Magic in the hinterland

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

At TNA all classes begin with some form of retrieval practice. This is usually a short low-stakes quiz, self-assessed by pupils as their teacher goes through the answers once it is finished.

The benefits of this are now widely accepted. The testing effect makes children more likely to remember things they are regularly quizzed on.

Done well, there are other benefits too.

This week I was in a lesson in which one of our art teachers turned retrieval practice into an opportunity to teach new, inspiring hinterland knowledge so well it left me a little giddy.

Tej’s quiz was on impressionism, with one question on the purpose of the techniques Turner used. The correct answer, which all pupils got, was to give a sense of feeling and emotion. Tej could have stopped there but didn’t. Off the back of it he stepped gracefully into a developed exposition, telling the probably apocryphal old story of Turner lashing himself to the mast of a ship in a storm at sea, and finished with an overview of method acting so vivid it drew gasps from his class.

None of this was core knowledge.

All of it was important and inspiring.

The hinterland perfectly framed the core, adding magic, colour and wonder, shoving us out of our stuffy rainy-day classroom and connecting us to the great mystery of human creative endeavour.

Earlier this week I saw someone tweet something about being worried if we kept challenging teaching techniques soon all we’d have left would be dry knowledge organisers and boring tests.

I’m not worried about this in my school.

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