Building A New Generation of Trivia Quiz Experts

Read a fascinating interview with the photographer Bruce Davidson where the interviewer (Charlotte Cotton) points out that neuroscience has shown that “in the process of recalling a memory we literally reposition that memory in a new place in our neural systems, among new experiences – a new context.” Cotton goes on to say that she finds this “a really liberating thing to think about, that we are constantly renewing moments from our past.”

This has intriguing implications to the way in which we read photographs, or indeed any text and it also has implications in the way in which we think about the accumulation of knowledge. For if we accept knowledge as being memories stored in our neural systems then it would appear that there is actually no such thing as ‘definitive knowledge’ in so far as those elements of knowledge are perpetually changing (however subtly) simply thanks to the way in which new connections are being made each time we recall them.

Current mantras amongst many educationalist Twitterati appear to be very much around accumulation of knowledge. “Students need to know” (remember) “this and that” they tell us. To which I suggest the correct response would be “yes, perhaps they do. And?” Or possibly even “That may be so, but also So What?”. Try this at home. It provides endless hours seconds of sublime entertainment. “The capital city of Albania is Tirana”. So What? “Babies have around 100 more bones than adults”. Really? But So What? “A teaspoonful of neutron star would weigh 6 billion tons”. Wow! But really… So What? And Why Would I Care?

Knowledge out of context is just ammunition that might might allow us to be successful at trivia quizzes, which is a fleetingly hollow thrill at best. Surely the thing that matters is the way we plug that knowledge into new neural connections to give meaning outside of mere remembrance/parroting of facts? It seems as though the notion of synthesising knowledge (or certainly the notion that we teach HOW to synthesise knowledge, because that would be a SKILL) has fallen firmly out of fashion with Educational Trendsetters and Tastemakers in recent years and this, I think is a damned shame if not a profound mistake.

Are we teaching our students to think and create with knowledge? Or are we just building a new generation of trivia quiz experts?


On the Astonishing Effectiveness of Detentions

Supervise another gloriously effective After School Detention session this afternoon, to follow on from similarly effective Lunchtime Detention. Registers for both comprise multitude of names of Usual Suspects, none of whom turn up. Also several names who are not on the list but appear to think this is a Good Way To Spend Their Time. Resist temptation to explain to students that this is most certainly not the case after reflecting that such explanation would have as much positive impact as detention session itself.

Look at calendar and think about number of days left until the end of term. It is always too many.

Tremendous Ideas (revisited again and again)

Tremendous New Idea shared at leadership meeting by F that involves Building A Resource of Useful and Interesting Books And Articles About Education, Pedagogy, Research etc. Everyone apparently Very Excited and thinking it a Thrilling Development with Lots Of Potential For Impact. Feel fortunate not to have been at meeting when idea floated as feel certain would have found difficulty in casually reminding colleagues that a Certain Person (i.e. The Provincial Teacher) did exactly this some five years ago. Blogs and education websites were regularly checked and read, with the most interesting articles bookmarked, noted into Evernote and automagically formatted via Posatchio into a Terrific Online Resource. Links were regularly sent to staff via email and it all resulted in a dynamic culture of teachers excitedly talking about teaching and learning deafening silence and no measurable impact.

Appraisal Cycle Traditions

Second Half of Autumn Term starts in traditional fashion with yearly anxiety about end of appraisal cycle review meetings. Tradition consists largely of colleagues panicking because they have variously not: Documented evidence of progress towards meeting targets during year and have left everything to last minute; Scheduled end of cycle review meeting for sometime before week ending 31st October; Completed self-review against the teachers’s standards; Remembered what the school-set targets were anyway. Admit with no small degree of irony that own adherence to these traditions is almost absolute but nevertheless point out that details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) were sent out early in the calendar year. Colleagues suggest, in adherence to other traditional activities, that they may need reminding about these kinds of things, to which point out that message including details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) was indeed posted several times during rest of calendar year. Follow additional tradition by resisting temptation to suggest actual reading of documentation may be more valuable than filing email in folder marked ‘I’m sure this will be helpful and/or important, but let’s be honest, I’m never going to do anything about it’. Immediately create own folder marked thus and set up rule directing all messages about appraisal into said folder. Proceed to making third coffee of morning.

Back to the howling old owl in the woods

As end of half term hysteria reaches fever pitch in the Provincial High School, forlorn attempt to reflect on most recent Leadership Meetings results in memory only of Conversations About Chicken Burgers In Refectory. This is reasonable development since Chicken Burgers In Refectory seems to be what majority of Leadership Focus has been spent on over entire first half term of academic year.

Pitch of hysteria also results in M sharing Interwebs Meme about Mental Health, drawing comparison to brain being like an Interwebs browser open with a thousand tabs, most of which are frozen and with no idea where music is coming from. In bizarre volte-face on usual Thoughts About Memes find this strangely amusing and reflect that in truth the music is almost always entirely within own head. Today, for example, the chorus of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Sir Elton John repeats endlessly in loop that walks fine line between pleasure and irritation. Feel certain this is entirely fitting metaphor for entire existence.


Today, as I understand it, was designated Mental Health Day and so everyone in school encouraged to wear something yellow in order to show students that we are Someone They Can Talk To about mental health issues. Uncertain as to why wearing something yellow is significant and how this changes everyday job expectation of Caring For Young People but nevertheless made some concession to conformity by donning tiny vintage Mustard Club badge from the 1920s for the day. Impact of doing so, I feel, has been minimal.

Mental health of colleagues during day certainly not helped by Failure Of The Internets. This results (again) in significant amount of hand wringing and heightened anxiety about How Can We Safeguard Children When We Have No Internet (actually probably written in ALL CAPS followed by too many exclamation points). Quietly suggest to some colleagues that history of school did not begin with the invention of The Internet in Provincial Settings (perhaps circa 2014 or so) and that children were safeguarded prior to instantaneous, continuous surveillance of attendance (electronic registers). Idly reflect on vicious cycle of paranoia created by such technologies and enjoy complete absence of email traffic during day.


Struck by number of times in past weeks when have been expected to be in three entirely different places, doing three different activities, at exactly the same moment in time and space. Decide this makes the Provincial Teacher some kind of Superhero and start to sketch ideas for Costume and Mask on back of School Improvement Plan. Current mood suggests colour palette of black, not unlike The Batman.

On Meetings

Leadership is a Strange Old Bird. Such are thoughts running through mind after recent Meetings in which much time is spent arguing about When Is A Flyer A Poster (own contribution: ‘Does it matter?’; ‘I can’t believe we are talking about this.’ And ‘Well that’s twenty minutes of my life I won’t get back.’); relevance or otherwise of a DIP for every subject in the school (this conversation one that arises every year, follows same tortuous, circular route and is Never Fully Resolved, thereby storing up the pleasure for an infinite number of re-runs); and Suitable Prizes For Reading. To this last item firmly resist temptation to suggest that Pleasure is the finest prize. Mood of meeting very much not aligned with own thinking and therefore also refrain from voicing possibility of Book Tokens or similar, thereby rewarding Those Who Read with even more opportunity to read (at this point remind self – because no-one else appears to be listening – of coaching mantra: What is going well? How can we do more of that?). Resist too temptation to quote from Wilfred Bramble to Ringo in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and suggest kids should be out parading instead of having their heads stuck in books because that’s Not Really The Kind Of Thing We Should Be Promoting.

Meetings also include multitude of items brain has since consigned to trash can of memory, never to be retrieved again. Or at least until next meeting when Minutes bring horrifying reminder of stultifying tedium and Wasted Opportunity.

speaking as a scientist et cetera

Entire morning Leadership meeting spent discussing (for which read Arguing) about term dates, whole day staff training days, twilight training sessions, start and end dates and Anything Else We Can Think Of.

Make cogent point about effective models for staff CPD being best delivered through regular twilight sessions before discussion veers wholeheartedly into reasons why we will apparently be moving away from doing this. Decide at this point to Shut Up and spend time responding to emails.

Reflect on previous Diary Entry about value of creating cognitive capacity for specialist subject CPD and realise that This Is Never Going To Happen. Decide at this point to Stop Thinking About Education and pick up Auden’s ‘The Orators’. Thoroughly enjoy reading ‘Journal Of An Airman’.

three terms of enemy speech:
I mean
quite frankly
speaking as a scientist et cetera

Teaching Makes You Stupid (or, in praise of Subject Specialist CPD)

Poet W.H. Auden writing poetry in a bookkeeping ledger at his home on Fire Island, New York. (Photo by Jerry Cooke/Corbis via Getty Images)

Am currently reading a book about W.H. Auden, or more specifically about Auden’s poem ‘September 1, 1939’. Although actually it’s not specifically about that poem, even though it is, and it’s not completely about Auden, even though it is. By which I mean that author Ian Sansom makes it partly about himself and partly about The Bigger Picture and partly about Auden and partly about poetry and partly about this particular poem. It is a great book, but it makes me feel Really Stupid, and that in turn makes me sad and frustrated.

For whilst Sansom’s book is Not An Academic Text, it does throw in quite a few references to Academics and Academic Texts and Other Poets and Literature and Literary Criticism which, had I the time, energy and space (in other words if I had the spare cognitive capacity) I would probably rather enjoy. But I don’t. And I don’t. And it’s because it’s barely the second week of term and already I feel like I Have No Life. Or rather it is that life has already ebbed from my sickened body and left me a shattered husk. Not that I want to be over dramatic.

I recognise that were I to be reading a similarly pitched book about Teaching and Learning then I would probably Not Feel Quite So Stupid, but frankly also strongly suspect that I would find such a book to be A Lot Less Interesting. Where is the Auden of the contemporary (Secondary) Education world? Probably busy being a Twitter Celebrity.

Suspect that The Point Of All This (and there may be one, so bear with me) is that whilst the past two/nearly three decades of teaching may have left me Well Versed in an understanding of the Science/Craft (delete as appropriate) of Teaching, it has had detrimental impact on my knowledge and understanding of Subject. It has, in effect, left me (feeling) stupid.

Not stupid in the context of the level to which I am teaching (am fairly confident I could bring home a ‘9’ in the GCSE) but certainly in the broader, deeper context of my subject specialist knowledge. So whilst I am highly skilled (this is not the moment to be modest) at empowering students to think more deeply about the texts that they are reading in order to get a level 6, or 7 or 9 at GCSE, what I/we lack as teachers is that cognitive capacity to either ask each other those challenging questions about SUBJECT, or to ask ourselves.

Which is why more opportunities for subject specialist CPD is so vital. And not CPD that focuses on Subject at the level to which we teach (though there is need for that of course, to make us secure and confident teachers of that content) but the deeper knowledge of our subjects in the broader sense. Where are the opportunities for our History colleagues to talk/argue about the connections between 1970’s Britain and Our Present Predicament? Or indeed to argue about whose books are best: Dominic Sandbrook’s or Andy Beckett’s? Where are the opportunities for our Art colleagues to talk about the work of Robert Frank (including whether ‘Pull My Daisy’ is actually any good or not) or to argue about the value of John Berger’s critical writing and whether it is still relevant to approach Art from a Marxist viewpoint in 2019? Let’s face it: Ten minutes over a rushed instant coffee between a quick pee and Year 7 isn’t really the most productive time for such topics, is it?

Yet when Leadership discussions about Staff CPD take place we continually promote Skills Of Teaching as the Only Valuable Topics for Training. We say it is in response to What Our Staff Want but really, is it? Always? Again? And again? And even if it’s what they think they want, are they always right?

So. How to build cognitive capacity into our daily grind such that we can enjoy the developing treasures of the subjects we fell in love with? (Because we DID fall in love with our subject long before we fell in love with the idea of teaching that subject).

When I start to feel less stupid I will let you know.