Sharing Good Practice – Science Faculty

I was invited to the Science Faculty meeting that was focusing on Improving Year 11 Outcomes, with only a Term to go before the exams what could staff do to make a difference.

science faculty


Exam Marking tips

Liz Watson shared some thoughts from having marked exam papers last year. Some tips:

  • Students must ensure they recognise that some questions use the word Explain
  • Students must learn the practicals they have done and explain them in the exam.
  • Students must learn the equations in physics.
  • Students can annotate the question and graphs
  • Another useful tip was that extended prose questions are marked holistically using generic level descriptions common to all science subjects.

The Faculty then divided into their separate subjects and discussed an exam marker’s comments linked to student answers.

The meeting then moved onto a special guest, Ed Bennetts from MFL, to share some cross-curricular tips.

  • When learning key vocabulary words, MFL encourage students to use the new vocabulary in a sentence. This would relate easily to Science learning and explaining key words.
  • Using 3 steps to differentiate – human; hero and legend – but scientific words could be used for example Chemical Elements. Ensure that in the lesson you scaffold and model how you move from ‘human’ to ‘legend’ to ensure students make progress.
  • Point system in challenging students in MFL to use more vocabulary and tenses. Can translate into Science by how you can gain full marks in a question.
  • Quizlet – create your own or use those already done.

Leyla Pattison – Stretch and Challenge at A-level Chemistry (but can easily translate into GCSE Challenge)

Leyla had recently been on a course and challenged herself by this quote ‘Need to cultivate a culture of scholastic excellent where the highest achievement in academic work is vitally important.’

There is a need to create expert scientists for A-level and the future through expert teaching.

This can be achieved by adapting existing materials and extending students further. The idea is not to give students more work but give them more challenge.

Ways to do this at GCSE include:

  • Giving students example answers and asking them to identify errors
  • Get students writing technician notes for required practicals, encouraging students to think about what preparation is needed
  • Challenge of the day type questions which can be dipped in and out of.

Leyla also provided an update on the Science Capital working party. Science capital is an innovative teaching approach which challenges student’s perceptions of what science is, who does science and scientific behaviours. This has the overarching aim of raising student’s aspirations and engagement within science.

We have been trialling different methods of increasing science capital including:

  • Localising and personalising scientific ideas by using examples relevant to students’ lives
  • Story-telling to make concepts more memorable
  • Linking concepts with recent news stories which students may have encountered.



Black dot in the white square – a simple reward strategy – Leyla Pattison


During his keynote speech at the NSTA INSET day Andy Buck gave people who participated a number. At the end a randomly selected number won a prize. Why? What was the purpose? This provided an unexpected starting point for my five minute teach meet discussion on simple reward strategies.

In our discussion there were lots of ideas on the purpose of this: it turns contributions into a competition, gave us an incentive to engage, provided a mini thumbs up no matter whether your contribution was correct or not, and you got more “tickets” if you worked extra hard. As a collective of teachers we know how to behave during a talk but giving us a carrot made us all sit up a little straighter.

The starting point for my use of raffle tickets came about in a slightly different way. While supervising year 10 students during a PSHE day, it came down to me to sanction 4 students who we unable to display the self-control the session was trying to encourage I know that, as teachers, we should not take behaviour to hearty but I genuinely felt embarrassed, cross and upset that these students could be so rude. Later in the session, I had a moment. I looked around the gym and saw 96 other students. These 96 were behaving brilliantly. They were engaged, listening and taking part in a way that made me feel proud. It made me realise that I had been focusing on sanctioning the 4 students who were unable to behave themselves at the expense of rewarding the 96 who were. I happened to speak to Chris Hildrew about the incident and he told me to focus on the white square, not the black dot. Intrigued, I went away and read about the work of Bill Rogers.

A colleague in science had been using raffle tickets to reward good behaviour in his period 5 lessons. I decided to give this a go.

I carefully explained the rules to my groups:

  • They receive 1 raffle ticket for exceeding my expectations in lessons. I decide the criteria for this. It could be for getting equipment ready and being one of the first to settle. It could be for answering a question or for completing challenge work.
  • The students write their name on the back of their ticket and the number in the back of their exercise book.
  • At the end of the lesson, the tickets go in the class jar.
  • At a time that suits me (could be at the end of a lesson, week or term) I draw 5 names from the jar and those students win a prize. This could be sweets, science-themed stationery or freebies that I have picked up at conferences.

I explained to the students that there will only ever be 5 prizes and they can only win once, but the more times their names are in the jar, the more likely they are to win.

The results were transformative. Students are quick to settle (only the first few get a raffle ticket) and engage with the lesson. Their contributions are immediately valued and good work gets either a public or private thumbs up. I never take raffle tickets away. Just as good behaviour doesn’t erase poor the same works vice versa. They see the fairness in the system and they want to win the prize.

I gave out 1000 raffles tickets in the first term of using this. That’s 1000 good things happening in my lessons. I still use the rewards and sanctions system but this is a very visual representation to me and my classes. The white square is always bigger than the black dot, you just have to make sure you can see it.


Further reading on this:

Bill Rogers – Classroom Behaviour

Sharing Good Practice – English Faculty

Having spent some time in Humanities and Maths it was now the turn of the English Faculty to take part in their teaching and learning discussions. There were two key items on the Agenda:

  • 200 word challenge
  • Teaching the poetry anthology at GCSE

200 Word Challenge

200 word challenge

200 word 1200 word 2200 word 3

 Rachel summarised as a reminder the purpose of the 200 word challenge which was to improve writing provision and performance within English. Rachel had conducted several learning walks to see how the students at Key Stage 3 were rising to the challenge of writing more extended pieces.

Students are given a different stimulus to write about every fortnight. It might be something serious, for example writing a letter to the local council to complain about lack of recreational space for young people, or something much less purposeful, like writing a eulogy for a deceased cartoon character. The aim was to write for 200 words, using their targets from the previous task and to correct their own work.

Rachel then asked for ideas on how to improve the challenge:

  • Use of a computer room enabling students to edit and make it even better. Some classes were then going to use this to enter into the Radio 2 500 words competition.
  • Students to be given a challenge of key facts or words they had to include.
  • Students to bring in their own stimulus to encourage them in their writing (also to help the English teachers to use student ideas in the future)
  • Link to the literature texts used at GCSE
  • The final question was should this be continued into Year 9, the answer was yes.


Poetry Anthology – GCSE

Luke presented a booklet which was full of advice from the exam board and his own thoughts on how to improve the student’s answers during the Poetry Section of the English Literature exam. The main discussion came down to how students should be re-thinking how they would divide up their time in the exam and what they should be including in each paragraph. For example how to be successful in comparing two poems (one known and one unseen); how the unseen poem must be explained and put into context from what they can learn within the poem.







Thank you to the English Faculty for sharing their ideas and making me feel welcome in their meeting.



Blog of the Week – In defence of fun, and the 7/10 traditionalists

Kindly reproduced here with permission from 

In my early teaching career, in the now much maligned 2005-2010 era, I once delivered a lesson on writing about the senses for my little Year 7s.  For smell, I put some fir combs and some flowers in a bag, and invited a student to take a whiff and describe what the smell conjured up to the class. They wrote down with interest what he announced: the woods and flowers. For hearing, I asked them to close their eyes and write down what they heard and felt, as I put some audio of a stormy night on. They added to their notes: wind, loneliness, rain against the windows. Finally, for sight, I asked one student to open the door (unbeknownst to them I had bribed at break time three Sixth Formers to burst in on cue with crazy masks and mock swords and jump on the tables.)

What did those students remember from that lesson? The madness of it all.

Did they remember any specific strategies for writing about the senses? Probably not in that particular lesson.

Did they write some of the most imaginative work that lesson, and the lesson after, I had seen that year? Yes they did.

Four years later, when I spoke to the lovely girl who I gave the chance to open the door, did her eyes light up at the memory of that lesson? Yes.

Seven years later, this was the moving message I received from that same girl via FB messenger randomly:

‘Just wanted to send a quick message to thank you for the genuinely incredible job you did teaching me in year 7. I’m in my last year of sixth form now and am going on to do art in college but I don’t think my love for English would have survived this long if you hadn’t made it as engaging as you did in those first years.’

Don’t get me wrong people, I’m a huge convert to traditionalism, but I’m not a 10/10 one. I have shaped my department’s vision towards embedding learning over time, use retrieval quizzes most lessons, have built in interleaved weeks, have knowledge organisers coming out of my ears, and ensure every student who comes into an English classroom is au fais with the Learning Scientists’  work about effective retention strategies. I know you actually can’t begin to be ‘creative’ without the pre-requisite knowledge in your locker. I’ve read ‘Make it Stick’, ‘Memorable Teaching’ , ‘Why don’t students like school?’ and all the seminal edu-works of recent years; they’ve blown me away. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable lately with the mocking of the concept of fun and engagement; with the way many edu-tweeters dismiss many creative lesson efforts as ludicrous and an utter waste of time. Sure, I am in agreement with Rebecca that many of these ideas were indeed nuts – I despised Thinking Hats and Brain Gym with a passion.

However, as an aspiring senior leader, I can see many of the Arts HOFs glazing over when I talk passionately about the knowledge agenda. If we are to get some of these people to 3/10 Traditionalist, we need to not lose sight of their world.

There is absolutely a way knowledge and fun can co-exist in this brave pseudo Dickensian new world…

What is wrong with a crossword now and again for learning, or a mad, competitive game of articulate to review material?

Where’s the harm in asking your students to try and imagine themselves in a war zone for ten minutes? (Yes, Yes, I know, if they haven’t got adequate pre-requisite knowledge of a war zone, they’ll struggle, but still, let them have a go! Empathy is a core value we should seek to nurture every day.)

What’s the problem with taking 15 mins to insert your students’ names and their interests into a grammar activity to make it that little bit more ‘fun’?

To follow some silent poetry analysis skills practice, let’s give students the opportunity to create a poster that amalgamates some of the main images and key words from a poem together. Hey, that’s a schema right there, isn’t it?

Let’s continue to create our own amusing acrostics to help us remember persuasive techniques in the upcoming assessment. Here’s my favourite         (S -Short sentences, F -Flattery, etc) :


Let’s dedicate some time to confident speaking in our Public Speaking Unit, and give students choice to talk about anything they want, even fun stuff like ‘Why Justin Bieber should not be allowed to sing on this planet’. I want our students to be able to write well, but I also want them to deliver with aplomb, and if that takes up a couple of weeks just focusing on hand gestures, eye contact, and dramatic pauses, so be it. I wish I could dedicate more time to catching up those Public Schools who do it so well.

Don’t be afraid to take 2 lessons out to get students acting out the plot of texts with some props. We’ve had a lot of fun with this over the years, and students always remember the lines they delivered in front of the class! Here’s the famous Marco scene from A View from the Bridge!


I love the way our Knowledge Organiser homework learning tasks are open to creative interpretation, and that students can do funny little artistic things with them to help them learn.

KO Model 1

Our Knowledge Organizer starter recap quizzes actually get a cheer, as the students love the fun competitive element I have introduced. Those 5 or 6 students who achieve the highest scores each time earn rewards, and believe me, it’s not always the same people or the highest attainers who earn those rewards.

We give over 2 lessons at the end of a module to creating inventive board games to recap knowledge from the previous term. Students came in at break time to finish these -they were so keen to get them just right. The creative pride was tangible and the fun they had playing them was wonderful to see.

KO Fun

As I draw to a close, I think about my own children who are 4 and 6 respectively. Do I want some liberal provision where they get to choose whatever activity they think is the most fun? No, that’s utterly misguided in my view. I want them led to practice hard in all areas of the curriculum. But, do I want them now and again to come home with their eyes full of excitement regaling me with the Tudor battle they re-enacted, or the 3D model of Mars they’ve admirably created out of a plastic yoghurt cup? Do I want that buzz to continue into secondary school? Damn right I do.


*Not my kids, by the way!

10/10 Traditionalists forget we learn through emotion too… ‘Things that create an emotional reaction will be better remembered’ -Daniel T Willingham.

Jon Gustafson – a blogger I’ve followed recently mentioned the power of repeated practice when playing the piano. I fully agree. I’m a pianist too -however, growing up, the chance to be able to play Star Wars to impress my mates, rather than chromatic scales, was what drove me forward to WANT to learn.

To conclude then, of course we should get our students to engage in deliberate practice; we should ensure our lessons use all the evidence based components that point to progress: modelling, recapping, interleaving, silent reflection time, whole class instruction… but we sure as hell should ensure they smile now and again, and laugh now and again, and compete now and again, and be creative now and again, and say ‘Hey, that was pretty fun’ now and again, because if they don’t, I might as well be back in my bloody office job doing dull admin. every day.

The work below is from the girl who I spoke about at the start of the piece. Let’s not mock this, eh?


7/10 Traditionalists I salute you!

Dedicated to MK – we miss you mate!


Sharing Good Practice in Humanities – Knowledge Rich Learning Design and Delivery – linked to Tom Sherrington course run by NSTA November 2018

Siobhan shared in the Humanities Faculty some ideas that she brought away from a course led by Tom Sherrington in November 2018.


  • Think about your core philosophy what you need to be doing in the classroom and in your curriculum: what goes into this, your content and the detail.
  • Find where subjects overlap – Science and Geography as an example – there are links and combine together to work, use a common language and similar examples.
  • Knowledge organisers – can be really useful but not to be over-reliant on their use – students need to use them. It is useful to know what other faculties are doing over the year. Good for non-specialists and are a good summary for parents.
  • Defend your curriculum – what to leave in and what to leave out – can you defend what you spend your time on.
  • Assessment and curriculum – whole curriculum what we value and assessed curriculum what needs to be assessed.
  • What do we want them to know, and why do we want them to know it
  • Reading is crucial in all subjects – a chapter, an article from your subject making it relevant and to read about the subject. Link to literacy and could be set as a homework.
  • Teacher reading is important too, keep up-to-date on your subject
  • Awe and wonder – teachers should be showing their passion for their subject.
  • If someone asks a student why they are doing a task, it shouldn’t be ‘because the teacher said so’ they need to see the big picture of why the question is important to their studies. E.g. ‘so we can figure out the consequences of the Black Death’
  • Getting the most out of homework –practising skills, structured research, building on what they know, to gain benefit from the time spent at home.
  • Timelines– are very useful for example linking different subjects together e.g. Music and Science and History.
  • Probing questions – don’t just take a yes or no – push students to give more all the time.
  • Practice is not a dirty word – rote learning can be useful
  • Live modelling – constantly showing them examples – students like seeing examples of answers. Plot the steps to answer the questions
  • Common misconceptions – How do you get rid of them? How do you teach the students?

the learning rainforest 1

Sharing Good Practice – Problem Solving in the Maths Faculty

I joined the Maths Faculty Meeting last week to find out how they were sharing good practice with each other and to see how their ideas can be transferred to other subject areas. I was told before going that they would be doing lots of Maths, what I wasn’t told was that it was going to be, even for the Maths teachers, really hard Maths – Olympiad Standard (the Maths Challenge).

The team were asked to think about how they set challenging Maths tasks in particular to A-level students and the steps taken to coach the students to the correct answers. They were reminded of 3 questions discussed in a previous meeting:

  • “What do you need?”
  • “What could you draw?”
  • “What algebra can you write?”


Elliot and Jimi had put themselves forward to trial this out in front of the Faculty. Jimi was set a maths problem which Elliot had done but was then going to act as the coach. How was he going to help Jimi to solve the problem – with encouragement and tips but without telling him explicitly how to do it or to just give him the answer.

The Faculty then divided into pairs to solve different Maths problems and then to coach each other on how to reach the correct answer. There were circles, congruent triangles and simultaneous equations… to name just some of the mathematical terms.



At the end, the Faculty discussed some very important points which could easily be transferred to other subject areas:

  • How much modelling do you? At first you probably model more but at what rate do you take the scaffolding away?
  • How do you coach a particular student? This may be different depending on the confidence of the student. Give them tips as they move along giving them confidence in their use of Maths. Some examples of what you could say:
    • “What can you see?”
    • “What does it make you think of?” (“what associations do you have with…?”)
    • “If I could tell you another bit of information, what would you want me to tell you?”
    • “What else could you do?”; “what could you try?”; “do anything!
    • (“Keep it tidy!”)
    • “What information haven’t you used?”
  • You may give a particular student a problem to grapple with for a couple of weeks – the struggle will do them good, gain confidence in their problem-solving techniques as well as helping them when they get to University as this is what they would expect on a degree course.
  • How long should we leave a student to struggle when they’re heading down the wrong path? That depends on the student.
    • We should immediately point out any mathematical misconceptions in their work, so that misconceptions aren’t embedded.
    • We might point out mistakes like adding errors, or might leave the student to find errors themselves.
    • We can train them to spot wrong paths e.g. if they come across a quartic equation.
    • We could suggest that they check for information that they have not yet used.
    • We could draw their attention to how many marks the question is worth.
  • Encourage the students to verbalise their thought process, by explaining out loud their thinking this will help them to work on through the problem.
  • Look at the question again – think what information have you been given; what can you do with that information and how can you use that information to work out your answer?
  • Link to preparing for the exam – ensure your workings out are neat and think about how much time and marks are given to a particular question.
  • Use of the visualiser, often a very useful tool in the Maths Faculty to model and demonstrate how you are doing your Maths.
  • To explain to the students that you yourself found the question a challenge, so that students understand that problem solving isn’t “magic”. Talk through your own thought processes and your own mistakes before solving the problem.

An enjoyable 30 minutes seeing the Maths Faculty working together doing Maths and I also didn’t expect the Russian writer Chekhov to be quoted whilst solving a Maths problem!

Notes from ‘the limitations of working memory’ – Desiree Tomlinson

On Monday, I begged and worried, like a dog with a bone, anyone with half an ear to let me go on ‘the limitations of working memory’, CPD training run by Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse) Before this I had been along to Liz Slocombe’s drop in session and got the bug! Liz gave both background information about working memory and neurodiversity and strategies to help students.

Working memory is small, like a post it note for the brain. It is like a rickety bridge between the Environment and the Long Term Memory, if we overload it, it stops working.

70% of SEND students will have poor working memory and more than 80% of them will fail to reach their expected levels of achievement. So hopefully courses like this and the work of people like Liz, will help change such statistics.

The strategies suggested to engage and help students with poor working memory seem obvious.

Keep the classroom environment calm and uncluttered, to give students space to focus and concentrate without distraction. The walls may look bland, but heck, everyone’s facing the right way. It’s so tempting to have masses of colour and ‘things’ covering the walls, but all this ‘white noise’ in the background is a huge distraction for someone struggling to concentrate.

Be positive, give clear instructions, check everyone’s understood; write the instructions clearly and precisely so they can be followed. It’s far too easy for a student to have forgotten the first part of the instruction by the time they get to the last part. Be prepared to repeat instructions, use visual signs.

Now for the lack of equipment – what’s the trick? Ignore this misdemeanour and hand over a pen, so irritating, but so much less stressful! – much easier! However, if the student has sat for 20 minutes dreaming …

Power point, some of us are so old we remember pre white boards and power point – hard to imagine I know. Slides etc. should be minimalist, giving relevant information only – no dancing aeroplanes or whizzy graphics. If it’s not needed to inform the lesson or your teaching scrap it. This may sound like going back to the dark ages (or at least to my young days, but it helps students focus). By the way, if you are not using your white board/screen blank it out, it’s far too easy for students with P.W.M to get distracted by what’s on the screen than to concentrate on the task in hand.

Now for the best bit technology of the evening – I’m assured that hitting the ‘B’ button will turn the screen black and hitting the ‘W’ will turn it white. Pressing ‘B’ or ‘W’ again will turn the screen back on (though I suspect it’s only me who didn’t know that!).

Teach – test (testing promotes remembering).

It takes a lot of practise to move something from the working memory to the long term memory, like learning times tables by rote. Therefore, ‘starters’ could take the form of testing prior teaching/learning, for instance a quiz of two questions from this week’s lessons, two from last week and two from last month.

I have to say that 2 hours went in a flash and I’m looking forward to the next session in February.


Below is a list of recommended literature:

YouTube Feltham School Knowledge Organiser (Leitner System)

Improving Secondary Science EEF (PDF)

Memorable Teaching – McCarea

Principles of Instruction (Teaching) – Barack Rosenshine 2010 (Download)

Education Practices Series 21 (Download)

How to use retrieval practice to improve learning (PDF)

A Classroom Guide – Understanding Working Memory, Susan Gathcole and Tracy Alloway

The importance of reading exam scripts – Alison Crocker and Joanne Gill

With a new exam completed and results given out it was an ideal time to request exam scripts back from the exam board to help with further understanding of the course; how it is marked and to inform future teaching to help student progress. It helps to make us into better teachers.

exam desks

Using these exam scripts in a Faculty meeting is invaluable for several reasons:

  • To feel proud of what your students have achieved – yes they did remember to include the key points; scholars; quotes etc. They have structured the essay how you have taught them and it reads really well.

excellent a

  • Where did they pick up the marks – how will this help to teach future cohorts – how to structure an essay; what to include and what not to include; check that you are giving the correct advice.
  • Where did they lose marks – how will this help to teach future cohorts – how the structure was not always evident; what they failed to include or what they mentioned but did not do themselves justice.
  • Moderating marking – are we the same as the exam board; too lenient or too tough (always prefer to be too tough); are we marking the same in school?
  • Have all of the students made the same errors? Why is the case? Is there something that we did not make clear in our teaching? Likewise what did we make explicit that they are confident to use in their writing?
  • Using small samples to show your students – how did they begin the essay; how did they manage to write for and against an argument; how did they include links to other sections of the course. Also where could it have been improved; where did the writing become confused or maybe a panic due to a lack of time? There are plenty of ways to use previous essays as examples, both good and those that need some improvements.

An hour well spent on quality discussion and targeted actions points to improve future teaching and student progress.

Book Review of Brain, Mind and Education by Blakemore and Frith – Rachel Lowrie

Review of Brain, Mind and Education by Blakemore and Frith

As a part of a course I am doing, I have chosen to study a unit called Brain, Mind and Education. I hadn’t really stopped to think much about the anatomy of the brain and its role in education before but am pleased to be learning more now.

This textbook has really helped me to digest some of the dense information surrounding this topic and for this reason I thought I’d write a review for anyone also interested in learning more.

They state their aim: Blakemore and Frith begin by saying their purpose is to bridge the gap that separates brain science and education science. They discuss big topics, like nature and nurture, and position themselves somewhere between the two but leaning towards the latter: ‘the jump from gene to behaviour is much greater than the jump from brain to behaviour’.

They use analogies aplenty: Genetic programming is not enough for normal brain development to occur. In the same way an acorn seed needs the right conditions to grow into a mighty oak, the brain needs this too.

Blakemore and Frith also explain the debate in another way. They say that no matter how much a pale Northern European person lies in the sun they will not achieve a tan. Similarly, no matter how much a darker-skinned African person avoids the sun their skin will not lighten. This makes it seem as though nature is the biggest factor. But take a third person, one with olive skin, who tans very easily if exposed to sunlight. This shows that sometimes when one type of effect is highlighted, say nature, this does not mean the other effect, nurture, is diminished.

Continuing with the nature theme, they describe educators as gardeners who landscape the brain.  In the same way an orthodontist might improve teeth, they state that teachers improve brains.

They encourage empathy: ‘Reading for dyslexic students is like having to look up words in the dictionary by going through the alphabet, letter by letter, as opposed to clicking on a word on the computer and immediately seeing its meaning, its sound, and its correct spelling’.

Blakemore and Frith point out that teaching someone with dyslexia to read takes patience. Dyslexics have a serious stumbling block in processing phonemes and relating them to their spelling and cannot be expected to learn in the same way as those without dyslexia. This is because the mappings between symbols and speech have to be learned and this learning has a lasting impact on the brain. Therefore, the brain of someone who is literate differs from someone else’s brain who is illiterate.

They grapple with reasons for and ways to ease developmental disorders: One successful training programme, run by Guinevere Eden, did improve the reading skills of dyslexic people by explicitly teaching the sounds of words and word parts for three hours per day for eight weeks. In brain scans after the training it showed that the right parietal lobe became active during reading, compensating for weak performance of the left parietal lobe.

However, with dyslexia it seems that the ‘practice makes perfect’ method does not work. Some studies have found remedial teaching does improve reading skills for dyslexic students but ultimately there’s no one intervention that has improved reading speed and reduced reading effort.

Similar can be said for people with dyscalculia, as Blakemore and Frith recommend teaching numeracy by slow repetition of foundational elements in a highly practical way. This will take major effort and is not the same as installing the missing intuition and implicit rules, but means the individual with dyscalculia will be able to perform and check basic operations.

They do not shy away from scientific lingo: Interestingly, brain differences in people with dyslexia have been found from even before birth. One neurologist, Al Galaburda, found that small clusters of nerve cells wandered to the top layer of the cortex and were visible as minute scars, most commonly in the medial temporal regions (centre of the reading system and also linked to speech-processing). It is possible that these scars have some role in causing dyslexia and, in addition, visual, auditory and motor impairments.

Another consistent finding is that the layer of white matter (myelin) that lines axons, that are responsible for sending impulses from one neuron to the next, is thinner in the brain’s reading system in dyslexics. This could suggest that there are weaker connections between the three different regions of the reading systems, rather than any specific anatomical abnormalities in the regions themselves.

They are pragmatic about data trends: In 2005 females were, on average, achieving more highly than males in national maths texts at ages 16 and 18. This gender gap still exists today. Neuroscientist, Tina Good, found that brains of males are more voluptuous in the temporal lobe, including the amygdala and hippocampus, whereas in brains of females the anterior cingulate cortex is bigger. This often manifests in women outperforming males on tests of emotional perception and emotion sensibility. Baron-Cohen (Simon, not Sacha) explained that male and female brains may have evolved to take on different roles. We also must remember that whilst many women may have a typically “female” brain and men a typically “male” brain, there is much overlap between the two. There are brain differences between genders but even bigger differences between individuals.

They are positive: ‘Our assumption is that a failing start-up mechanism for fast learning does not prevent learning’

Also, the brain’s plasticity depends critically upon how much it is used. Even the adult brain is flexible and can grow new cells and make new connections, at least in some regions such as the hippocampus (one of the main memory areas of the brain). There is no age limit for learning, you hear me!

They have a message: It’s easy to ignore the brain when talking about a ‘normal’ child’s development but the brain cannot be ignored when discussing developmental disorders. We must not overlook that there could be a subtle genetic programming ‘fault’ that has an effect on brain development and can lead to a variety of learning needs such as ADHD, ASD, dyslexia and dyscalculia.

We do need to be mindful when applying labels though. They say that for one person a diagnosis of a learning need could result in an excuse to be ‘lazy’. In another person, however, it may boost low self-esteem that was the result of a previous lack of explanation for a learning problem.

In summary, there may be some tell-tale signs that this textbook is now 13 years old, the reference to programming a video recorder is one such example, but overall I would recommend this as an enlightening read.


Blog of the week – Is it time to end different-iation?

Hannah Moloney is a SENCO and dyslexia specialist. In this blog she asks the question – Is it time to end different-iation?

Hannah asks is there a problem with the word differentiation, as it implies different (similar to the use of the word normal)

She challenges the idea of 3-4 differentiated worksheets and argues that teaching and learning should be accessible to all through the way that the teacher has constructed the lesson.

Have a read and see what you think