Over the summer I worked my way through Daniel T Willingham’s book “why don’t students like school?” It is an exceptionally readable book. Willingham introduces the principle that underpins the chapter, developing it with explanations, examples and humour before applying it to the classroom. The cognitive psychology presented is therefore easy to understand, yet remains academically satisfying. I’ve learnt a lot from this book and would recommend it as excellent CPD. The book considers questions such as “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?” “Is drilling worth it?” and “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?” The final chapter then directly challenges teachers. It is also greatly helped with a summary table at the end that sets out the cognitive principles of each chapter, a question to prompt your thinking regarding your students and important classroom implications.
What am I taking from the book?
◊ Changing the way I do starters. My starters often take the form of testing some knowledge from last lesson to see if it has been retained. Now, I want to assess further back and make sure that the starter tests the requisite knowledge for the lesson I am about to teach.
◊ “Memory is the residue of thought”. How can I get my students to think more? I’m planning to make sure I give more time for thinking rather than simply picking a fast-thinking student. More think-pair-share might be used in eliciting grammar rules that I present students with. What would a mentally demanding MFL lesson look like? Would my students be able to cope with it?
◊ Proficiency requires practice. I’m planning to set longer and tougher homeworks this year (in keeping with school policy). I wonder if sometimes homework does enough consolidation. I also want students to take more responsibility for their learning outside the classroom and Teacher Toolkit has an idea of “takeaway homework” that I would quite like to try. Why is it that the musical students are happy to learn their lyrics or their scales but cannot apply the same drive to vocabulary or conjugation? Is it a question of payoff or do I need to tailor the practice to them in some way?
◊ Proficiency requires practice 2. I’ve also considered experimenting with DIRT time (directed improvement and reflection time). Some very funky editable mats can be found at the mathematics shed. Willingham suggests thinking about what material students need in their working memory and long term memory and practising it regularly over time. Spreading out the practice (or interleaving schemes of work) is something I need to consider. The idea my students need to gain is: “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended periods of practice.”
◊ Relationships are key. Willingham reminds us throughout the book that the “emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn”. He also makes the point that this has to be combined with a teacher who makes boring material interesting and accessible. I want to make sure that every child in my classroom gets some of my time. I’m planning to trial live marking with a class this year. Live marking is where the class work on a task while you go around marking some books allowing students to see what you think and discuss it with them. As well as marking and handing back books that I have done after school, I want to give this approach a go here and there, particularly with the students I feel get less of my attention.
Lastly, if you appreciated the photo at the top of this blog, then check out Hogwarts’ OFSTED report.