All entries for February 2019

February 25, 2019

Reflections on E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy – Luke

In Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, author E. D. Hirsch forces the reader to address one simple question; Why do we educate children? Depending on how sympathetic you are to Hirsch upon finishing the book, you may conclude that we educate children so that they are capable of functioning, that is living, working and communicating, in an everchanging society. This definition is a reasonable one but issues arise when looking for the most effective way to implement education.

Hirsch states that a functioning society requires that citizens share a common non-specialist knowledge of their culture when participating in public discourse. Citizens able to engage in this discourse are defined as the culturally literate. A culturally literate Englishman, for example, knows the intended meanings of a catch 22 situation, a Scrooge, flying too close to the sun, fighting them on the beaches or having the heart and stomach of a king without having necessarily read Heller or Dickens, knowing Greek mythology or being fully aware of the setting of our most famous speeches. Hirsch believes that being culturally literate has become the great divider simply because where education has failed to teach this knowledge, the middle classes have been able to impart it to their children at home.

Hirsch is keen that the reader reflect on the case of Cicero who used Latin phrases and terms common to culturally literate Romans to explain complex Greek science and philosophy. Cicero used the shared language to deliver new concepts and skills. Consider the amount of specialist and non-specialist skills that modern society requires of its workforce – it is quickly changing, and the education system cannot teach every skill required. Now consider how little the written English language has changed since it was made uniform; non-specialists can still read the language of the American Declaration of Independence regardless of the changes to society over 200 years. Therefore, it is plausible to suggest that learning new skills is secondary in importance to being culturally literate, but education hasn’t always reflected this. For Hirsch the solutions lie in a knowledge-based curriculum where facts are imparted through rote learning.

The evidence used in the book is compelling and one could certainly argue that books for primary aged children that help decode but deliver no cultural content only do half the job that is required of them. A knowledge-based curriculum explicitly tells students what they need to learn and what they need to do to succeed. It seems unusual to think that university students are fed a diet of instructivism from the lecture hall but have grown up with discovery-based learning ideas.

The theory is not without issues. Toward the end of the book we see a criticism of Bloom’s Taxonomy as Hirsch believes that knowledge should be at the top of the taxonomy. This seems problematic as there is a significant difference between knowing that pulleys enable us to lift greater weights and using them to build the pyramids. A strawman perhaps, but those great revelations of man which were surely made standing on the shoulders of giants were discovered through synthesis of previously learned knowledge and to completely remove exploration and synthesis from our schools may well send the pendulum too far the other way.

February 18, 2019

Mendeley – Jonty Leese

One of the big challenges in stepping up from A-level to degree to post graduate is in academic writing and the need for accurate referencing. Many students use what they have always done and stitch a list of references together, hoping that their take on Harvard or AMA is correct. I’ve led on some training with my Secondary PGCE cohort introducing software called Mendeley. Now, for the uninitiated, Mendeley is a set of services (an account where your references are saved) which is accessed on multiple platforms and browsers and it has a plugin that pulls all this information into MS Word. This allows an accurate reference list to be created in a few seconds. The huge benefit is that most times you find a suitable journal it’s possible to take the reference details and pull it into your online account along with a copy of the pdf document (where available). Not only that but from Mendeley it’s possible to search their database of other references to ensure that you have all the details accurately recorded and stored.

All of this is stored online (up to 2 gig of space for free) with the ability to access it from anywhere in the world. Being able to annotate your files with colours and keywords means that “key word searching” is straightforward as it searches all your entries and annotations. This is ideal if you are trying to search quickly for that file where there was a reference to Malawi University, for example, without having to search all your files laboriously. It is possible to set up a group of like-minded individuals, for example Computer Science PGCE trainees, where references are shared with peers - good academic practice.

Looking forward, Mendeley allows the academic to establish their presence online - which can start to give you stats on how your academic “reach” is increasing. Furthermore, it identifies authors and journals which are potentially relevant to your research interests, ideal in expanding your knowledge, in depth and breadth of research.

To quote two of my trainees this year:

“I have found Mendeley brilliant! It has organised all my reading into one safe and portable space, so I can continue my research anywhere with Internet access. It has also helped me with my referencing, as this was one of my original worries about essay writing. I feel confident with Mendeley.“


“I would have spent the guts of an entire extra day focusing solely on referencing after I had written an essay. Mendeley has provided me with the actual ability to do this as I go, simply by clicking a few buttons and nothing more. Life-saver!”

Not only is it good academic practice to develop your skillset but I hope this has persuaded you to investigate Mendeley and go further.

Web links:


TWENTE University Help:

February 11, 2019

How the English Literature GCSE text requirements alienate and disengage young people

How the English Literature GCSE text requirements alienate and disengage young people - Anna

The changes in the GCSE requirements for English, while challenging, go a long way in disengaging students and alienating them from the enjoyment of literature. The new English Literature syllabus focuses on ‘classic literature’ and ‘substantial whole texts in detail’, taken from the following categories:

  • Shakespeare
  • 19th century novel
  • Selection of poetry since 1789, including Romantic poetry
  • Fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards

Although elements of this specification can engage and certainly challenge students, this GCSE specification is creating issues in our society, specifically disengaging young people with reading and also creating dissent in classrooms, as often literature lessons do not inspire, and can be seen to be irrelevant by many young people.


Due to the language barrier in Shakespearean texts, some students (particularly low ability students) feel alienated and intimidated by the texts given to them. Considering the amount of time needed to unravel the archaic language in order for students to understand the stories fully, as well as the amount of analysis needed in order to prepare students for their exams, there is little time to allow students to take part in engaging activities in order to understand and analyse these texts. Most teachers do not include acting or directing, for instance, in their scheme of work as most time is given over to essay practice and quotation learning. Although Shakespeare remains relevant to student’s lives with highly relevant themes (Purewal, 2017), most teachers are under increasing pressure to deliver exam results so are unable to explore these themes in detail and how they relate to student’s lives.

19th century novel

Due to the language and style of most 19th century literature, students tend to find the novels tedious and strenuous. While there is significant merit in studying some 19th century literature, studying a whole text, and expecting students to be able to memorise quotations from this is disengaging to many students. Potentially, the study of such difficult and potentially alienating texts, with the added pressure of exams, will discourage young people from pursuing reading for pleasure. Although the department for education has cited reading for pleasure as being “more important for children’s education success than their families socio-economic status” (DofE, 2012, p. 3) schools are alienating young people from reading and subconsciously discouraging them from reading through the study of a range of disengaging texts.

Fiction or Drama

Although being the only real ‘modern’ area on the syllabus, most schools choose an older text. “An Inspector Calls” (1945) is one of the most engaging texts on the syllabus, similarly “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” or “Blood Brothers” are more modern and engaging for young people, with themes and characters closer to their real lives. However, students see the play format as being closer to a film in nature, and while this may be enjoyable, is not encouraging students to read and engage in a variety of literature for their own pleasure as well as the widening of their own knowledge and vocabulary. Many children’s rivers of reading (Kibbler, 2018) end at school. If the GCSE specification was effective, then not only would teachers be able to support students in passing their exams, but also to develop a love of literature and learning.

Pressure of results

Due to both the pressure of results, and the pressure of Ofsted inspections, teachers appear to have become fairly monotonous in their teaching, having to stick to rigid and repetitive lesson plans with a focus on analysis and evaluation, purely with the aim of getting students to pass their exams than to create a love of literature reading and creating a rich culture in student’s cultural capital.

The new GCSE specification disengages students through a range of texts students struggle to understand, and the need to analyse destroys the enjoyment of these texts. As well as this, teachers do not have the time to explore different ways of learning due to the pressure from schools and the government to push students through their exams and achieve the results made. Instead of supporting a love of learning, the GCSE specification is destroying students love of stories interest in a range of different themes. Children instead turn to films, TV programmes and games to refresh and relax their minds instead of turning to books.


DofE. (2012). Research evidence on reading for pleasure. Educational standards research team.

Kibbler, K. (2018). Rivers of Reading. NATE: Teaching English, 53-57.

Purewal, S. (2017). Shakespeare in the Classroom: to be or not to be? . Warwick Journal of Education, 26-35.

February 04, 2019

The impact of research on my practice – Mike

Discuss how being research-informed has impacted on an area of your practice and explain how you hope to develop this in the future.

During this training year, one of my absolute passions has been the area of ‘diversity history’ within wider history education. The term ‘diversity’ encompasses many things and so is difficult to define. Here it is largely considered as a term to explain the need to widen the history taught in the classroom so that it is ‘responsive’ to the reality of the classroom in 2018 (Mohamud & Whitburn, 2014, p. 41). This means teaching a history that reflects the makeup of the classroom. History is a unique subject in that it can help shape the identity of pupils teaching a history that excludes a sizable portion of the classroom is not acceptable in 2018. Working in a school which has a higher than average ethnic minority within its cohort makes the need for this immediately apparent when considering race. However, diversity history should aim to challenge misconceptions and reveal hidden figures throughout history who may have previously been ignored for societal reasons. That means considering the history of influential women long before the suffrage movement or making students aware that LGBTQ people have always been a part of history. Students should engage with questions of why these histories has been largely erased. For many, speaking of ‘diversity’ instantly brings to mind topics of slavery, suffrage and civil rights. These remain valuable topics, but research suggests that we need to be moving away from narratives of victimhood when it comes to the diverse history as these remain problematic. (Traille, 2007). These topics often remain go to ‘diversity topics’ however due to ease of resources.

With the research in mind I have attempted to consider ways in which to diversify my own teaching of history. The reality is that this starts with working within established frameworks – especially as a trainee. I have attempted to implement this into a Civil Rights scheme of work taught at Key Stage Three. With a sensitive topic such as this and the research in mind, I have made a conscious effort to not look overly exploitative in presenting African-American’s as victims. The first slide on Evidence 1 shows a Coca-Cola machine that was only for white people. I had chosen this image as a replacement for a suggested image of lynching – yes this has a shock value. But ultimately students can take my word for it that these atrocities happened. By choosing a more obscure and intriguing image the point is ultimately the same – racism was ingrained into society at an unimaginable level, but it avoids perpetuating a troubling victimhood any further.

Ultimately, implementing a diverse history also means fostering a mindset in students which questions the dominating histories to question where other types of people fit into our historical study. I have been attempting to raise this questioning nature with Year 8 by posing questions and think pieces so that students do not accept dominating narratives at face value. The student response in Evidence 2 which asks ‘Who says that Jack the Ripper wasn’t a girl’ was an encouraging sign of this mindset being embedded into the classroom.

Looking towards the future, I am planning two schemes of work over the summer. A Suffragette module and a wider module on protest. My approach to this planning will be with the research on diversity history in mind. For example, the enquiry question for the Suffragettes will be ‘who were the hidden suffragettes?’. Although still a typical ‘diversity’ topic, I aim to offer a more modern take on it beyond the classic story which we know. Something which seems apt at the centenary of the event. I continue to adapt current schemes (introducing a lesson on the African-American women of NASA to Civil Rights) but hope that as my confidence in this area grows that I will be able to explore more exciting opportunities at planning a diversity history away from classic narratives.


Mohamud, A. and Whitburn, R. (2014). Unpacking the suitcase and finding history: doing justice to the teaching of diverse histories in the classroom. Teaching History, 40-46.

Traille, K. (2007). ‘You should be proud about your history. They made me feel ashamed’: teaching history hurts. Teaching History, 31-37.

February 2019

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  • Very interesting, thank you for sharing. Great CPD reflection. by Joel Milburn on this entry
  • Hi Lucy, Thank you for sharing the highs and lows of diverse assessments. I hope you have inspired o… by Anna Tranter on this entry
  • Hello Lucy, I totally agree with everything you have said here. And well done for having the energy … by Natalie Sharpling on this entry
  • Thank you for setting up this Learning Circle. Clearly, this is an area where we can make real progr… by Gwen Van der Velden on this entry
  • It's wonderful to read of your success Alex and the fact that you've been able to eradicate some pre… by Catherine Glavina on this entry

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