News & Insights 9 August 2019

In praise of podcasts: five things I learnt about education from podcasts

Rewind to the late 2000s. I’d received a really cool mp3 player for Christmas, shaped like a jelly bean but made out of glimmering pearl-like plastic. It provided perfect entertainment for commuting. Until one day it squirmed its way out of my hand, executing a perfect somersault, and plummeted directly through the gap between the train and the platform edge. Panicked, I listened to it clunk against the rails, followed swiftly by warning tones that the doors were about to close and so jumped off the train impulsively, a little lost without the entertainment I’d been relying upon!

Thankfully I’ve not repeated this escapade with my current entertainment device – old habits die hard though, and I’ve still picked a similar glimmering white colour scheme from the many options available. Anyway, what was the reason for me sharing this whistle-stop tour of recent audio technology? For many of us, all sorts of tasks (commuting included), are now accompanied by our own choice of entertainment, plugged straight into our ears. Instead of noughties pop my companion is often a podcast and there are plenty on education that are both interesting and informative. Here are five things I learnt about education from podcasts:

  • Homework and class sizes appear to influence pupils’ outcomes less than we think.

from BBC The Educators – John Hattie

This podcast interviews a number of big thinkers in education, and is well worth a listen. This particular episode with John Hattie includes some information about his meta-analysis of education research and how it can help us understand what might, and might not, make a difference to pupil outcomes. As I learnt at a recent event, there is a tension in meta-analytical work between the quantity and quality of studies to include – although more studies might initially seem better, this isn’t necessarily the case if they are not equally high-quality and ‘translatable’ to new and differing contexts. All the same, the work of the Education Endowment Foundation also shows that homework and class sizes might not be as significant as we might think.

  • It usually takes examiners 18 months to craft an exam paper! 

From Inside exams – 1. Talking my language

It would be easy to ignore what routes test papers go through before they arrive on exam desks in the summer term. This podcast walks us through some of the processes involved in creating, reviewing and checking exam papers. A great way to learn more about exams, direct from the examinations boards themselves.

  1. How wide the gap is between pupils’ everyday talk and the academic vocabulary they need to succeed in school, as well as how to bridge this gap. From Mr Barton podcast – Alex Quigley: Closing the vocabulary gap

Everyone is a teacher of language and this is a really interesting topic for both maths and English tutors – as well as any prospective teachers of other subjects. Alex Quigley is a former English teacher and now works at the Education Endowment Foundation.

  • Why number lines make more sense vertically than horizontally, and how the language of ‘opposites’ can be useful in teaching negative numbers

From Mr Barton podcast – Bernie Westacott

Mr Barton is basically education podcast royalty. He’s interviewed many influential figures for the podcast, which is regularly listened to and discussed by the most maths-phobic teachers. You know when Mr Barton likes something because he says, “that’s flippin’ brilliant” and he says that a lot in this podcast, which is available to listen to as well as to watch. It gives some great context to what pupils will have experienced early on in primary school as well as great tips for teaching negative numbers. I’m a big fan of vertical number lines since watching this. Why? They link to real-life examples (think thermometers and lifts) and the higher up a number is, the bigger it is. With a horizontal line, you lose these clear links and in their place it all becomes more ambiguous for pupils.

  • Why it’s desirable that pupils find things difficult, and the importance of ‘wait time’ after we ask questions. 

From Evidence based education – Robert & Elizabeth Bjork 

The Bjorks are incredibly knowledgeable and influential researchers on learning and memory. This is the sort of podcast that really makes you think about how complex learning is, and helps question the assumptions we’ve picked up along the way. It’s worth a listen to understand that when pupils find tasks hard, it might not actually be having a negative impact on their learning. For a quick written summary, I’d recommend this article. ‘Wait time’ is all about how much silence we leave, after asking a pupil a question. Often, it’s tempting to break the silence and either answer the question ourselves or rephrase it. Both approaches might result in pupils not having the time they need to think deeply about the question and formulate a response. Plus, we are tacitly telling them they don’t always need to think about the questions we pose – as we might answer them ourselves! If you want to know more about their research you can also listen to their interview on Mr Barton’s podcast and their YouTube channel.

More education podcasts I’ve enjoyed:

BBC more or less – delves deep into statistics (often sent in by the audience) and provides great examples of mathematical ‘answers’ that aren’t always simple and can be controversial or used as a starting point for debate.

TES – the education podcast – TES news is great for what’s going on in schools, and TES ‘pod-agogy’ (yes, I love that pun!) for teaching tips.

The Dysadvantage podcast – experiences of people with dyslexia: exploring how they cope with the challenges it poses and the advantages they feel it brings.

TED Talks education – more global and wide-ranging in topics, great if you want a broader view of education beyond tutoring and the UK system.

The NCETM Maths podcast – aimed at maths teachers, but there are some great episodes on the maths mastery approach and interviews with maths teachers.

Trialled and tested – a collaboration between the Education Endowment Foundation and Evidence Based Education, discussing key pieces of education research.

What I’m listening to next: Researcher Daniel Willingham’s keynote at a recent ResearchED. Willingham’s book ‘Why don’t students like school’ has been a big influence on me. The quote ‘memory is the residue of thought’ is a really pertinent one for anyone in education, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Willingham has to say.