June 05, 2016

marking – does research help?

Literature Review: How did reading around pedagogy affect my teaching practice? A trainee’s personal reflection.

Feedback within marking

Certainly in terms of my own professional development, reading around effective feedback within marking revealed a lot to me which I had never thought of before, particularly the negative impact that feedback can have. Being a brand new trainee, I assumed that the more feedback the better for the pupils, so had no problem writing swathes of response for each piece of assessed work and spending a lot of my time in the process.

Initially when I first set foot into the world of marking, I wanted to attempt it on my own to see how I would independently respond to a piece of work; the result of which is aforementioned and this of course was unsustainable. I was recommended by colleagues to give lots of praise within my first set of marking as a way to build rapport with the pupils - and it definitely seemed to work, pupils appeared up-beat and engaged in the lesson which followed. Utilising this ‘praise culture’ fitted in well with the school marking policy of ‘two stars and a wish’, a principle used across many schools under various aliases; praise followed by ways to improve.

Being a relatively young teacher who was mistaken as a new year 12 student by year 13s does have its draw backs – you just don’t have the automatic respect which a mature teacher can assume from a class of students. In which case you need to adapt and use your strengths to build respect – this is where praise becomes invaluable and two stars and a wish offered me the opportunity to utilise this tactic. I enjoyed using this method as it gave me scope to praise the students and build rapport whilst also giving me the chance to comment on where they can improve. I assumed this was working well for me without giving it a second thought – I was ticking all of my boxes; praise, improvements and progress.

Praise is an essential tool within a teacher’s arsenal; however what became apparent within reading around my topic was that praise within feedback can have a detrimental impact on a student’s progress; studies have found that students can start to slack and relax when given praise on their work, removing their desire to push themselves further. Discovering this research has really changed my approach to the way I teach and particularly mark, however breaking away from giving lots of praise was something I struggled to do. Worrying I would offend some students about their work was a main concern; my thinking was that giving no written praise could in turn knock their confidence and impact their learning within future lessons.

Working on my new understanding of feedback, I have attempted various techniques to change my marking style; I still feel it is important to feature written praise, however I now use it in far smaller doses. Ultimately what I have taken away from reading around the pedagogy is that whatever principle you are researching, whether it be providing feedback or behaviour management; it should not dictate exactly how you teach but should instead add depth to your style. Use reading to mould your personal approach in a way which best suits you and your personality; the profession is based on all teachers having their own individuality and that is always important to bear in mind in your training year.

Sean Kelly


June 04, 2016

Trainee teacher 7: Reading around motivation


I chose to focus my research project for my PGCE around the idea of motivation and its relation to goal setting and self-regulated learning. Following observations of students within my second placement school, there was a seeming lack of motivation coming from some students (even those that had chosen to take the subject up at GCSE) and I wanted to see how I could work to turn this around.


Much of the literature around motivation suggested to me that it was a very inward and personal ideal, but that one’s motivation towards a task or topic depends a lot on their interest with it. I saw this as meaning that I should try and create a place where students could be motivated and thus plan lessons that interested every single student. This idea was definitely not a revelation and running youth theatres before starting my PGCE meant I had been thinking of topics that attempted to engage every student for a long time. I realised though, that within school I had the task of engaging, on average, 30 students at a time whilst teaching them something new, facilitating their progression and following a scheme of work that I didn’t always write. Furthermore, I couldn’t always be sure (without asking every-single-one of them, every lesson) whether or not they took an interest in what I was teaching them about or their task. I have found that in Drama, in a way, there is enough creative scope to allow for individual interests in a topic to foster and for students to adapt performances to suit their interests, therefore increasing their motivation. For example, in a recent scheme of work about current affairs – I presented students with a number of ‘local’ (and albeit quite dry) headlines and they created scenes based on these – twisting and adapting them within their groups. Although this took some encouraging, as they realised they were able to adapt them to fit their interests whilst still showing the effect of the main story and characters, the level of effort and engagement within the classroom seemed to rise.


Reading the literature also made me aware of the importance of self-regulated learning and the impact this can have on a students’ success; essentially, teaching students to take control of their learning is integral to their development. I understood this as applying to the Drama classroom in that I offer more time for pupils to reflect on their own work as well as peer feedback. This means I now ask students in KS3 what they could do to improve in order to encourage self-regulation. I have realised though, that supporting students to become self-regulated learners is quite a long process and not something that can be done immediately. Furthermore, encouraging and facilitating students to become self-regulated learners may have to come from the whole school because, if students are not used to regulating their learning in other lessons, what is to say they will do it in my lesson. I saw an example of this recently when rehearsing with year 11 for their practical exam. Their pieces had been independently devised, with some direction and feedback from their class teacher and myself. The day before her exam a student was, to put it simply, asking me to show her how her monologue should be done and what she should do. I’m not sure whether it was because the panic was setting in, but her and the rest of the group’s efforts to facilitate their own learning and devise and perfect their piece for performance was lacking and they were very much relying on me, as the teacher, to tell them what to do, when to do it, how to do it and whether they were doing right and wrong. I think encouraging self-regulated learning to be a very powerful thing and I hope that in the future, as I teach classes of my own for longer periods, I can attempt to instil it within my lessons more which will work to support students as they progress through education.


 The literature suggested that getting students to set themselves a goal would help to foster their independence as self-regulated learners and increase their motivation. I think it is important for students to set themselves goals, to help them understand and focus on what they need to do to improve and regularly do this within my lessons. I understood from the literature the power of feedback against these goals, as a way of checking students are not setting themselves something too easy, or too hard. This is thus something I have tried to do since doing my literature review and hope to continue to do (hopefully getting more efficient at it so that it takes less time). I hope that as students get more feedback against their goals, they will be able to regulate their learning better and set substantial and reachable goals. Whether this goal-setting actually has an impact on their motivation is what my action research projects attempts to consider.


Sara Voisey


June 03, 2016

Trainee teacher 7: Varying degrees of success


Although I can sometimes grumble and moan about the extra workload of reading research papers, there can be no doubt that I’ve taken ideas and inspiration from the research I’ve written. Over the year so far, I’ve been trying to take ideas from my reading and implement them in classrooms, with varying degrees of success.



From an early stage, my research into theories of effective marking and feedback yielded some ideas that I could implement into my classroom. Reading work by Hattie and Timperley gave me the idea to use displayed success criteria for written tasks in class. This allows students to constantly self-assess their work as they go, and continuously generate next steps at any stage during the lesson. This allows me to use the criteria to also structure my written feedback, saving a lot of time thinking about what next steps are necessary. I recently took this to another level in terms of student engagement with the criteria, by challenging students to mark a sample piece of work before they started working on their own task. I was impressed with the levels of critical engagement with the criteria, and by their willingness to judge whether a piece of work was worthy of meeting a criteria rather than just being present. The feedback was very focused, and they were very demanding of detail (in hindsight, maybe telling them I had produced the work was a bad idea!).



More recently, I have been reading into theories of discovery learning and how to make it effective in the classroom. The overall picture I obtained from my literature review was that discovery learning can yield improved outcomes, but not in all cases. I identified two main factors that can help discovery learning be more effective:



  1. Choose the class carefully. When results were separated out by student ability, a positive effect on higher ability students was observed, often masked in mixed studies by a negative effect on lower ability students. Using this strategy appropriately is an important facet of making it successful. In terms of implementing this, I have primarily used these activities with only one of my classes, where all students are targeted an A or A* grade.

  2. Don’t just leave them on their own! Some studies gave students as young as 7 no guidance, and expected them to be able to learn. There is no way that this would yield effective progress and learning at almost any age As a result, when I have used discovery-style activities, I have always provided scaffolding questions and walked around providing support to ensure that students have the supported environment to allow them to make those discoveries.


The opportunity for discovery learning to produce improved outcomes has been particularly of interest to me, and I have been trying to implement more and more in my lessons where appropriate. Recently, I put on an activity where my students used dice to model radioactive decay. Using the structured worksheet, students were able to work through and calculate a half-life for their radioactive ‘sample’. This then led into a discussion of half-life, with students moving on to look at how it relates to carbon dating in their next lesson.


Robert Seaton


June 02, 2016

Trainee teacher 6: How beneficial can educational literature really be in such a practical vocation?


As a literature student, reading and researching theories has become second nature to me. However, when I began my PGCE I was sceptical- how beneficial can educational literature really be to me in such a practical vocation?


But I was proved wrong, from the very outset of the course. The reading I have undertaken during this academic year has provided me with many different ways to approach core elements of teaching practice, from behaviour management, to differentiation, to subject-specific pedagogy. This year, reading research has been critical to my subject (English), as a result of the reformation of the GCSE and A-Level specifications. Research is constantly evolving about how to approach these changes, and ways in which teachers can deliver information on the new texts that have been included in the specifications. The articles and journals that I have read always contain practical advice, which make it easy to adopt these ideas into my own practice. I have discovered this year that, as a trainee, I have been exposed to more research material than my colleagues at school have been. This means that I have been able to offer new approaches to teaching to my department, and they have been grateful for the information that I have provided. This has caused me to realise that there is no better way to keep my course material fresh and exciting for students than by researching, and ensuring that my teaching reflects current understanding.


Whenever I have encountered a problem in my teaching practice, I have turned to research to help to resolve those issues. Although teaching can at times see like a solitary career, there is a huge network of support to be found in educational research and theory: whatever setback you are currently facing, the likelihood is a preceding practitioner has experienced it before, and has documented the remedy for it! The wealth of knowledge you can find is reassuring, and although there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ technique to apply to the classroom, there will be several approaches you can take until you find one which works for you. During my first term, pace was an aspect of teaching which I struggled with, and my reading of educational theory provided me with techniques to try in order to improve this, such as the benefits of incorporating timers into lessons, and creating timed challenges for students, which simultaneously increases their engagement.


One key question that every practitioner needs to ask themselves during researching is: how will this theory benefit my teaching and, above all, the learning of my students? Placing research into action can be motivating for both teacher and learners who take enjoyment in adopting new strategies and refreshing the classroom environment. Reading research also encourages teachers to maintain self-reflectivity, as you must evaluate how well the theory worked in practice, how your students responded and above all, how it helped or hindered the progress that was made during your lesson. By immersing yourself in research throughout your teaching career, you remain a learner- and this allows teachers to relate to their students, maintaining understanding relationships. I hope that reading research will remain as beneficial to me throughout my teaching practice as it has been to me in this first year.

Beth Currall


June 01, 2016

Trainee teacher 5: surely there’s no place for research in PE?

How did reading research affect my teaching practice? 

Physical Education (PE) is just a time for pupils to run off some energy and have a play, surely there’s no place for research in the subject?

Over time, PE has evolved to become a holistic subject that engages both the mind and body and places emphasis on not only physical literacy but also the development of life skills leading pupils to adopt informed, healthy lifestyles. Though the public’s perception of the subject varies dependent on their own experiences - I can confirm that research has a very important place within PE. The development of pedagogy to name but one aspect of the profession. Throughout my teacher training year, research has been pivotal to my improvement as a teacher; shaping my practice and informing me of a variety of ways in which I can lead my pupils to make good progress whilst also achieving high levels of engagement.

Research is continually being developed about the pedagogy of PE, advancing the way in which we teach. From Mosston and Ashworth’s Spectrum of Productive and Reproductive teaching styles and the more traditional “Motor Learning Theory” type lesson (where drills are delivered before a game is played), to the more student-centred explorative game-based, competitive focused models such as Bunker and Thorpe’s “Teaching Games for Understanding” and Siedentop’s “Sport Education”. The reading that I have undertaken during this PGCE year has opened my eyes to the spectrum of PE pedagogy that exists and has given me a great insight into how these can be embedded within PE. Their detail and case studies have meant that I have easily been able to implement this within my own practice. Having a range of styles within, what I like to call, my “tool box of teaching” enables to me to select styles that are most appropriate to the pupils I am teaching but also to be experimental, take risks and try out new ideas.

As a result of my reading, I have seen my own “socialisation” be reformed during my journey to become a PE teacher. Socialisation is the process of how I, or any individual, is influenced to become a participating member within the teaching field (Lawson’s Occupational Socialization Theory is a very interesting read on this!) Throughout my schooling I was exposed to command style PE teaching, where all decisions are made by the teacher, and as a result of this saw this as the way to teach PE. Through exploring research and applying this to my practice I have shifted to predominantly adopting student centred teaching styles, where my responsibility lies in scaffolding, differentiating and facilitating, the pupils are empowered. This has had a great and positive impact on my teaching, especially with my higher ability groups where my mentor encouraged me when I adopted the use of the “Teaching Games for Understanding” model as an innovative, engaging style of teaching- which I then shared with the whole department.

Obviously, you cannot expect that research will work in your environment in the same way that is reported- but taking risks and experimenting can lead to a refreshing, stimulating learning environment. Reflection is a big part of being a teacher and by asking yourself about the success of approaches, comparing this to the literature, considering pupil response and progress you can come to your own conclusions on what works and what doesn’t. But I have learnt that one approach does not fit all and to therefore test methods with a variety of pupils- they’re all different! For me, I intend to continue to engage with research around the pedagogy of PE, to continually add to my tool box in order to positively benefit my teaching career beyond my training year.

Harriet Ball


May 31, 2016

Trainee teacher 4: I'd be lying if I told you that it came naturally

In the beginning:

I’d be lying if I told you that the thought of reading around teaching pedagogy heightened my excitement to a state of euphoria. I’d also be lying if I told you that it came naturally, was easy and was something I looked forward to whilst also trying to balance writing assignments, lesson plans, reflections and oh yes, actually teaching in the classroom.

Initially this reading felt unfocused, for without much teaching experience my reading was undirected and without context. It felt like starting on journey with no end or meaning; nothing made any sense nor did it have any relation to my practice, for I did not yet have a practice. Bombarded with reading lists, and suggested reading I was overwhelmed not only by the work but also by the enormity of such a mind field of knowledge.

Little by little:

Like most things in life, it became apparent to me that in order to embark on what seemed like an impossible task, it would be easier to start at the beginning… with my subject’s pedagogy. Rather than looking at specific areas of teaching like behaviour, I started to read into the pedagogy of my subject. This was far more accessible for me, for whilst I could not yet connect to teaching pedagogy as a whole, I could connect to my subject thus a door into the pedagogy behind it.

Towards the end:

I am now over half way through my PGCE year and my reading has become a lot more natural. I am now able to seek advice from pedagogy, and I am able to understand the theory behind it. As my teaching practice has evolved, my passion has been drawn towards behaviour management. With the experience I have gained from both the classroom and my PG assignments, I am able to read more efficiently and focused. Not only has the reading become easier, but guess what… I actually enjoy it!

My advice to you:

  1. Don’t be put off by the recommended reading lists: these are there to guide you through not only the entirety of your PGCE year but also your entire career as a teacher.

  2. Start with your subject: by reading about your subject pedagogy you can ease your way into the minefield of teaching theory, using your existing subject knowledge as a foundation.

  3. Don’t just read books: Look at blogs, articles and other media sources. The Guardian education section has some great reads which aren’t too lengthy and are very accessible.  

  4. Check out the references: When you get more confident, check out the references in existing reports, journals and books. These will guide you to the next level of reading.

  5. Keep going: Teaching isn’t easy, and the hoops you have to jump through don’t make it any easier. However there is a wealth of support and knowledge out there. Even when you are struggling, google it! You will realise you’re not alone, and that this will get easier.

  6. Talk: Ask your colleagues, chances are they may have read something which has helped them and could also help you.


May 30, 2016

Trainee teacher blog 3: Reading books on behaviour management

One of the biggest fears for someone just entering the teaching profession is often around behaviour management in the classroom. Some of the thoughts that may enter your mind are ‘Will the students listen to me? ‘How will I deal with bad behaviour?’ and ‘What should I do if I can’t control the class?’. As a trainee, it can be quite overwhelming when you realise that the profession you are about to enter requires you to stand in front of 25 young people for 6 hours a day and help them to learn. There are many horror stories floating around the internet and also through word of mouth which can very easily discourage even the strongest willed people from this career.

I was one of the people who thought I would struggle with behaviour management but by the time I started teaching, I had covered a wide range of topics related to classroom management at university and through independent learning. My first lesson was totally different to how I had envisaged it. Although students were participating in the activities there was a lot of low level disruption throughout the lesson, such as talking amongst friends and tapping the desk continuously. A lot of planning had gone into that lesson, ensuring that the work during the 1 hour period was accessible to all students and low level disruption can be very distracting, especially for a trainee teacher. It can also be very difficult to manage without the right knowledge. It can be frustrating when you have spent 3+ hours to plan a lesson and the students find more amusement in discussing what happened during the lunch break than what you have to teach them. In this instance, reading definitely helped with my classroom management.

One of the first books I read when I entered the profession was ‘Getting the buggers to behave’ by Sue Cowley. This is a simple and easy-to-read book that breaks down some of the most common behavioural issues that a classroom teacher may face. These issues range from students shouting out answers when not being questioned to students getting out of their seats and walking around the classroom. Sue Cowley outlines some effective techniques that can be used to create a positive learning environment within the classroom such as use of body language, tone of voice and language. After reading the book I began putting what I had read into my practice and I saw noticeable differences quite quickly. I started by using assertive body languagewhich involved standing up with my shoulders pulled back and my hands open and visible, as well as utilising the classroom space to exercise my control of the lesson. Simple techniques such as greeting every child at the door upon entering and leaving worked a treat and are now part of my daily routines.

There is a countless amount of literature on behaviour management available to read for new teachers. My advice to new teachers would be to start with simple techniques that you can repeat and embed into a routine. When trying out a new technique it is important that time is allowed for the technique to settle in with the students before trying something else. Adults do not warm to change and students even less so. Be patient with students and get to know your class before trying to fix what may not be broken to begin with.


May 29, 2016

Trainee teacher 2: How has reading around pedagogy affected my teaching practice?

How has reading around pedagogy affected my teaching practice?

After being set our initial university assignment exploring the ‘implications of current theories of Cognitive Development in teaching and learning’, I was dubious about what effect theorists who died decades ago could have on my day to day practice in the classroom.

The importance of research-led practice had been drummed into us, but even after writing my initial assignment on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky, I was unsure where they fitted into my educational experience, or how I was supposed to use their theories. Part of the issue was, it seemed to me, that they were summarising the obvious. Piaget’s description of the development of children (Muijs 2012) and Vygotsky’s points on supporting or ‘scaffolding’ students to get to the next level of understanding (Gray and Macblain 2012) all seemed to be common sense, except coined in elaborate terminology.

I couldn’t be sure whether my perception of these theorists was because their points seemed obvious, or whether because, and I think more likely, they were so fundamental in shaping modern education, theory and research that their ideas have become ingrained in the education system and those of us immersed in it.

Despite my initial, somewhat uninspiring, encounter with pedagogy my engagement with pedagogy and research was far from complete. I was concerned by what I initially deemed to be the restrictive nature of the theories. Piaget suggested specific ages at which children develop, but was that still the case almost four decades after his death? Was behaviourism (Skinner, 1974) the only way to develop effective behaviour for learning in the classroom? Did I need to include all of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Gardner, 2004) in every lesson?

Then, however, the light bulb moment occurred, in which I connected with a piece of pedagogy. I realised my misconception was that pedagogy was a script, an idea that one subscribed to unconditionally and acted upon unquestioningly. In fact pedagogical theories could be used as a device, developing my understanding of the way students learn. Once understood they act as an informed base from which to experiment and explore different ways of teaching and learning, not a straightjacket dictating the direction of my practice and my development as an educator.

The first piece of pedagogy which inspired me to recognise the versatility and power of research-based practice was Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956). Initially created by Benjamin Bloom and a cohort of educationalists, its intention was to categorise different levels of thought, enabling them to be quantified and therefore compared and tracked. I originally used Bloom’s Taxonomy to structure my lessons, demonstrating to students how we were going to make progress and ensuring I had progressive levels of challenge throughout. Moreover, I soon realised the flexibility of the taxonomy as a tool to develop students’ critical thinking skills and encourage their own independent learning skills. I have since experimented with a variety of ways to do this, including creating Bloom’s question cards, which can be used by students to challenge themselves or each other to develop higher levels of thinking.

The realisation that pedagogy wasn’t restricted to its original form and purpose, that instead it could be used as a platform to explore different teaching techniques and ideas and that a variety of ideas can be synthesised to create new and exciting investigative techniques in the classroom, was a turning point in my cynicism against pedagogy. I am currently exploring a variety of cooperative learning techniques, creating a pick and mix of ideas and theories that I think will work for my students, in my classrooms, for my style of teaching. This is not to say that I’m ‘improving’ pedagogical theories, but rather exploring how they can work for me, as a way of ironing out some of the difficulties I face with some of my classes.

And in my opinion, this is the most effective way to use pedagogy. Initially it should be used as a base to develop understanding, but after that you have to make it work for you; test it out, create resources, synthesize ideas until you find the best fit for you. Pedagogy is not effective until it is understood and treated as a vehicle for exploration, not a rulebook.

C.L Davison


May 28, 2016

Trainee teacher blog: What the books don’t tell you…


What the books don’t tell you…


My life has always been happily entangled with books. As a bookseller I charmed my customers into buying stacks of glossy new novels, biographies and special editions. As a Librarian I suspiciously eyed up students daring to annotate upon their precious pages. In September, as a trainee teacher on the School Direct Salaried route, I clung to them in the desperate hope of deliverance.


This first year in teaching has been a learning curve of steep proportions. I don’t doubt that many a secondary trainee never fully realises the pitiful state of their own resilience and stamina until thrust into the bustling circus of energy, hormones and defiance that is the average British secondary school. To navigate the shiny new ideas of differentiation, challenging behaviour and positive management, I eagerly devoured “how to” teaching guides, googled behaviour gurus and sought out pedagogical theory with the firm belief that if I learnt enough, I would be a good teacher. In short, I attempted to give my brain a sponge-like absorbency that is, simply, unrealistic.


The immediate result of this self-education was a bombardment of my poor KS3 classes with new behaviour management techniques run a-mock. Lollipop stick questioning collided with raffle ticket incentives and over-resourcing bull-dozed through the lesson plan to successfully baffle my students: and all this when I still struggled to wait for silence. It was a mess. In my feedback session for the lesson in question I was praised for my enthusiasm and engagement with the pedagogy but the implementation of this learning was definitely categorised “even better if”!


Upon reflection (there’s that word again!), and a much embittered struggle (“but it said it in the book?!”), it began to dawn on me that, (shocker), books can’t teach you everything. This was unusual to an academic minded, book-loving historian like me, and something I am still grappling with. Just because Vygotsky theorised that peer discussion is the way forward does not equate to a successful class debate with my, shall we say, “spirited” Year 8 class. They may easily allow debate to slide into argument, into squabble, into a brawl. In the same manner, my enthusiasm for “how to” guides by the likes of Phil Beadle and Sue Cowley is not a negative feature of my learning but, rather, a lesson in pertinence.


I have learnt so much already these past few months of teaching and one of the more important aspects of this has been learning about my own learning as well as that of my students. I am beginning to involve the theories I have engaged with, steadily, and only as appropriate depending on the class, the subject matter and also taking into account my own developing teaching style. This focused and individual approach is gradually allowing me, through trial and error, to discover which techniques work, which don’t and how they can evolve and be developed to suit me and my students. Some teachers have their desks in rows, some in groups. Some teachers focus on written work while others spend more time on active learning tasks. Through observation and my own sweat and tears I am learning that the books, enlightening as they can be, can only take you so far. Much like in History, a piece of evidence is only as good as the analysis and argument to which it is put. So far, from what I am gleaning from both my maniacal and miraculous days in school, pedagogical theory should always be subject to individual criticality and individual teaching style; and that is something the books don’t tell you.

Libby Gill


May 27, 2016

Ralph Tabberer – Without research its a career not worth having


I completed my initial teacher training in the 1970s and had no idea how important research was going to be in my career. Most of my early teaching experience was a battle to get organised and to stay ahead, with material and ideas that would work day to day, and week to week.



I fell into classroom research after two years’ teaching, entirely out of my interest in understanding more of what was happening from the students’ viewpoint.



I worked with colleagues in designing simple exercises to track how students approached learning challenges. First, we paired up students so that one was the observer while another took on a task requiring them to use the library. The written reports of how students struggled to find the resources they needed were unintentionally hilarious until, that is, we realised that our 13-year-olds had no idea how to conduct a proper search. We had never shown them; it wasn’t in our curriculum.



Our work progressed. We asked students to collect the comments and marks they received in each lesson they attended, for one week, and when they played back their written and spoken results, we were ashamed. I still recall one child who spent almost every lesson being told exactly how poor they were. There was no system to our feedback and marking; we were unaware of the accumulated effect.



After a series of these exercises – looking at reading, writing, searching, feedback, problem-solving and more – I deepened my interest in research into the classroom, and into the cognitive sciences, and this has sustained me all my career. In teaching, fashions change – just look at the current debate about ‘mastery learning’ – and it is incredibly valuable to have a grasp of some of the underpinning ‘laws’ of teaching and learning.



I strongly recommend this report in 2000 from US authors who distilled what has been discovered about teaching and learning into five key lessons:



http://www.colorado.edu/MCDB/LearningBiology/readings/How-people-learn.pdf



Just read the first section, up to page 31. It is brilliant and there is nothing in neuroscience so far to beat it. It argues that learning is best when (a) teachers start from what students know and feel, (b) there is opportunity for plenty of practice of interesting content, (c) teachers point to the concepts that allow learners to stick the content and learning together, (d) teachers introduce learners to ‘organisers’ that aid retention and transfer, and (e) students are equipped and encouraged to become the regulators of their own learning. I wil come back to this work in later blogs.



I was fortunate in my school career. I worked for ten years in research after those early exercises in our classrooms. I joined a local authority and made my way in advising schools on their improvement strategies. I had the great honour of being appointed to run a government agency – funding teacher education – and from there I moved to take charge of school policy and operations at the Department for Education. That was during the Blair years when his celebrated top 3 priorities were: “education, education, education”. Heady days.



At every step, I was able to approach our work with that foundation in teaching and learning. We did not get everything right – by any means – but I have no doubt that our strengths and successes came in those areas where we knew and applied the lessons of research.



I didn’t know how important research was going to be when I started my career. I now realise there would have been no career worth having without it.



Ralph Tabberer





Professor Ralph Tabberer CB is the former Director General of Schools for England and the former Chief Executive of the Teacher Training Agency. He was Deputy Director of the National Foundation for Educational Research in the 1990s. He now concentrates on international education and is an adviser to Warwick University’s Centre for Professional Education.


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