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The AfL debate: does it matter who's right?

2014-04-28T23:35:37+01:00April 28th, 2014|assessment|

If you're not already aware of my critique and Dylan Wiliam's defence of formative assessment I do recommending getting up to speed before reading this post. Dylan's defence rests on the idea that although we can never be sure what's going on in a child's mind, "teaching will be better if the teacher bases their decisions about what to do next on a reasonably accurate model of the students’ thinking." He makes a rather interesting and surprising point: it doesn't matter that we can't know what's going on in our students' minds because his "definition of formative assessment does not require that the inferences we make [...]

Why AfL might be wrong, and what to do about it

2014-04-25T09:31:57+01:00March 12th, 2014|myths|

Some cows are so sacred that any criticism of them is fraught with the risk of bumping up against entrenched cognitive bias. We are fantastically bad at recognizing that our beliefs are often not based on evidence but on self-interest, and it’s been in everyone’s interest to uphold the belief that AfL is the best thing that teachers can do. When confronted with ‘others’ who disagree with our most fervently held beliefs, we tend to make the following series of assumptions: They are ignorant They are stupid They are evil When in the past I have been critical of AfL (or [...]

AfL: cargo cult teaching?

2015-12-10T13:53:58+00:00August 31st, 2013|assessment, Featured, learning|

OK, so here's a quick summary of the story so far: A few days ago I suggested in a blog post that maybe AfL 'wasn't all that'. Lots of lovely people kindly got in touch to point out that I clearly hadn't got a clue what AfL actually was, and then Gordon Baillie wrote a really rather good response in defence of AfL on his blog. Right? Right. At this point I'm going to tediously catalogue what I know about AfL so no one's confused about what I might and might not be suggesting. Here's a collection of posts I've written on feedback [...]

Chasing our tails – is AfL all it's cracked up to be?

2013-08-29T21:17:40+01:00August 29th, 2013|assessment, learning, myths|

Is it blasphemous to doubt the efficacy of AfL? While purists might argue that it's 'just good teaching', we teach in a world where formative assessment has become dogma and where feedback is king. (Don't worry, I'm not about to start upsetting the feedback applecart although there are occasions when pupils can benefit from it being reduced.) But AfL as a 'thing'? I'm not just talking about some of the nonsense that gets spouted about lolly sticks and traffic lights, I'm questioning the entire edifice. Is assessment for learning really all it's cracked up to be, or is it just me? You [...]

How do we know pupils are making progress? Part 1: The madness of flight paths

2019-04-07T20:14:38+01:00March 23rd, 2019|assessment, curriculum|

Schools are desperate to find ways to predict students' progress from year to year and between key stages. Seemingly, the most common approach to solving this problem is to produce some sort of 'flight path'. The internet is full of such misguided attempts to do the impossible. Predicting a students' progress is a mug's game. It can't be done. At the level of nationally representative population sample we can estimate the likelihood of someone who is measured at performing at one level attaining another level, but this is meaningless at the level of individuals. It should therefore be obvious that using [...]

What *does* improve children’s writing?

2019-12-08T14:39:13+00:00December 1st, 2017|writing|

In my last post I discussed evidence that suggests grammar teaching does not lead to an improvement in children's writing. Although it seems implausible that grammar teaching would not be positively correlated with writing outcomes, there's a lot of evidence that is strongly suggestive that what I prefer to believe may not in fact actually be true. I've written enough about cognitive bias to know that I am predisposed to look for evidence that supports my preferences and dismiss evidence that contradicts them. The point of evidence is that it forces us to confront the extent to which our intuitions map [...]

Telling better stories

2016-06-21T21:26:21+01:00June 21st, 2016|Featured|

None of us know what made us what we are, and when we have to say something, we make up a good story. Steven Pinker, My Genome, My Self Stories are one of the most important ways we have of trying to make sense of the world. We look  at all the coincidences, connections, curiosities and contradictions that surround us and weave them into a plausible narrative in which everything makes sense and inconsistencies are explained away. This incredibly useful skill enables us to interpret an otherwise incomprehensible world - without narrative there would be little way for us to make meaning of our [...]

The value of testing – on the back of a postage stamp

2016-03-07T20:58:22+00:00March 7th, 2016|psychology|

In an effort to spread the word about some of the most robustly researched psychological effects which can be used to support learning, I've been having a go at creating gimmicky memes. This one is on the 'testing effect', or as it's sometimes called, retrieval practice. I've written about the testing effect before here and have discussed some of the recent research evidence in more depth here. But for those who are understandably unwilling to trawl through my back catalogue, I'll briefly explain the 4 points made above 1. We often think we know things which we have in fact forgotten. This is [...]

Learning about learning: What every teacher needs to know

2016-03-02T08:34:17+00:00February 3rd, 2016|psychology|

When I trained to be teacher I was told little or nothing about how children learn. Because a lot of what we intuitively suppose about the process of learning is often flatly contradicted by cognitive science this was a huge handicap. Since you can't think about stuff you don't know, I spent all my time pontificating on the process of teaching, but lacked the theoretical framework and knowledge base to consider how my students learned. I don't think I'm alone in this. Over the past few years I've discovered an awful lot through reading various books and academic papers which has given me the ability to start thinking [...]

Ouroboros: a review

2016-01-29T09:40:28+00:00January 29th, 2016|Featured|

I've been following Greg Ashman's writing for some years and have always been struck by his clarity, precision, humour and single-minded sense of purpose. I haven't always agreed with everything he's written but I've been persuaded by an awful lot. Naturally, when I discovered he was writing a book I was keen to read it. The concept or conceit of Ouroboros is that education is constantly eating its own tail. New ideas are old ideas repackaged for a new market; lessons are not learned; the past is forgotten and the future is always new and exciting. As Greg says in his introduction, this [...]