Reading list

I do feel like a bit of a fraud for posting opinions on education when I haven’t even started my NQT year. To try to justify myself, here’s a list of excellent education books that have informed my opinions.

‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ Daniel Willingham.

‘Seven Myths About Education’. Daisy Christodoulou.

Progressively Worse’. Robert Peal.

Trivium 21c’. Martin Robinson.

Teach Like a Champion’. Doug Lemov.

‘The Secret of Literacy‘. David Didau.

These are the ones that have had the biggest impact on me and I’d recommend them to anyone starting out.


‘A Common Weal Education’ review

In February the Reid Foundation published a report on Scotland’s education system written by Professor Brian Boyd from the University of Strathclyde. Having been to a few Reid Foundation events, I get the feeling that they might become more influential over the coming months and years, so it was with much interest that I read their report. To be honest I haven’t fully digested its 22 pages, but a few things jumped out at me.

1). I don’t have enough experience to know whether or not the Finnish system is really the one we should be modelling ours on. It sounds utopian but I’d guess other teachers might have suggestions about why what works in Finland might not necessarily work in Scotland. If we’re looking for models of excellent education systems, from what I’ve heard, the KIPP Public Charter schools in the U.S and the ARK academy chain in England seem to have been getting excellent results in a relatively short space of time.

2). Get rid of yearly exams? Switch to a single, final year, ‘exit ticket’ exam? It sounds extreme, but could work. I think we have to be careful about demonising exams. Daniel Willingham and Joe Kirby have both written about how regular quizzes and tests are important in helping pupils remember new information and I suspect they might also be helpful for boosting motivation. Moving towards a system with fewer high stakes tests and more frequent low stakes tests could definitely be a good strategy for teaching. This might also nudge schools away from focusing on league tables and back to making pupil prospects their top priority.

3.). The report cautiously suggests that “Perhaps we need to ask…what is it that we want our children and young people to learn” (p13.). Sorry Professor, but I believe there’s no ‘perhaps’ about it. It seems to me that this is absolutely where we should start when designing ANY curriculum. I think we’d benefit hugely from coming up with a Scottish version of ‘Core Knowledge’ founded by E.D Hirsch Jr. Hirsch has been labelled right wing because Gove was a fan, but really his philosophy is all about equity and would be hugely compatible with the Reid Foundation’s aims.

I’d love to hear what other teachers think, including those from outside Scotland looking in.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Some teachers on twitter have criticised these early blog posts because I’ve “never taught”. Apart from from 14 weeks teaching practice, that’s true, but my writing (so far) hasn’t been about teaching. It’s been about my attempts, as a newbie, to understand the theories and philosophies behind the Scottish education system. Firstly I don’t think the CfE materials we’re given during our training year are user friendly enough.

I said in my first post that I didn’t like the way the Experiences and Outcomes are written. On reflection maybe there isn’t that much wrong with them. Maybe, years from now, I’ll see that there is a significant difference between (random example) :

– Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning at first reading. LIT 3-23a


– Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing independently to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning at first reading. LIT 4-23a

My real problem is that as a new teacher starting out these aren’t helpful at all. For us, right at the start of our careers, we need everything to be laid out as simply and succinctly as possible. Planning lessons for the first time, dealing with behaviour and completing coursework for university takes up pretty much 100% of our time and attention. Seriously, who has time to sit and commit to memory 317 pages of Curriculum guidelines?

Please Education Scotland / teacher training colleges – just tell us what to teach and how to teach it. Let us master the basics before we move on. Tell us how to deal with the kids who laugh at us, swear at us, talk over us. Tell us the small things we can do that get big results. Teach us routines that work, and have been proven to work over time.

Honestly, all the other stuff, the stuff about the Effective Contributors and the Responsible Citizens and whatever, we ignore it. It’s not meaningful for us. Save that for after we’ve been teaching for five years and are starting to have a clue about what we’re doing. Our stressed wee brains can only take in so much information at a time. What’s the analogy comparing an NQT to a medical student performing heart surgery after one year’s training? Help us out. Keep it simple, then build.

Does CfE English need a set text list?

I’ve just received the list of texts that I’ll be teaching this year.  Lots of Theresa Breslin, lots of Joan Lingard, lots of Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games). I’d really been hoping to be teaching more ‘classic’ texts, similar to ones listed here :

In what’s almost becoming cliche on English teacher blogs, I’d be happy for students to read these books in their spare time, but I think there are better choices for the classroom. Graduate teachers shouldn’t have to waste their time teaching children’s books. They should be able to use their expertise to make difficult texts accessible – texts all students will come across in their adult lives (Shakespeare, Dickens, Burns, etc). I asked my PT Shakespeare was on a different page, one still to be printed? She told me they “don’t teach Shakespeare here, the kids wouldn’t understand it.” Is this normal? Maybe I just want the moon on a stick.