News & Insights 22 November 2019

Jo’s education podcast digest (episode 2)

The last time I blogged, I shared my top learnings from education podcasts. I’ve carried on listening to episodes of my favourites since then, and wanted to share a few new ideas and points to ponder. Although, I’ll admit that I’m a little behind with some of them.*

  1. Working memory is a bit like a Post-it, from Trialled and Tested: Working Memory

Working memory can be a tricky concept to get your head around at first. But this simple and apt analogy from cognitive psychologist Dr Tracy Alloway is the best I’ve heard yet. Why? Well, as she outlines in the podcast, Post-its are:

  • pretty small – there’s no chance of fitting all of GCSE History onto a Post-it, and your working memory couldn’t handle it all at once either.
  • come in different sizes – not everyone’s working memory capacity is the same, and it tends to increase during childhood.
  • usually a temporary way of keeping track of information – you wouldn’t rely on a Post-it to remember something long-term, and working memory is similarly shortsighted.

I also love the idea of working out the size of your working memory by using the “backward digit test”. When tutoring, thinking about working memory reminds me to make steps explicit, use checklists, prompts or worked examples, so they can save the precious space on their working memory post-it for practicing whichever skill we’re working on.

  1. Does slang have a place in the classroom? From Tes Podagogy S7 E6: Slang and standard English with Rob Drummond

Ever been unsure about how to respond to pupils using dialect or slang within tutoring sessions? This podcast shows you’re not alone. Although – kudos to you if you always understand all of the slang they use (I’ve often been flummoxed)! Before I say any more, I think I should come clean and recognise the irony of writing this as a born-and-bred Geordie who allowed the accent and dialect to be ironed out of me whilst at university elsewhere…

Ok, onto the episode, which carefully explores the messages we send when celebrating or denigrating slang and regional dialects, the elusive ‘standard English’ or value-laden ‘received pronunciation’. A couple of choice soundbites from this episode can act as great guides: recognise that pupils need to be able to function in “different linguistic worlds” (for example, the linguistic worlds of home, friends, hobbies or sports they play, as well as linguistic worlds of the different subjects they study, and eventually the workplace). Each is unique and worthy, but linguistic practices may or may not travel well between worlds. Secondly, we should “celebrate linguistic diversity”: slang and dialect are brilliant ways to express ourselves, and standard English or received pronunciation have their place too. This is a topic to think about and reflect upon deeply and over time, and I found Rob’s points carefully thought out and informative.

  1. How valuable multiple-choice questions can be, from Inside Exams S1 E7: Guessing your way into dentistry?

Many of our pupils will encounter multiple-choice questions in their assessments: primary pupils sitting SATs, secondary maths pupils sitting their GCSE with AQA, and that’s before considering the range of other subjects they study. Plus, if you’ve used our initial secondary maths workbook, or taken a look at the website diagnostic questions, you’ll have seen some carefully-designed multiple-choice questions. They are a great way to plan for tutoring as each wrong answer has been chosen to represent a particular misconception or error in a pupil’s thought processes – meaning you can be proactive about how you might respond to a pupil getting the answer wrong.

In this podcast, the ever-informative Mr Barton discusses MCQs with Zeek Sweiry, a Senior Researcher at AQA. There’s plenty of myth-busting in this succinct episode, but my favourite phrase was the idea of the wrong answers as “really plausible distractors” – I’ll be forever imagining them as excitable cartoon characters jumping about trying to tempt pupils into picking them! Thinking this way reminds me to aim for pupils deeply understanding the content we’ve covered in tutoring, to give them the strength of mind to discount and ignore plausible distractors, despite their pleas or cute appearance. The other really interesting myth discussed was whether pupils just guess. I loved the point that MCQs are pretty intriguing puzzles even if you don’t know the content – many of us would have a go at a MCQ on a topic we know nothing about, by using deductions and trying to rule certain options out. So, if you’ve ever been a bit skeptical about how useful MCQs can be for learning, or want to know why MCQs are used in exams, this episode is well worth a listen.

*I blame my discovery of TV-related podcasts for this – they’ve competed for my listening attention recently. Anyone for Obsessed with…, Dustbusters or Shrine podcasts? If you enjoy episode-by-episode dissections, outlandish fan theories, and interviews with the professionals behind the latest TV dramas, they are definitely for you!