the rich get richer and the poor get poorer…

….could this catchphrase be replicated with the quest for knowledge or for exam success?

Maybe. A bike ride home often gets me thinking. I shall post this info into the melting pot blog but some may not read it. You might not read this either but it’s a bit too big for the portal notice board.

The new curriculum certainly requires us to focus on knowledge accumulation and what is clear is that children who know lots of things learn new things more quickly. A student who has a wealth of knowledge to draw on and to compare with, will pick up and associate new information as if they were ‘born to learn’. They seem to quickly master new material and think more effectively. What is actually happening is that the new information being presented during the course of the lesson, (which resides in and around short term memory) hunts for previously learned information to ‘associate’ with. This blog post explains this in more detail . Those with no cash in the bank so to speak can’t make the association and soon that new information drifts away. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. How we deposit a little early cash in the bank account of the poor learners to get them started is, in my mind, about the most important thing we can do if we are ever going to raise the performance of the ‘struggling third’ by the time they get to year 11.

Many of the staff in the meeting tonight suggested that making sure that regular testing and memory checks were going to be an area for their work moving forward. This explains why that is a very good idea As the curriculum changes to emphasise what students actually know and can consequently apply to questions a fair distance whence that information was first seen. In some cases more than 18months previous. Given that the initial ‘typical’ forgetting curve is about 4 days, we have a big challenge ahead. Here is a link that describes how a knowledge based English scheme (no PE unfortunately!!!) might look and another about how we might go about assessing a ‘unit’ of knowledge in order to refine it. Another about key questions we should probably be asking ourselves This succinctly debates the knowledge v skills question.

From a personal point of view my summer task, now my portal site is ready, is to build an assessment resource library to ascertain exactly where students are at any given point. Progression in my course from next year will be mastery rather than Half-termly based. This blog post makes so much sense and explains why

During the meeting the need for ‘reading around the subject’ was also seen as a key thing for students to do. Could the same be applied to us as teachers? Should we model this practice to our students and regularly read around our subject of choice, teaching?

With advent of the blog and people who reduce and kindly repackage the vast amount of information available to us this has become a varied, more bite sized and genuinely interesting part of what should be an expectation of ourselves. As most who have ‘delved’ say, twitter and edu blogs are about the best source of cpd out there. And it’s all free. You will never be able to read even 1% of what is available. You just pick what you like and drop what you don’t. To deal with our new challenge and more importantly to give all our students a chance in this more ‘stretching’ environment we need to be even more on the ball. We can never read enough but is our own reading and research one of the answers? What’s good for the goose…..

There are fantastic books out there for deeper enthusiasts some of which I have pointed you towards previously. This link should give you a list to keep you going

For those who prefer to listen or watch try these for starters

from Mr Willingham which will probably change what you thought before watching it (learning styles don’t exist) a quick summary of the work of Kahneman which might explain why we sometimes avoid thinking – ‘cos it’s hard !!!

My last suggestion which I have made at least once, ok maybe more than once, is to buy, read and re-read Willingham. It’s on sale on Amazon ūüôā

Dan x


Memories are made of this


It seems quite clear. Teaching has changed for good, again. No longer can we rely on drip feeding the right bits of information just before a piece of coursework is due, knowing that once complete the detail shall be lost to the mind of our students forever. Of all the things we are supposed to do, the government have suggested that kids need to remember stuff!! Amongst the nonsense and the rhetoric, they have a point. Why bother teaching if the content isn’t remembered? After all, if memory does not store the new information, learning has not taken place.


So, how do we cope when the 70% course work and multiple exam attempts have been fairly quickly eradicated from our day to day safety nets? How do we know what students know and how do we then teach them?

David Ausabel stated that the most important factor is to “ascertain what the students already know and then teach them accordingly”.

This week’s melting pot started with the sterling efforts of Charlie who was missing a good chunk of his face. He clearly only came back on Friday so that his wife would let him go to watch Stoke City the following day (who won 3-1 by the way!!) and by speaking at the melting pot he was justifying the purchase of a post match cheesy oatcake as his mouth would be proven to work again. Silly dog.

Charlie outlined his approach to ‘mastery’ assessment and how by using high quality assessment he can make sure that each student is working on a task that best reflects where they are in learning. Mastery assessment essentially lays out the things that students need to be able to do to succeed in each topic and unit of the course. Only when they complete the ‘mastery target’ can they effectively move on and ‘pass’. Of course if students can demonstrate each target they can move forward quickly. Creating the resources to allow this to happen is where the time and effort are needed as it would be rare that students are, except for day one, at the same point.

Mastery assessment allows some students to fly, others to catch up at their pace and although some way from his 20 year old ‘well learned’ method of ‘stand and deliver’ Charlie knows he is doing better by the students who come into his class. They are not bound by what Charlie wants to/has to teach as they can access the entire curriculum online. A number of successful early entries evidence the benefits. It is a work of many hours toil and graft, dedication and commitment. Charlie’s demo also quickly begged our question.¬†

Would ‘we’ able to do this?¬†

Natalie, who as Head of Languages has created a similar ‘multi-resource’ approach to lessons in a previous school said that the gains were very clear but after a time it became frustrating as some students did not maintain their own motivation and access the resources in the way that she hoped.

Some ‘melting potters’ felt that bright kids would gain and lower ability would struggle and we each had our own anecdotal evidence to support this viewpoint. This may, however, be true of every teaching method and Charlie agreed that the groups do ‘spread out’ quickly in terms of their achievement and knowledge gains. The benefits of a mastery system though allow both rigour and more effective support. Students ‘have’ to demonstrate understanding and knowledge before moving on. High flyers can be simply pointed further and further on and support can be targeted to those who need it.

There is of course an initial investment of time to create decent resources but maybe more importantly a culture change needed where teachers ‘release’ resources and loosen their control. This can feel most discomforting.¬†

  • Students coming to my lesson knowing what I am about to talk about?
  • But I like them all knowing nothing, it makes it easier as it is I who has the knowledge!
  • How am I supposed to teach when they all know different amounts?
  • What if they have questions I can’t answer?

All fair statements and questions. As is this:

Do our current teaching and assessment systems allow us to really know where a student is and then move him/her on at the appropriate pace so that they can achieve at their speed not ours?

Here are the thoughts of another blogger regarding mastery assessment .

Conversation turned to the type of knowledge that students could gain on their own ready to use it in lessons. Maybe where we need to focus effort and attention is on the building blocks of knowledge. The spellings, the key terms, the definitions. All subjects success requires them and these discrete bits of knowledge lend themselves to simplicity in terms of what we want students to do at home. “Learn these definitions by next week, there will be a quick test to see how you have done.” Simple, maybe obvious but boy oh boy, effective.¬†

Daniel Willingham states that “We learn things in the context of things we already know.”¬†Each fact and piece of knowledge that is committed to memory will improve future learning. A student who knows 10 things/facts/words will always and forever more outperform a students who only knows 8 or 7 or 3. The ‘gap’, be it social or cultural or economic is there because some students learn lots of things early in their lives and some do not. Simples. One of our tasks is to close that gap.

There are many sources of knowledge that students can access. We can’t cross fingers, hope or expect that the opportunities for access will be taken. We have to force the issue a little. Small, frequent tests, tasks and assignments to assess mastery could change the knowledge of our students, permanently. The problem is obvious. Changes to our ‘meat and drink’ does not lie well. Many of us our on automatic pilot and we like to cruise. Its a normal human response. We had a look at this video that shows how quickly and seamlessly we can employ our ‘fast’ thinking and do what comes automatically. The video is based on the work of Daniel Kahneman, a nobel prize winner for his work on thinking in the world of economics.

  • Why would we think when we can just do what we did yesterday?
  • Thinking is tough and carrying on as normal isn’t.
  • I know what works and what doesn’t.
  • The kids behave in my class, they¬†‘must be learning.’

As teachers, busy teachers, we often set in ways that are hard to change, but not impossible. As teachers we always tell the kids, or at least I would hope we do that effort and belief is so important and that we can always improve. Trying to figure out how to adapt and refine our teaching to improve learning is a challenging task and of course one that is easy to avoid and give up on. In my opinion we have to structure our lessons, our schemes of work and our assessment around things that have the process of learning at heart. Whilst ‘melting’, we discussed the clear problem that students study a topic, forget it, ‘do some revision’ a year or more later, forget it again and then sit an exam. Why do they forget? Because you would too. Because each time they see the information it is essentially new, decided by the teacher that it will be ‘taught’ as part of normal lessons or as part of the ‘revision’ programme. One study that I don’t have the link to (sorry) found that students managed one activity brilliantly well in many lessons. Pretending to listen!

Great teaching does one thing very well. It gets students to really think about the content that needs to be remembered. As Willingham tells us ‘Memory is the residue of thought’. Revisiting this information afterwards just makes that ‘thinking connection’ more explicit, clear and retrievable.¬†Technology can help, especially to provide opportunity for this crucial REPETITION – the father of memory and what better way to add another dose of meaning than a little test? Not the high stakes SATS, GCSE end of your life type test but the class based, diagnostic tool that tells learners and their teacher how things are going. The test need not even be written or even be a test in the true sense of the word. It doesn’t have to count towards anything¬†except learning and knowing what you don’t know and feeling good about what you do. We discussed the merit of multi choice providing the options were close and that ‘thinking’ had to take place to select the correct answer. There are a million technological solutions to this type of test and most mean no marking as such. Wouldn’t that be nice, especially when the test would show the common misconceptions of your class, giving you the food to serve up in your next learning feast.


Next week we are going to delve into the world of behaviour. It won’t be straightforward.

Click here to read a bit further reflection around teaching and trying to improve memory retention. The blogger is an English teacher and the questions he poses to himself are ones you may also have of your own practice.
Dan x

9 Go Thinking – lets get the party started!

In the beginning there were nine. Kim, Rebecca, Andy, Mike, Paul, Karen, Jon, Dan and Charlie. No demands, no deadlines, no pressure. Just a chance to chat and think.¬†Think about teaching and how we can be better at it.¬†We covered a reasonable range of ‘day job’ foci from Work related learning to Biology, from History to PE. Our time ‘in the job’ ranged from two years to…ahem..twenty something. ¬†There were heads of department, pastoral and curriculum leaders, a Heads of House and of course the common factor amongst us all – we are all teachers.

We started off by writing on Charlie’s magic wall.

ImageEach of us listed the 5 things that we felt we most important in teaching. They ranged from the more obvious (for good reason) such as feedback to the less, such as autonomy and even astronomy (you had to be there). We also, akin to an AA meeting confessed to our weakest area from our list and therefore prompt a possible area for our own development. That is why we are here. We want to get better, become more efficient and have greater impact. We, it seems, are fairly interested in learning.

The Sun was shining outside and this week, like most weeks had been a long one. Friday afternoon pub stop was tempting but no, we would discuss and debate for one hour and one hour only. The sun doesn’t shine that often and we have homes to go to. At this point it is important to recognise that Fridays don’t suit all and apologies for that, but with fixtures, meetings, detentions and other commitments the opportunities were slim, well to be fair they were Friday. That said, it didn’t really feel like work although of course if we were council staff, machine operatives or bankers there would be overtime claims and bonus expectations. For us it is the smile on fac………ok, we are just a little sad, dedicated, determined, who knows. Anyway let me show you what we did.

1. We looked at Charlie’s magic wall in his paper cluttered kingdom and we tried to reduce our graffiti to just 5 key areas of teaching which would form the framework and focus of our TFI Friday meetings. These are they:

  • Behaviour and relationships for learning
  • Questioning and feedback
  • Planning, differentiation and meeting needs
  • Delivery, instruction and engagement
  • Assessment, progress and outcomes

There may be some things that aren’t there such as literacy and numeracy which of course are crucial. We just felt that the 5 above were relevant in every lesson, with every child, all the time. The overlap and links between each area are endless and will be a valued tangent that will often hop along.

Progress in learning

Solo Taxonomy (our version using key exam words to indicate achievement level)

Andy then kicked us off with the work he and the ICT department have being doing to link our ‘solo’ poster to a year 8 assessment ‘rubric’ (grid) across an entire year of work. They have managed to produce it on one page and after having shared with parents and students has provided a focal point for assessment. They have labelled the ‘5 level’ assessment framework ‘GradU8’ and have linked it to the ‘Pass, Merit and Distinction’ criteria that many ICT subjects are using. The key terms from the ‘school classroom poster’ version have been linked to the topics/tasks that year 8 cover during the year. We liked it and even the scientists amongst us (with a potentially far more complicated and detailed curriculum) quickly recognised its possibilities in the absence of levels.

“The work is of course in creating an assessment that is fit for purpose” – Andy.
Click to enlarge.

After nods of approval and weighing up whether our depts could do it, we discussed the merit of the rubric in identifying when a student was gaining knowledge and then being able to apply that knowledge. Mike gave a great example of cell structure knowledge helping a learner to label, list and then explain each feature of a cell. Then being able to compare it to other cells and their functions. Final being able to predict the role it may have in the system that the cell inhabits. The progress of learning becomes quite transparent and very easy to scaffold for the learner. There is scope for a revisit to this area.

The handouts Andy provided certainly opened up interesting conversation which went quite rapidly from where we were to genetics, brain development, talent versus environment and the curiosity levels of the critical thinking class. I am not sure we all agreed with each other, but that would be such a let down if we did. At end I gave out an overview of the learning principles covered in our assemblies. All staff have received this by email and I will add to it…once I’ve prepared the assemblies to come!!

As a taster to that assembly have a look at this from Daniel Willingham where he breaks down the notion of ‘learning styles’, much to the dismay of those who have earned plenty through the innacuracy of their suggestions.

Next week Charlie is kicking off with a 5 minute intro to ‘Mastery’. This link¬†provided by the ever thoughtful @learningspy will provide a quick background to Mastery. This link is a more detailed literature review for the pedant in us.

Weisbier….no better taste on a Friday

I arrived home, had dinner with the kids, put them to bed and cracked open Dad’s beer. It tasted even sweeter as work faded away, a day in the sun repeated on my face and poker with Izod became just a day away. Then Jon sent me this¬†and got me going again. Out came the laptop and blog number 1 is complete.

The best ingredients in our ‘Melting Pot’ are each other. Too many cooks won’t spoil our broth, we’ll just open up P13. Join us. Dan x