Teaching and learning podcasts

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Over the past year I’ve got really into podcasts. A podcast is a series of digital audio files which a user can download and listen to, episode by episode. You can download them to your computer, but more usually they are downloaded to a smartphone. iPhones and Apple devices come with a pre-installed Podcasts app, whilst podcast apps are also available for Android and other devices too. I listen to them on the journey to and from school via Bluetooth, and on headphones whilst I’m making the children’s packed lunches in the evening!

Here are the education, teaching and learning podcasts that I’ve found particularly interesting. Have a listen to some and see what you think!

The Pivotal Podcast

This weekly podcast comes from Pivotal Education, specialists in behaviour and safeguarding, and often features Pivotal founder Paul Dix, author of the excellent book When the Adults Change, Everything ChangesA mixture of behaviour management advice and interviews with teachers and educators, this podcast is well worth a listen!

The Learning Scientists Podcast

Presented by cognitive psychologists Dr Megan Sumeracki and Dr Yana Weinstein, this series gives fantastic insights into cognitive psychology and how it can be applied to education. This podcast gives in-depth accounts of the most effective learning strategies such as retrieval practice, spaced practice, elaboration, dual coding and concrete examples. They also make “bite-sized” episodes which give details of particularly interesting research studies. A must-listen for anyone interested in evidence-based practice and learning.

The TES podcast

Educational newspaper the TES has an excellent podcast with three different types of episode. The first, the TES news podcast, gives a weekly summary of education news and highlights of what will feature in the TES paper. Presented by TES journalists, this is a helpful run-down of everything that’s happening in world of education. This is interspersed with the second episode type, which is focused on Further Education – the FE podcast.

The most interesting (in my view) are the TES Podagogy episodes. These feature in-depth interviews with key figures from education research and policy, including Carol Dweck, Dylan Wiliam, Doug Lemov and Daisy Christodoulou.

ASCL Leadership Podcast

This podcast, presented by ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton, focuses on educational leadership issues. Geoff interviews school leaders and policy makers each week, and uses these interviews to construct the podcast. It’s always a good listen!

The Educators

This Radio 4 series is no longer on the air, but all the episodes are available as podcasts. Each episode features a profile and interview by Sarah Montague with a significant educator, or a feature on a particular issue. Guests including Ken Robinson, Salman Khan and Dave Levin have been profiled.

There are plenty more out there – but if you listen to any of these, let me know what you think!

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The power of expectations

Pygmalion priant Vénus d'animer sa statue, Jean-Baptiste Regnault

Pygmalion Praying Venus to Animate His Statue by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786

The Pygmalion Effect is an interesting piece of research which explores the influence of teacher expectations on student achievement. In the original study, all students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test, but the scores were not disclosed to teachers. Teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) were expected to be successful academically based on their test scores. The students themselves were not told their scores.

At the end of the study, all students were given the same IQ test. All students had made progress (phew!) but, amongst the younger students in particular, those randomly selected students that teachers had been told were “smart” had made significantly more progress than their peers – even though they weren’t actually any smarter.  This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.

Rosenthal and Jacobson’s 1968 study has come in for much criticism. Their hypothesis was that the teachers somehow – perhaps unconsciously – treated the “smart” kids differently and had higher expectations of them, which led to their academic progress. This has been hard to replicate or demonstrate. However, a more recent 2014 study by David Yeager, Geoffrey Cohen and colleagues showed the impact that an emphasis on the expectations that we have of all our students could have, when linked to the unconditional positive regard and support that we provide.

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In their study, teachers provided written feedback on student essays in the margins and at the end, with suggestions for improvement. The researchers intercepted the essays and added a post-it note to each one. Half of the essays had a post-it note which read: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” The other half had identical post-it notes with the message: “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” Neither the students nor their teachers knew that there were different messages on the post-it notes, as the essays were handed back in opaque folders.

The first post-it contains an important message about high expectations, positive regard, and the belief in incremental development that underpins a growth mindset ethos. The second is a carefully-worded neutral message designed to act as a “placebo” in the experiment.

All students were given the opportunity to revise their essays and hand in an improved version the following week. About 40% of students who had received the “placebo” feedback did so, but double that numbers – 80% – of the students who had received the positive regard feedback chose to revise their work.

As with Carol Dweck’s experiments with process praise, thoughtfully adjusting the message teachers communicate has a demonstrable impact on student behaviours and outcomes. This wasn’t about the teachers treating the students differently – the feedback was the same. It was about communicating belief – “I believe in you, I care about you, I know you can do it.”

Walking the talk, practising what we preach, actions speaking louder than words – whatever we call it, if we say we believe in students’ capacity to learn and grow, we have to show that we believe it too. Our every communication needs to be laced with the expectation that students will try, because we care about them and their future.

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This blog is based on an extract from Becoming a growth mindset school, published by Routledge and available here.