This article was originally printed in the December 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine
Click here to freely read the full version
Reading research-based books is a big step forward for two teachers who had read little more than the odd DfE(S) update since finishing our PGCEs. If you’re in a similar position and don’t have time to read lots of books, we hope our summary of the key findings from this selection, as presented at Teaching and Learning Takeover in Southampton last month, will give you something to think about and discuss with colleagues. You may be inspired to go out and read them all, especially when you see that the longest is less than 350 pages. In which case we hope you find them as thought-provoking and interesting as we did.
We have spent a lot of time, both consciously and unconsciously, digesting and reflecting on the findings of these books. In some cases we have completely changed how we think/plan/teach/explain, but in many cases it’s just a ‘tweak’ to how we go about our teaching and how we conduct conversations with learners.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
The key points from this book are as follows:
- Ability is not fixed and students will achieve more if they have a growth mindset, making the connection between effort and outcome.
- If you believe you can improve through sustained effort, you will be more open to engaging in deliberate practice and will place great value on feedback.
- Students should be taught to embrace challenging work and persist when they find it tough, because only doing work that they find easy means they will not become better learners.
Mindset has become a hot topic in education, so predictably it has also gained critics. It is always a danger that this sort of concept becomes a gimmick whereby people decide to ‘do a bit of Mindset’, but in the words of John Tomsett (see bit.ly/uked14dec01) ‘You can’t just do Mindset, it’s a culture.’ As well as trying to tweak the mindset in our students, we have found ourselves applying this approach to teachers as learners – ourselves included. When we shared this mindset-inspired meme (above) on Twitter as ‘Something for the classroom’ the overwhelming response seemed to be ‘I’m putting this up in the staffroom!’
An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger
Key messages from Berger:
- Producing a piece of excellent work changes the way students feel about what they can do.
- Having a detailed understanding of what constitutes an excellent piece of work helps students to do it themselves.
- Creating a culture of critique where students actively seek out kind, specific and helpful feedback from their peers increases students’ chances of producing excellent work.
- Raising expectations of what students are able to achieve enables students to develop an internal model of quality that they carry with them around school.
Another very inspirational read that has inspired whole schools to change their culture (for some examples, see bit.ly/uked14dec02 and bit.ly/uked14dec03). Another culture shift, not just in raising expectations but also very importantly to develop a desire in learners to seek out feedback.
The Hidden lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall
The key points from this book are as follows:
- The underlying process of learning is essentially the same for all students, meaning low ability students can learn in the same way as high ability students; the differences creep in because of students’ prior knowledge, motivation and individual experiences.
- Learning is multilayered; a student experiences new learning through the public world where tasks are managed by the teacher, the semi-private interactions between peers and the private world of the individual student. How they make sense of these three worlds impacts on how much they learn. Low ability students are just as capable of learning new ideas/concepts.
- Students need to experience at least three different sets of complete information about a new idea/concept before it becomes embedded in their memory so we need to give them opportunities to revisit these ideas/concepts.
- Students remember how they learnt something just as much as the content of what they learnt so task design is crucial and should encourage students to think about what helps them learn.
This, just like the other three books is by no means a weighty tome, but some of the findings of Nuthall’s research are so mindblowing that they may well need a second read. Perhaps the most interesting point for us is the idea that lower and higher ability students don’t learn in a different way; it is just the fact that lower attaining students have less prior knowledge to form connections with their new learning and this limits how much they can make sense of the new things they are learning.
Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel
Key points from the book:
- Learning that is difficult and requires more effort will last longer than learning that is easy and quick to grasp because our memories are having to work harder in the former.
- Repeated retrieval practice (through quizzes and testing) is a better strategy than rereading or cramming because it strengthens students’ ability to retrieve what is in our stored memory.
- Trying to solve a problem before being taught properly how to do it leads to better learning, even when mistakes are made in the attempt (as long as they are corrected).
- The more a student can explain in detail what they have learnt and how this connects to what they already know, the better chance they have of remembering it much later on.
The book stresses the importance of repeated retrieval practice: the process of trying to recall information strengthens the learning of that information. It is not important for a student to get the answer correct, rather to put in the effort to retrieve it and subsequently for the teacher to identify any incorrect or missing answers and correct them.
The other key finding in ‘Make it stick’ that we have applied to our teaching is that of ‘generation’. This relates very well to Nuthall’s findings and is what a plenary should be about: engaging the mind in trying to make sense of new learning by making the effort to explain in your own words and relating it to what you already know. Our plenary or reflection activities didn’t always achieve this, so now tasks such as ‘Summary tweets’ and ‘reflection pyramids’ are designed with this in mind.
More information on how these books have influenced our teaching in our #TLT14 presentation at slideshare.net/debbieandmel
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