Questioning for Confirmation… and then Challenge



We often associate the practice of questioning as a tool to evoke higher-order thinking; it challenges our students to think in an evaluative and speculatively manner. However, the way we implement questioning should perhaps be considered more thoughtfully in our planning whereby we confirm our students’ knowledge before challenging.

Doug Lemov is notable in his remark that “simply asking higher cognitive questions does not necessarily lead students to produce higher cognitive responses” (2005). This presents us with a complex dilemma as we are aware that pushing our students to think more critically is the requirement for their future academic exam, and indeed their later work and academic successes.   We are good at building the scaffolds to ensure a greater success in complex questions – but do we do this enough? And do we approach this in the right way?

It was in a recent CPD event in London run by Lemov that clarified this. He gave a similar example to the one below:

  1. Write down 10 questions you would ask students about the following painting:

(Assuming at this point that you have limited or no knowledge on the painting itself).


Some of your questions might have contained the following: What is the significance of colour? Why is the hand positioned this way? How does this differ from the painter’s original style? What is the significance of the painting? Etc etc…

Now, if you add the following knowledge about the painting Tu m’ – Duchamp:

Artist: Marcel Duchamp, American, born France, 1887–1968

Title: Tu m’

Year: 1918

Medium: Oil on canvas, with bottlebrush, safety pins, and bolt

69.8 x 303 cm (27 1/2 x 119 5/16 in.)

Gift of the Estate of Katherine S. Dreier


Details: Tu m’ was commissioned by artist, collector, and educator Katherine Dreier to be hung over a bookcase in her library, hence the unusual length and frieze-like shape of the work. Executed in 1918, it is Marcel Duchamp’s last painting on canvas and sums up his previous artistic concerns. Ranging across the canvas from left to right are cast shadows that refer to three “ready-mades”: a bicycle wheel, a corkscrew, and a hat rack. Several objects are rendered illusionistically, such as a painted hand with a pointed finger in the lower center. Providing counterpoints to these trompe l’oeil elements are real objects: a bottle brush, a bolt, and safety pins. Duchamp summarises different ways in which a work of art can suggest reality: as shadow, imitation, or actual object. The title lends a sarcastic tone to the work, for the words, perhaps short for the French “tu m’emmerdes” (you annoy me) or “tu m’ennuies” (you bore me), seem to express his attitude toward painting as he was casting it aside.

 Culture: French, American

Period: 20th century

This, alongside the knowledge that the omitting on the verb in the title was also said to translate to ‘you [blank] me’ highlighting Duchamp’s apathy towards traditional art and a final farewell to painting. Coincidentally, this painting was also commissioned a year after Duchamp’s (R. Mutt’s) The Fountain – arguably the first piece of conceptual art.

Now. Go back to the task.

Write down 10 questions you would ask students about the following painting.

With the knowledge above, not only do my answers to the original questions (What is the significance of colour? Why is the hand positioned this way? How does this differ from the painter’s original style? What is the significance of the painting? Etc etc…) become more insightful, but I can now access more complex and challenging questions such as:

  • To what extent does this painting differ from Duchamp’s original style?
  • In what ways does this painting critique classical art?
  • Art is “not what you see, but what you make others see.” Discuss this in relation to Tu m’ by Duchamp

Therefore, it seems pointless to ask complex questions if we have not yet tested our students’ understanding in the first place… and, quite frighteningly, it seems we can actually lock some students out of learning if we do not test their understanding first. It is knowledge that makes this challenge accessible.

And Motivation?

Answering the complex questions above actually feel far more exciting with the information that is now given about Duchamp’s final painting. This idea that knowledge motivates us is something that has been explored quite frequently. Burke (1995) asserts in his paper ‘Connecting Content and Motivation’ claims that

“Content when it is applied, or has meaning assigned to it, is important, and we also know that motivation facilitates content assimilation”

and further continues to assert:

There is little debate, however, that learner motivation, the incentive applied to activate or engage student learning, enhances achievement levels, promotes higher order thinking, stimulates reflective analysis, and induces improved student performance in routine content assimilation. Thus, when motivation coalesces with curricular components, learning is considerably more residual and consequential.”

It would also explain why the following conclusions have been made over again in studies that show the importance and impact of direct instruction.  Hancock’s  Influencing Postsecondary Students’ Motivation to Learn in the Classroom (2002) believed to find a direct correlation between motivation in Low Conceptual Learners and ‘Direct Instruction’ teaching.
And, of course, why Willingham, Lemov, Hendrick & Macpherson, Christodoulou (vid below) and others come back to the importance of testing knowledge – and smaller skills – before moving onto more challenging or conceptual ideas.

The value of this in the learning process has also been implemented nicely in Fletcher-Wood’s new blog about The Evidence on Feedback: A Decision Tree whereby there is an active step to ‘reteach’ material where it seems students have missed key information.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 17.34.27

As mentioned earlier, if you do not have the foundational knowledge to answer a question then you can become locked out of the learning – in the same way that my responses will be only so limited on Duchamp’s Tu m’ unless I can easily access the factual knowledge about the painter and the painting itself. Following that, the feedback tree seems an important message in addressing misconceptions and testing core knowledge before redrafting work

A Solution? Question to confirm… and then to challenge.

If I wanted to explore the significance of how Lady Macbeth in portrayed in the following extract, I would expect students to use their understanding of devices to see how Shakespeare has positioned Lady Macbeth to us here.

Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Even though I may have taught this section of the play last lesson, explored the extended metaphor and considered the use of imperatives, as Dylan Wiliam has said: ‘learning requires forgetting.’   90% of my students may remember all of this knowledge but the value of questioning all of them on their basic knowledge means that all students can access the higher order question that I want them to answer (‘Explore the significance of how Lady Macbeth in portrayed in the following extract’).  Which, to some students, might  look just as chaotic as Duchamp’s painting unless reminded of the core facts.

Thus the questioning process could funnel (funnel to refine!) similar to the following:


Initial questions may focus on knowledge retrieval, and then move to closed questions to prompt all students to develop an argument (keeping the learning accessible despite a more subjective response), and then finally to more challenging questions.   In the Macbeth example given above, it would look like:

  1. What is a metaphor?
  2. What does ‘unsex me here’ metaphorically mean?
  3. What is an imperative verb?
  4. List the imperative verbs above.
  5. In your opinion, do the imperative verbs and metaphor show Lady Macbeth to be a confident or controlling?
  6. Does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth confident or controlling here? Give evidence.
  7. Explore the significance of Lady Macbeth in the following extract.

Note that Question 5 is where subjective opinion is required, however, I have also used key vocabulary to guide the students’ response. This is a good way to ensure unconfident students have the tools and vocabulary to access the more challenging question you want them to answer.

For Questions 6-7, it is important that if you were going to discuss or write this, that you give students Wait Time. They are not knowledge retrieval questions and Lemov is very assertive about giving space for students to formulate their best response rather than simply taking the first response. Again, alluded to by Wiliam because ‘the answers of the confident students are a bad guide to what the rest of the class is thinking.’

Whilst I have used 7 questions above, you could undoubtedly use 10-20 questions depending on the material being studied in that lesson.  This is, of course, just a example to demonstrate how knowledge retrieval can assist in enabling all our class to effectively access the material that they are required to know, understand and manipulate.  However, I think what is important here is ensuring that the material is accessible through simple knowledge retrieval questions that will further consolidate the memory pathways used by our students when presented (and re-presented) with the curriculum.






ResearchED2017 Slides: What You Do Not Know About Feedback and Motivation

What an event!

Huge congratulations to all the wonderful speakers for this year’s National ResearchED Conference.  Such an event truly sparks the most insightful conversations about how we can further move education forward so that staff, students and systems work effectively.  Many thanks as well (of course) to Tom Bennett and Helene Galdin-O’Shea for organising.

  • The slides for my talk can be found here: Feedback ResearchEd
  • Further reading available from my blog: Feedback, Mindset and Motivation – Linked?
  • Link to download Harry Fletcher-Wood’s new book chapter in Feedback (as mentioned in my talk) can also be found here.
  • Link to purchase Carl Hendrick’s and Robin Macphearson’s new book ‘Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice’ here.
  • Information on future ResearchED events are on their website.


5 Important Things Educational Research has Taught Me


In his famous commencement speech ‘This is Water’, David Foster Wallace begins with the following didactic tale:

 There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

And continues to assert:

The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

It is a statement that encourages us to consider the aspects of our immediate world that we may have become ignorant of, or oblivious to. It is easy for us to slip into habits, or belief systems, without considering other options.

Yet the most significant and valuable asset to understanding ourselves, and the world around us, is being able to consider opinions and perspectives that are beyond our immediate experience. Being able to, as Wallace so eloquently puts it, ‘see the water’ as an objective and thoughtful onlooker.

As an Australian, I grew up in an entirely different Education system. The perspective of another ‘way to do things’ has simultaneously become the best and worst thing about my teaching. On one hand, I appreciate the academic rigour and standard of the UK System, on the other, there are many things I find frustrating as I have experienced a successful system that ‘does it differently.’ The Australian system, for example, does not give pupils their Target Grades (… just one example). Imagine that?

With this in mind, it was incredibly unfortunate and disheartening to see that conferences such as ResearchED – which are dedicated to presenting a variety of opinions and perspectives on Education – were being scrutinised. It is exactly these events that continually reignite my passion for the profession; I am selfishly confirmed that there are parts of the system that are broken, whilst also challenged in my own thoughts about the learning and progress of my classes. A truly invigorating experience.

So, I wanted to put forward the top 5 things that I have learned from attending such conferences and reading current educational research. All of the following have significantly impacted my outlook on the profession since I began teaching 5 years ago. It is safe to say I would have ‘coasted’ or ‘plateaued’ in the profession had I not been continually challenged by this material.


Lesson 1: A Greater Insight into How Students Retain Knowledge

When I was doing my teacher training, I never considered to investigate the ways the human mind retains knowledge, or how one’s memory pathways are strengthened.   I don’t need to cite the recent changes to the GCSE that make this information so vital, as most teachers are aware that students must be able to ‘know stuff’ to pass their exams.

Our students’ knowledge of the content and the paper must be concrete. It is not enough anymore to get by with superfluous responses or underdeveloped responses – nor can they rely on Coursework. Across all disciplines, accurate and accessible knowledge of key terminologies is vital to one’s success.


Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Students Don’t Like School, gives some insight into the working memory, assisting to establish the ways we might transfer information to our students. The book suggests that:

‘thinking occurs when you combine information from your environment and long-term memory in new ways’

and that this process is often

‘effortful, challenging or difficult’.

Having an awareness of how the brain processes information, and the time it takes for this to be solidified into the long-term working memory, has the following classroom impacts:

  • Establishes further respect for a pupil’s cognitive limits
  • Forces us to reconsider when to puzzle students – or bring in new information
  • Encourages us to attempt to attach new information to previous memory pathways
  • Encourages a regular or more considerate approach to classroom pace and information delivery

This is not the only example. David Didau’s book, What if Everything you Knew About Education is Wrong, explores the research of Hermann Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve to make us consider the expectation of classroom knowledge and how frequently we revisit knowledge previously learned.


In order to effectively learn stuff, we need to revise it regularly – so perhaps there are ways to embed this into our classroom plans, such as the following:

  • Regular low stakes testing to revisit content learned
  • Interleaving subjects
  • Regular homework or prep on previous content


Lesson 2: Individuals May React to the Same Feedback Differently

Questioning feedback has been an interesting topic this last year and, without doing so, I am the first to admit that I would most likely be sitting here wondering why my ‘two stars and a wish’ did not develop the academic drive I sought in all my students.

As I have mentioned in my own previous blog, and presented at Telegraph Festival of Education, there is strong suggestion that our internal bias may affect how we perceive, or react to, feedback.

Whilst you can read my thoughts here, it is important to note that this has also been explored by Didau who claims that students tend to attribute their performance to the following:

  1. Their ability
  2. The performance of others
  3. Their intrinsic interest in the task
  4. How hard they tried
  5. Their experience from previous learning

Now, if a pupil attributes a failed result to 1, they may take emotional offence to my feedback if they have not yet developed a high level of resilience (usually seen in younger learners), however, if they attribute it to 2 their reaction to my feedback might be one of indifference or ignorance.

As a result, they will remember their ability and/or outcome very differently. This is why so many articles (Harry Fletcher-Wood’s new book, preview of chapter here, also contains further detailed information on this) have cited the importance of responding to clear, targeted feedback: it removes personal attachment to (perceived) negative comments.

Therefore, the classroom implications become the following.  We:

  • Consider how we deliver feedback to different pupils
  • Establish more effective ways to remove emotional attachment to feedback
  • Ensure that feedback is revisited and acknowledged in an effective way
  • Attribute feedback to skills that can be developed so that effective academic conversations can take place in the classroom.
  • Consider how clear our targets are and whether they are understood by those in our class.


Lesson 3: ‘Making Progress’ can be an Arbitrary Measure

One thing I have noticed since living in England is that the word ‘progress’ is particularly favoured in Education. We love the word and it seems to justify a lot of actions – whether right or wrong.


Daisy Christodoulou’s read Making Good Progress explores this further. She writes:

When we assess summatively, we ‘judge the extent of students’ learning of the material in a course, for the purpose of grading, certification, evaluation of progress or even for researching the effectiveness of the curriculum.’ When making these summative judgments, it is vitally important that they have some kind of shared meaning that goes beyond the curriculum.

Indeed, it is often our perspectives of a mark that provides us with a subjective judgment on progress. Consider, for example, the pupil in your class who does extremely well on (let’s do an English example) a Macbeth paper one week, but poorly the next. The judgments we could make here are three-fold: they are making ‘insufficient progress,’ ‘their knowledge on the paper in Week 2 was insufficient,’ or ‘they underperformed that day’. All of which are subjective judgments that question the validity of the result.

Christodoulou suggests that making good progress is about reliability, forcing us to consider how we implement and use assessment to truly capture the accuracy of the results.  As a result, the book:

  • Forces us to consider more reliable systems to assess students’ learning.
  • Encourages us to consider whether we are provided with a valuable measurement of progress.


Lesson 4: Results do not have to be limited to Data

As adults, we all know that there are skills that we have developed over time; particular those we may have never thought we would. I remember being in the bottom-set English class at the beginning Year 10, and graduating 1.5 years later 1st place in Extension English at a Grammar School. If you would have asked my teachers in Year 10 to give me a target grade, I guarantee that 1st would not have been their response.

So when we have had these experiences, why do we label pupils with their grades? Lord Bew noted in his 2011 report:

The level thresholds in KS2 tests mean that one mark can make the difference between one level and the next

And, of course

These differences will be highly significant for the individual pupil.

As was mentioned by Dylan Wiliam: 32% of pupils could be given the wrong national curriculum level. While it is important to keep in mind what a student has achieved in their earlier years, it is also important to recognise that “dubious data across wide age ranges, across different schools, and across quite different cohorts means that it is almost impossible to use this data to decide whether a school [or pupil for that matter!] is any good or not. (Didau, 2015)”

Unfortunately the only absolute truth of most school data is that it places an “intolerable burden on teachers, schools and – most importantly – children.”  All of this must encourage us to:

  • Consider how data is used in schools
  • Consider whether league tables are accurate representations
  • Ensure the wellbeing of staff is not impacted/affected by data drives
  • Consider how to ensure that encouragement and success of our students is not limited by data.


Lesson 5: The Educator – not just the teacher – is valuable.


Finally, and most importantly, research in Education has encouraged me to take risks in my teaching. I do not feel stifled or limited by one approach, and certainly just consider what the most effective approach would be.

The debate about progressive and traditional teaching will continue, yet there are many academic resources that place value on a variety of methods. Alex Quigley notes this in his book, The Confident Teacher, where he places an importance on developing a confident (and competent) learner.


Similarly, Andy Tharby’s model (pictured above and taken from his book: Making Every English Lesson Count) on expert teaching demonstrates that educating requires explanation and modelling from a teacher (perhaps interchangeable with ‘teacher led practices’), as well as deliberate practice from pupils – a classroom method that may require teachers to step back to promote the confidence of his or her pupils.   The book continues to provide a range of strategies on both spectrums of teaching to encourage and promote classroom success.

I have also written about this further as well with my interest in Harkness and Coaching methods, which can be found here, and here. However, the important implications that have come through in my readings about being the most successful practitioner are the following:

  • There may be no ‘right way’ of delivering a lesson.
  • Correct methods of teaching can be defined and/or limited by classroom context in that,
    • Explicit teaching is effective.
    • Allowing pupils space to practice may also be effective
  • Encourages us to question: How can classroom planning utilise these strategies effectively?
  • Forces us to consider whether we are applying appropriate methods in our own context.  If not, how can we do things differently to maximise results?


In short:

We clearly have a lot to think about in this incredibly complex profession. However, I am truly grateful for all the Conferences, TeachMeets, Festivals, and individuals who (no matter what race/ethnicity/gender) enable me to see that there can be other (and better) ways to approach teaching as I begin my next academic year.

What Is Not Working in Education (and What We Can Do About It)

The search for the ‘Holy Grail’ of Teaching is not working…

python grail

Bridgekeeper: What… is your name?
Sir Lancelot: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your quest?
Sir Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your favourite colour?
Sir Lancelot: Blue.
Bridgekeeper: Go on. Off you go.
Sir Lancelot: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
Sir Robin: That’s easy.

The education system has undergone many pedagogical shifts in search for the ‘ultimate lesson structure’.  We have now reached an interesting point as we become evermore aware that misinformed or poorly implemented educational research can disastrously impact in our classroom and affect students’ and teachers’ morale.  As a result, our trust for ‘new school learning strategies’ has been damaged.

And it is confusing: we have been inundated with educational research suggesting that student-led learning leads to best results but also that teacher-led learning leads to the best results.  We have seen posts that ‘prove’ our students engage more with “fun” learning and yet it has also been confirmed that “fun” does not link to progress or achievement.  Certainly debates on the most effective way to implement classroom practice are evident across the profession – but what has clearly surfaced is that our search for the one strategy solution has failed.  The search for the ‘holy grail’ of teaching is not working. 


Where did it go wrong?

Most practitioners are familiar with the sudden requirement of a new school teaching policy based on “latest research.” It is now not uncommon to see the phrase “and recent research shows” in CPD sessions in order to justify this new whole-school practice, often without the need for any confirmation as to what research came to this conclusion.  It was even on my cereal box the other day: ‘research suggests that people who eat cereal are healthier!’ – of course, with no reference to who they studied, where or over what amount of time.

We have become a society that needs pseudo-scientific confirmation often without discerning facts. This has leaked into our attitudes and behaviours about education as we continue to clarify, justify or explore what ‘the best way to teach is’.

Quite interestingly, unless we are critical of research and the search for the teaching ‘holy grail’ is challenged, one could even argue that it is the case that students do not even need school and are best educated at home. Ray (2015) demonstrated that academic performance was greater achieved by students who were not in mainstream schooling:

The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardised academic achievement tests. (The public school average is the 50th percentile; scores range from 1 to 99).

Taken from:

With such convincing facts (I particularly enjoy the URL of ‘ResearchFacts.pdf’), how could we not move to a system whereby all students were home-schooled? Surely this is the way to move the younger generation to have the most academic success? Of course my logical process to this conclusion seems absurd and yet this is what has seemed to happen with some of our teaching practice.


…and thus came academic fads and the search for the ‘Holy Grail’

It is from this unawareness and ill-informed understanding of academic research that classroom fads were born.  It had been suggested that post-its and mini whiteboards have transformed the classroom and suddenly they became the answer to all our teaching woes (and another thing to tick on the Outstanding Lesson Observation form).  What we stopped thinking about, however, was how effective the use of these whiteboards were – and at what time?

We stopped asking vital questions about the impact of this new tool: was it useful that I asked all students to write their favourite song and hold it up on the mini-whiteboard to show they were engaged? In what ways did this enhance their learning or progress? Such questions link nicely with Carl Hendrick’s blog and similar ideas mentioned by Hannah Townsend (@HanTgeography) in her blog: Why Playdough is Not The Way Forward when Teaching Geography. 

So What Can We Do?

It is vital that we start considering how the variety of teaching methods given in our profession can be best implemented into our classroom.  Below is a list of 5 things that we can do if there is no such thing as the teaching ‘Holy Grail.’

  1. Be critical of research

In a recent CPD with David Weston (@informed_edu) and Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) for the Teacher Development Trust, I was introduced to quite a startling fact. In a 2007 ScienceDaily article, the Colorado State University found that “pictures of the brain made research more believable.” Alex Quigley addressed this as it highlights the comical – but yet frightening – realisation that our opinions might be easily influenced by pseudoscience.


Moreover, Dylan Wiliam also points this out numerous times. He rightly asserts that educational research can only tell us what has worked, but not what will work. More interestingly, of course, is what will work with our classes at a particular time on a particular day at a particular point in a scheme of work. We cannot simply look to evidence to inform all our teaching approaches so hastily; such an approach will be ineffective.

David Didau also makes a similar claim in his book ‘What If Everything You Knew About About Teaching was Wrong?’ He gives the example:

Researchers compared the impact of varying degrees of support from TAs on pupils’ progress … [and] the study found that pupils who received help from TAs made less progress than classmates… On this evidence, we should immediately fire teaching assistants. (p.108)

But he carries on to the most impactful phrase:

Before we make any rash decisions it’s worth remember that research only shows that was has been, not what will be. (p.108)

2. Consider how it best applies to our context.

It is also the case that not all educational contexts are the same. Being informed about a study completed in American Education to Primary students may be interesting, but not always directly applicable to a GCSE class in England…

Indeed, I found this very case when I was initially experimenting with Harkness in the classroom. I was fortunate enough to see the teaching methods implemented by Philips Exeter School who are an entirely ‘Harkness’ focussed college. However, it was brought to my attention that that their final examination required no written timed essays. Suddenly, learning entirely through oral discussion became instantly more permissible but was clearly not something that would fit with the skills I needed to ensure my students could master in their A Level or GCSE Exams.

It was also interesting to note that the students from Wellington College had a greater understanding of Hamlet’s context due to its weight in their examinations whereas Philips Exeter’s pupils’ understanding was limited to knowledge of the text alone. It became clear here that we are sometimes required to teach our pupils different skills within our context – both within school and classroom context. As a result, our pedagogies should align with this.

3. Draw from a range of ideas.

But that is not to say that our pedagogies are limited to this… we just must adapt them to be the most effective for what we want to achieve.

It is the case that I regularly implement Harkness into my lesson plans but I am limited to do so unless I feel that students have the groundwork of knowledge required to have a critical conversations about the text. I encourage classroom discussion and see its importance in the classroom just as much as I encourage ‘chalk and talk’ as a vital teaching tool.  Moreover, there are many cases I do not feel that using Harkness as a method of delivering information is entirely appropriate.  Having an understanding of a range of methods enables me to consider what could be useful for my class.  I am not out to find ‘the answer‘ but rather what I consider to be ‘the best answer for this particular class at this particular time.’

4. Know how students learn

Teaching approaches such as debates can be easily dismissed as they are observed to be chaotic or ‘disruptive’. It is important to note that good learning does not always happen with stability or control. A classroom that appears calm and quietly controlled, where students “look busy” is not always a classroom where students are learning, or thinking hard.  In the very same way, however, direct instruction is vital for completing knowledge gaps in our students.  It may not be “engaging” and seem too “teacher-led” but may also be the most impactful teaching style at that particular moment.

I have also noted in my other blog that it is important to recognise that thinking hard is not easy – this is why we avoid it. When trialling new approaches that appear to be challenging or difficult for our pupils – whether due to intense debate or intense concentration –  it is important to keep this in mind. Thinking should be uncomfortable, spark discussions, shift thought processes, and (at times) can remain unresolved.  Perhaps we do not have to always finalise or ‘close’ our lessons with swan-like precision?  This is not something always easy for us as we are obsessed with finding ultimate and cohesive answers. It is, to some extent, why such videos on YouTube are labelled to be frustrating:

  1. Try new – and old – approaches

However, that does not mean you should be limited to ‘what you think will work because it did last time.’ Taking risks and exploring a range of pedagogies should be part of our practice. We talk about teachers being an expert profession, yet we do not often act as though we are that.

Experts, in their fields, achieve this status by not simply applying or becoming accustomed to ‘a way of practicing.’ Rather, they use a range of skills to apply to complex and challenging situations; they also ensure their skill-set is continually updated.

By trying new things, we broaden our skill domain.

Daniel T. Willingham addresses this in his book ‘Why Students Don’t Like School’ whereby he makes a strong case for continual teacher development – no matter what age or experience in the profession. He asserts:

If you want to be a better teacher, you cannot be simply satisfied to gain experience as time passes. You must also practice, and practice means 1) consciously trying to improve, 2) asking feedback and 3) undertaking activities for the sake of improvement, even if they don’t directly contribute to your job.

We can, by proxy, limit our ability to do these things in the attempt to implement a ‘holy grail’ teaching style. It is thus important to consider that implementing one style could make us worse practitioners despite “all the evidence” and “all the successes” that were previously perceived.


To sum up, it is important we stop searching for ‘the holy grail answer to teaching’ and start looking at research critically and objectively. We must ask ourselves what we can take from the approaches that claim to “have worked” in their own contexts and thoughtfully consider how (and to whom) they would best apply to in our academic environment.  In order to be the best practitioners, we should be continually evaluating, and re-evaluating our approaches whilst also seeking effective teaching strategies that are effective for learning and not simply engagement. Finally, when we feel as though we have found ‘the holy grail,’ (Sir Robin: That’s easy.) it is vital we remember that education research provides us with a series of best bets for this, but not tablets cast in stone of what will work.


More on this can also be found by Blake Harvard here and Alex Quigley here

Feedback, Mindset and Motivation – Linked?


In the lead up to examination season, it is interesting to see different mindsets and ‘self-perceptions’ developing amongst the pupil body. Most notably, patterns of cognitive dissonances seem to appear into our students’ narrative: fragile students perceive themselves to be worse than they are; confident underachievers assert they are ‘fine’; and confident achievers seem too modest to admit they are making adequate progress. As the only feedback they get on their academic progress is through their teachers, it is interesting to consider the ways that our feedback can alter our students’ awareness of their ability. Such thinking has led me to (quite a lengthy) exploration into this question:

To what extent does feedback affect a student’s mindset and, as a result, their motivation – or self-regulation – of knowledge?

Or in other words: How does what we tell our students impact what they believe about their own ability? What I have found is that we need to start reconsidering the ways we give feedback depending on the ability of the pupil and the time of the academic course.


Processing Negative and Positive Information

It is important firstly to note that we process negative and positive information differently. Positive information enables us to affirm our beliefs about ourselves, and it is the information we often pass on to people that we want to see us as ‘our best selves.’ More complex than this, is that – depending on our emotional state – we have moments where we would much rather receive information or compliments that are positive or self-affirming.

Moreover, avoidance tendencies towards negative information or threats are often ‘dominant’ and ‘hardwired’ as undesirable information usually coincides with undesirable emotional responses. Elfers and Hlava (2016) put this clearly in their book ‘The Spectrum of Gratitude Experience’ as they assert:

Information coming into the central switching station of the thalamus is also processed through the amygdala to scan for potential threat or danger. Any hint of threat triggers an alarm bell”.

Over time, these avoidance tendencies may lead pupils to develop a positive or negative bias about their ability.


Negativity Bias

The self-deprecating (re)action to negative information is to draw emphasis to it.   According to Elfers and Hlava (2016) this forces the individual do develop a false positive:

“There are a lot of false positives to the negativity bias, meaning that we are likely to see a lot of threats where none exist. False positives are an error that our ancient threat detection system is primed to take and so it operates on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry. One false negative – that is, not seeing a threat when one is there – could have fatal consequences. Uncomfortable experiences have longer shelf life in memory. Learning occurs faster from painful experience, dislikes are learned faster than lines, and it the world of relationships, trust is easily lost but challenging to regain”

If a student has invested a considerable amount of time and energy into their work, it makes sense that they may focus on the negative feedback you give them. It could feel uncomfortable and, as a result, be more quickly stored into their longer-term memory than their short term. It may explain why our studious students begin to develop the fixed narrative: “I’m rubbish at English” or “I’m never good at maths.”

– and, as a result, why our students develop a negative self narrative (re: my first blog on the Importance of Understanding Self-Narrative) and why there is the need to equip our students with an awareness of their thinking and mind set.


Positivity Bias

However, why is it that students may feel over-confident or self-assured in a subject even when their grades suggest they are significantly under performing? The self-protective (re)action to feedback can cause the individual to develop (bear with me while I use the term) ‘illusory superiority’ – or, that an illusion that they are doing better than they are.

The pupils who subconsciously ‘flee’ from negative information can develop illusory superiority; they avoid targets and will not remember our ‘critiques’. For them, it appears easier to focus on the positive information.

But here’s the catch: having this positive bias may also actually be helpful in motivating some of our students to achieve as well.

A recent study on illusory superiority – or positivity bias – found that it can be internally motivating. A study by Wehrens (2008) that explored how self-perception and bias may affect an individual’s motivation suggested the following:

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As you can see above, positivity bias may affect students two fold. Figure 1 shows Student A (with positivity bias – and having repeated an academic school year) still under performing compared to Student B who has a greater understanding of their class ability. On the other hand, Figure 2 reveals the outstanding academic improvements that can be made through illusory superiority for students at the bottom end. In Figure 2, Student A engages with the same level of positivity bias as student B, however, was significantly more motivated by their positivity bias than a pupil who already has good academic performance.


How this affects our feedback?

Given the tedious and grey line between altering, building or affecting a pupil’s self perception, it seems the most effective way to give feedback has been propelled into the ether. However, I suggest the information above contains three clear implications:

  1. For reflective thinkers at the top-end, clear instructive feedback can be enough.

Spending a long time on positive and encouraging comments may only be required in younger years, whilst more mature thinkers may ignore and/or be discouraged by vague, positive remarks. If we explore the same illusory superiority picture as earlier, it was clear that a ‘top-end,’ successful pupil was not as encouraged by positive comments and worked just as effectively with clear feedback.

In fact, with some of my A Level and HL IB Learners, there seems to be a real thirst for clear feedback; they often skip the vague: “Wow! Olivia. What a fantastic essay! You’ve really shown a strong understanding of sophisticated language and writer’s craft.”

I am not saying do not compliment them on their efforts. Of course, we have seen the detrimental effects that can occur when a student (or individual) begins to perceive that they are doing “nothing right”. However, perhaps we should reconsider how much time we are investing in these comments when all pupils want is intellectual, clear and instructive feedback; perhaps ‘2 stars and a wish’ becomes less relevant for our more academically minded pupils.


  1. For vulnerable learners, you might need to help develop some positivity bias to drive their internal motivation.

The second implication is that it might be worth being more positive to our more vulnerable pupils. It is why articles like this exist. It is also how Dijk and Kluger (2011) ended up concluding the diagram below. In their study, they found that a student’s ‘Intention to Exert Effort’ was significantly impacted by the positive comments they were receiving. Pupils seemed to generate more ideas – significantly impacted by the level of positive information given:

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Interestingly, of course, is that a pupil’s ability to notice when they were making errors decreased. This is where clear, instructive feedback is also important.


  1. All feedback must be engaged with.

Most importantly, feedback must always be something that our students engage with. This is to stop more vulnerable pupils, and indeed, sometimes our top end pupils, from ignoring feedback and developing any bias at all.

Pupils see a target as encouragement rather than a threat when they engage with it. It changes how they think about your feedback – it becomes a goal rather than a critique.

In the paper ‘Making Sense of Assessment Feedback in Higher Education,’ Evans draws on the importance that Braksick (2000) places on ensuring that there is clear delineation between positive, negative and constructive feedback.

Braksick (2000) proposed that positive feedback is used to encourage desired behavior whereas negative feedback focuses on the “bad side” and does little to improve performance (p. 146). In this sense, negative feedback is likened to a form of criticism and is often directed at the individual rather than to the undesired behavior of the individual. As an alternative to negative feedback, Braksick (2000) suggests the use of constructive feedback. She asserts that constructive feedback is intended to, “discourage an undesired behavior and replace it with a preferred behavior”

 She continues:

“When feedback merely indicated that a response was correct or incorrect; it resulted in a lower effect than when the feedback in some way informed the learner of the correct answer” (p. 232). The basic feedback and elaborate feedback manipulation implemented in this study closely parallels Bangert-Drowns et al.’ s (1991) definitions of feedback that was corrective and explanatory, respectively. Results from the current investigation suggested positive effects in both the basic and elaborate feedback conditions for each group. That is, improvement was observed on subsequent attempts regardless of the feedback type received suggesting possible practice effects. However, significant differences were identified between the BF Group and the EF Group. Overall, there was a significant difference in performance and learning gain for individuals who received elaborate feedback relative to basic feedback.

Moreover, there are numerous more articles that confirm the claim that, unless interacted with, feedback can be forgotten. This is most likely due to a student’s reaction to negative information; their need and/or want to develop a positive bias.

It seems that feedback is not only crucial for ensuring that our students to not develop any positive or negative bias but can further assist the motivation and self-regulation of our students. Biases that occur are a natural reaction to the way we receive negative information; some people will ignore it, and others will reflect too strongly on it. As a result, it becomes increasingly clearer that the level of positivity or negativity we use in feedback may differ depending on the ability, age and emotional maturity of our class. Most vital, however, is that feedback is engaged and interacted with as may assist all students in developing a more accurate awareness of their ability.





Further reading:

Fantastic Blog by Douglas Wise:

Making Sense of Assessment Feedback in Higher Education Author(s): Carol Evans Source: Review of Educational Research, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2013), pp. 70-120 Published by: American Educational Research Association

The Role of Student Processing of Feedback in Classroom Achievement Author(s): Ellen D. Gagné, Robert J. Crutcher, Joella Anzelc, Cynthia Geisman, Vicki D. Hoffman, Paul Schutz and Lloy Lizcano Source: Cognition and Instruction, Vol. 4, No. 3 (1987), pp. 167-186 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

The nature of feedback: how different types of peer feedback affect writing performance Author(s): Melissa M. Nelson and Christian D. Schunn Source: Instructional Science, Vol. 37, No. 4 (JULY 2009), pp. 375-401 Published by: Springer

Task type as a moderator of positive/negative feedback effects on motivation and performance: A regulatory focus perspective Author(s): DINA VAN DIJK and AVRAHAM N. KLUGER Source: Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 8 (NOVEMBER 2011), pp. 1084-1105 Published by: Wiley

Wehrens, M. J. P. W. (2008). How did YOU do? Social comparison in secondary education s.n

How to Harkness: Strategies and Advice.

How to Harkness:

Strategies and Advice for Implementing Harkness into Educational Practice.


In my last blog, Why is Classroom Dialogue so Important?, I put forward numerous articles of research that demonstrated the positive impact Harkness and other dialogical approaches can have on our pupils mastering subject knowledge. Without dialogic pedagogies, we risk that a pupils’ knowledge may become limited to knowledge regurgitation, as they have simply learned to transfer information without developing a coherent or holistic understanding of it. A teacher must deliver outstanding content but should also seek lesson time to promote conversation, questioning and discourse.  This gives them a greater opportunity to remember information and to strengthen their ability to use and adapt it successfully.

So, how do you effectively implement Harkness? When do you start it and when is the best time to trial it?  This blog simply takes you through these questions.


When can you Effectively Implement Harkness?

The following diagram is something I have touched upon in a few of my pedagogical talks.  It is a summary of our purpose in the classroom and presents a visual map of how our methodologies must change as our pupils aim to master their subject knowledge.  Harkness is a teaching strategy that can be implemented effectively into practice when you become a coacher (stage 3) and/or a refiner (stage 4) of your pupils’ understanding. It is not always effective earlier as modules and topics may require a basic understanding of core material which you might have to explicitly teach them.


I initially felt most confident implementing Harkness when pupils were consolidating their knowledge at the end of a topic or section from a literary work. However, I recently observed a Harkness between Phillips Exeter and Wellington students on Hamlet that demonstrated how Harkness can work to coach pupils into understanding the work.  For this, teacher still needs slight input.

The audio below was recorded during this and demonstrates Harkness in Stage 3 where the teacher effectively coaches the students into their knowledge development. You can hear in the following recording that pupils are working through the extracts of Hamlet.  Here, the teacher is still steering the conversation by asking questions to evoke the discussion and facilitates it towards language.  The coaching style is non-threatening and the teacher is clever in his approach: he asks pupils what they do not understand to open the table up to the idea that there might be gaps in their knowledge at this point.  What is most effective here, however, is that before answering the questions himself, he enables pupils to explore it.  Therefore, the teacher plays a minor role.


But Where to Start?

It is important to remember that scaffolding is key.  In order to make Harkness as effective as possible, you must train pupils on how to do it. It is essential to remember that they are not used to leading prolonged academic conversation and (in a surprisingly scary admittance), we usually haven’t taught them how to ask good academic questions.  As a result, you cannot expect them to understand this level of independence instantly.

When first starting, it is useful to the follow three key steps: Preparation, Practice and Praise and Direct.

  1. Preparation:  You have to guide them to the accurate material that will assist them in building a conversation around a subject.

I recently taught my Year 10s How to Harkness.  This involved 2 lessons of ‘set up’ or Preparation before we organised the official Harkness lesson.

Lesson 1 involved gathering knowledge and material for the Harkness that they would bring to the discussion.   Normally, I find this is much easier if you quantify the knowledge they need to prepare and give each pupil a role.

For this activity I asked one pupil on each table to find different knowledge of Macbeth.  Pupil #1, for example, was asked to explore what they considered the most significant 3 sections of Lady Macbeth’s character.  This encourages their own personal view – which might differ from their classmates.  It also forces them to individually reflect on and actively critique the text; it involves them personally refining their knowledge and understanding.


Preparation for this task is vital.  It is also a good homework activity to give them.  You could put a few leading questions at this stage depending on the independent ability of your group.  For example, you could further break down each section: Find 3 key images from each section and be able to explore the devices used by Shakespeare in these.  It will depend on how comfortable with the task you feel your group are at this stage.

  1. Practice: You have to allow them space to vocalise their knowledge for an extended period of time.

The second lesson for this group that I gave was a Harkness practice lesson.  It involved each pupil leading a ‘mini-Harkness’ on their tables (groups of 4) for 15 minutes.  This encouraged their tables to add any information or key vocabulary that the pupil leading may have missed but also built their confidence in vocalising their ideas to each other before the whole class.

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  1. Praise and Direct: You must stop every now and then to praise good, intelligent ideas and direct where pupils may have a gap in their knowledge – or are applying their knowledge incorrectly.

In my 5th form, I intervened every 20 minutes just to guide pupils to really vital information that had been raised.  I would stop the discussion but still took a minor role when I drew attention back to something mentioned.  In this following audio, you can hear how a quotation was mentioned in discussion and I coerced the pupil who had made the point to highlight it again to the class.  In this sense, it was student led – I simply acknowledged that it was effective knowledge to have.


Extra Tips?

Don’t implement it too early: Ensure students have enough preparation time.

Don’t be afraid to give them a week to get their information together.  It would be a superfluous exercise to implement Harkness if students do not have the groundwork to develop their understanding.  As mentioned in my previous blog, classroom discussion is effective in heightening subject knowledge; it furthers critical thinking skills and forces students to adapt what they know into a coherent, cohesive argument.  If they do not know anything, the impact of Harkness is arguably threatened.  In such a case, the pupils may simply continually repeat their previous knowledge without deepening their understanding.


Don’t feel threatened by silences:

One of my outstanding colleagues, Tom Hicks (blog: here), said a student once told him:

“Sir, don’t worry about our silences… that’s when we are thinking.”

In the audio below a silence in the Harkness of my 5th form occurs.  I do not intervene and you can see how a more confident pupil decides to move the learning forward:

At times, as practitioners, silences are the moment we are taught to intervene as it signals alarm bells for a lack of knowledge.  If pupils fall silent throughout a Harkness, let the silence happen.  It often happens that another pupil will add onto a point, complete their point or move the conversation along.  Teach them to do this by giving them the sentence starters:

  • ‘Now we have seemed to finish that point, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to…’
  • ‘I have a question for the group. I’d like to ask everyone what they thought…’
  • ‘Do you agree that…’
  • ‘I would like to raise a new point discussing…’
  • ‘I would like to add on from that point to mention…’


Allow Debates to Happen:

We have also unlearned the healthiness of a good debate in our classroom.  We believe it demonstrates rowdiness, or that pupils are out of our control.  In Harkness, when pupils feel more comfortable, there will be times they appear to talk over each other.  You will most likely find that this is diffused quite quickly.  It should also be a good indicator that students are clearly passionate about the subject material enough to explore it in depth.  If it does not diffuse, do not underestimate your ability to step in.  Again, praise and direct pupils to vital points and give them time to explore how or why an argument occurred – all of which can be extremely interesting!

Below is an audio clip of a Harkness debates. It is quite interesting as it shows how passionate the pupils feel about the content but the debate is also very quickly diffused as pupils begin to reason with each other:


Anything else?

Harkness is a great tool to assess a student’s understanding of content.

Some students have a good knowledge of content material but simply need work in the skills to apply this knowledge in an exam format.  Harkness is a great way to build the confidence of these pupils and also identify whether it is examination skills they’re missing or subject knowledge.

Finally, teach them that Harkness is not answering a question, it is about exploring it. Knowledge is about knowing the ‘right’ answer but also knowing why something is ‘not the right answer’ and accurate knowledge is an ability to understand in depth (and width) rather than simply on the surface.

Why is Classroom Dialogue so Important? Constructivism and Knowledge Mastery

  • Knowledge – understanding information and experience in order to act upon it.
    (know what, know who, know how)
  • Mastery – the journey from apprentice to disciplined sense-maker and knowledge catalyst.
    (masters do not need to be managed)

There is no doubt that the impact of classroom dialogue has propelled its way to the forefront of modern teaching discussions. From my recent posts, it may be evident to you that I am an advocate of the dialogic classroom and regularly apply teaching approaches such as coaching and Harkness in my practice; classroom activities that utilise exploratory and discriminatory talk for effective learning, teaching and feedback.

What is sometimes overlooked is the limitless amount of articles and research that provides evidence to support why classroom dialogue is vital in assisting pupils’ learning and how constructivist approaches to teaching can result in greater knowledge – not simply knowledge transference, but knowledge mastery.


What is knowledge?

The most philosophically accepted definition of knowledge is if a person (P) knows something (X) then:

  • P believes X to be true.
  • X is true
  • P is justified in believing X is true.

It’s a little vague but for nearly two hundred years this definition was accepted as fact. That is, of course, until it was debunked by ‘epistemology loathing’ pupil Edmund Gettier in his short two-page paper simply titled: Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? Moreover, he discredited this definition of knowledge using an example of an irrational farmer that decided to dress his dog up as a sheep… I won’t go into it, but you’re welcome to further explore here.


What came from Gettier is this: knowledge cannot be defined this way. Having knowledge cannot simply be ‘knowing something that is justified as true’ and we should understand this as educators for we are aware that our teaching goes beyond simply encouraging pupils to regurgitate information but focuses on them being able to apply and transfer it across a variety of contexts.

 If knowledge cannot be solely defined as the transference of fact from teacher to pupil then our methodologies must also reflect this.


Classroom Approaches for Knowledge Transference

 Our most common approach to classroom practice heavily favours the definition that Knowledge is simply the transference of a concept or fact from Teacher to Student. Keith S. Taber conceptualises this far more effectively than I could explain in his paper Constructivism as Educational Theory (2011): 


In this view, when knowledge is transferred from the teacher successfully then a student has knowledge. Right? Not always. Robin Alexander (2008) asserts:

 Where talk is essentially one-sided and cognitively unchallenging are threefold: firstly, children may not learn as effectively as supposed; secondly, children’s potential to engage in dialogic interactions that challenge current perspectives or demonstrate their explanatory capacities may be inhibited or less developed; and finally, teachers may be ill-informed about students’ understandings, and as a consequence “lose the diagnostic element that is essential if their teaching is to be other than hit-or-miss.”

Now, it is important to recognise that this method of ‘instructed’ teaching – Taber calls it the ‘binary view of teaching’ – is a vital step in the learning process because a student must have knowledge before they are able to manipulate it or apply it to validate their understanding. It is also vital for the reasons that:

 Human learning is contingent upon the cognitive resources that are available to any particular individual to interpret – make sense of – information (Tiber, 2011).

 Our pupils are more able to make sense of basic information when we implement binary teaching and ‘instructive’ methods. It is through these pedagogies that we enable our students to create and establish relevant synaptic pathways to store the information given. Of course, it is not always stored effectively or accurately and we may need to repeat this process numerous times for this to occur in all our classes. We may also blend this binary view of teaching – teacher led pedagogies – with numerous memory-based approaches to strengthen these pathways. This enables our pupils to have the knowledge groundwork for further application.

 In her recent book, ‘Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning,’ Judith Willis (2016) asserts that the more ways something is learned, the more memory pathways are built:

“This brain research discovery is part of the reason for the current notion that stimulating the growth of more dendrites and synaptic connections is one of the best things teachers can learn to do for the brains of their students.

When children are between the ages of 6 and 12, their neurons grow more and more synapses that serve as new pathways for nerve signals. This thickening of gray matter (the branching dendrites of the neurons and the synaptic connections they form) is accompanied by thickening in the brain’s white matter (fatty myelin sheaths that insulate the axons carrying information away from the neuron and making the nerve-signal transmissions faster and more efficient). As the brain becomes more efficient, the less-used circuits are pruned away, but the most frequently used connections become thicker, with more myelin coating making them more efficient (Guild, 2004).”

 Here, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to claim that the brain becomes more efficient – and that knowledge becomes more easily accessible – when our pathways are used more frequently.


How do we master knowledge?

 Binary teaching and teacher-led approaches are a vital step in a pupil’s learning process but they should not be our sole focus. Sure, memory-recollection is also crucial in strengthening the information pathways in the brain but simply regurgitating groundwork knowledge by recalling is limiting in two ways: 1) knowledge does not become applicable in other contexts, and 2) higher levels of thinking are not reached. In other words, our pupils will still have not mastered knowledge because they have not shown an understanding of beyond its concrete application. It was cited by the Consolidation Guidelines FNQ Explicit Teaching Team (2014) that:

 Students demonstrate understanding by applying [knowledge] to other contexts. ‘Information learned and processed through higher-order thinking processes is remembered longer and more clearly’ (Brophy, Jere. “Probing the Subtleties of Subject-Matter Teaching.” Educational Leadership (April 1992).

 Therefore, we also have to work towards our pupils developing skills to adapt, manipulate and actively apply their information. We want to encourage higher levels of thinking and allow them to gain accessible, long-term understandings of information. Our classrooms must provide a platform for this; this is where the dialogical classroom plays a fundamental role.

 Gillies (2015) explores this view in a comprehensive study on the ways dialogue enhances a lesson. He claims:

 There is no doubt that talk, albeit by the teacher or peers, has the capacity to stimulate and extend students’ thinking and advance their learning. Teachers do this when they encourage students to engage in reciprocal dialogues where they exchange information, explore issues, interrogate ideas, and tackle problems in a cooperative environment that is supportive of these discussions. In turn, students learn to listen to what others have to say, consider alternative perspectives, and engage critically and constructively with each other’s ideas by learning how to reason and justify their assertions as they cooperate together. (Gillies, 2015)

 Question and conversation can be used not only to test a pupil’s factual knowledge but also encourages pupils to: 1) make their thoughts and judgements explicit and logical, 2) adapt their expression so it is appropriate and effective, and 3) engage in sustained interactions where knowledge is challenged, altered, shifted and confirmed – knowledge in this process is, at once, fixed and adaptable. The International Journal of Educational Research { Alexander, 2008; Mercer & Littleton, 2007; Webb, 2009) has also favoured the dialogic classroom. Gillies (2015) further confirms that a teacher’s role should be one that extends beyond transferring information as:

“fostering beneficial group dialogues is multifaceted and involves preparing students to work together, structuring the group task, and influencing student interaction through the teacher’s discourse”

Finally, this coincides with the constructivist approach to teaching. Constructivism preaches the approach that teacher practice is to effectively build knowledge and understanding in pupils. The teacher must:

  • Activate relevant ideas to encourage new knowledge in learners. Pedagogies such as Explicit Teaching, Pair Work, Memory-Based Learning, Memory Tests, High and Low Stakes Testing.
  • Enable students to build their knowledge through disagreement, questioning and guidance. Pedagogies such as Harkness, Debating, Coaching, Conversations, Independent Tasks, Controversial Tasks, Class Discussions. Group Work, Discriminating Oral Feedback.


What I like about the constructivism approach to classroom practice is the flexibility of when and how these pedagogies can be applied. As very explicitly stated by Taber (2011), successful teaching is not the approach of simply direct or minimal instruction. Rather, it is the application of optimum instruction. A good subject specialist should be able to determine when it is vital to explicitly teach and when it is essential to enable their pupils to grapple with the information and knowledge they have acquired – so they can master it.

Knowledge mastery, therefore, is dependent upon a teacher’s ability to not only deliver outstanding content but also to encourage conversation, discourse and dialogic approaches. Without doing this, the pupils’ knowledge may become limited to knowledge regurgitation, achieved through transference, and students may never achieve knowledge mastery. Dialogic pedagogies that empower pupils to debate and discuss ideas – such as Harkness – are most effective as they strengthen their ability to retain information in accessible long-term memory and ensure pupils use knowledge to the highest level.

Not sure how to get your quiet class talking? Read 5 quick strategies via @tes here: