I’m so used to reading negative press reporting on education - especially now that the national papers all read the TES on a Friday, to see what newsworthy cases of disrepute are up in front of the General Teaching Council – which then make it into Saturday’s papers. So it was a surprise to open the magazine in this Saturday’s Daily Telegraph and find a positive article about changes happening in schools up and down the country.
And this wasn’t just a news item relegated to a dusty page in the paper – it was a four page story in the magazine which was overwhelmingly positive about schools today. It was called “Revealed: new teaching methods that are producing dramatic results” , and the sub-heading stayed on the positive theme:
Innovative headteachers at schools around the country are abandoning traditional chalk* and talk teaching methods in favour of widely differing visions of an educational future. Judith Woods enters a world of spaced learning, praise pods, flexible Fridays and sixth-formers in business suits.
The lead school featured is Monkseaton, in Whitley Bay, where the head teacher, Paul Kelley continues his decades-long focus on educational improvement through researching and monitoring the impact of changes made within the school and curriculum. I first met Paul over a decade ago, when he was experimenting with video conferencing to remodel the school’s foreign language teaching. Now the school is at the forefront of curriculum change with a concept known as 'spaced learning'. As the Telegraph reports:
Based on the latest neuroscientific research, short sharp lessons are interspersed with an entirely different activity and repeated at regular intervals. And high-speed learning is proving far more effective in helping children improve their concentration – and their grades – than conventional lessons.
The mechanics behind spaced learning are straightforward: the teacher gives a quickfire Powerpoint presentation, of about three slides a minute, and the pupils listen and read the screen, effectively taking in the information twice. After a gap, the same presentation is run, but there are missing spaces where the children have to fill in the missing words and repeat them aloud, which keeps their minds active and thinking. At this point they can also ask questions. After a second break, a similar presentation takes place.
You read much about spaced learning, and the school, on the Daily Telegraph website (or in Saturday’s magazine, especially if you’ve got a hoarder in your household!) - and the stories of the other schools featured.
You may also be interested in watching Monkseaton’s progress in the TES Schools Awards, where they’ve made it into the 6 finalists for the “Secondary School of the Year”
* I used to wonder about the phrase “chalk and talk”, thinking that blackboards didn’t exist any more, but came across a school last week looking for somebody to repaint their blackboards, so there are obviously plenty out there still being used in classrooms – and not just because you can get a pupil’s attention with a small piece of chalk in a way that a whiteboard pen won’t 😉