Knowledge organisers

There has been lots in the ‘twittersphere’ recently about the use of knowledge organisers, how these link to homework, revision and low stakes testing. As a result I have put some examples and guidance below as the approach can reduce teacher workload and improve student outcomes:

Joe Kirby writes about his use of KOs at

James Theobald has created a collection of ready-made KOs at

Shaun Allison writes about his use of KOs at

Knowledge Organisers HOW TO

Knowledge organiser GCSE Weimar Germany

Knowledge organiser GCSE Arab-Israeli

AS Henry VII

KS3 Ancient World knowledge organiser

Thanks to Toby French at Torquay Academy for the above examples – he can be found on Twitter as @MrHistoire and is a great source of information and knowledge!

How to create a knowledge organiser

Knowledge organisers – could be really useful across all subjects so keen to hear your thoughts…

This post follows the huge interest in my last, How to use a knowledge organiser. It is deliberately generic, and so I will write a further post on how I began to create KOs for history.

At Torquay Academy we’re now looking at how to improve our KOs after introducing them school-wide in September. The advice below is what I have suggested to our staff.

Making a knowledge organiser

The KO is like a scheme of work, but simpler and more effective. It doesn’t need ‘Do Nows’ and chunked activities; it doesn’t need to be differentiated; it doesn’t need lots of detail. It is a whole course and a two-minute quiz, a revision timetable and a cover lesson.

It is not a bolt-on. The only thing that should come before it is what we want children to learn. It should underpin every single thing we do in every…

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Questioning – the collection.

A great collection on questioning from Alex Quigley:

Happily, I have written a lot of blogs to capture, distill and codify my thinking into practical strategies for classroom talk and questioning. Here is my collection:

Questioning – Top Ten Strategies. This 2012 post is my most popular all-time post by a long way. It holds its power I think – for the Paxman interview if nothing else!

Questioning and Feedback: Top Ten Strategies. This 2014 post pairs up the yin and yang of classroom practice, once more sharing a series of teaching ideas.

Inclusive questioning. This 2013 is a personal favourite that charts the subtle steps of classroom talk and successful questioning.

Conducting Classroom Talk. This post from 2014 provides a clear guide to the integral process of classroom talk and questioning.

‘Question Time’ and Asking Why. This 2013 post takes a look at the research that attends questioning in the classroom and focusing on the crucial importance of ‘why’ questions.

Confidence Tests and Exam Wrappers. This 2016 post shares two of my favourite recent teaching strategies, with ‘confidence tests’ providing an update on multiple choice questions.

Supporting Shy Students. This 2015 pays particular heed to shy students, offering strategies to make classroom questioning a safer, easier process for shy students.

Multiple Choice Questions: A) Use Regularly B) Don’t Use. This 2014 post offers a critique of multiple choice questions. My view has softened, but they still prove tricky to devise!

Curiosity killed by class? This 2014 post takes on the interesting socio-economic differences that can seemingly influence student questioning in the classroom.

‘Disciplined Discussion’: As Easy as ABC. This 2013 post takes on the crucial topic of classroom talk, offering links to Doug Lemov and some strategies of my own.

Looking back over this array of blogs has made me mindful of how seemingly simple questioning is – we simply ask so many in our classrooms – but how complex it can prove to get it right.


Tom Bennett – a refreshing repost for a Friday!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

I just countersued- Prince Ea: the same old arguments in a shiny new video

Judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree and it’ll spend a lifetime thinking it’s stupidAlbert Einstein

You’ll see this quote everywhere. Its memorable and tidy and superficially convincing. It’s often accompanied by the cartoon at the top of this post (in which the goldfish is in a bowl on top of a tree stump, which makes me think damn that goldfish is a really good climber already).

Except Einstein never said it. It’s a perfect example of how the Internet has resurrected the principle that a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on. A glib, seductive claim untroubled by veracity or evidence. This is how the video ‘I just sued the school’ starts. It’s also very much how it continues.

Fans of 19th century educational clichés dressed as slick, radical innovation are in for a treat, in a short film/ advert/ performance by hip-hop inspirational speaker Prince Ea called ‘I just sued the School System’ released in 2016. (It’s already had over 5 million views. I can only imagine how many staff meetings and assemblies have already pored over it.)

To be honest fans of these ideas are rarely not in for a treat, as such proclamations are common as pigeons and as old as coal. Did you see Ken Robinson’s magnum opus in this area? I’d be more surprised if you didn’t. His TED talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ (12 million views) is currently the industry standard in this territory. And a few years ago a keen young rapper called Boyinaband took up the torch with his viral ‘Don’t stay in school.’ (14 million views) As you might gather, they think schools are rubbish.

I’ve made hay out of both of these before. See here for my review of Ken Robinson’s oeuvre and here for my thoughts on Boyinaband. They position themselves as radicals, innovators and disruptors of ancient paradigms. But their arguments are straight out of the 19th century and the first wave of romanticism and progressive education. Their arguments are thin at best, and rely more on an appeal to the emotions than fact. But the problem with ghosts and wraiths is that you can’t knock them out with the biggest haymaker. It’s hard to put gas in a box. ‘What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’, as the clever Hitchens brother once said. But what if they won’t be dismissed? What if people still believe? What if they prefer the ghost?
The People vs The School System

Let’s look at the video. For a start you notice the production values. This is well designed, scored, cast and performed. Prince Ea is sincere, convincing and convinced. The rhetorical dimension is beautifully executed. Set in that Neverland trope, a mythical court of truth and goodness, he plays a young Atticus Finch/ Torquemada, holding the school system to account for its many crimes- here gamely represented by a sneering, old white man. Righteous vigour versus infirmity and privilege. Which is great because for a minute I thought he was going to play the obvious rhetorical tropes.

Over 6 minutes we’re treated to a shopping list of every educational cliché: schools are no longer fit for purpose; schools haven’t changed in 150 years whereas cars and telephones are unrecognisable, and so on. Some of the charges laid are quite remarkable. Apparently schools:

  • Kill creativity
  • Kill individuality
  • Are intellectually abusive
  • Turn millions of people into robots
  • Are guilty of malpractice

These kinds of allegations stagger me with their casual vilification of educators. Millions of people work in the systems he describes, grafting and straining and giving every damn they can, only to be told by an incredibly successful product of that system (Magna Cum Laude in anthropology, University of Missouri) that they are ‘abusive’. It pretends to make a distinction between attacking ‘the system’ and the people who inhabit it. ‘They’re not the problem. They work in a system.’ This is the rhetorical equivalent of someone in a pub saying ‘No offence, but’ before telling you your kids are ugly. ‘The system’ isn’t just some administrative miasma or dystopian fantasy bureaucracy like HYDRA or SMERSH. It’s composed of the people within it, many of whom may disagree with this policy or that, but who for the most part give far more of a damn about making it work than…well, someone who has time to make inspirational videos for a living.


No corpse of an idea is too ripe to have lipstick applied and paraded: ‘I did a background check. You were made to train people for factories. Straight rows. Short breaks.’ No, no it wasn’t. For a thorough deboning of this myth, see here. This misunderstanding of how and why public schooling was created is indicative of the quality of analysis throughout. And besides, does anyone really think that contemporary schooling is designed to create factory workers? How many factories have counsellors, art and drama, Glee and chess clubs? You didn’t do a background check. You just read Ken Robinson with a highlighter pen.

You might as well claim that redcurrants and White Christmases were the same thing because they were both colours. Could it be that rows are an efficient way to seat students to see what the teacher is doing? Could it be periods of work followed by brief spells of rest are a pretty sound way to get things done? No, obviously they are instruments of tyranny. ‘We all have a past,’ he tells us. ‘I myself am no Gandhi.’ You got that right. Gandhi was informed.
Fashionable in the 80s

The video is peppered with unintentional hilarious goofball moments. ‘Scientists tell us no two brains are the same.’ Cue a scientist in the stand holding a plastic brain. Conceivably this alludes to the theories of multiple intelligences or perhaps even learning styles like VAK which have been so comprehensively blown up by contemporary neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Such ideas are common tropes in pseudo science, and used to justify multiple sins in classrooms. Of course our brains aren’t identical- otherwise we’d be the same person- but they work pretty much the same way, aberrations notwithstanding.
The process by which we all learn is remarkably similar in function and execution. The drive for entirely personalised learning, like so much of this video, was hip about ten years ago, but has been challenged repeatedly since. Teachers are actually pretty good at spotting where students are with their baseline knowledge, and working out what to teach them next. Neuroscience doesn’t teach us that- classroom experience and solid subject familiarity does. I don’t fret about what kind of brain little Jessica or Jasmine has; I ask myself what do they need to learn next. While the narrator is fretting about cookie-cutter education and ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ (does it ever?) paradigms, teachers are getting on with the job. He seems to think we stand there and lecture for an hours to our students and the devil take the hindmost. Which ignores all of the questioning, feedback, and discussions that take place.

To the narrator, it’s ‘educational malpractice’ for one teacher to stand in front of twenty children . Meanwhile I’m thinking ‘Man, that’s a pretty good ratio, I wish all my classes were that small.’ He calls it ‘horrific.’ He says it’s ‘the worst criminal offence ever.’ Perspective, reason, evidence, propriety all self-immolate in a gas station conflagration of hyperbole. I can only guess how he describes murder.

Teachers are underpaid, he claims, apparently walking back the charge that we are worse than carpet bombers, which is nice of him. ‘Doctors can perform heart surgery,’ he says. ‘But teachers can reach the heart of children.’ And I’m reminded of Owen Wilson’s con artist in Wedding Crashers. ‘You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.’ It makes a decent inspirational coaster, but as an argument it lacks something.

And ‘Curriuclums are created by policy makers who have never taught a day in their lives.’ For a man who sells inspirational mugs, this is pretty brave stuff. And ignores the obvious mechanisms that curriculums usually go through before they ever see a classroom, which involves substantial input or design by teachers. But, y’know, facts.
Bullsh*t Bingo

If you had ‘Uses Finland as an argument’ in the sweep stake then prepare to collect your winnings, as he does indeed, go there like the SAS. ‘They have shorter school days, good wages, and focus on collaboration instead of competition.’ They also have a population of five and a half million and a winter 100 days long. Plus they’ve started to fall down the international league tables despite still having all of these things. And many have argued that their prior dominance was founded on existing cultural factors.  Education tourism is a sin, or as Prince Ea might put it ‘the greatest tragedy known to humanity ever including the great flood.’ Probably. And besides, Singapore does pretty well too, despite it representing a system closer to the human power cells of the Matrix than the antediluvian Eden of Scandinavia. Oddly, he does mention Singapore but doesn’t develop this apparently argument-shredding counter example.

By now he’s going full pelt and the clichés are like buckshot. He mentions Montessori schools as a shining example of what he sees as a solution, despite the fact that nobody can seem to get that child centred model to work on anything apart from very tiny children- probably for the very good reason that child-led enquiry is perfectly natural and useful in the infant stage, but pretty terrible as a way to accrue second-order propositional knowledge, ie academic subjects. He name checks the Khan Academy, because it’s apparently against the law to be a groovy thought leader in education without advocating flipped learning, despite the enormous chasm of any substantial evidence that teaching yourself academic subjects is of any use to any but the most motivated, mature, and crucially, already able. Try getting that to scale up to ‘most kids in general.’

Summing up

The framing device here is a courtroom, so allow me the same conceit: J’accuse. His solutions aren’t real world solutions. The children he talks about aren’t your average kid from your average home. His solutions suit the wealthy, the middle class, the children of supportive and culturally literate homes. His crepuscular arguments are delivered with passion and intensity, so allow me an equivalent intensity: the solutions he proposes are divisive, unrealistic, costly, and promote social immobility, illiteracy and the disenfranchisement of children- particularly those from backgrounds of social and economic disadvantage. They signal boost the already privileged at the expense of those children who happened to be born in the wrong neighbourhood, the wrong family, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong tax bracket. They are well-meant, no doubt. But so are people who promote the boycott of vaccines.

This kind of muddled, goofy optimism, these charming and harmful nod-along singsong aphorisms should be resisted at every opportunity. Education is far from perfect. In fact, it’s in a bit of a pickle. But that doesn’t mean chaos is preferable to the hot mess we’re in. There are solutions. But they won’t be found in this Hallmark Card, Silicon Valley, cartoon fantasy where schools are villains and every child is a butterfly. We cannot Eat, Pray, Love our way out of our problems. It’s going to take a lot more than reheated leftovers from a brainstorming session out of an advertising agency.

Why do you hate children?
You want children to be creative? Great; so do I, and just about every other teaching professional. The way to make that happen is to stop pretending that creativity is some kind of magic, mysterious thing that happens when you put children on bean bags and get them to design a poster, and realise that humans are naturally creative and the way to encourage the expression of that faculty in a developed and mature way is by teaching them. Teaching them bags of beautiful, fascinating domain specific knowledge and skills, the scales and arpeggios of creation. Mozart and Shakespeare mastered their classics and chords long before they wrote operas and sonnets.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I put it to you that education is unwell, but it needs medicine, not homoeopathy and voodoo magic. But as Abraham Lincoln once said, ’Don’t believe everything you see on Youtube.’

Case dismissed.

What do we believe? – David Didau

What do teachers believe? An interesting piece and I would recommend his Psychology of Education book.

It’s well-established that various ‘myths’ about how students’ learn are remarkably persistent in the face of contradictory evidence. In 2014, Paul Howard-Jones’ article, Neuroscience and education: myths and messages revealed the extent of teachers’ faulty beliefs:









In the UK, 93% of teachers believe that matching instruction to students’ preferred learning style is a good idea, 88% believed in some form of Brain Gym, with 91% being convinced by the left-brain-right brain hypothesis.

He concludes with the following:

Neuromyths are misconceptions about the brain that flourish when cultural conditions protect them from scrutiny. Their form is influenced by a range of biases in how we think about the brain. Some long-standing neuromyths are present in products for educators and this has helped them to spread in classrooms across the world. Genuine communication between neuroscience and education has developed considerably in recent years, but many of the biases and conditions responsible for neuromyths still remain and can be observed hampering efforts to introduce ideas about the brain into educational thinking. We see new neuromyths on the horizon and old neuromyths arising in new forms, we see ‘boiled-down’ messages from neuroscience revealing themselves as inadequate, and we see confusions about the mind–brain relationship and neural plasticity in discussions about educational investment and learning disorders.
Of course, it doesn’t help when high-profile and influential academics insist in passing on misinformation about the brain:

Your brain does not “grow when you are challenged” nor is it “like a muscle”. A firing synapse does not constitute brain growth, and ‘brain growth’ does not equate to learning. Although Boaler doesn’t make clear which of Jason Moser’s papers she’s citing, previously she’s put forward this one. It’s not as if she doesn’t know that her interpretation is, to put it politely, disputed (Greg Ashman took her to task here) so one wonders why she continues to put it about as uncontested fact.

Despite all this, people often report themselves as being ‘bored’ by attempts to set the record straight and efforts to point teachers in the direction of reputable research. Often this is presented with the view that no one actually believes this stuff anymore so why can’t we all just move on and talk about something more important?

Well, there’s nothing stopping us from discussing other important topics, but if we’re going to ‘move on’ then we should be reasonably confident that teachers’ beliefs have substantially altered over the past few years. I have no such confidence.

Recently, I did some work with a school in which teachers were surveyed about their beliefs. I’m not going to go through answers to all the questions, but here’s the results of question 1:

Admittedly, this is a small sample, but 41 of the 53 teachers surveyed continue to believe in the importance of adapting lessons to students’ learning styles. Of course we shouldn’t blame teachers for this, but neither should we be complacent. It behooves us all to relentlessly point out the discrepancies between beliefs and evidence until no one has the excuse of ignorance

Some things about teaching

Some thoughts on good teaching…

Class Teaching

Today I led a session for our trainee teachers on great teaching.  We talked about lots of things, but in particular we talked about these four slides.  Between them, I think they sum up what great teaching is all about.

This one had to be included of course:

These three great questions from Rob Coe:

As well as these nine things from Dylan Wiliam:

And finally of course, this from John Tomsett:

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The revision collection by Alex Quigley

Each year we are all faced with the nerve-shredding, tolerance-stretching spell that is revision. It never seems to get any easier. Each group of students proves a unique, gnarly challenge as we go about training, convincing, supporting, and more.

It has proven a consistent topic for me to write about, and has drew a lot of readers, and it has helped to store and filter through my ideas on the topic, from insights from cognitive science, to the subtle psychology of independent study and revision… Oh – and the frustrations of being a tired teacher!

Here is my blog collection which I hope proves useful:

The Long and Winding Road (of Revision). This 2017 blog, written for Teach Secondary magazine, has a sequence of practical evidence-based revision strategies to survey.

Exam Revision and Overconfidence. This 2017 blog observes the crucial important of accurate judgements of learning in the revision process, looking at some handy strategies.

Eat, Sleep, Revise, Repeat. This 2016 blog, again written for Teach Secondary magazine, surveys the available evidence.

Have you got revision all wrong? This TES article is fresh from March 2017 and questions our approaches to after school revision and more and looks at how better to arrange revision.

Why I Hate Highlighters! This 2015 blog is one of my most read and most debated. It is based on the evidence that highlighters are badly used as a learning tool (despite our beliefs!).

Effective Revision Strategies. This 2013 blog is my first attempt at collating and translating the mass of cognitive science evidence on memory and learning.

‘Revision – what revision?’ This blog from 2014 looks at the evidence around students actually doing some revision – or not, as the case may be.

Effective Exam Revision – Drill Baby Drill. This blog from back in 2013, looks at the importance of ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘drilling’ in the revision process.

Boring but Important. This blog from 2017, admits the truth that not all children are inspired to learn all the time – revision is a particular area of weakness. I go onto share some ideas.

Memory for Learning – Top 10 Tips. This blog from 2016 does what it says on the tin. It has lots of evidence-informed strategies that you can consider, apply and evaluate.

The Trick of Teaching. This 2015 post looks at the singular strategy of getting students to teach other students (or at least prime them to think they will) to better remember the content.

Confidence Tests and Exam Wrappers. This 2016 post presents what I think is an essential revision and learning strategies: exam wrappers.

And finally, though it isn’t on my blog, I am very proud of this Star Wars inspired revision article for the TES – ‘How Star Wars Can Teach Students To Master Exams‘.

This is the revision reading you are looking for! 

Revision, Testing and improving memory – useful tips

Teachers and students need to recognise that mastering exam success, even in our new, more challenging conditions, is achievable. Stress is a challenge, but we can mitigate and even control its impact if we help young people maximise their memory potential. We need to teach more cannily, with the destination in our view and with long-term memory in mind. Happily, evidence from the science of learning and memory provides us with a roadmap to plan our school year ahead, so that our students will best remember what they learn along the way.

Crucially, revision is not something to do at the end of the learning process – a last minute rush to prepare for an exam. Instead, revision – or even better, ‘relearning’ – is integral to how students learn and remember best. We know repetition is crucial, but we can too often fail to explicitly plan to do this strategically in the rush of the teaching week.

One easy principle about relearning and teaching with memory in mind is that three can prove the magic number. If we want a concept or idea to be learnt and best remembered, we need to plan to repeat teaching it twice more, ideally in slightly different, novel ways. The revisiting of knowledge and understanding that we tend to place at the end of units, terms and courses should instead be a fundamental facet of each lesson we teach. By doing so we provide lots of opportunities for relearning.

Here are some strategies supported by the science of learning, which can help you plan the school year ahead so that those tricky terminal exams are met with confidence and success:

Spaced testing: We needn’t have our students wade through entire half-termly mock exams, but we can plan to test singular exam questions. Typically, we might teach the content, then go straight to the exam question, A better method, to strengthen our students’ memory for the material, is to question them before you have taught the content, thereby making it much harder, but helping priming them to learn. Then, follow this pre-testing by ‘spacing out’ tackling a similar question one week away, then one month away…you get the idea. By forgetting, paradoxically, our students remember better in the terminal exam.

Cumulative quizzing: Similar to spaced testing, this method takes the humble, but potent learning tool of the quiz, but lifts it up a gear by carefully planning a method of repeating questions and revisiting previous questions (the ‘cumulative’ bit). For example, if you taught a Dickens’ novel in English you would quiz students on chapter 1, but when you get to quiz for chapter 3, you would return back and include questions you asked of chapter 1. This repeated low stakes quizzing can consolidate key knowledge and understanding in our students’ memories.

Twenty questions: We all have a thirst for answers and knowledge and even our truculent teens are no different. By strategically harnessing this instinct, we can make learning more memorable. Before you teach a topic try the simple strategy of getting students to ask twenty questions: good, bad and ugly. This will prime them to want to know more, as well as give you feedback on their prior knowledge. At the end of the unit, return to these twenty questions to close the loop with some vital relearning.

Knowledge organisers: Get students to summarise and relearn a topic by creating their own knowledge organiser: effectively, a single side summary of the key elements of the topic. This is a simple strategy for active relearning and it becomes a useful revision tool.

‘Active’ wall displays: Sticking a word list on a wall, or vague exam criteria, adds little; however, you can bring a unit of learning to life by establishing a display (you can keep it simple) that is developed upon week by week to record, making students revisit the key aspects of whatever topic you are teaching.

With planning foresight, structured relearning and a little good luck, our students can make the journey to exam success a memorable one.

by Alex Quigley The Confident Teacher – article from Teach Secondary Magazine.


Seminal research papers in Educational Psychology.

Paul A. Kirschner

As an experienced researcher, reviewers, and supervisor/mentor of hundreds of young academic researchers, I have experienced a problem, namely that young academics often don’t “know the masters”. Without this knowledge, they often redesign many wheels and aren’t able to really stand on the shoulders of giants and bring the field further.

To this end, I crowdsourced a question a while ago to colleagues in the community, namely: What article or articles do you feel are seminal articles in our field that every (young) researcher should be aware of?

What follows is a cleaned-up, alphabetical list of what I received, each with an abstract or short annotation and where possible, a link to the document itself. It doesn’t pretend to be complete nor definitive. Maybe it’s better to call it an educated beginning.