Lost in translation: The Gulf between strategy and pedagogy.

Updated: Jun 26


The German’s use the phrase “Tomaten Auf Augen Haben”. Literally translated this means “You have tomatoes on your eyes”. In English this makes no sense. But to the Germans it is a common idiom, referring to a person’s blindness to the situation. This however gets lost in translation.




As an a school inspector, and educational consultant, I often observe this phenomena in schools, where strategies get applied without any real understanding, and like wise get lost in translation. There is a huge difference between applying a strategy, compared to understanding the theory behind a strategy. For example assessment for learning, and effective feedbackbecome reduced to a colour coded marking scheme, ‘green for growth’ and ‘tickled pink’ and of course the infamous ‘purple pen of power!’ Whilst this may make children’s books appear more colourful, and could potentially add hours to teachers marking time. There can be no impact on standards if the children are not actually given time to read the feedback. In many cases younger children cannot even read the feedback, so the question arises whom are we actually marking the work for? Marking in different colours does not equate to effective feedback. Feedback is only effective if the pupils are actively engaged in the assessment process. Immediate verbal feedback being the most effective, and classrooms where teachers effectively use peer feedback as part of the assessment process have the greatest impact of all. This is not ‘assessment for learning’, but instead ‘assessment as learning’. If only the purchasing of a purple pen could raise standards.


But unfortunately in education we all to often look for the quick fix, or sticking plaster, rather than dealing with the elephant in the room (apologies for piling on the idioms). However the only way to raise standards is to improve the quality of teaching and learning, and we do this through improving teaching pedagogy.

As a former strategic advisor, for closing the gap, I was continually horrified by the strategies applied by schools, and also shared as good practice with the aim of raising standards for eFSM Pupils. In one school I was told how teachers sit eFSM pupils closer to the front of the classroom. The scary logic behind this strategy was that these pupils have better access to the teacher, and consequently better feedback. Aside from segregating pupils according to their economic circumstances. This strategy can only have a negative impact on a pupils self-esteem?


In another school their closing the gap strategy involved marking eFSM pupils books first. The logic behind this was attributed to Sir David Brailsford, of Team Sky, who improved the team with his ‘marginal gains theory’. The marginal gain in this instance was that the teacher should be more alert when marking the first books. But may not put the same effort into book thirty-six in the pile. I can only imagine the parents evening where the teacher explains “I’m sorry Mrs. Davies, I don’t mark your child’s book as you pay for his school dinners. These strategies then pass through the educational world, in a process much like Chinese-whispers and come to be regarded as the new right way to do things.

Michael Fullan put it best when he said, “ Words travel fast in education, but concepts less so.“ In other words we are all too quick in education to apply the latest strategy, but more often than not, fail to understand the theory behind this.


So how do we ensure that we do not have ‘tomatoes on our eyes’, to use the German Idiom I began the blog with? Primarily creating a shared language and common understand for your own school.

School leaders should be facilitating high-level educational talk, so that staff can unpick their own understanding of various classroom practices. If you, for example, ask an NQT and a highly experienced teacher – “what is differentiation?” They will undoubtedly have very different views on the matter. If you ask the same question to an art teacher, and a math teacher, you will again get a very different answer. Many teachers may still refer to differentiation by outcome, as an acceptable definition. It is only through the process of discussion that you can unpack peoples’ misconceptions and hopefully initiate personal change in the classroom. A phrase I often use when working with teachers is “The knowledge is in the room”.


At the Right Learning Company we specialize in this process of coaching and facilitation to help teachers unpick and develop as professionals. We use a range of group activities, group and personal reflection, skills audits and action plans based around various aspects of pedagogy. If you would like to develop an area of your staffs pedagogy, such as differentiation or feedback, as mentioned in this blog we can help you. Alternatively we can work on areas of school development such as collaborative learning, developing peer feedback, metacognition and self-regulating behavior systems. Please feel free to get in touch or visit our website. I promise you there are no idioms there, and we specializing in making the complicated simple. I hope this blog has not as they say in Finland “Paastaa Sammakko Suustaan” , which means “ Let the frog out of my mouth”.




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#closingthegap #EdTech #Education #Leaders #Leadership #Edchat #UKEdChat #edreform #achievementgap #inquiryed #blackedu #latiniedu #urbanedu #schoolreform

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