Big and small ideas in Education

What are the big ideas in education? perhaps just as important, what are the small ideas? What seemingly minor tweaks in classroom practice lead to significant and lasting change in the long term. Here is a list of ideas from the OU’s Inovating Pedagogy report 

  • Massive online social learning (  eg MOOCS)
  • Learning design
  • Flipped classroom
  • Blending learning inside and outside the classroom
  • Bring your own devices
    Learning to learn
    Dynamic assessment -formative, ongoing
  • Event-based learning-Fairs, Conferences, Themed days
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

Feedback-what they say

David Didau:

” approximately 70% of the feedback given by teachers to students is not ‘received’. That is to say, the students either don’t read it, don’t understand it, and don’t act on it.

Some of the reasons for this might be:
•Feedback is most often accepted when it confirms existing beliefs; where beliefs are challenged, feedback is often rejected
•If you give feedback to the whole class students think it must be directed at someone else and no one ‘receives’ it.
•Students often find teachers’ feedback to be “confusing, non-reasoned and not understandable” (Hattie 2009)
•Even when they do understand, they’re not sure how to apply it to their learning
•Most feedback is related to tasks rather than processes – that is to say it tends to focus on what was done rather than how it was done.


Prof Hattie


“Hattie suggests that feedback needs to be: ‘just in time’, ‘just for me’, ‘just where I am in my learning process’, and ‘just what I need to help me make progress’. According to his research into Effect Sizes, Feedback has the highest score.  Hattie has made clear that ‘feedback’ includes telling students what they have done well (positive reinforcement), and what they need to do to improve (corrective work, targets etc). This means that giving students assessment criteria for example would be included in ‘feedback’. This may seem odd, but high quality feedback is always given against explicit criteria, and so these would be included in ‘feedback’ experiments.

As well as feedback on the task Hattie believes that students can get feedback on the processes they have used to complete the task, and on their ability to self-regulate their own learning. All these have the capacity to increase achievement. Feedback on the ‘self’ such as ‘well done you are good at this’ is not helpful. Feedback must be informative rather than evaluative.


Durham University

“One of the most effective uses of a teacher’s time is in giving good feedback – which should be sparing, specific and encouraging.

It is “more important to give feedback about what is right than what is wrong,” the researchers say. It is also best to praise a particular task that has been accomplished well rather than praise a pupil as an individual with phrases like “good girl”.


Edmund Burke on the role of the MP

Reading the biography of Edmund Burke, the Anglo Irish Whig philosopher and politician, by Jesse Norman MP. I like the address that the gave to the constituents of Bristiol, who had elected him in 1774. It defends the rights of MPs to make their own minds up, and not to be mere delegates, to be concerned with general matters, not justy the local and peronsal ones.
Here is an extract:

“I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject.

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

… But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,–these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect.

Royal Society of Edinburgh on Education in Scotland

The Royal Society remains concerned at the lack of evaluation of Curriculum for Excellence. In it briefing notes, December 2014 it says,

“The absence of a systematic programme of independent evaluation of CfE has been a long-standing and key concern of the RSE Education

Committee, and that, ” high quality evaluation of CfE must relate to the aims of the reforms and the criticisms to which the reforms have been subjected.

It should seek to identifywhat is different about CfE and consider the extent towhich the distinctive and innovative features of the reforms are being reflected

in classroom practice.”

Professor Sally Brown goes on to observe that, ”

The RSE has been particularly concerned about the lack of a systematic strategy for development and implementation of CfE. Such a strategy would be expected to cover the identification of strategic goals, design and planning of the reforms; pilot work to test alternative courses of action; and independent evaluation. CfE has suffered profoundly from a lack of pilot trials and independent evaluation. In our view, problems have tended to be dealt with in isolation, with many different groups having been formed to give advice on particular aspects of the developments. This has made it very difficult to manage the system as a whole, and has, we believe, been the major cause of increased teacher workload.




“Times Educational Supplement” -Four Ways of Learning

Good piece in the Times Educational Supplement by Mike Gershon proving an overview of four different theories of learning, paraphrased as:

1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

  • Physiological needs such as food, water and sleep;
  • Safety needs: protection from violence and harm;
  • Needs for love, affection and belonging;
  • Needs for esteem; and
  • needs for self-actualisation (fulfilling potential).


2. Bruner’s scaffolding

  • Modelling
  • Giving advice
  • Providing coaching

3. Vygotsky’s proximal development

  • Assess where pupils are in terms of independent capabilities.
  • Create open tasks that can be accessed on a number of levels.
  • Build different levels of challenge into each section of your lesson.
  • Track pupils’ targets in the front of their books.
  • Identify particular groups of pupils to work with one-to-one, according to their ZPD.

4. Dewey’s experience and interaction

  • Get out of the classroom.
  • Use discussion.
  • Give pupils opportunities to be independent and to make decisions.

Quintillian, A Roman writer on education

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. Th eonly surving work is his twelve-volume textbook on rhetoric entitled Institutio Oratoria, published around AD 95. This work deals with the theory and practice of rhetoric, and also with the foundational education and development, providing advice that ran from the cradle to the grave. Quintilian believed that the teacher was one of the most important elements in a child’s life, stating that he (and it was always a he)should be one of good character, with the following qualities:

” Let him be strict, but not grim, and friendly but not too relaxed as to incur neither hatred nor contempt; he should talk a great deal about what is good and honourable; the more often he has admonished his pupils, the more rarely will he need to punish them; he must not be given to anger, but he must not turn a blind eye to things that need correction; he must be straightforward in his teaching, willing to work, persistent but not obsessive; must answer questions readily and put questions to himself to those who do not ask any; in praising his pupils’ performances he must neither grudging nor fulsome (the one produces dislike of the work, the other complacency); in correcting faults, he must not be biting, and certainly not abusive for many have been driven away from learning because some teachers rebuke pupils as though they hate them”


Teachers should be well learned in a variety of subjects and capable of higher reasoning, otherwise pupils won’t be able to learn materially properly or in depth:

“the unlearned teacher may well approve faulty work and force his pupils to like it because of his own is “a virtue in a teacher that he should carefully observe the differences in the abilities of the pupils whose education he has undertaken, and understand the direction to which their various talents incline””

The major duty of the teacher is to establish the right course at the start than to rescue a pupil from errors into which he has already fallen.

His method was for the teacher is to give a broad outline of the material and ask the students give their own version of the material after presentation. The two versions would be combined in a kind of synthesis.  Anticipating the concept of scaffolding, he recommended that younger pupils should receive the “material pre-digested” while after they have successfully completed the beginning tasks, the teacher can then provide them with further freedom. If they do not, and commit further mistakes, Quintilian advised that the pupils must then “be brought back under his guidance”

One of the more important traits in teaching involves assortment of subject matter according to Quintilian, explaining that “variety refreshes and restores the mind”. He emphasized the “Study depends on the will to learn, and this cannot be forced. It is important to keep a fresh curriculum and provide the students with a multitude of subjects to learn.

Reading, writing and speaking were considered by Quintilian to be the most important functions of the pupil. When learning the letters of the alphabet, Quintilian believed that learning the shapes of the letters along with the pronunciation and succession was important. Following the basic reading, writing and speaking portion, pupils would then be schooled in grammatici which was “the subject comprised of two parts: the study of correct speech and the interpretation of the poets”

The study of grammatici was extremely important  because “the principles of writing are closely connected with those of speaking, correct reading is a prerequisite of interpretation, and judgment involved in all these”. Pupil should be well versed in poetry, history and philosophy and the subject matter of the readings was to contain moral undertones and be
substantial models for exemplary morals:

“These tender minds, which will be deeply affected by whatever is impressed upon them in their untrained ignorance, should learn not only eloquent passages, but, even more, passages which are morally improving

Following his arguments on basic education, Quintilian set out the curriculum for the future orator which dealt with every higher skills such as interpreting narrative, court room appearance, knowledge of ‘cases’ and examples all to be used when both giving a speech or arguing/pleading a case. Quintilian explained his philosophy on the curriculum in his twelve books, which he intended to supply the orator with a guide to lifelong learning and provide those teaching the art of rhetoric a template to follow.

“Strange Meeting”

Was delighted to accept invitation to join a colleague who writes about such things to attend one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Festival, a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”. I was not familiar with it other than by snatched extracts on Radio 3 and a general awareness that it is one of the 20th century’s most powerful and moving works. Of course it is an obvious choice for a concert, given the year, but it is far from an obvious work. Like much of Britten it takes a concept and reinvents it, making it fresh and new. Britten adopts a traditional theme beloved by composers-the Requiem Mass, but by juxtaposing it with war poems by Wilfred Owen he offers a rereading of the whole idea of a Requiem mass-the pacifist composer enlisting the words of the soldier poet to commemorate the dead, and to make us think.

The Requiem was commissioned to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, built to replace the 14th century St Martin’s, destroyed in the infamous blitz of that city on the night of 14th November 1940. Coventry was badly damaged; so too were many other British and German cities as aerial bombing became more sustained and widespread. And so, during this excellent performance I was reminded of my recent visit to Nurnberg in Franconia. Nurnberg, designated one of the most “German of cities” was the jewel in the crown of the Third Reich. As such it was a target for the massive bombing raid in 1944 that razed about 90% of the old Medieval town to the ground.  In the church of St Sebaldus, now rebuilt as the rest of the city in the traditional style,  is a potent symbol of the power of reconciliation- a cross made from three nails from the ruined Coventry Cathedral, the so-called “Nagelkreuz von Coventry“. This nail cross stands for reconciliation and forgiveness,  versöhnung. It is the focal point for meditation and prayer, and renewal. And amidst the rage and fury that Britten summons forth, there is at the end that final consoling plea for sleep, for peace, for versöhnung, with which ends Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Strange Meeting”

The Distinguished British conductor Sir Andrew Davis marshalled a trio of international soloists, (with tenor Toby Spence in particularly fine voice), the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, NYCoS, and the Philarmonia orchestra through extremes of emotion. From the innocence of the boys voices to the intense whispered opening; the thunderous , near overwhelming climax and finally the deeply moving and sparsely orchestrated “Strange Meeting” this detailed, disciplined performance brought out Britten’s inspired orchestration of the Latin Mass and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry. The choir maintained a controlled, staccato emotion to the Dies Irae, and sensitivity to the dying moments, but the tumultuous climax of the terrifying Libera Me  unleashed the full firepower of large orchestra and chorus to call up all the energy and terror of war like no other. A memorable evening at a packed Usher Hall.

“..For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”





“Voltaire and Rousseau”

We have all heard of Voltaire and Rousseau. The were were twin pillars of 18th Century thought. Voltaire the libertine French Enlightenment polemicist, writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18th century. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought. His novel Émile argued for the education of the whole person for citizenship. His “Confessions” featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing. The “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” and the famous “On the Social Contract” are cornerstones in modern political and social thought.

Voltaire and Rousseau









But “Voltaire and Rousseau” is also the name of a much loved second hand book store in Glasgow’s West End. The name conjures up the type of liberal thinking individual who like the eponymous philosophers loves to let the mind range where it will in a book store where serendipity rather than rigid classification is the key to discovery and enlightenment.  Did I say, “store”? Really Voltaire and Rousseau is an anti-store, a place set beyond the normal rules of time and gravity, musty and damp, with piles of books tottering and spilling and hanging and climbing like fronds in an overripe rainforest. There is order to the shelves- of sorts,  but alien species keep invading and colonising. Books on every possible subject intertwine, and rise up like stalagmites to the ceiling. Colourful green, pink, blue and orange penguins create strata of book spines, often convulsed by intruding hardbacks and yellowing pamphlets. Like geological unconformities, worthy old gazetteers and county topographies sit atop modern political biographies and monumental tomes on medieval history. Old 1 inch maps and guides on the digital age meld in a fusion of happenstance, with fresh discoveries possible at every precarious stack. Volumes are piled in front of volumes each pile successively older, the whole assemblage obscuring shelves that have, like deep Mayan caves never seen the light of day, and which, without specialist equipment are quite beyond access or rescue.

Landslides of paperbacks are an ever present danger, but often a precious find, like a newly emerged Jurassic fossil will reveal itself in such fresh cliff faces. Here the trivial nestles with the earnest; university textbooks familiar from the ’80s and children’s’ yarns of the 50s; biographies and cheap crime fiction; psychology and comics. A jenga game, where books replace bricks, and each tentative removal increases the risk of the entire shaky pillar collapsing.

In Voltaire and Rousseau, you will find, as they say, “God’s plenty”. Chaotic, crazy, cramped, yet in its quaint way a celebration of the sheer joy of reading. A million miles from Kindle, perhaps, but so much more stimulating to the eye and tactile to the reader. One gets the feeling that the sum total of human knowledge up until perhaps 1985-maybe a little later- is held within its musty, shambolic, eclectic confines. Had we but world enough and time to excavate its hidden treasures.

Learning and Thinking in the 21st Century

Some very stimulating infographics appearing on Pinterest aimed at teachers. This one highlights some of the assumed skills young people will need in the 21st Century. Many of these are not new, eg “find information” but the emphasis is switching to collaborative approaches, to learning as a social activity, where engagement is vital. The importance of validating and evaluating information is ever more significant as pupils learn that all sources of knowledge have their limits and bias. Discernment and judgement are essential when using the internet as a research tool.

This infographic was created by Canadian educator Med Kharbach, and you can find out more on the website Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . See here for other posters from this site. Also check out some good references on Med’s Google Plus page. One that caught my attention was Danah Boyd’s  ‘”It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

As always, learning needs to be placed in a wider social context, and Boyd uses extensive research among American adolescents to show how young people create their own rules for negotiating the complex social network life that they inhabit.

Learning and Thinking in 21st Century