Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

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Book Review: Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz

January 16, 2022

Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz. Published by Harvard University Press. 2008

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 was to read more books and I intend to continue that into 2022. I will be reviewing those books that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

Daniel Koretz is the rarest of treasures: a Professor of Education who is an expert on a genuine body of knowledge. His speciality is testing, and he taught classes at Harvard on assessment. This is an area where it is possible to make and research empirical claims, and this is a balanced and well informed book exploring the utility and the limits of testing in education.

This is a good introduction to the key concepts and the technical language of testing. It is an important read at this time. These days schools seem particularly keen to design their own tests. Additionally, following the cancellation of exams in the last two years, much is claimed about both the value of tests and the capacity of schools to accurately and objectively assess their pupils. Test design and the interpretation of test results is not a trivial matter, and anyone claiming to be able to do them well just from their knowledge of teaching should be treated sceptically.

If you are expecting this book to give simple answers, it won’t. It will tell you that tests have an important role in assessment and cannot easily be replaced by other means of assessment. However, it will also tell you tests have important limitations, and that it is easy to make incorrect inferences from them. There is a body of knowledge out there that enables us to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of testing in a rational manner, and this book is a great introduction to that.

Terms such as “error”, “validity”, “reliability” and “bias” are thrown around in education debate about tests, often by people who have little understanding of what they mean in the context of testing. Rather than resolving all arguments, this book is a tool for having better arguments.

Its final chapter does, however spell out where tests are likely to be most useful, and in how the limitations of testing can be addressed. This is definitely worth a read before designing another assessment, or weighing into any more debates about the value of exams.

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The truth about exclusions and suspensions

January 3, 2022

I’ve mentioned before that we are frequently told that exclusions from schools are common, rising and racist. I find that evidence is often ignored, or carefully selected to fit, by those who make such claims.

The most recent exclusion figures we have are for the academic year 2019-2020 released in July 2021. These statistics are notable for several reasons.

Firstly, there is a change in terminology. “Fixed Term Exclusions” where a student is removed from school temporarily (usually for a day or two) are now called “Suspensions”. One of the most common tricks used to make permanent exclusions seem common is to cite figures for fixed term exclusions and refer to them only as “exclusions” in articles that are mainly about permanent exclusions. There would have been even greater clarity if “permanent exclusions” had been renamed “expulsions”  (this was proposed, but the DfE gave in to the anti-exclusions lobby). Nevertheless, the change ensures that anyone referring to suspensions as just “exclusions”, when looking at the figures, is likely to be out of date (or perhaps even dishonest).

Secondly, this was the first school year affected by Covid. The lockdown that year reduced permanent exclusions and suspensions dramatically from previous years. Permanent exclusions fell from 7894 to 5057. Although the DfE did its best to support the anti-exclusion lobby by releasing termly figures for that year and the previous year (and suspiciously for no other years) you can’t get round the fact that this is not an increase. When permanent exclusions fell slightly in the 2018/19 academic year it was easily hidden by talking about Fixed Term Exclusions instead, or comparing with two or more years earlier rather than just the previous year. In 2019/20 however, it doesn’t matter how you slice it, permanent exclusions and suspensions are lower than they’ve been in years. It also means that permanent exclusions and suspensions fell dramatically for almost every subgroup in the data. So another classic trick of slicing up the data (by gender, race, sector i.e. primary or secondary, age, region or SEND) and only reporting on statistics showing a rise, is not readily available.

Thirdly, this is the first year where black pupils had a lower rate of permanent exclusions than white British pupils. It’s only a marginal difference (the DfE website gives them both as 0.07%, i.e. 7 pupils in every 10 000) but if you calculate it to another decimal place you find black pupils are less likely to be excluded than white British pupils. Black pupils had been less likely to be suspended than white British pupils for a few years now. For a very long time, ethnic minority pupils in general have been less likely to be excluded or suspended than white British pupils. But those two facts had been ignored by commentary that focused only on the rate of permanent exclusions for black pupils while ignoring other data. Now, that trick is not available.

Combined together these three developments should make it impossible now for anyone to claim that “exclusions” are rising; that permanent exclusions are common, or that black pupils are disproportionately excluded. The exception to this is, of course, if one lies or shares information from somebody who is lying.

It is worth noting that, since those figures came out you may have seen some of the following claims:

(David Collins is a Sunday Times journalist.)

(Agenda is a charity, and after a FOI request I checked that the claim is no more true for black girls than for black pupils in general)

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From The Guardian

From the BBC.

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From activist Lee Jasper.

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From The Guardian website although it may be a story from The Observer.

(I doubt this is accurate about Katharine Birbalsingh.)

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From Professor Kalwant Bhopal in the Mirror.

(City Of London is a NGO).

(Beyond Autism is a charity)

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From The Telegraph.

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From The Express. (There are over 20000 schools in England, so the average number of permanent exclusions a year in most schools is actually less than a tenth of what is claimed in the first sentence.)

(Bright Futures is a charity.)

(The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) is “the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector in England”)

I could keep going with this. The BBC and Guardian claims were particularly widely shared, often by people and organisations with power in education. My conclusion is that where there is an absence of data that can be cherrypicked to mislead, we can expect to be bombarded with outright falsehoods instead.

 

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15 Years (and more) of Blogging

January 2, 2022

Back in October, I reached the 15th anniversary of this blog (if not this particular address for it). Unfortunately, I’d got out of the blogging habit before then and didn’t really notice. As well as my usual tendency to forget about blogging for months at a time., there’s probably been a decline in teacher blogging in general which has made it seem less important than, say, tweeting about education. This is probably a shame; Twitter gets repetitive and you end up engaging with the least thoughtful responses to anything you say. So I am intending, once again, to get back to regular blogging.

Until I do though, here’s a quick reminder of what I posted about in my 15th year of blogging.

Exclusions

Books

Sexual Assault in Schools

Fads

Some of that already seems to be out of date. Compared with a year ago, I’m seeing far fewer people promoting strange ideas about attachment and far more people aware that so-called “Anti-Racism” training is often indoctrination and activism.

Exclusions, however, remain acutely contentious. The media, politicians and educationalists seem desperate to blame schools for social problems. Worse, many think the answer is to force a return to the 00s when a failure to exclude made schools dangerous places and whistleblowers like Angela Mason and Alex Doran were being banned from teaching for exposing what was going on. We shall see whether this continues. I hope the media will become bored with non-teachers claiming young drug dealers and sex offenders can be rendered harmless by progressive teaching methods, SEND interventions and being allowed to get way with it.

As ever, thanks to Gwen for her support with everything, particularly with the blog.

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The latest Guardian article on exclusions

September 18, 2021

You may recall from this post that the Guardian misleads its readers about exclusions.

And today they have a new story on the topic:

‘It takes too long to get support’: alarm over rising primary school exclusions

It claims (in the sub-headline):

Parents and teachers call for action as figures show more young children in England being permanently excluded

The actual data for permanent exclusions in primary schools can be found here. The incredibly low level of permanent exclusions in primary schools means that the changes are unclear due to rounding, so let me calculate the exclusion rate for primary schools more precisely and plot it on a graph.

No, I don’t see that as a rise at the end either, even if we acknowledge that the most recent fall was due to lockdown. After an anecdote about a year 1 pupil being permanently excluded (not something that happens very often) we discover how the writer has concluded there has been a rise.

The number of permanent exclusions from primary schools in England has been rising steadily, from 610 a year in 2010 to 1,067 by 2018-19 (the last year of reliable figures).

The 2019/20 figures are not “unreliable”; they are just affected by lockdown and 1067 in 2018/19 is actually down from 1253 in 2016/17, so that’s not a steady rise. It’s also misleading to measure from 2010/11 which is a historic low point. This strategy (measuring change over time from an extreme value) is well known as a way to deceive, and you can read more about it here.

The article then points out:

In the autumn term of 2019, just before the Covid crisis, data recently published shows that permanent exclusions from primary schools rose by 20% to 455 compared with the same term the previous year.

Potentially this could be indicative of a rise. But the problem is, the term by term data was only introduced to make precisely this comparison and before autumn 2018 we don’t have it. This means we are comparing 2 data points for exclusions in the autmn term without any idea of how much the level of exclusions in the autumn term fluctuates from year to year. To put it in context, this is the graph the DfE published to show the termly data.

If that orange line isn’t causing you immediate worry it’s partly because the change (77 pupils) is tiny when you consider the total number of exclusions in a term across all schools, but it’s also that we have very few data points and termly exclusions seem fairly unstable. There are 16791 state funded primary schools in England (on last count).  A change from 378 permanent exclusions in an autumn term to 455 is tiny compared with the number of schools involved, and is only noticeable because exclusions in primary are so rare. Anyone trying to spot a trend from this could be fooling themselves.

I don’t want to dissent from the suggestion that there may be a need to do more to support children with behaviour problems in primary schools. This might be true. But if you look at the data for primary schools in 2018/19 (the most recent non-lockdown year) we are looking at 1067 permanent exclusions among 4727089 children in 16784 schools. The average primary school could expect only 1 permanent exclusion in 15 years. Is this really a cause for alarm?

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Book Review: Running The Room by Tom Bennett

June 26, 2021

Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. £16. Published by John Catt. 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

There’s no shortage of books on managing behaviour. The field is packed with publications containing tips for managing a class that will be no use whatsoever. Many pretend that little differences like saying “thank you” rather than “please” when giving an instruction, or presenting a threat as a choice, will transform behaviour. The worst books on behaviour claim that “meeting needs”, “building relationships”, “remaining calm” or “planning engaging lessons” are at the heart of behaviour management as if these were things teachers generally planned to avoid doing, or could easily do in a hostile classroom.

Meanwhile, the reality in classrooms is that children largely behave in the way that their experience of school has led them to believe is normal for students in that class with that teacher. And while teachers who remain in the same school long enough will work out the cues they can give to their classes that will be most likely to lead to good behaviour, there are no universal cues because every class has drastically different experiences. This is why there are some classes in some schools where shouting once at the start of the year will mean nobody ever misbehaves again, and there are other classes in other schools where raising your voice to the wrong kid will start a full scale riot. It is also why becoming THAT teacher –  the one the kids will never act up for – takes time and, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, never happens when you start at a new school even when you are doing the exact same things that worked perfectly at your last school.

Running the Room largely avoids the trap of suggesting that there are cues or techniques that are universally effective, and focuses on the big picture. It describes how human beings actually behave. Uniquely (I think) for books about behaviour, four of its sixteen chapters are in a section entitled “Human Nature” where it discusses realistically how children are motivated. It turns out that children are not all natural saints, who will behave perfectly if you make sure you print all their worksheet on the right shade of magenta paper, and tell them you care about them. They are complex; they are individuals, and even when you think you have a perfect understanding of what motivates 14 year olds, it’s a whole different matter to keep 30 of them in some semblance of order.

The book then builds on this theoretical basis to discuss how to run a room. Yes, that’s right, the book is accurately titled. It is about how to manage a classroom. Rules, routines, and culture for all, not therapy and lowering expectations for individuals. It does not pretend that there are quick fixes, and it does not pretend one single strategy works, or that absorbing the information in the book will enable you to work wonders. It does, however, build the sort of solid foundation for doing the job of teaching that so much teacher training fails to provide. It tells you a huge chunk of the stuff that teachers wish they’d been told at the start of their careers. In a sane world, nobody would stand in front of a class without first having seriously engaged with all the ideas in this book.

Also, it’s funny in places.

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When “Antiracists” don’t care about racism and how it affects the debate about exclusions

June 11, 2021

There are actual racists online. Like this one.

He spends his time making comments like these about the relative superiority of races/countries/continents.

He shares a lot of crime reports that he thinks involve black criminals and is preoccupied with “black violence” which he believes is genetic in origin.

The other day I saw him tweeting at the MP Diane Abbot. Racists do this a lot. In an interview, she’d given stop and search polices and school exclusions as examples of racism.

He commented to say:

I have been spending a lot of time looking at the Twitter discourse around school exclusions, and the claim that black pupils are particularly likely to be excluded is very common. But it’s not actually true now for black pupils as a whole. According to the latest figures (2018/2019) the exclusion rate for black students is 5.54% for Fixed Period Exclusions and 0.11% for Permanent Exclusions. This compares with white students where the exclusion rates are 5.80% for Fixed Period Exclusions and 0.10% for Permanent Exclusions. I would say these are about the same. The misconception that black pupils, “black and brown” pupils and BAME pupils are more likely to be excluded is so widespread that I selected the data from the DfE website for Asian, white, black and ethnic minority students as a whole and took a screenshot which I share on Twitter a lot when I see people make any of those claims. (Asian is actually largely irrelevant to most discussions, but I couldn’t be bothered to take another screenshot).

While a lot of those who get this wrong are trying to allege racism by schools, occasionally racists also accept the claim about black pupils being more likely to be excluded and use it to argue that black pupils are worse behaved. I correct anyone, because these stereotypes are potentially harmful regardless of the intentions of those spreading them. So I did this here.

A pseudonymous writer for the Yorkshire Bylines blog saw this and decided to include this exchange in a post about systemic racism. Now, if you know the Yorkshire Bylines blog, you probably know it’s fairly left-wing. Writers would probably call themselves “Antiracists” and others might even call them “woke”. So how would they present an exchange in which a racist falsely implies that schools exclusions show the behaviour of black boys to be bad and is corrected by a teacher?

If you thought it would be to condemn the racist, and praise the teacher for putting them straight, you don’t know social media.

Yep, they appear to have completely missed the actual racist in the exchange, but decided to object to me presenting the facts which show there is no evidence in the latest school exclusion figures that black pupils behave worse than white pupils. And, in this, post “these issues” are issues of systemic racism, so the implication here is that I am supporting systemic racism by correcting a racist.

I wish I could say this is unusual behaviour. Antiracists who are willing to overlook racists in order to attack those who are likely to be more upset by accusations of racism are not rare. This well liked tweet was from a consultant who offers training to schools:

This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone familiar with Twitter discourse on race. Those who police Twitter for “inexplicit” racism can detect wrong-think like a shark can detect blood. However, they aren’t as friendly as sharks. If somebody who isn’t white expresses the “wrong” views they are often treated terribly – far worse than when a white person expresses the same views. Sometimes this is in explicitly racist ways; sometimes there is just a concerted effort to marginalise them. Some of the worst racism I have seen on edutwitter has been against @5naureen and all by people who claim to be opposing racism.

Do the antiracists who don’t object to racism matter, or is this just what the Americans call “internet bullshit”? I think it does matter when this affects debate about education and there is one issue where choices have to be made about confronting real and explicit racism. That issue is exclusions as schools have to choose how to deal with incidents of racism. In the most recent exclusion figures for England there were 4889 fixed period exclusions for racist abuse. LBC reported that there were 1,987 hate-related incidents in schools reported to police in 2018 and 71% of these were described as racist. The Guardian reported over 60000 racist incidents reported in schools in the UK over a 5 year period, using a methodology that would.have missed out a large number of schools. There are tens of thousands of schools in England (and obviously in the UK as a whole), so I don’t want to imply that these incidents happen every day in every school but these are not insignificant numbers, and we know schools are often reluctant to exclude and understandably reluctant to involve the police in disciplinary matters.

Schools need to be able to act against racist behaviour. While some of that response will be to educate students about the unacceptability and seriousness of their actions and to change attitudes, much of that response, particularly with older children, should be disciplinary. What schools permit, they promote. If racist abuse is not punished, a message is sent that it is acceptable. Exclusions, both fixed term and permanent, are very much part of that.

If all children are to feel safe in school, those who are deliberately racist to others need to be punished, not given therapeutic interventions or asked what “unmet needs” made them do it. Use of fixed term exclusions or internal exclusion as a sanction shows that racist abuse is far more serious than forgetting to do homework, and will not be tolerated. The very least schools can do is ensure that any recidivist racist bully should be removed from their victims permanently. You can’t be serious about tackling racism if you aren’t willing to exclude. Scotland’s attempts to eliminate permanent exclusions has noticeably not worked in this respect. That’s not to say England is necessarily getting it right either, exclusion figures only show 15 permanent exclusions for “racist abuse” in the latest figures.

Now while I, a teacher, might say that explicit racism is a problem in schools and that exclusions are needed to deal with it, this is not what I hear from “Antiracists” commenting on the issue of exclusions. No doubt it depends on your cache, but if you Google “school exclusions racism” and you will predominantly find opinions about how school exclusions are racist, not information about racists being excluded. (I get only one link about racists being excluded on the first page.)

I’m not going to discuss why those who claim exclusions are racist are wrong (as I’ve already done that here, here and here). However, I do suspect that the national debate on school exclusions has been massively distorted by the bizarre phenomenon of self-proclaimed “Antiracists” who want to reduce the ability of schools to stop racist behaviour. And I think this is because so much of the posturing about racism we see is from people who really don’t care about confronting explicit, demonstrable incidents of racism involving actual racists. Those who do care, support schools having the right, and duty, to exclude.

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Another myth about exclusions

June 5, 2021

Most information I encounter about exclusions (i.e. permanent or temporary removals of students from schools due to behaviour) is either false or misleading. Whether it’s a claim that exclusions are common, racist, rising, or easy, it’s usually false. My all time favourite false statistic about exclusion is this one, which is staggering in its implausibility.

Yesterday, I found a new myth that I don’t recall encountering before. I was reading a fairly typical anti-exclusion article. I say “fairly typical” because the article:

  • was written by somebody who did not run a school or teach but claimed to know what schools should do;
  • didn’t explain clearly what “exclusions” were;
  • claimed without good evidence that stricter discipline was bad for mental health;
  • falsely claimed black students were more likely to be excluded;
  • didn’t mention the victims of bad behaviour, or their interests, only the perpetrators.

All this is standard in exclusion discourse and charities and journalists produce articles like this pretty much every week.

But what was new was this claim:

Evidence reviewed by the University of York suggests that the UK has a school exclusion rate that is ten times higher than that of any other country in Europe..

This claim surprised me because:

  1. The UK has 4 different education systems with drastically different exclusion rates.
  2. It did not specify whether this means permanent, or fixed term exclusions.
  3. Exclusion statistics are compiled according to particular definitions and procedures. They are not necessarily going to be directly comparable between countries.
  4. The nations of the UK are particularly transparent about exclusions and have been since the 90s. But would all countries in Europe even count them? Particularly fixed term exclusions.
  5. Not every country in Europe publishes their data and definitions in English. This could be pretty hard to research even if the relevant data had been published.
  6. “Ten times higher” is a lot. This is not impossible – you can suppress exclusions by tolerating bad behaviour (see Scotland) – but it seems unlikely that every country in Europe would do this. And if it referred to permanent exclusions, which are rare even in England, then for small countries there would barely be any.

I found a few articles about Ireland which suggested that their expulsion rate, while much lower than England’s permanent exclusion rate, was not ten times lower. So it seemed worth checking where this whole claim came from. And so, I followed the trail from one source to another. The link in the blogpost took me to a news page from 2020 on the University of York website which claimed:

The UK has a school exclusion rate that is ten times greater than that of any other country in Europe.

The news page was about research from 2020 in a peer reviewed journal that claimed as fact:

It is also important to note that the UK has a school exclusion rate that is 10 times greater than that of any other country in Europe…

The source for this, however, was another peer reviewed journal article this time from  2014 which claimed:

England maintains an exclusion rate 10-times greater than any other country in Europe…

If the only error here was to present old research as contemporary data and to confuse England and the UK it would be shoddy enough, particularly in peer reviewed research. However, this still isn’t the source of the claim. This was a reference to yet another peer reviewed journal article. This time from 2001, so even more out of date. I couldn’t even access this one online, but a friend sent me a copy. This, however, appears to have been misread. The text actually says:

There has been a particular policy concern that school exclusion rates in England are the highest in Europe and are very different from the rest of the UK: ‘We expel ten times more children than Northern Ireland and four times more than Scotland’

Later it refers to:

…an exclusion rate for England that remains the highest in Europe and 10 times the figure for Northern Ireland.

These appear to be the only comparisons with Europe, and seem to have been misread. So a misreading of an article from 2001 talking about the 90s, has been published in two separate peer reviewed articles, including one that implied it was still relevant in 2020.

And just in case that wasn’t bad enough, was this original 2001 claim based on peer reviewed research?

No. The only reference given is a newspaper article (WERTHEIMER, F. Expulsion is not the answer, The Times, 17 September 1999, if you want to find it). This article does not actually give a source for the claim about Europe and when making the comparison with Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is referring to England and Wales, not just England, as “we”.

I suppose I could dig further into the background of that Times article, but what’s the point? We’re already very far removed from the claim that sent me down this rabbit hole.

It’s worth remembering this litany of repeated factual errors next time you hear somebody claiming that educationalists and charities are the experts on exclusions.

 

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Book Review: Why Teach? by Ben Newmark

May 22, 2021

Why Teach? by Ben Newmark. Published by John Catt. £14

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased. 

This is another one of those little books from John Catt, which is probably best bought at a discount or in bulk. It’s a collection of essays about teaching. Although the title seems philosophical, other than the final chapter the focus is on accurately describing what it is like to teach and giving advice. It would be well suited to NQTs and others early in their careers. It might be best to read when, having had a fair bit of experience of standing in front of a class, you start to wonder about the point of what you are doing, and everything else going on in your school.

Chapters include “Why doesn’t my school’s behaviour system work?”; “Why are there so many spreadsheets in my school?”, and “Why is everyone so scared of Ofsted?” These, and others like them, are describing the experience of working in a school and how to deal with it. The character of the writing is that of the sort of conversation you might have with a more experienced colleague in your first year of teaching, when you start to wonder whether the many of the things you are are doing have a purpose and if you are doing the job correctly.

The tone is upbeat even when the descriptions of school life would seem cynical to a non-teacher, or equivalently, depressingly realistic to a teacher. It isn’t a book to put you off teaching, even in chapters such as “Why is there more work than it is ever possible to do?” and “Why is teaching making me so sick?” Most chapters have a “What to do” section, balancing out descriptions of what can be a challenge to teachers with solid advice on how to overcome these difficulties.

The exception to this format is the last chapter – the title track – “Why Teach?” which is a reflection on the purpose of being a teacher. This is an intelligent, philosophical discussion reminding us that what we do in the classroom is not some indirect step to some ambitious greater goal, but a worthwhile activity in itself when you believe that what you teach has inherent value.

Like most of the books I’ve reviewed so far, a lot of the appeal of this one is the honesty and accuracy. I don’t remember many books like this when I started teaching. Honest books written by a teacher, for teachers, are a reminder of how much there is to be gained from learning from those still within the profession. This book is a good demonstration of the way that teachers still spend their time thinking about teaching, and probably with greater sophistication than those who are often given the most prominent platforms to tell us what to do.

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Book Review: The Truth About Teaching by Greg Ashman

May 15, 2021

The Truth about Teaching: An evidence-informed guide for new teachers by Greg Ashman. Sage Publishing. £17.28 on Amazon.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased. 

This book is aimed at new teachers, not those of us who have been in the job for a while, but I still loved it. It’s exactly the book I could have done with 20 years ago. A guide to teaching with a twist. The twist is that the content is true and useful. There are no claims that engaging lessons will solve behaviour problems. There are no claims that group work and chatting in class will mean better learning. There’s no Bloom’s Taxonomy, brain gym or attachment theory. There’s no chapter on SEN that pretends that being on a list makes everything different. There’s just how to teach, based on the evidence.

The best part though is that the whole book is framed around the actual history, debate and research in education. There is no claim to be above it all, and no assumption that nowadays all disputes have all been resolved in favour of progressivism. Alternative ideas about education are presented and an evidence based case is made for what actually works. Explanations are given for what is effective and how we know it’s effective, alongside practical advice, and some exploration of current controversies such as phonics, and the use of technology.

Greg is based in Australia, but he worked in schools in England (at their worst) for years, so the book is somewhat generic in what it shares. It’s not a guide to teaching in a particular country, just a guide to teaching. But that is probably the reason it gets its priorities right. I think it’s the first book of it’s type that I’ve seen which puts the chapter on classroom management before the chapters on learning, motivating students, teaching, planning and assessment.

The case is made for explicit teaching: actually telling kids the stuff they need to know and making sure they learn it. This is accompanied by advice on how best to do it, and the limitations of the alternatives. The references are thorough enough that it would also serve as a good guide to further reading about the ideas in the text.

I don’t imagine a book like this will be appearing on too many PGCE reading lists any time soon. Even if ideas about explicit teaching weren’t anathema to the ideology of many university education departments, the idea that teachers should be uncovering “the truth”, by use of reason and evidence, would be. I can, however, imagine teachers recommending it to their new colleagues. It’s a useful place to start your reading about teaching if you’re just starting out, and a good recap if you’re not.

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Book Review: The researchED Guide to Explicit and Direct Instruction. Edited by Adam Boxer

May 8, 2021

 

The researchED Guide to Explicit & Direct Instruction: An evidence-informed guide for teachers edited by Adam Boxer. Published by John Catt Educational Limited. £12 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased. 

This is one of those short, but packed, education books that are probably best bought in bulk, or on special offer. This one covers the benefits of explicit instruction, the history of Englemann’s Direct Instruction, and more detailed explanation of how his ideas might be used in practice. In the end, I think I’d rather have seen more of the first two and rather less of the third.

Having become a teacher in an era where teacher talk was demonised, I think it’s great to see books about the value of explicit instruction. The most interesting chapters are those that talk about the history of Englemann’s Direct Instruction – a method of explicit teaching based on carefully designed scripted lessons – and how it was vindicated by a massive research trial entitled “Project Follow Through” – but somehow subsequently neglected for being against the tide of educational opinion.

Other parts of the book explain the benefits of explicit instruction in general, but also outline what was unique about Englemann’s contribution. A lot of the chapters explain how Englemann sequenced his work through various principles that determined what examples, and patterns of examples, would be most effective. While it’s intellectually interesting to see the connections between pedagogy and reasoning, a lot of these parts of the book assume the reader will have a lot of time to plan examples and sequences of instruction which, unfortunately, is not the case for a lot of classroom teachers. Perhaps those parts of the book are most useful for those creating resources, or planning curriculums.

Some chapters give examples of applying Englemann’s ideas in practice, but in some cases these examples are probably too subject specific for those unfamiliar with the topic to get much from. I was completely lost in the chapter about teaching electrolysis, but more at home in the one about teaching fractions. There’s probably a gap in the market for anyone who can find a way to write about these ideas without relying too much on subject specific examples. Alternatively, what may be needed is subject specific books on these ideas.

Overall, this book reads like a starting point, and perhaps the aim is to get people engaged with a wider body of work that is already out there, rather than a source of ideas that can be immediately applied. Somewhere I have a copy of Englemann’s Theory Of Instruction, and this book certainly increased my enthusiasm to get started on it.

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