In Praise of Discovery Learning


“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no-one else can make for us, which no-one can spare us, for our wisdom  is the point of view from which we come at last to view the world.”

Marcel Proust.

How teaching happens matters!

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

A quick look through the DSE inspectorate reports shows that the popularity of discovery learning is showing no signs of disappearing. One inspection report from March mentions discovery learning twice, recommending that science teachers “should increase the emphasis on discovery learning” and another published last month recommends they “encourage the use of discovery learning by students” and criticises lessons where “too much time was spent on teacher instruction that impacted on discovery learning and student motivation”. A geography inspection report recommends “limiting teacher inputs” .One mathematics inspection praises “a particular focus…inquiry-based learning” and another recommends that…

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There is nothing wrong with teachers controlling the classroom

Filling the pail

I am not an advocate of ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies. I have never visited a zero tolerance school so I withhold judgement on what the atmosphere is like but, on paper, some of the rules read as a little eccentric. And I don’t like the name ‘zero tolerance’ because we all have to tolerate all sorts of indignities in everyday life. Like the similar term, ‘no-excuses’, I don’t think it can actually meanzero in practice because there are exceptions to any rule.

I also think these labels can be interpreted very darkly. Zero tolerance schools may be perceived as only seeking to reward and punish students rather than instruct them in how to behave. A student from a chaotic family background may simply not know what is expected. And so I think teachers have a role in teaching these conventions, and with good humour. In fact, it is the…

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Pedagogical Content Knowledge in English

English Remnant World

“…the question of what teachers should understand if they wish to teach a domain responsibly is no simple challenge. In the field of English teaching, where canons are under question and “consensus” is more frequently misspelled than accomplished, the problem of teacher knowledge is daunting.”

In her paper ‘Knowing, Believing and the Teaching of English’, quoted above, Pamela Grossman outlines just some of the key challenges faced by those who try to define the knowledge English teachers require. In essence, they are that:

  • There are numerous ways of dividing up the English curriculum. For example, some argue it can be split into linguistics, literature and composition whilst others would divide it into reading, writing, speaking and listening.
  • English, particularly reading, is an interpretive domain and there are many interpretive schools of thought. There is therefore a question about the number of standpoints which teachers should be able to…

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Folk Knowledge and Academic Learning

Douglas Wise

David Geary, the cognitive developmental and evolutionary psychologist, writes in his essay Folk Knowledge and Academic Learning that ‘academic learning [is] effortful because it requires sustained attentional control and working memory resources.’  The act of reading a GCSE literary text provides a reasonable illustration of this: effortful determination is required to overcome the linguistic and cultural barriers of, say, a chapter of Jekyll and Hyde or a scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Geary argues that students have a natural disposition to favour activities that are largely social in nature.  This in itself is not particularly problematic: done well, group work activities can be productive (as I’ve written about it in a previous post).  However, Geary’s words – once again – are worth keeping in mind:

‘Children’s inherent motivational dispositions and activity preferences are likely to be at odds with the need to engage in the activities, such as…

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 “But my weak students struggle with it” – Why the new GCSEs are needed


Since the start of the new GCSE specifications, I’ve heard this several times. My view on this isn’t a popular one.

They ‘should’ struggle.

Whether we like it or not, GCSEs are essentially a ranking of all the students that take that exam in that year. We can argue for a long time whether this is fair or whether it’s the purpose of education but the longer we spend on this, the less time we spend on giving our students the best support and opportunity to achieve their best.

Here are some grade boundaries for Religious Studies GCSE:

img_2041-1There are three marks between an A and an A* and seven between each of the ‘good GCSE’ grades. You’d hope that those would differentiate between students e.g a good student, an excellent student and an exceptional student. They don’t. Those marks could be achieved from many things that aren’t good subject…

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Behaviour is shit: classrooms

At this year’s Education Festival at Wellington, I spoke to rather hot and sweaty room about why behaviour is so difficult to talk about, why we overcomplicate matters, and what we can do about it. Thanks to everyone who packed themselves in – not sure H&S would have been keen.

What follows is the third and final part of the talk, on classrooms. You can find part one, on ideology,here, and part two, on policies, here.

A final recap.

  1. I believe a calm environment is the best in which to learn. I am fully aware that different subjects will require chatter and collaboration, but this can be calm: we really shouldn’t be worried that little Vernon Victim will again be locked in the sports cupboard, or that any food-tech session is really an exercise in ‘dodge-toast’.
  2. We’ve misunderstood the notion of relationships. These should be built on…

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On the Definition of Learning….

There was a brief, lively thread on Twitter over the weekend concerning the definition of learning. To tip my hand here at the outset, I think this debate—on Twitter and elsewhere–is a good example of the injunction that scientists ought not to worry overmuch about definitions. That might seem backwards—how can you study learning if you aren’t even clear about what learning is? But from another perspective don’t we expect that a good definition of learning might be the result of research, rather than a prerequisite?

Source: On the Definition of Learning….

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