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Darren Mead

Darren Mead is an experienced science teacher who has been described as ‘the Jimi Hendrix of teaching’ and ‘perhaps the most intellectually engaged of all British teachers’. Based in the north-east of England, he shares his classroom-based interpretations of research through his highly respected blog, Sharing Pedagogical Purposes.

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Publications by Darren Mead

The Expert Teacher

In The Expert Teacher: Using pedagogical content knowledge to plan…

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Podcasts for A level biologists

March 23 2020

On Friday I discussed the plans for my Year 12 Biologists, and said I would send them a list of good Biology reads. One students pipes up that he would prefer podcasts, and several others seemed excited at the prospect. So, I have listened to most the BBC Sounds App, ( The BBC is glorious, but needs to ditch the "Sounds APP" because I just don't get it. ) and come up with some radio shows that will help set the Biology in context, demonstrate the application of the Biology, and hopefully inspire some University choices. 
I have purposefully not selected the large Coronavirus programming, except for the excellent show Inside Science, which is excellent and is also varied. I am not trying to cover the curriculum but providing them a chance to relax, practice listening and enjoy their own Biological knowledge. So here are my starters for 10...

BBC Inside Science https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b036f7w2

Anatomy and physiology
Systems and organs are well broken down in this series  https://aca.st/647d82 
Ecology and Evolution
A brief Natural History  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01pw1nr
A guide to Farmland birds (others are available) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0137xqs

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Literacy, Assessment and Memory bundles. LAMB's

March 15 2020

Way back in June 2018 our Science department  attempted to set out what we wanted our curriculum to be like, after our initial interleaving of the concepts. Since then we have been working towards this through our Wednesday CPD time, curriculum development tasks and through the idea of the weeks. Each part of our wish list depends upon the design of the curriculum, our choice of pedagogy and our skill as teachers to deliver it.

Reading this list again the prominence of Literacy, Assessment and Memory in what we value is very clear.

To ensure constructive alignment every SOW has

     Learning Intention sheet for student books

     Key ideas/ Misconceptions clearly identified for teachers

     Pre- quizzes aligned to learning intentions

     Been double checked against the syllabus

To ensure quality two way feedback every SOW has

     A prequiz using an assessment grid

     Marking tokens for each key ideas.

     Tasks that have inbuilt self reflection and assessments

     Useful demonstrate tasks for quick teacher feedback. (eg Hinge questions)

     End of topic tests and/or is part of a summative test

     Tasks to develop exam technique

To ensure development of student skills and knowledge (including literacy)

     Regular opportunities to write in an extended way-with feedback

     Read complex academic texts to develop student scientific vocabulary.

     Tasks that develop vocabulary.

     Tasks to practice scientific skills- with feedback

     Tasks and marking tokens that focus on Required Practicals and associated language and skills.

     Strategic homework

To ensure long term retention

     Multiple exposure planned and made clear to teachers

     SOWS are interleaved and spaced - 5 years.✓

     Tasks to activate prior knowledge

     Use of low stakes testing eg last year, last topic, last week,last lesson

     Planned spaces between teaching and marking tokens.

     Knowledge organiser for each topic

     Strategic homework

To ensure clarity of teaching

     Slides that structure and augment explanations- not necessarily to scaffold a lesson.

     Clear useful diagrams, analogies, images

To ensure engagement

     Task that set context and provide interesting hooks

     Tasks develop student agency


A good start point for the view taken on literacy comes from the EEF Literacy report that states

Reading, writing, speaking and listening, are at the heart of every subject in secondary school. Focusing time and resources on improving reading and writing skills will have positive knock-on effects elsewhere, whether that’s being able to break down scientific vocabulary or structure a history essay.”

It recommends the

     Prioritising of subject-specific literacy skills across the curriculum.

     Teaching vocabulary to support pupils’ development of academic language.

     Developing students’ ability to read and access sophisticated texts

So, it is with this in mind that we have developed our Literacy strand to our new Literacy, Assessment and Memory bundles (LAMB’s). This has been a major focus for the idea of the week since it began, and so we have many simple and effective strategies to hand. Many are summarised here: A summary of Literacy strategies

Macfarlane Dick and Nichol recommend  that good feedback practice:

1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);

2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning;

3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning;

4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;

5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;

6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

Providing effective feedback is a complex business, but two general principles seem to apply fairly consistently.

  1. As students approach mastery a delay in feedback can be beneficial, for example after an exam or marking token .

  2. Immediate feedback is beneficial when students are in the early stages of developing their understanding.

     Task level feedback is only useful here

     We must balance giving feedback and teaching new ideas as dealing with feedback uses a lot of working memory.

So, we must provide focussed opportunities to check student understanding that are quick and to the point but still aiming to meet all the criteria set out by Macfarlane- Dick and Nichol. It is especially important that the dialogue between teacher and student dialogue, as in the two way feedback on our wishlist. Ultimately,this will increase the amount of quality teacher feedback in books but reduce the burden of marking. This again has been a recurring theme in the ideas of the week. At the heart of these strategies is the idea of a hinge activity to reveal the student current understanding quickly and accurately.
The Memory strand, as the others has been a major theme for idea of the week. A summary of the strategies can be read here The strategies include those that support the limitations of working memory and strategies that seek to encourage long term retention of knowledge.

Our pre-quizzes work on the The Pretesting Effect  which paints a somewhat counterintuitive view of learning and testing

“In terms of long-term learning, however, unsuccessful tests fall into the same category as a number of other effective learning phenomena - providing challenges for learners leads to low initial test performance, thereby alienating learners and educators, while simultaneously enhancing long-term learning.”

To supplement this retrieval practice is a way of supporting the retrieval strength of learned concepts. The students in essence practice how to remember. We have been long time fans of the expanding retrieval schedule and many of us have selected to measure its impact for the Great Teaching Groups. As Lee Croucher astutely pointed out this week, the design of these is somewhat responsive to how well students have performed in previous lessons, and this makes it more difficult to pre plan this kind of task. What we can prepare are question banks that will provide regular practice with the big, frequent and important ideas within them.


A key strategy in learning is the idea of multiple exposures to the idea being learned Nuthall said

” Provided a student is able to piece together, in working memory, the equivalent of three complete definitions or descriptions of a concept, that new concept will be constructed as part of the students long term memory”

His research primarily suggests some useful planning suggestions. So that for learning to take place, students must:

interact with a full explanation of concept at least once.

interact with the information on at least four separate occasions

This makes the tasks in the LAMB’s so very useful, providing the opportunities to revisit the concepts over and over again in differing ways so that learning has the best chance to happen. Teaching followed by a literacy strategy, followed by a memory task followed by a focused assessment makes this a realistic aim.

Strategy is one thing and so it supporting teachers to feel equipped to use new them  So the ideas included in LAMB’s have been (and will be) supported by the idea of the weeks  to help us deliver the great curriculum our students deserve. Each task, in essence, is quite small, and  will not take long to plan. So relatively quickly it should be easy to build up a library of useful tasks- focused on key ideas and misconceptions.  Imagine a department of 10 (pretty easy for a Science, Maths or English department) contributed one task per week over the course of a year we could have around 380 tasks to support the development of our students' scientific  literacy and supporting their learning through quick and effective assessment and opportunity to transfer knowledge to their long term memory. It certainly is a worthy aim.

The first two LAMB's are available here.

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