Top books all teachers should read

In the 18/25 December issue of TES, we asked leading figures in education to tell us the book they think every teacher should read. You can now read their choices below.

1. How Children Succeed: grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character by Paul Tough

Chosen by Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities

“There should be no tension between academic success and character education – the two are mutually dependent. Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed offers an important contribution to the debate around the role of character education in schools and, in particular, the value it can have for disadvantaged pupils. I want all children, no matter what their background, to leave school well rounded, with a range of interests.”


2. Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan

Chosen by Sir Tim Brighouse, former schools commissioner for London, education author and TEScolumnist

“Michael Fullan’s book is cheap and a quick read, so it starts with two great advantages for busy school leaders. You could start each senior leadership team meeting with a short debate on each chapter. I guarantee it will help your school be a better and more cheerful place to learn and teach. The Idiot Teacher by Gerard Holmes, Bounce by Matthew Syed and Howard Gardner’s Education and Development of the Mind should also be must-reads.”


3. Children, Their World, Their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review edited by Robin Alexander

Chosen by Dame Alison Peacock, executive headteacher at The Wroxham School and TEScolumnist

“This has to be the most important book in recent times for all those interested in primary education. The book and the accompanying volume of research papers provide a compelling synthesis of published educational research and findings that relate to the full range of issues encountered by everyone working with primary-aged children. It focuses on three core principles: equity, expertise and empowerment.”


4. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: how the digital revolution will create better health care by Eric Topol

Chosen by Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive, Education Endowment Foundation

“I love roaming in related disciplines searching for clues and paths to our future. This book shows us how the powerful combination of good science and technology is already delivering ‘ultra-personalised’ health solutions. It also demonstrates how continuous feedback and automated alerts manage risk, and help promote fitness and wellbeing. Eric Topol points the way to a revolution that will sweep through our profession. It reminds us that informed citizens and democratic checks are essential if we are to deliver the benefits of technology to all.”


5. Why Don’t Students Like School: a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom by Daniel Willingham

Chosen by Nick Gibb, minister of state for schools

“Dan Willingham argues that we expect too much of students in terms of capabilities and skills, without focusing enough on the knowledge required to develop them. He demonstrates how the limitations of working memory, and the power of knowledge stored in long-term memory, should guide classroom practice.”

What other leading figures say about the same book…

E D Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, author and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia

“In my experience, when teachers are informed about current cognitive science they are moved to change their practice for the better. Here, Dan Willingham explains the science clearly and agreeably.”

Daisy Christodoulou, head of education research, ARK

“Dan Willingham is brilliant at explaining complicated science clearly, offering useful reference to real classroom problems. Read it and you will never plan a lesson in the same way again.”


6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Chosen by Samantha Twiselton, director of Sheffield Institute of Education

“The plot, characters, themes and perspectives that are so beautifully and movingly articulated have powerful messages for all involved in education. Importantly, Haddon has said: ‘[It is] not a book about Asperger’s…if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.’ The novel should give all who read it important insights into their students’ perspectives on the world.”


7. The Tail: how England’s schools fail one child in five – and what can be done edited by Paul Marshall

Chosen by David Laws, executive chairman, CentreForum

“This focuses on the causes and the consequences of the lowest achieving quintile of children, who leave school without basic skills in literacy and numeracy. The power of this book comes from the fact that it challenges existing notions and demonstrates that, with strong commitment and effective incentives, ‘the tail’ is neither intractable nor immovable. Importantly, it puts teachers right at the heart of this challenge, reflecting growing evidence that the leadership and dedication of teachers can make the single biggest difference to improving outcomes for the tail.”


8. Switch: how to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Chosen by Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor of educational assessment at UCL Institute of Education

“Perhaps the most counterproductive idea in professional development over recent years has been that teachers need to share good practice – most teachers already have more good ideas than they can use in a lifetime. What they lack is time and support in putting their ideas into practice. In other words, professional development needs to focus on changing practice, rather than sharing practice; not knowledge giving, but habit changing. That’s why I recommend every teacher should read this book. It’s a brilliant, readable summary of the research on habit change.”


9. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Chosen by Vicki Davis, author of the Cool Cat Teacher blog (@coolcatteacher) and host of educational podcast Every Classroom Matters

“Schools are full of people. People need respect, love and attention, not manipulation and coercion. I’ve read this book on working with people at least once a year since I was 12. I’m still improving as I apply the ideas in this book. Kids still benefit from this book. Life is full of people; when we respect them, we all win.”


10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Chosen by Chris Keates, general secretary, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

“This is a timeless story about childhood and a child’s-eye view that conveys an understanding of human behaviour, justice and compassion, which is much needed in these times, when far too many lives continue to be blighted by inequality and prejudice. Its messages are as hard-hitting today as they were when it was first written.”


11. Legacy: what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr

Chosen by Neil Carmichael, Conservative MP for Stroud, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee

“This book analyses the secrets of the most successful rugby team in history and how their disciplines in character, preparation and responsibility can be used by leaders in all fields. I know of school leaders who have already applied many of the tips to their work and I believe it’s of great use for inspirational leadership in education.”


12. The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager by Andy Cope, Andy Whittaker, Darrell Woodman and Amy Bradley

Chosen by Charlotte Vere, executive director, Girls’ Schools Association

“At a recent conference, Andy Cope delivered one of the best opening sessions I have heard on ‘The Art of Happiness’: from ‘special pants’ (yes, that’s right) to ‘mood hooverers’. It gave everyone there a basic belief that happiness is a state of mind that can and should be encouraged. So I bought my two children his book, which focuses on the younger mind. With all the talk around poor mental health in teenagers, it’s got to be worth a try, right?”


13. Visible Learning for Teachers: maximizing impact on learning by John Hattie

Chosen by Mary Bousted, general secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers

“Recognising what makes a difference enables reflection on how to do more that makes a positive difference. Reading this book should make obvious the swathes of time-consuming tasks that make no (or worse, negative) impact, making them easy to remove. It is fabulously well-researched.”


14. The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall

Chosen by Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, a trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation and co-author of the Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit for schools

The Hidden Lives of Learners lays bare the truth of what really happens in classrooms. Hundreds of hours of videotape evidence expose the crude inefficiencies of everyday teaching: 50 per cent of what teachers teach, children already know; 80 per cent of pupils’ time is spent pretending to listen; teachers talk 75 per cent of the time. This book shows why effective feedback is so key to learning.”


15.  Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? The essential guide to the big issues for every 21st century teacher by Ian Gilbert

Chosen by Julie Robinson, general secretary, Independent Schools Council

“This is a humorous roller coaster of a book, full of big ideas to improve learning and make you a better teacher. Ian Gilbert inspires through insightful, enthusiastic, reflective and well-researched wisdom and experience. Read it to ensure that you are not falling into bad-teacher traps.”


16. The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper

Chosen by Russell Hobby, general secretary, National Association of Headteachers

“I recommend this because of its unflinching analysis and its fascinating account of the accumulation of knowledge. An additional book for school leaders is The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig – it promotes a healthy scepticism about ‘advice’, and urges trust in your common sense rather than fashion.”


17. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: can we change course before it’s too late? by Seymour B Sarason

Chosen by Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, author and visiting professor of practice at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

“This book really changed the way I thought about my own school. It helped me to understand the importance of the culture of the school and how beliefs, habits and power relations between people are keys to school change. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform is a must-read for teachers who want enriched perspectives to teaching and school improvement.”


18. Rebel Yell: the violence, passion and redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S C Gwynne

Chosen by Barbara Oakley, professor of engineering, Oakland University, and author and co-instructor of the popular Mooc Learning How to Learn

“S C Gwynne’s book helps us to understand that even the most reviled among us can have unexpected depth of character and ability. Teachers can bring this inspiring example to mind when they face challenges with the students who are in their charge.”


19. The Expert Learner: challenging the myth of ability by Gordon Stobart

Chosen by Tim Oates, group director, Assessment Research & Development

“In 2011, a draft of the new national curriculum for primary maths came back to me and ministers with all mentions of ‘practice’ red-penned by officials. They said: ‘Practice in maths is just dull repetition of the same thing. It will switch children off the subject.’ We reinstated the word. Doing so felt contrary to the educational zeitgeist at the time, so we were relieved at the publication of Gordon Stobart’s brilliant, iconoclastic, evidence-driven analysis book, which puts practice at the heart of learning.”


20. The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd

Chosen by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers

“Policymakers talk a lot about the ‘disadvantaged’, but they hardly ever listen to them. Selina Todd’s book is a marvellous corrective to that attitude. Based on the voices of working-class people, it charts the history of ‘those who won wars, who got an education against the odds and who worked hard to give their children the best possible start’. Now, as inequality rises and austerity bites, the ‘anger and defiance’ of ‘the people’ have been muted. But as Todd points out, their experience shows us that social injustice can be challenged.”


21. The Smartest Kids in the World: and how they got that way by Amanda Ripley

Chosen by Andreas Schleicher, director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD

“Amanda Ripley follows three American teenagers who each chose to spend one school year living and learning in a different country: Finland, South Korea and Poland. Through their adventures, Ripley discovers startling truths about how attitudes, parenting and rigorous teaching have revolutionised these countries’ education results. Ripley’s astonishing insights reveal how kids learn to think for themselves, and that persistence and resilience matter more to our children’s life chances than self-esteem or sports.”


22. Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell

Chosen by Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)

“This is a must-read for teaching staff. Gladwell explores why some people achieve so much more than others, and puts forward the theory that none of us is naturally talented. Rather, we become good at things by working away, for 10,000 hours, at whatever it is we want to excel in.”


23. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Chosen by Becky Francis, professor of education and social justice, King’s College London

“Besides being a gripping, insightful and hugely well-crafted ‘coming of age’ tale, Black Swan Greenprovides a timely reminder that schools really have got better since the 1980s. It also conveys the intensity and vulnerability of adolescence without ever patronising, and includes some reminders of the difference that great teachers can make.”


24. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Chosen by Sam Freedman, acting executive director of programmes at Teach First and TEScolumnist

“Teachers are bombarded with theories about how best to do their job, so it’s crucial to understand how to make open-minded, sceptical judgements about what is and isn’t worth trying. Start with this – it’s an excellent guide to why our reasoning is so often misguided.”


25. Measuring Up: what educational testing really tells us by Daniel Koretz

Chosen by Amanda Spielman, chief regulator and chair, Ofqual

“This book explains, with fascinating examples, the principles of testing and test design, including validity and reliability. By the end, the reader is well equipped to avoid many common pitfalls.”


26. Reading Without Nonsense by Frank Smith

Chosen by Nancie Atwell, author, teacher, winner of the inaugural Global Teacher Prize and founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning

“As a literacy teacher for 40 years, Frank Smith continues to be the theorist who most informs my work with children. In this refreshing book, Smith rightly characterises much reading instruction as ‘ritual and nonsense’, starting with an overreliance on systematic phonics in both the UK and US. Instead, he urges teachers to understand what skilled readers actually do and what the beginning reader is trying to do.”


27. I Am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Chosen by Julia Gillard, chair of the board of directors, Global Partnership for Education

“I suggest keeping a copy to hand and letting it inspire you on the days when the disadvantage that follows some children to school seems impossible to overcome, and when it all seems too hard. A book to remind us that education is precious, sought-after and fought for.”


28. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Chosen by Baroness Warnock, philosopher and chair of The Warnock Report (1978) Special Educational Needs

“Mill speaks of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, the fetters imposed on the individual by the need to conform to the role society has assigned them. Teachers must avoid stereotyping their students by categorising them: she’s a girl; he’s a West Indian; she’s a spoiled only child; he’s from a deprived background. Teachers should hope beyond expectation. All classroom teaching involves a degree of manipulation. On Liberty serves as an exacting warning.”


29. How to Create Kind Schools by Jenny Hulme

Chosen by Professor Sonia Blandford, founder and chief executive of Achievement for All

“This book is very different from other guides to bullying. Uniquely, it brings together 12 charities (and their celebrity ambassadors) to discuss bullying, and how to prevent it. Readers are invited into settings embracing the charities’ ideas and that reveal magnificent and moving results. From peer mentors to gay role models, achievement coaches to a touring Gypsy and Traveller theatre group, the stories are threaded together by a focus on promoting understanding. They demonstrate how we can all help create a generation of ambassadors for tolerance and diversity, and how a kind school is a good school, but a really kind school is an outstanding school.”


30. The Science of Learning (Deans for Impact)

Chosen by Tom Bennett,TEScolumnist, behaviour expert and teacher

“I believe this text is one of the most important reference guides for teachers published in many years, and should be compulsory reading in initial teacher training. It offers a super-brief summary of what the best research tells us about how children really learn, how memory, attention and focus work and, more importantly, what this means for classroom practice. In an educational system where terrible science often dominates, it’s refreshing to see something so carefully put together, and translated into a language that neither patronises nor confuses the classroom practitioner. It’s brilliant and, best of all, completely free to download.”


31. Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Chosen by Angela Constance MSP, Scottish education secretary

“I often recommend to friends and colleagues Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln. She narrates wonderfully how he rose to become the unexpected winner of the Republican nomination for president by building alliances. In office, he brought together all his former rivals into a cabinet team and used all their talents to win the Civil War and to amend the constitution to bring an end to slavery.”


32. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chosen by Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union and a former English teacher

“Teachers should read primarily for enjoyment; for the chance to escape to a different reality – to experience different worlds. The choice is endless, but if I was to advocate a single book, and that inevitably is a challenge, I would suggest Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is a book I remember with joy from my childhood and which I have re-read several times. The storyline may well be familiar to many but only reading the text allows Stevenson’s art with language and imagery to transport you to an adventure beyond compare – it certainly did with me as a child, cementing a life-long love of books.”


33. The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe

Chosen by John Dunford, chair of Whole Education

“Teachers are more subject than most people to the winds of policy change as governments and secretaries of state (33 since 1944) change and an increasing amount of legislation is introduced. The causes of government blunders are many – the cultural disconnect between governing and governed, media-led panic, the musical chairs of ministers and civil servants, the divorce between policymaking and implementation, impatient ministers and short-termism, to name some of the causes that have undoubtedly blighted education policy for the past 30 years. The education example in the book is the Individual Learning Accounts fiasco (the ‘great training robbery”of 1996-2001). Teachers will no doubt add their own suggestions.”


read the article at;


Feeding back

When Feedback Met Bloom

Ofsted commented on our marking or in some cases the lack of it as they have at schools up and down the country.  The response was a new policy, which in itself is fine, but also much more stringent monitoring to ensure the policy was fully and properly implemented – it’s not for the fainted hearted.  The policy is available on the post about the #5MinMarkingPlan that I co-posted with Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit) some time ago.
In putting the Marking Policy together we focussed on what could be evidenced as good practice in the research available and in some of our own teachers’ practice.  The policy has a 2:1 ratio of formative assessment (feedback) to summative assessment.  The graphic below is from the monitoring section of the policy and lays out are non-negotiable expectations.
Formative Assessment Criteria
The big areas of foci for us were and still are:
  • Explicit success criteria, shared with students in advance, for each piece of work that is formatively assessed
  • A response from the learner that uses the feedback to improve his/her work to the next level.  Ask yourself when marking work will it be you or the students who have worked harder?  If it is not the students something has gone wrong.
  • A comment about the learning behaviours (5Rs Learner Traits) that a student has used or could have used to improve the work presented for marking.
These threads were identified and woven into the policy, and increasingly into our practice, by reading Hattie’s books and listening to Dylan Wiliam.Staff are sometimes just too honest with me for their own good!
“Since doing this marking I know so much better where the class is up to.”
It makes you proud when someone nails it.  It isn’t just about students getting feedback from the marking but teachers also getting feedback about where students are up to, what has worked, what has not and where to next.
Feedback (d=0.73, 10th) – This Means the Impact of Feedback on Achievement is Huge
Many teachers feel that they give detailed and frequent feedback to their students but according to Hattie (2009, Visible Learning, pp. 173-178) students don’t agree – apparently most of the feedback given by teachers is behavioural and social rather than feedback focused on learning.
Hattie (2009) contends the key to the effectiveness of the feedback is that it is acted on – by either the teacher or the student.  This post is about how the feedback is acted on by students within the learning process.  Students need to respond to the feedback with enhanced work or performance otherwise the marking and feedback is pointless.
Learning Through Assessment
Assessment is part of the learning process not a separate activity.  Assessment is for and as part of learning.  Given the feedback to each student, which s/he will be required to respond to is quite different, it is a great way to differentiate their learning.  Imagine at the start of a lesson every student is improving the level of his/her work with the specific feedback targeted at improving his/her performance, that level of differentiation is impressive.
Hattie (2009, Visible Learning, p. 176) produces a useful model of feedback that starts with the purpose – “to reduce discrepancies between current understandings/performance and a desired goal” – followed by actions by the teacher or student to reduce the discrepancy based upon three effective feedback questions:
  • Feed Up – Where am I going? (the goals)
  • Feedback – How am I going?
  • Feed Forward – Where to next?
Hattie (2009) suggests that each of these questions can be asked at a task, process and self-regulation level.  These levels have much in common with Bloom’s Taxonomy which I still have a certain affinity with since being introduced to it as a young teacher.  However, it is only Bloom’s “Knowledge Dimensions” that I use rather than the cognitive processes identified within the taxonomy.  If you want to unpack this a little more have a look at “When #SOLO Met Bloom Taxonomy”.   Hattie (2009) gives a number of examples but here are a few attempts from me.
Feedback TableWhy not produce your own table with a set of standards prompts, questions or responses you could use in class?
FAIL tumblr_ljf307jHVf1qb13xjo1_500

Featured on Saying Images & Tumblr Pictures

FAIL – First Attempt In Learning is described fully in Ross Morrison McGill’s new book, 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons (a great little stocking filler).

Link to the book is here

It consists of giving and receiving feedback in order to improve work.  However, if you really want to see the impact of feedback you need to think FAIL, SAIL, TAIL – first, second and third attempts in learning leading to excellence.
Tom Sherrington’s (@headguruteacher) post , “Lessons from Berger: Austin’s Butterfly and Not Accepting Mediocrity” about an ethic of excellence and mastery learning just blew me away – check out the YouTube clip.
Screen Shot from

Screen Shot from post is here

The work that Austin manages to produce (I think he is about seven years old) would put many secondary school students’ work to shame.  The combination of what excellence looks like, consistent high quality feedback and a willingness to keep making improvements produces some pretty awe inspiring work – possibly a growth mindset in action?
 There are certain things that I find very difficult to argue against.  I tend to think of them as universal truths.  I rather like some things to hold onto in the stormy waters of life.  Here’s my starter list for you to add your own to:
  • A mother’s love and apple pie are good for you
  • No movement without a bit of friction but too much friction leads to no movement
  • Forgiveness brings healing (but it can be difficult to take the first step in mending a broken relationship) …
There may not be universal truths in education but remember, “Posts Move, Goals Don’t”.  Aspirations and high achievement, great teaching and learning and an enriching curriculum are like mother’s love and apple pie irrespective of the current political masters and external forces.  In turbulent times hang onto your values and trust what is proven to work – “The World is not flat”.

See the full article and links from the wonderful @leadinglearner at;

A fun way to understand conjugation of verbs

Languages are messy things. Not least English, with what Geoffrey Pullum so brilliantly described in The Chronicle of Higher Education last month as its ‘horror show phonology’ and ‘grotesque consonant clusters’, which he argues render it radically unsuitable as a global lingua franca.

This aleatory messiness is what makes languages human. They’re messy because they’re alive, evolving, experimental, always branching out in different directions. New words are added, old ones are modified, misspelled and mispronounced, imports are accommodated, grammatical ‘errors’ are adopted. Writers play around with syntax and elision, and there are moments when the character constraints of Twitter can make poets of us all.

This organic growth accounts for what might be called the ‘natural’ beauty of language: its charms and idiosyncrasies are reminiscent, as Wittgenstein suggested, of the twists and turns in an ancient city. But these irregularities can also cause frustration, when pupils feel they are losing their way in the labyrinth.

So where there is clarity, we should hang on to it. Not only hang on to it, but foreground, emphasise and underline it.

And clarity, perhaps surprisingly, is to be found in verbs.

When people complain about languages, they often point the finger at wayward irregular verbs. But the underlying logic of verb conjugation is really very simple. And it never changes.

In my view you can teach the full conjugation of the verb from any age, so long as – perhaps counter-intuitively – you also explain from the outset why it works the way it does. The metadiscourse is crucial. Get it right once, for one verb, and you can (if you so choose) get it right for all time.

And just as in basic Maths, it all comes down to how you set out your work. This is sense that you can see.

Where most (not all!) textbooks go wrong is in listing the conjugation as a single column, with only the most rudimentary connection between the different parts, which then encourages rote learning uninformed by understanding. Instead, singular and plural 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-person forms of the verb should be lined up neatly side by side.

But then again, the textbooks don’t really matter, because a vital part of the learning process is for pupils to write the conjugation out for themselves, and to practise doing so as they would the routines of basic arithmetic. Please don’t start by handing out a printed list of tabulated conjugations. It might be the last word in perfection, but precisely for that reason the eye – and with it the brain – will just slide indifferently over the surface.

Set the handwritten conjugation out in table form, but without ruled lines; the lining up is all in the handwriting (in itself a valuable cross-curricular discipline). If English is included it should be underneath the target language, preferably in pencil, so that it informs without imposing. No arrows or equals signs. Nothing to distract from the essential information.

Take the time to do it well. And practise doing it well. Until doing it well is akin to second nature. That might sound draconian, but with high expectations from lesson one it shouldn’t take that long.

And the beauty of it is, whatever the verb, it will always follow the same rules. A phenomenon rare enough in language learning for it to be worth making a fuss about.

Children will mostly associate the concepts of singular and plural with nouns, and if you ask them to make a word plural their first instinct will be to add an ‘s’. But they’ll have a bit of a laugh if you try following that rule with verbs. It may come as a revelation that in English we pluralise verbs by changing the subject pronoun, and that the plural of ‘I love’ is ‘we love’, and nothing to do with the letter ‘s’ at all. Adding an ‘s’ will just make you sound like the pig eyeing up his beloved turnips in that old children’s television classic Fourways Farm (“I loves ’em I do”) or more likely Popeye (“I can’t stands it no more”).

Then again, if you are teaching Spanish, your pupils will suddenly appreciate that the apparent tedium of having a unique verb ending for each of the six grammatical persons is in fact an elegant means of liberating you (for much of the time) from the bother of pronouns at all. The French of course have it both ways.

In reflecting on the logic of conjugation your pupils may also experience something of an existential awakening (their parents, on the other hand, may be making quite different connections). They will be familiar with the distinction between 1st- and 3rd-person narrative from English lessons, but probably won’t have had much time to ponder the finer philosophical implications.

Aha, they now think. I am the first person or hero, the eponymous protagonist in the story of my own life. When I am born, I am (briefly) aware only of myself. Then a second person appears, in the shape of a parent, then a third, whether relative or friend.

It’s easy and effective to model this in the classroom. ‘I’, in this case the teacher, can have a personal conversation with ‘you’, a selected pupil, rather exaggeratedly making the eye contact that defines and confirms our conversational relationship. Then you and I can have a cheeky conversation about a third person in the room, without looking at them of course, or maybe with just a sneaky complicit glance or two to single them out. This encounter can be watched by ‘them’, the rest of the class, whom you may also choose to speak about. But, if you turn to speak to them, addressing them directly, ‘they’ are suddenly transformed into ‘you plural’, a crucial switch of identity and point of view.

Then, just in case you have any nervous, sensitive types, you can smooth over any awkwardness by reaffirming that ‘we’, the whole class, including the teacher, are a cohesive, mutually supportive group. I’m not a big fan of role plays, but in this case they work. As do comic strips.

Funny how much you can glean about the human condition from learning how to conjugate a verb.


Dr Heather Martin is a languages specialist and tweets @drheathermartin.

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What does Differentiation look like?

Dealing with Day-to-day Differentiation

This week I ran a session on differentiation with our NQTs. I felt it was a good, open session where we could all share some ideas and describe the challenges that we face in meeting the learning needs of all of our students.   The fact is that we all find it hard  – and that’s because it is; sometimes it can feel as if you’re never quite getting it right because someone or other isn’t flourishing.  As with many things in teaching, we need to aim high but we also need to be realistic, pragmatic and tolerant of imperfection in order to flourish ourselves.

To begin with we talked about the myths.

Differentiation does not mean that you must have tiered resources and tasks in every lesson.  It does not mean you should have must-should-could learning objectives. It does not mean that a lesson where every student is doing the same task is fundamentally worse than one where students do have different tasks.  Any given lesson snap-shot may not have explicit evidence of differentiation at all – and it could still be outstanding, or at least be leading to outstanding outcomes.

Differentiation needs to be seen as the aggregation of the hundreds of subtly different interactions that you have with each of your students, according to their level of attainment and progress.  Even OfSTED now officially do not expect that the needs of all students are being precisely and directly addressed in every lesson observation.  Differentiation is a long-term process that mirrors the long-term nature of learning and progress. (See Learning Arcs and Journeys)

We talked about some of the bottom-lines.

In real life, we have ups and downs.. and a bottom line.

We all have ups and downs; we can all mess things up.  We all have lessons that seem too complicated to factor in yet another level of support or challenge; we have all had lessons where behaviour issues dominate or you do more didactic input and the differentiation is less evident. However, there are always two things that I’d say are non-negotiable:

1. Neglecting the basic access entitlement of students with particular learning needs. If you have a student that can’t read the text-book or follow the standard instructions because of learning difficulties or physical impairment, you have to sort them out every time.  You need to plan for their needs every lesson and go to them immediately to make sure they know what to do.

2. Setting work that is too easy for the top end. There is nothing worse than having students waiting for others to finish with nothing to do or simply having time for a good chat because they’ve completed a basic task.  Here the solution is to set in-built extension tasks as a matter of routine. “If you finish Task A, then go straight on to Tasks B, C and D”.   Of course, there is the issue that ‘more work’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘more challenge’. It’s better if each task is increasingly difficult  and you can always consider allowing students to skip Task A and B if they feel confident to tackle other tasks straight away.   At the very least, there should always always be a ‘what next’ if the initial task is quite easy.

We also talked about data.

We’re saturated with data but it only helps if it comes off the spreadsheet and influences our practice in the classroom, helping us to understand and address the needs of the hundreds of students that we teach as individuals. The main use of student data is to prompt you to ask questions about your perception of a student’s ability and progress.  Am I getting this person right? It pays to look back at prior attainment information a week or so after meeting a class for the first time and again after the first term. If you triangulate between the prior attainment info, your gut feeling and your own assessment data, you get a better idea.  Sometimes it’s quite revealing.  Oh gosh, I’ve been underestimating John all this time…. or perhaps I’m neglecting Michael’s underlying lack of confidence; his reading age is lower than I thought.

Most importantly, data helps to ensure that you never settle for mediocrity from someone who doesn’t perform in the way the data says they could.  Ben’s Official Target grade is A but his recent test score was C? Ok…something is going on there. That should catalyse a different response than if the prior attainment data suggested C would be a sign of good progress.

In my last comprehensive school job, I used to devise a differentiation guide for every class to help me plan lessons without forgetting about people. Other teachers made their own. An example is shown here. The grade here is artificial; in reality there would be lots of data points feeding into the crude categorisation: reading ages, MidYIS scores and KS2 entry data would play a part alongside other internal assessments.  The idea is to make it easy to think about the students in rough groupings rather than allow the complexity of the individual data sheet, usually presented in alphabetical order, to be overwhelming and ultimately unhelpful.

A sample differentiation guide.

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Tracking and reading problems

Do you teach pupils who can’t read as well as they should? Do they skip words or lines when reading? Or struggle to read long words? Do they struggle to copy off the board? Do they need to run a finger or ruler under their place when reading? Or lay their head on their arm, to cover up one eye, when reading or writing? Do they have difficulty catching a ball? All of these problems can be symptoms of convergence problems.

“All children with reading difficulties should be tested for convergence.”

Other symptoms include getting sore eyes when reading, words moving or being blurry or appearing double. Or starting off reading OK, but then after a short while their reading gets worse. Convergence problems can exist with or without dyslexia, but all children with reading difficulties should be tested for it. Convergence is something that is easy to correct, and makes a massive difference to reading ability.

Learning to walk and talk are natural developmental milestones which don’t usually need to be taught. Pretty much all children develop these skills by themselves at the appropriate time. Learning to read is very different. It isn’t a natural developmental milestone, as our brains haven’t evolved to pick up reading. In fact, the part of the brain that fluent readers use to recognise words is actually the part of the brain designed to recognise faces!

Reading requires very good control of your eye muscles, which only develops as a result of learning to read. For example, a child who can only read English will be able to track left to right better than they can track right to left, whereas for a child who can only read Arabic the opposite will be true.

There are three main vision movements you make when reading: Saccades, Fixations and Convergence.

Saccades and Fixations are used for tracking your eyes across the page. Convergence is the ability focus both eyes on the same point or letter. When you read your eyes don’t flow smoothly across the page. They move in little jumps, called saccades. The points the jumps end on are called fixations. So we actually look at one letter then jump to another letter and read that. While focussing on one letter we can see four to eight letters either side of it.

Fluent readers jump every eight to 16 letters while reading. They normally jump from the middle of one word to the middle of the next. But if the word is long or hard or unexpected they may then jump backwards to an earlier point in the word and have another look at it.

Beginner and non-fluent readers make much smaller jumps, and more often jump backwards to have another look. But for children with dyslexia this is amplified hugely. A fluent child might focus on 150 points in a minute, with 50 of them being backwards jumps. But a typical dyslexic reader might focus on 1,000 points in a minute, with 500 of them being backwards – in fact some of the points won’t even be on the correct line!

Typically dyslexic children can’t control their eye muscles precisely enough to scan across the page correctly. This is one of the reasons they find it hard to understand what they’ve read. All of their brain processing power is spent processing the 1,000 points they’re looking at, and filtering out most of the 500 points they shouldn’t be looking at. This is also why they confuse ‘b’ and ‘d’. As their eyes are moving left to right as often as they’re moving right to left, the two letters look the same.

The other vision skill needed to read is the ability to converge (focus) both eyes on the same letter. If you can’t do this your brain will be receiving two different images. For example, when trying to read the word “brain”, one eye will be focussing on the ‘r’ and the other eye will be focussing on the ‘i’, which is very confusing.
“Dyslexic children can’t control their eye muscles precisely enough to scan across the page correctly.”
This causes many typical dyslexic symptoms: words may appear to move, because the brain processes the r, then the i, without the eyes moving. If the words don’t appear to move, it’ll still make reading very tiring and slow, as the brain has to ignore all the images from one eye.

Specialised eye tests on 3 year olds, before they’ve even started school, can pick up with which children have eye tracking and convergence problems. Researchers (Levinson, 1994) have found a 95% correlation between children with eye tracking problems at three, and children who later have reading problems or dyslexia.

If children, particularly those with dyslexia, don’t develop good convergence and eye tracking skills naturally then it is something that should be practised at school via an intervention. Otherwise, they are likely to always struggle with reading, with spelling, and with copying off the board. Reading will forever be harder for them then it should be. A chore, not something they can enjoy.

Spelling requires even better vision skills than reading, as in order to for a word to be spelled correctly you have to get every letter in the right order, whereas for reading you can often look at the first few letters and guess without having to look at every single letter in the word.

If pupils aren’t able to focus on the letters in a word when they read, their spelling is likely to always be a bit hit and miss. And the often prescribed advice for poor spellers to ‘read more’ won’t help.

For further reading, I’d recommend Eye Movements in Dyslexia: Their Diagnostic Significance by George Th. Pavlidis

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Motivation and Engagement

Motivation and engagement: every minute of every day matters

How much does student motivation and engagement change over the course of a day, a week, and a month at school? How much does motivation and engagement vary from student to student?

We sought answers to these questions in a recent study published in the journal, Learning and Individual Differences.

Three times a day, five days a week, for four weeks, we tracked 20 high school students.

Students were asked to rate themselves on the motivation and engagement factors in the Motivation and Engagement Wheel (see figure below) using their mobile devices. For each factor, they responded to questions on a one (Strongly Disagree) to seven (Strongly Agree) scale, in the morning, the middle of the day, and again in the afternoon.

What is motivation and engagement?

Motivation is students’ energy and drive to learn, work effectively, and achieve. Engagement is typically seen as the behaviours that follow from this energy and drive.

The motivation and engagement factors in our study were those in the Motivation and Engagement Wheel – assessed using the short version of the Motivation and Engagement Scale (Martin, 2014).

The wheel is separated into:

  • Positive motivation (self-belief, learning focus, valuing);
  • Positive engagement (planning behaviour, task management, persistence);
  • Negative motivation (anxiety, failure avoidance, uncertain control);
  • Negative engagement (self-sabotage, disengagement; coded red as these factors are substantially more problematic than negative motivation factors).
The motivation and engagement wheel

The Motivation and Engagement Wheel (reproduced with permission from Martin, A.J. and Lifelong Achievement Group; download from

Why does change in motivation and engagement matter?

Whether a student’s motivation and engagement changes through the course of a day, week, or month at school has significant implications for teachers.

If these factors are relatively stable across this period, this suggests it is more a trait of the student and not something that varies in response to different subjects, teachers, activities, and tasks. That is, it might suggest there is a fixed motivation and engagement ‘set-point’ for each student that will not change much from subject to subject, class to class, or task to task.

However, if motivation and engagement is somewhat variable through the day, then this tells us it is very important to identify factors or events that are causing this shift.

A similar question concerns variability from student to student. If there are relatively few differences between students, then motivation and engagement would seem to be something that is stable and not something that would benefit from instructional attention. However, if there are significant variations, then clearly there are some students who may need additional support.

Change in motivation and engagement matters because these factors are related to learning, achievement, and enjoyment of school. Thus, the extent to which we can boost motivation and engagement has direct implications for the extent to which we can boost learning, achievement, and enjoyment.

What did we find?

From our research, we found two major patterns among students.

First, there was far more variation in motivation and engagement throughout the school day than between school days and weeks. Initially we thought this may be due to the time of day; for example, rising from the start of the day to the middle of the day, then declining in the afternoon. But, this was not the case.

Instead, it depended on what the students were doing (for example, the class they were in, the teacher they had, the task they were performing.).

Our second major finding was that there was substantial variation in motivation and engagement between students. In fact, drawing on previous research (Martin et al., 2011), there is far more variation in motivation and engagement from student to student than there is from class to class or school to school.

by Andrew Martin

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Growth Mind Sets and what Dweck really means

In September, Carol Dweck published a very informative commentary for Education Week, which dug deeper into her meaning behind having a growth mindset. In her revisit, which you can read in its entirety here, Dweck explains the meaning behind the heavily researched philosophy when she writes,

“We found that students’ mindsets–how they perceive their abilities–played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).”

Over the last few years, thousands of schools around the world have jumped on board with the growth mindset. It seemed to become the low-hanging fruit for schools to easily grab. Going from school to school, posters about effort that focus on “trying harder” and books about the mindset for teachers and students are all around. Some school principals like to start conversations by stating that their schools are “Growth Mindset” schools.

But are they really?

Based on the research of John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, the growth mindset only has an effect size of .19, which is well below the hinge point of .40. The hinge point means that the influence on learning being used is providing a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input (in the future, Hattie will further explore and explain the meta-analysis that he used to find the effect size).

Read the full article in Education Week by following the link


what is effective CPD?

The teacher development trust have worked with the IOE to consider what makes the most effective CPD in schools. Some of the findings are shown below with a link to the full PDF at the base of the text.


The review shows us that content is also key to achieving impact on teachers’ practice. All reviews found that an essential element of successful professional development is generating buy-in: creating an overt relevance of the content to its participants – their day-to-day experiences with, and aspirations for, their pupils. The reviews also noted the importance of programmes that provide differentiation: opportunities for recognising the differences between individual teachers and their starting points. Similarly important were opportunities for individual teachers both to reveal and discuss their beliefs and to engage in peer learning and support.
Schools must consider how they support teachers’ skills in identifying and understanding needs. We must develop the capacity for teachers to reflect on their classroom and students’ learning, and map this onto areas of need for their own practice. This can be supported by providers – who should take time to identify and understand the particular needs of participants and their students. They must create opportunities for participants to share these and understand the content in overt relation to these.


The review points out that achieving a shared sense of purpose during professional development is an important factor for success. Whether teachers were conscripted or had volunteered to take part in an activity did not appear to be a highly significant factor – a positive professional learning environment, sufficient time, and a consistency with participants’ wider context were all more important.
Within schools, this might suggest there should be less of a focus on splitting between voluntary and conscripted activities. Rather, CPD programmes should create a coherent and shared sense of purpose across staff, and demonstrate an explicit relation to their everyday experiences and context. Providers should focus on providing course content that builds a sense of purpose. This can be done in a number of ways; examples found during the review included peer support, the use of evidence from experimenting with new approaches, and working on why things work, as well as what does and does not work.


The review indicates that effective programmes will feature a variety of activities to reinforce their messages and test ideas from different perspectives. No single particular type of activity – or configurations of multiple activities – was shown to be universally effective or crucial to success. What matters is a logical thread between the various components of the programme, and creating opportunities for teacher learning that are consistent with the principles of the student learning being promoted.
For the providers of CPD, this will require important consideration around how best to reflect and model the approaches they share with teachers in the delivery models used. Schools, meanwhile, should consider how in-school processes reflect and support the elements sought in external opportunities. School leaders should support staff to develop strategic approaches to professional development that allow for clear links across activities.


The review also highlighted certain types of activities that, with specialist support, should lead to successful outcomes. Successful facilitators employed activities that aim to:
  •  Introduce new knowledge and skills to participants.
  •  Help participants access the theory and evidence underlying the relevant pedagogy, subject knowledge, and strategies.
  • Help participants believe better outcomes are possible, particularly among schools where achievement has been depressed over time.
  • Make the link between professional learning and pupil learning explicit through discussion of pupil progression and analysis of assessment data.
  • Take account of different teachers’ starting points and – from the strongest review – the emotional content of the learning.
Specialists should also support teachers through modelling, providing observation and feedback, and coaching. Again, it is important for facilitators and specialists to balance support and challenge while building relationships with participants. The exact nature of effective specialist support can, however, vary depending on the subject specialism involved. In maths and science opportunities, for example, to be observed and receive feedback were not always prerequisites for successful professional development.
Finally, some evidence in the review suggested that effective specialists mobilised, encouraged and guided teacher peer support. They might also offer remote support in a variety of media such as e-networking and provision of instructional and other materials.

The review identified four core roles for school leaders in effective professional development.

These were adapted according to the school context and the nature of changes being implemented:
  • Developing vision – including helping teachers believe alternative outcomes are possible and creating coherence so teachers understand the relevance of CPD to wider priorities.
  • Managing and organising – including establishing priorities, resolving competing demands, sourcing appropriate expertise and ensuring appropriate opportunities to learn are in place.
  • Leading professional learning – including promoting a challenging learning culture, knowing what content and activities are likely to be of benefit, and promoting “evidence-informed, self-regulated learning”.
  •  Developing the leadership of others – including encouraging teachers to lead a particular aspect of pedagogy or of the curriculum.

read the full summary on;

Supporting pupil premium pupils

The Department for Education has today published a hefty 146-page research report into the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was asked to investigate the difference between some schools in the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – those eligible for pupil premium.

Here’s what they found:

1. Schools have tried out an average of 18 strategies to boost the learning of pupil premium students

The survey found schools had used a large number of strategies to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils since 2011.

The most popular and effective strategies focused on teaching and learning, especially; paired or small group additional teaching; improving feedback; and one-to-one tuition.

2. Differences between school characteristiscs – bad news if you’re disadvantaged and in a rural secondary school with large year groups

– Schools with higher levels of pupil absence had lower performance among disadvantaged pupils

– Schools with larger year groups overall also had lower performance

– And so did rural secondary schools

3. Differences between school type – being a member of a Teaching School Alliance makes no difference

– There were mixed findings for sponsored academies, which had poorer performance at primary level, but better performance and improvement at secondary level

– Selective schools and teaching schools were associated with higher performance (after taking into account the influence of high-performing intake)

– And the study found no evidence of a statistically significant relationship between positive performance among disadvantaged pupils and being member of a Teaching School Alliance

4. The 15 most popular pupil premium strategies used by schools

15 most popular strategies


5. The most popular are also pretty much the same as those deemed the most effective

Most effective

6. Teachers thought the best ideas actually came from within their own schools

best ideas from schools

7. Nearly one in four schools said a major influence on their decision of how to boost attainment was whether parents liked itParents thoughts

8. Children’s minister Sam Gyimah has some tips on how to be a successful pupil premium school

“Successful schools adopt a whole school approach to their use of the pupil premium that delivers on the full potential of every pupil, including nurturing their more able pupils to excel.

“Successful schools deploy the best staff to support their most disadvantaged pupils, and use their resources to develop the skills and roles of their teachers and teaching assistants.”

9. In conclusion, evidence-based strategies tailored to specific schools are the best

Overall, this research suggests there is no single, “one size fits all” solution to closing the attainment gap. Instead, a number of measures are required, tailored to each school’s circumstances and stage on an improvement journey.

These measures include setting a culture of high expectations for all pupils, understanding how schools can make a difference, selecting a range of evidence-based strategies tailored to meet the needs of individual schools and pupils, and implementing them well.

10. Here’s a handy building block chart of the most effective ways to support disadvantaged pupils


Disadvataged pupils buildiong blocks

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Critical Thinking

If you ask curriculum designers exactly how critical thinking skills are developed, the answers are often vague and unhelpful for those wanting to teach it.

This is partly because of a lack of clarity about the term itself and because there are some who believe that critical thinking cannot be taught in isolation, that it can only be developed in a discipline context – after all, you have think critically about something.

So what should any mandatory first year course in critical thinking look like? There is no single answer to that, but let me suggest a structure with four key areas:

  1. argumentation
  2. logic
  3. psychology
  4. the nature of science.

I will then explain that these four areas are bound together by a common language of thinking and a set of critical thinking values.

1. Argumentation

The most powerful framework for learning to think well in a manner that is transferable across contexts is argumentation.

Arguing, as opposed to simply disagreeing, is the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.

Arguing is not just contradiction.

Arguments have premises, those things that we take to be true for the purposes of the argument, and conclusions or end points that are arrived at by inferring from the premises.

Understanding this structure allows us to analyse the strength of an argument by assessing the likelihood that the premises are true or by examining how the conclusion follows from them.

Arguments in which the conclusion follows logically from the premises are said to be valid. Valid arguments with true premises are called sound. The definitions of invalid and unsound follow.

This gives us a language with which to frame our position and the basic structure of why it seems justified.

2. Logic

Logic is fundamental to rationality. It is difficult to see how you could value critical thinking without also embracing logic.

People generally speak of formal logic – basically the logic of deduction – and informal logic – also called induction.

Deduction is most of what goes on in mathematics or Suduko puzzles and induction is usually about generalising or analogising and is integral to the processes of science.

Logic is fundamental to rationality.

Using logic in a flawed way leads to the committing of the fallacies of reasoning, which famously contain such logical errors as circular reasoning, the false cause fallacy or appeal to popular opinion. Learning about this cognitive landscape is central to the development of effective thinking.

3. Psychology

The messy business of our psychology – how our minds actuality work – is another necessary component of a solid critical thinking course.

One of the great insights of psychology over the past few decades is the realisation that thinking is not so much something we do, as something that happens to us. We are not as in control of our decision-making as we think we are.

We are masses of cognitive biases as much as we are rational beings. This does not mean we are flawed, it just means we don’t think in the nice, linear way that educators often like to think we do.

It is a mistake to think of our minds as just running decision-making algorithms – we are much more complicated and idiosyncratic than this.

How we arrive at conclusions, form beliefs and process information is very organic and idiosyncratic. We are not just clinical truth-seeking reasoning machines.

Our thinking is also about our prior beliefs, our values, our biases and our desires.

4. The nature of science

It is useful to equip students with some understanding of the general tools of evaluating information that have become ubiquitous in our society. Two that come to mind are the nature of science and statistics.

Learning about what the differences are between hypotheses, theories and laws, for example, can help people understand why science has credibility without having to teach them what a molecule is, or about Newton’s laws of motion.

Understanding some basic statistics also goes a long way to making students feel more empowered to tackle difficult or complex issues. It’s not about mastering the content, but about understanding the process.

The language of thinking

Embedded within all of this is the language of our thinking. The cognitive skills – such as inferring, analysing, evaluating, justifying, categorising and decoding – are all the things that we do with knowledge.

If we can talk to students using these terms, with a full understanding of what they mean and how they are used, then teaching thinking becomes like teaching a physical process such as a sport, in which each element can be identified, polished, refined and optimised.

Critical thinking can be studied and taught in part like physical processes. Flickr/Airman Magazine, CC BY-NC

In much the same way that a javelin coach can freeze a video and talk to an athlete about their foot positioning or centre of balance, a teacher of critical thinking can use the language of cognition to interrogate a student’s thinking in high resolution.

All of these potential aspects of a critical thinking course can be taught outside any discipline context. General knowledge, topical issues and media provide a mountain of grist for the cognitive mill.

General concepts of argumentation and logic are readily transferable between contexts once students are taught to recognise the deeper structures inherent in these fields and to apply them across a variety of situations.


It’s worth understanding too that a good critical thinking education is also an education in values.

Not all values are ethical in nature. In thinking well we value precision, coherence, simplicity of expression, logical structure, clarity, perseverance, honesty in representation and any number of like qualities. If schools are to teach values, why not teach the values of effective thinking?

So, let’s not assume that students will learn to think critically just by learning the methodology of their subjects. Sure it will help, but it’s not an explicit treatment of thinking and is therefore less transferable.


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