’. What are your stats about numbers of non-white applications, appointments and promotions? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most employers don’t track this. At the Into Headship conference I was in a room with about 300 fellow trainee headteachers, and it was a very white room. The most important thing for career progression is to have someone who is a mentor/sponsor. Hashi Mohammed has written brilliantly about this, so what can we do to put this kind of support in place? 

Step 3: Tackle Micro-Aggression

The overt, blatant aggression that exists on the far right is a huge problem, but the micro-aggressions that exist everywhere are just as challenging and we can do something about them. An example is not calling on a child in the class because you don’t know how to pronounce their name. Learn their name: it is vital to showing them respect. Again Rowena Arshad is very good on this. Talk about race with colleagues and pupils to find out what micro-aggressions they face on a daily basis. Most of them come from subconscious behaviour. What can be done to eradicate them? 

Step 4: Professional Learning

Most teachers are scared to talk about race because they are not confident enough to do so. They fear saying something wrong, something that will get them in trouble. All teachers need to be able to talk about race. What professional learning have you done to enhance your confidence and understanding on this? There is no shortage of organisations willing to help and support. Connect Futures is a good starting place, and I’ve already mentioned Remembering Srebrenica which has organisations in all UK countries. At EduMod at the Fringe (an event that I run with Louise Hunter of Summerhouse Media) we had a session with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, one of whom challenged her headteacher on the school’s LGBTQ+ track record. The solution? She gave a talk at INSET to her teachers on how to speak to gay pupils like herself. Impressive.

Step 5: Decolonizing the Curriculum

Last summer Pran Patel gave a TED talk on this subject, and he spoke at EduMod. We need, at both a national level and school level, to ask searching questions about the curriculum. In each area of the curriculum, what proportion of key individuals being taught about are non-white? Are the examples of artists, authors, leaders, scientists and musicians representative of the whole world? Is the southern hemisphere just as prominent as the northern?  

On the back of this, what are you going to do about it? Something? Nothing? Why? How can you create the conditions for curriculum reform that will challenge the structural racism that exists in society? The curriculum is perhaps the most powerful weapon that we have to change society. Recalibrate it for this purpose.

Step 6: Be A Voice

This blog by Daniel Stone makes a brilliant point to white people:

“Be our voice when we’re not there: Structural inequalities and underrepresentation mean that often minorities are not in the room when discriminatory decisions have been taken. We need individuals and allies who are able to stand for justice in whatever sphere of life they find themselves in. People who are able to use their platforms and positions of influence to ensure justice for those who can’t be seen, who can’t speak and who can’t breathe.”

Please put that into practice.

Step 7: Read, Think, Act

My thanks to Connect Futures for this reading list. Order these titles and more and get them up in a display in your school library. Have conversations around them. It’s ok to disagree. The only thing that’s not ok is staying silent.

  1. Black and British: A Forgotten History. David Olusoga
  2. Back to black: Black radicalism for the 21st century. Kehinde Andrews
  3. People like Us. Hashi Mohamed
  4. Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World. Layla F Saad
  5. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. Afua Hirsch
  6. The Good Immigrant. Nikesh Shukla
  7. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Reni Eddo-Lodge
  8. I am not your baby mother. Candice Braithwaite
  9. So You Want to Talk About Race. Ijeoma Oluo
  10. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peggy McIntosh
  11. Natives, Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala
  12. A tale of three cities: Public officials and senior representation in the NHS, University, Police and Local Authority. Zubeda Limbada
  13. Decolonise the curriculum. The Teacherist
  14. Wellness for All: Anti-racism in the early years
  15. Hostile Environment. Maya Goodfellow

And finally… 

I titled this blog a provocation, because I want to provoke thought, discussion and action. What you do matters. This is the slogan of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and I use it frequently in talks and lessons. I absolutely believe it is true. What you do to make things better matters. What you fail to do is critical. There are no more excuses.

What every teacher should do: understand how memory works⤴

from @ Becoming Educated


I was never explicitly taught about memory in my eight years of teaching. This is no one’s fault as we are all doing the best we can. However, having starting reading books and blogs there is a whole world of education research still untouched by many. One important area that I feel all teachers should know about is that of memory and how memory works.

We all want our students to remember stuff and I am sure we can all empathise with each others frustration at the students knowing stuff during lessons but completely forgetting it when it matters, during tests. Understanding how our memory works is key to tackling this all too common classroom occurrence.

In my last post we briefly explored Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve and we discussed our ability to retain information through spaced retrieval. To understand this in greater depth we must explore our working memory and long term memory.

Working Memory

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Willingham-memory-model-diagram.png
Credit – Oliver Caviglioli

The first area to consider is that of our Working Memory (WM). Research into our WM has shown that it is a finite resource, with some researchers claiming we can only hold up to 7 (plus 2) ‘chunk’ of information at any one time, some recent research has suggested that the number could be as low as 4 ‘chunks’. Our WM is where we process information from our current environment and also draw upon knowledge from our long-term memory. As mentioned our WM is a finite resource but it is always active and processing information. To reiterate, our working memory is always full, it is taking in everything in our surrounding. As David Didau writes:

Working memory is synonymous with awareness. It is the sit of conscious thought. The act of paying attention, of reading these words, of listening to your children complain about how much homework they’ve got to finish for Monday morning, fill sup our working memory. In practical terms our, our working memories are always active, even when we are focussing on something in particular. We’re constantly absorbing and processing sensory data from the world around us.David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer.

This is where Sweller’s ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ comes into play for us teachers. Often we ‘overload’ our students with too much information which produces too much cognitive load. To lighten this cognitive load our students have to have acquired knowledge in the long-term memory, referred to in literature as schemas (schemas are basically folders of knowledge on one topic, the more the folder is filled with knowledge the lighter the load on working memory for that particular area of knowledge).

As you can see in the graphic our working memory fills up and we can either learn the material by storing it in our long-term memory or forget it. If our WM is filled with too much cognitive load then whatever else is added will most certainly be forgotten so it is worth learning more on Cognitive Load Theory.

Despite the apparent bottleneck of our working memory there are strategies that we can use to overcome cognitive load. Firstly, having a vast store of knowledge in our long-term memory in the form of schemas will certainly help, in simple terms – the stronger the schema the lighter the load on our working memory (this is basically why experts make some things look so effortless and novices struggle so much).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Baddeley.jpg
Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model

Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model (WMM) is one of the most robust theories in cognitive science and gives us further insight into working memory. The Central Executive (CE) acts a bit like a supervisor or night club bouncer. As information tries to enter the ‘club’ the CE focuses attention on the information and decides which one to attend to, or to continue the analogy which one gets into the club and which information gets the good old ‘not tonight pal!’. It’s important to note that the CE is entirely under our control and is more of a subconscious function. Every teacher can speak to losing a classes focus when a wasp enters the room!

The Phonological Loop (PL) deals mainly with speech and other types of audio. This is where we store verbal information, up to about 2 seconds before it is overwritten and new information comes in. We either move it to our long-term memory or forget it.

The Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad (VSS) briefly holds visual information and the spatial relationship between things. Imagine the light goes out in your room, this is where you store the memory of where all of your clutter is so that you don’t trip up.

The Episodic Buffer (EB) was added to the WMM in 2000. It was added because there was evidence to suggest we needed a component to combine the information in the WMM stores to what we already know – our prior knowledge stored in our long-term memory. This shows the importance of a vast array of knowledge in our long-term memory. The more you know and the larger your schema is for a topic, the lighter the load on your working memory.

The role of LTM in helping working memory is well established and very easy to demonstrate (e.g. – compare the retention of a random sequence of letters – DPL OAM IGGB – to a sequence containing meaningful ‘chunks’: DOG PIG LAMB)Taken from ‘What every teacher needs to know about psychology’, Didau & Rose

One of the key things to note about working memory is just how limited it is.If you are distracted while trying to process something you will lose the information you are trying to process (think about what this means when the damn wasp flies in.) We also can only deal with a small amount of information at any one time as suggested by Miller’s ‘7 plus 2’ chunks from his research in 1950.

This is why it is so important that teachers know about Cognitive Load Theory and Dual Coding Theory to help them combat the limited working memory of their students. Dylan Wiliam said that cognitive load theory is the “single most important thing for teachers to know” However, to really help our students we should be working hard to get the information we teach into their long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

First, we must note that our memories are invisible to us and there isn’t any consensus as to where exactly our memories are stored but we know enough that our long-term memory is vast and perhaps even limitless and the more stuff we have in there the easier it is to learn as the working memory load will be reduced. Learning has been defined as “a change in long term memory” by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark. If we run with this then, it is our acquisition of schema that fills our long term memory.

Storing memories is about making links and connections between our experiences in a vast network of related concepts and contexts. These links and connections are referred to as ‘schema’. As mentioned earlier a schema can be though of like a folder in your laptop that gets filled with the relevant knowledge in one given topic. An example of a schema in action is as follows:

A frequently used example is going to a restaurant. The schema for getting a table, ordering food and drink, and paying for the meal makes visiting a new restaurant for the first time, even in another country, a pretty straightforwards process, as we deal with new situations by linking them to things we’ve encountered in the past.David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer

Our long-term memory isn’t a single storage unit and psychologists tend to divide it into to separate but interlinked systems: declarative memory and non-declarative memory.

Non- declarative memory is a catch-all term for everything that may exist in our long-term memory that we are unable to put into words. An example of this is your ability to read this sentence and understand the phoneme-grapheme correspondences required to read this, you just know how to do it (even though it was once a challenging and hard learning experience). Other procedural skills like tying your shoelaces, walking, swimming or cycling are features of non-declarative memory.

Declarative memories are the memories we can declare: “Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid”, “they are 30 years old”, “pythagoras theorem is a2 + b2 = c2” and so on. Declarative memory can be either episodic or semantic.

Episodic memories are those of experiences and specific events, how you felt at during those events. We can often replay events in great detail using our episodic memories. Whereas, Semantic memories are a more structured record of facts, concepts and meanings. Episodic memories are mainly context dependant but semantic memories are more flexible and can be applied across a range of contexts.

The two systems, episodic and semantic are linked in several ways. Semantic memories can become ‘stand alone’ memories but they are often derived from a specific episodic memory. In terms of teaching an episodic memory could be that of a particular lesson and the semantic memories are the facts, key terms and concepts of that lesson. Quite often our students can recall episodic information from a lesson but struggle with recalling the semantic information.

Understanding episodic and semantic memory can help us, as teachers, understand why our children oftentimes can’t recall what we teach them. They remember the episodic memories of lessons – messing about with friends, Mr Murphy’s horrible breath and being given detention for incomplete homework. In order to make our semantic memories stronger we must retrieve factual information often which will allow us to retain our learning over the long term. Which is why retrieval practice really is an important pedagogy to undertake.

If we don’t retrieve the semantic memories, when asked “do you remember when we learned about plate tectonics?”. The students might reply with “oh yes i do remember” but they may be recalling the episodic memory and not the semantic memory and unless the teacher digs deeper with further probing questions the student will have the illusion of knowledge and perhaps be relying on the familiarity effect, with no change in their long term memory.

There have been great studies that have revealed the links between semantic and episodic memories. The most famous of these is by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer. They showed participants of their study a series of films involving car collisions and found that estimations of the speed the car was travelling could be manipulated by changing the verb used in their question. Where participants were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” they gave lower speed estimates when compared to participants who were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?”. The change in language appeared to create a ‘fact’ about the collision which influenced the memory of the collisions they witnessed.

As mentioned earlier a ‘schema’ is like a big folder with interrelated concepts and contexts and is assembled of non-declarative and declarative memories. Some of what we remember is semantic, some is episodic, but they are all stored somewhere within our brain.

Notes

Didau, David and Nick Rose (2016) What every teacher need to know about psychology

Didau, David (2015) What is everything you knew about education was wrong?

Didau, David (2019) Making Kids Cleverer

What every teacher should do: understand how memory works⤴

from @ Becoming Educated


I was never explicitly taught about memory in my eight years of teaching. This is no one’s fault as we are all doing the best we can. However, having starting reading books and blogs there is a whole world of education research still untouched by many. One important area that I feel all teachers should know about is that of memory and how memory works.

We all want our students to remember stuff and I am sure we can all empathise with each others frustration at the students knowing stuff during lessons but completely forgetting it when it matters, during tests. Understanding how our memory works is key to tackling this all too common classroom occurrence.

In my last post we briefly explored Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve and we discussed our ability to retain information through spaced retrieval. To understand this in greater depth we must explore our working memory and long term memory.

Working Memory

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Willingham-memory-model-diagram.png
Credit – Oliver Caviglioli

The first area to consider is that of our Working Memory (WM). Research into our WM has shown that it is a finite resource, with some researchers claiming we can only hold up to 7 (plus 2) ‘chunk’ of information at any one time, some recent research has suggested that the number could be as low as 4 ‘chunks’. Our WM is where we process information from our current environment and also draw upon knowledge from our long-term memory. As mentioned our WM is a finite resource but it is always active and processing information. To reiterate, our working memory is always full, it is taking in everything in our surrounding. As David Didau writes:

Working memory is synonymous with awareness. It is the site of conscious thought. The act of paying attention, of reading these words, of listening to your children complain about how much homework they’ve got to finish for Monday morning, fills up our working memory. In practical terms our, our working memories are always active, even when we are focussing on something in particular. We’re constantly absorbing and processing sensory data from the world around us.

David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer.

This is where Sweller’s ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ comes into play for us teachers. Often we ‘overload’ our students with too much information which produces too much cognitive load. To lighten this cognitive load our students have to have acquired knowledge in the long-term memory, referred to in literature as schemas (schemas are basically folders of knowledge on one topic, the more the folder is filled with knowledge the lighter the load on working memory for that particular area of knowledge).

As you can see in the graphic our working memory fills up and we can either learn the material by storing it in our long-term memory or forget it. If our WM is filled with too much cognitive load then whatever else is added will most certainly be forgotten so it is worth learning more on Cognitive Load Theory.

Despite the apparent bottleneck of our working memory there are strategies that we can use to overcome cognitive load. Firstly, having a vast store of knowledge in our long-term memory in the form of schemas will certainly help, in simple terms – the stronger the schema the lighter the load on our working memory (this is basically why experts make some things look so effortless and novices struggle so much).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Baddeley.jpg
Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model

Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model (WMM) is one of the most robust theories in cognitive science and gives us further insight into working memory. The Central Executive (CE) acts a bit like a supervisor or night club bouncer. As information tries to enter the ‘club’ the CE focuses attention on the information and decides which one to attend to, or to continue the analogy which one gets into the club and which information gets the good old ‘not tonight pal!’. It’s important to note that the CE is entirely under our control and is more of a subconscious function. Every teacher can speak to losing a classes focus when a wasp enters the room!

The Phonological Loop (PL) deals mainly with speech and other types of audio. This is where we store verbal information, up to about 2 seconds before it is overwritten and new information comes in. We either move it to our long-term memory or forget it.

The Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad (VSS) briefly holds visual information and the spatial relationship between things. Imagine the light goes out in your room, this is where you store the memory of where all of your clutter is so that you don’t trip up.

The Episodic Buffer (EB) was added to the WMM in 2000. It was added because there was evidence to suggest we needed a component to combine the information in the WMM stores to what we already know – our prior knowledge stored in our long-term memory. This shows the importance of a vast array of knowledge in our long-term memory. The more you know and the larger your schema is for a topic, the lighter the load on your working memory.

The role of LTM in helping working memory is well established and very easy to demonstrate (e.g. – compare the retention of a random sequence of letters – DPL OAM IGGB – to a sequence containing meaningful ‘chunks’: DOG PIG LAMB)Taken from ‘What every teacher needs to know about psychology’, Didau & Rose

One of the key things to note about working memory is just how limited it is.If you are distracted while trying to process something you will lose the information you are trying to process (think about what this means when the damn wasp flies in.) We also can only deal with a small amount of information at any one time as suggested by Miller’s ‘7 plus 2’ chunks from his research in 1950.

This is why it is so important that teachers know about Cognitive Load Theory and Dual Coding Theory to help them combat the limited working memory of their students. Dylan Wiliam said that cognitive load theory is the “single most important thing for teachers to know” However, to really help our students we should be working hard to get the information we teach into their long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

First, we must note that our memories are invisible to us and there isn’t any consensus as to where exactly our memories are stored but we know enough that our long-term memory is vast and perhaps even limitless and the more stuff we have in there the easier it is to learn as the working memory load will be reduced. Learning has been defined as “a change in long term memory” by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark. If we run with this then, it is our acquisition of schema that fills our long term memory.

Storing memories is about making links and connections between our experiences in a vast network of related concepts and contexts. These links and connections are referred to as ‘schema’. As mentioned earlier a schema can be though of like a folder in your laptop that gets filled with the relevant knowledge in one given topic. An example of a schema in action is as follows:

A frequently used example is going to a restaurant. The schema for getting a table, ordering food and drink, and paying for the meal makes visiting a new restaurant for the first time, even in another country, a pretty straightforwards process, as we deal with new situations by linking them to things we’ve encountered in the past.

David Didau, Making Kids Cleverer

Our long-term memory isn’t a single storage unit and psychologists tend to divide it into to separate but interlinked systems: declarative memory and non-declarative memory.

Non- declarative memory is a catch-all term for everything that may exist in our long-term memory that we are unable to put into words. An example of this is your ability to read this sentence and understand the phoneme-grapheme correspondences required to read this, you just know how to do it (even though it was once a challenging and hard learning experience). Other procedural skills like tying your shoelaces, walking, swimming or cycling are features of non-declarative memory.

Declarative memories are the memories we can declare: “Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid”, “they are 30 years old”, “pythagoras theorem is a2 + b2 = c2” and so on. Declarative memory can be either episodic or semantic.

Episodic memories are those of experiences and specific events, how you felt at during those events. We can often replay events in great detail using our episodic memories. Whereas, Semantic memories are a more structured record of facts, concepts and meanings. Episodic memories are mainly context dependant but semantic memories are more flexible and can be applied across a range of contexts.

The two systems, episodic and semantic are linked in several ways. Semantic memories can become ‘stand alone’ memories but they are often derived from a specific episodic memory. In terms of teaching an episodic memory could be that of a particular lesson and the semantic memories are the facts, key terms and concepts of that lesson. Quite often our students can recall episodic information from a lesson but struggle with recalling the semantic information.

Understanding episodic and semantic memory can help us, as teachers, understand why our children oftentimes can’t recall what we teach them. They remember the episodic memories of lessons – messing about with friends, Mr Murphy’s horrible breath and being given detention for incomplete homework. In order to make our semantic memories stronger we must retrieve factual information often which will allow us to retain our learning over the long term. Which is why retrieval practice really is an important pedagogy to undertake.

If we don’t retrieve the semantic memories, when asked “do you remember when we learned about plate tectonics?”. The students might reply with “oh yes i do remember” but they may be recalling the episodic memory and not the semantic memory and unless the teacher digs deeper with further probing questions the student will have the illusion of knowledge and perhaps be relying on the familiarity effect, with no change in their long term memory.

There have been great studies that have revealed the links between semantic and episodic memories. The most famous of these is by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer. They showed participants of their study a series of films involving car collisions and found that estimations of the speed the car was travelling could be manipulated by changing the verb used in their question. Where participants were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” they gave lower speed estimates when compared to participants who were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?”. The change in language appeared to create a ‘fact’ about the collision which influenced the memory of the collisions they witnessed.

As mentioned earlier a ‘schema’ is like a big folder with interrelated concepts and contexts and is assembled of non-declarative and declarative memories. Some of what we remember is semantic, some is episodic, but they are all stored somewhere within our brain.

Notes

Didau, David and Nick Rose (2016) What every teacher need to know about psychology

Didau, David (2015) What is everything you knew about education was wrong?

Didau, David (2019) Making Kids Cleverer

The post What every teacher should do: understand how memory works appeared first on Becoming Educated.

Teaching in the Time of COVID⤴

from @ robin_macp

It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweet asking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.

A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of excellent advice on what is achievable, and what to be wary of. I also thought that this article by Sam Phillips (teaching in China) via @GovernorHub on primary teaching was particularly useful because that poses a very different set of challenges compared to secondary or tertiary teaching. Indeed, the problems faced and the need for low-tech approaches are emphasised in this blog by Solomon Kingsnorth (@solomon_teach).

When my school started discussions about a continuity policy, this document proved incredibly helpful. It was written by Head of Dubai College Mike Lambert, @DCol_head, and was based on a similar policy by Kellett School in Hong Kong. The Principal at Kellett is @independenthead Mark Steed, and he contributed to this really useful page by the ISC working group for digital strategy during the shutdown. I also really liked this blog ‘Planning for the Gathering Storm’ by @Southgloshead for its clear approach to developing a whole-school strategy.

A lot of teachers are rapidly up-skilling in ed tech right now, so my go-to person on this is @ICTEvangelist Mark Anderson. He wrote an excellent two-part blog for the website Independent Thinking on effective T&L:

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine/

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine-part-two/ 

One of the most useful things I received was a great image which was created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok. It sets things out very clearly so all teachers, pupils and parents can understand the school’s policy.

KIS

I was also sent a large number of useful videos, websites, links to apps and other suggested material that look good, but too many to condense down here. If you go through the full thread and subsequent RTs on my timeline you will find them all. The good news is that many apps are currently being offered for free (a selection can be found here), so this is a good opportunity to take them for a test drive. My thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and resources – I really appreciate this, and so will teachers all around the world.

And finally, if you’re wondering why I used a picture of the iconic ZX Spectrum for this blog, it’s because it’s useful to remember that ed tech is not a new thing. There is no such thing as a digital native. If you suddenly need to teach using it when you have never really engaged, shed your fear. It’s not as tough, or as bad, as you might think. 

So keep going, keep sharing, and keep your head up. School might be closed, but learning never stops. 

Teaching in the Time of COVID⤴

from @ robin_macp

It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweet asking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.

A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of excellent advice on what is achievable, and what to be wary of. I also thought that this article by Sam Phillips (teaching in China) via @GovernorHub on primary teaching was particularly useful because that poses a very different set of challenges compared to secondary or tertiary teaching. Indeed, the problems faced and the need for low-tech approaches are emphasised in this blog by Solomon Kingsnorth (@solomon_teach).

When my school started discussions about a continuity policy, this document proved incredibly helpful. It was written by Head of Dubai College Mike Lambert, @DCol_head, and was based on a similar policy by Kellett School in Hong Kong. The Principal at Kellett is @independenthead Mark Steed, and he contributed to this really useful page by the ISC working group for digital strategy during the shutdown. I also really liked this blog ‘Planning for the Gathering Storm’ by @Southgloshead for it’s clear approach to developing a whole-school strategy.

A lot of teachers are rapidly up-skilling in ed tech right now, so my go-to person on this is @ICTEvangelist Mark Anderson. He wrote an excellent two-part blog for the website Independent Thinking on effective T&L:

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine/

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine-part-two/ 

One of the most useful things I received was a great image which was created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok. It sets things out very clearly so all teachers, pupils and parents can understand the school’s policy.

KIS

I was also sent a large number of useful videos, websites, links to apps and other suggested material that look good, but too many to condense down here. If you go through the full thread and subsequent RTs on my timeline you will find them all. The good news is that many apps are currently being offered for free (a selection can be found here), so this is a good opportunity to take them for a test drive. My thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and resources – I really appreciate this, and so will teachers all around the world.

And finally, if you’re wondering why I used a picture of the iconic ZX Spectrum for this blog, it’s because it’s useful to remember that ed tech is not a new thing. There is no such thing as a digital native. If you suddenly need to teach using it when you have never really engaged, shed your fear. It’s not as tough, or as bad, as you might think. 

So keep going, keep sharing, and keep your head up. School might be closed, but learning never stops. 

Brains, Computers and CogSci: the Quiet Revolution in Learning⤴

from @ robin_macp

This blog was written for the Voices in Education Series and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Odgers Berndtson.

This Spring Term the Schools Practice at Odgers Berndtson is pleased to present the second series of articles for its Voices in Education initiative. These articles are written by a number of leading voices across the schools sector. They have been written to start conversations about important challenges, opportunities and ideas within the schools sector today. In this article, Robin Macpherson, Assistant Rector at Dollar Academy, writes about the importance of understanding memory as teachers.

“Memory is the residue of thought”

Daniel T. Willingham

“The aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”

Sweller, Clark and Kirschner

I’m a teacher, not a psychologist. If you work in a school it’s unlikely that you know much about psychology either. It’s doubtful that you did any cognitive psychology in your training to be a teacher, as this is largely left off the curriculum. So why then should we all be spending a lot more time looking at cognitive psychology if we want to be better teachers?

The first thing to make clear is that this isn’t a new thing. It may be a recent addition to pedagogy in school classrooms but as a discipline it’s well over a hundred years old. Ebbinghaus produced seminal work on the ‘forgetting curve’ in the 1880s and 1890s, which showed that memory traces have a half-life, and in order to be strengthened we need to retrieve the memory to refresh and strengthen it. In 1967, Ulric Neisser wrote one of the most important books in education history, simply called ‘Cognitive Psychology’. In academic circles it pushed the science of learning more towards internal mental processes and away from behaviourism, which sought to explain learning through responses to external stimuli. Essentially, it means people in universities knew – more than half a century ago – that it was possible to measure brain processes in order to advance our knowledge of how we learn.

What accelerated this was the development of computer technology. It’s often said that our brains are like computers, but in fact it is more accurate to state that computers are like our brain. Cognitive psychology is about the architecture of memory: we process information through our working memory (which is very limited) and store it in our long term memory (which is potentially limitless). We can bring back information from storage into the working memory in order to use it. Computers process things (measured in RAM) but store things on a hard drive which is much bigger in scope. The analogy seems to work, even if it breaks down when you explore the mechanics, but there is no doubt that as we started to build artificial brains (computers) we developed a better understanding of our own minds.

Incredibly, it has only been in the past decade that scientific findings in the field of cognitive psychology have begun to shape classroom practice on a wider scale. This has much to do with the disconnect between the research that is produced in academia and the professional knowledge and practice of teachers. Thankfully, we’re getting much better at this.

The breakthrough can be attributed to a number of books but I think a key text is ‘Make it Stick’ by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. In 2002, Henry Roediger was appointed to head up a team of eleven psychologists (including Mark McDaniel) by the James S McDonnell Foundation in St Louis, Missouri. Their task was to lead a study in applying cognitive psychology to educational practice. A decade later, their work was ready. However, unlike previous studies, this one made its way into mainstream education in schools. Roediger and McDaniel teamed up with journalist Peter Brown and wrote ‘Make It Stick’, and finally there was a volume that took high end, rigorous scientific research and made it accessible to teachers. It was a watershed moment.

There are many other books that we could point to here: Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ (2010) is arguably the true pioneer, and Benedict Carey’s ‘How We Learn’ (2014) is also wonderfully accessible. However, the overall point is clear: in the past decade the science of learning has infiltrated the classroom and this quiet revolution is to be embraced. If you are a teacher reading this and are thinking “I know nothing about cognitive psychology” then the good news is that you can get up to speed very quickly. You don’t need to be a scientist, you just need to open your mind and read one of these books. Another, more recent, classic is ‘Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide’ by Weinstein, Sumeracki and Caviglioli, who are members of the excellent Learning Scientists collaborative. Get on their website as soon as you have finished this blog.

So what does this actually mean for classroom practice? Crucially, it means structuring learning around the architecture of memory. Awareness of the limitations of working memory is vital. Current thinking is that we can hold at best 4 pieces of information in our working memory at a time, and to try to cram more into this will overload your pupils’ capacities – no matter how bright they are. When I started teaching less able pupils were described as those who had problems with working memory. Newsflash – we all do. None of us has a great working memory. This is why Dylan Wiliam described Sweller’s cognitive load theory as being the most important thing any teacher can know. I think about 95% of the PowerPoints I see teachers produce – and the way they deliver them – violate this key principle. There’s a brilliant blog entitled ‘Clean up your mess’ by Robert Macmillan (@robfmac on Twitter) based on his talks at researchED Scotland if you want to see how to do presentations properly.

RobfMac

Further evidence is provided in a key paper by Dunlosky et al in Scientific American Mind called ‘What works, what doesn’t’ (2013). This explores the methods used by students to revise for assessments and how effective they are. How often have you had a pupil bemoan a poor test score, pleading that they worked really hard? No doubt they did, but they used ineffective techniques. Using highlighters and rereading notes – beloved of many – are an almost total waste of time. Retrieval practice – known as the testing effect – is extremely effective. Teachers who make use of this in everyday lessons build highly effective long term memory and can achieve outstanding results with pupils of all ability ranges. This is important – it can be an absolute game-changer. If you want to know more, read Kate Jones’ excellent recent book ‘Retrieval Practice: Resources and Research for Every Classroom’ (2020).

So, what we’re faced with now are the massive opportunities afforded by over a century of scientific research, all of which is very actionable in the classroom. As I mentioned before, most universities completely ignore it in their teacher training programmes. I am hugely in favour of connecting research about education to the practice of teachers, and things are moving in this direction. However, it is a slow burn process and if you’re a school leader you will need to think carefully about how to embed this in the culture of learning in your unique context. A whole school approach works much better than individuals ploughing lonely furrows. My advice is to get reading, share with colleagues, and see the benefits for yourself. Teaching, in truth, is not a fully research-informed profession. Cognitive psychology shows us what might be possible if we can connect schools and universities in a genuine partnership about the science of learning.

Robin Macpherson is currently Assistant Rector at Dollar Academy, and from August 2020 will be Head of College at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen. He is the co-author of ‘What does this look like in the classroom? Bridging the gap between research and practice’ (2017) with Carl Hendrick and speaks and blogs about educational issues. His Twitter handle is @robin_macp

The Line⤴

from @ EduBlether

On the back of thinking about all the small things that lead to successes in a school, I thought it would be apt to consider the other side of this. One of the seemingly small things that add to a considerable amount of disruption and wasted learning time, in all of the schools I have ever worked in, is the line. I’m going to discuss the various problems I see with this accepted norm, and then I will try to consider some alternatives.

One of the main issues I have with this is the wasted teaching and learning time that could be better spent doing anything else. The time it takes between a bell ringing and children getting into a classroom is huge. Let’s do some quick maths on this. A conservative estimate (based purely on my own experience, with admittedly no scientific rigour applied), would be that it takes at least 5 minutes once the bell has gone to have a class ready to come in at the start of the day, after break and after lunch (at least!). So this is potentially 15 minutes each day, which is about 70 minutes across the week, taking in to account the half-day! That is over 44 hours across the school year.

I don’t want you to think I am ever condoning counting minutes and seconds and making sure every possible part of time is accounted for. This would be dangerous for a large number of reasons. But when there are so many other issues, it begs the question, why are we wasting our time on a bizarre and old fashioned custom that gives nothing back?

Ordinarily, children have been playing in an unstructured and child-led way, then a bell goes (quite abruptly) and they have to stop immediately and form a line, one behind each other. We often scorn them for not being straight enough or for continuing conversations. Quite militaristic when you think about it? But this is quite difficult for a lot of children to do (I think I would struggle to be honest) especially if they have been engaging in high energy play. What are we achieving by standing in line? Efficient management of people cannot be an argument here due to the amount of wasted time. Compliance?

I don’t like the idea of continuing to do something one way just because it is the way we have always done it. I want to know what the alternatives are.

Comment below with any suggestions on alternatives to lining up.