THE CONTINUOUS RETRIEVAL APPROACH

Assessing for learning needn’t be signposted by explicit formative tasks. Formative assessment can be implicitly woven into your teaching, and this can be achieved by using continuous retrieval practice. *

Asking questions in class/lectures/tutorials is a form of retrieval practice. The questions actively force the brain to try to recall the knowledge, and since understanding is memory in disguise, this strategy is an excellent way of assessing whether what you’ve taught your students has actually been learnt. Questions needn’t be verbal: they are any form of interaction that demands a student to fill in a gap.

Nuthall’s research found that for students to be able to understand a concept, they needed to be exposed to the complete set of information about the concept on at least 3 different occasions. This has enormous implications for how we teach, because in order for us to be able to assess for learning, we have to provide adequate opportunity for students to actually encode the information. Bearing in mind that attention is necessary to constitute a single exposure (as without actually attending to something it is impossible to encode it), and that sometimes student attention can waver (oh, is that a fly on my page), we may in fact need to increase the number of times we facilitate their exposure to necessary and important content. Continuous retrieval practice then not only challenges and thus strengthens the neural pathways the information is stored in, helping secure that content into the long term memory, but also provides another exposure of content to students who haven’t reached the magical number 3 yet.

Without using retrieval, the teacher can’t be sure the knowledge is secure in the student’s mind until they use a more formal assessment. But by this time, there could already be large gaps in the knowledge base that will take longer to unpick, and undoubtedly prevent the student being able to understand the next sequence in any sort of depth. This may manifest in the student who appears to be always struggling to keep up.

Assessment then should be seen as a continuous but incremental method of checking for learning, as depicted in this image:

The above graphic represents 5 units (U) of work in a course. The metaphor is that when a unit is taught, retrieval practice is embedded (looped back) into the unit before moving onto the next: the teacher explicitly focuses student attention on key aspects of the unit that are essential and requisite knowledge for the next. A summative assessment (S) measures student knowledge at the end of the unit. When the next unit is taught, the retrieval practice not only focuses on the content of the 2nd unit, but also the summative content of Unit 1, as the spiral for U2 overlaps at the S1 sector. The process continues, but crucially, each subsequent unit must draw from every unit previously taught.

Let’s look at this more closely:

Figure 1 represents the content taught in Unit 1. Figure 2 represents the retrieval process in Unit 1 with the loop feeding back into the shape.

Figure 3 represents the teaching of the second unit. But critically, the summative content (S1) from Unit 1 is very much a part of the sequence. That, as well as the new content of Unit 2, now forms part of the summative content (S2) for that unit.

This design is very deliberate. It stems from an awareness that the exposure to the new information must incrementally build on what the student already knows. Willingham (p6) suggests that when posed a problem, our brains search** for solutions by invoking previous knowledge about a topic or at least something related to it, both declarative and procedural. (This by the way, is why worked examples are so integral to effective teaching practice.) The thinking about the previous knowledge and how it fits with the current knowledge is how we begin to develop schema. Without this precise design of a sequence of learning, the schema can’t form, and this has large implications for teaching new content.

Of course, you won’t be able to test all of the content at each summative (S) point, but this is where spaced retrieval comes into play. Spaced retrieval not only helps you to plan to incorporate all the relevant content over the duration of the course, but perhaps more importantly, it helps students to learn the same amount of content without having to put in extra study. It’s simply a very efficient use of study time.

The process continues until all units have been taught (figure 5), with each new unit drawing from and incorporating previous learnt material as part of the new sequence. At the very end, a final summative test is given, but as you can probably deduce, it will be not that different from what has been happening all the way along. It may simply be a longer test. The likelihood of success in this final test/exam will be significantly higher as students have been given multiple opportunities to access the content over the course, facilitating the movement of knowledge into the long term memory, and very much reducing the enormous anxiety that exams can create, and the criticism of their validity.

Well this is OK in a classroom or a tutorial, but what happens when I have a lecture with more than 40 students I hear you ask? Can I still use this approach? That’s the topic of the next post

In the next post I will outline the ways formative assessment can be applied in HE

*I know that retrieval.org suggest we shouldn’t view retrieval as an assessment strategy, but rather as a learning tool. I think though that teaching is essentially broken into 3 parts: delivering content, assessing its understanding, and influencing emotional intelligence. I see every question we ask as a tool to assess and to inspire thinking.

**I am aware that the tangible processes I discuss are indeed metaphoric.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me at @edmerger

START STRONG, FINISH STRONG – strategy 1

In the previous post, I introduced the rationale for implementing a range of strategies to help students start strong in their University courses. The implications for failure extend further out than we might imagine, and can have severe effects on students and staff alike. In this post I introduce the first of 3 teaching and learning strategies that lecturers can use to assist students in being able to make a more informed decision about their academic aptitude in a course.

1. THE SEQUENCE OF LEARNING AND ITS PURPOSE

Effective and precise design of a learning sequence is imperative if students are to succeed in a course. Clear and manageable learning outcomes must drive the design of learning activities and assessment. Whilst it is not necessary to cater to the whims of students’ interests, it is necessary that a student sees a purpose of taking the course in relation to their personal aspirations. One way to begin the design of the sequence that covers these demands is to develop a visual curriculum map. Such a map shows a student how the topics within the course are intertwined and how the accumulation of the knowledge taught within the course leads to future opportunities. 

CREATING A VISUAL COURSE MAP

WHY IS THIS EFFECTIVE PRACTICE?

‘The scientist must organise. One makes a science with facts in the way that one makes a house with stones. But an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a pile of stones is a house.’ Henri Poincare

As the expert, trained for many years in your respective field, you would have built and developed a large web of interconnected ideas (schema) for your subject. It is this schema, or parts of it at least, that you will teach. As the expert, you understand how the parts of the schema fit together, how they feed off each other, and the sequence of learning required to arrive at such a full and complex understanding. But the novice learner arriving into your lecture theatre has little of this knowledge. To them, everything will initially appear very abstract and disparate, particularly pre-census. The abstraction makes it difficult to make connections that will lead to the acquisition of schema, an essential determinant of further learning.  

The visual course map serves as a model of your thinking, an explicit representation of the processes required to create relevant schema. As Clark and Mayer (2008) suggest, this immediately offers some context and orientation to your students, and facilitates what Willingham believes to be an essential need in learning in making the abstract more concrete. Such a process is easily recognised considering our own learning – we naturally convert the abstract into meaningful concrete information. Showing students the journey they are about to embark on and providing an otherwise closed window into your mind, and into the course’s structure, helps novices to transform the abstract into the more digestible concrete.

So, SHOW STUDENTS THE SCHEMA!

THE WALK THROUGH

Once made visible, walking students through the schema is the next step. Explaining how each piece of the puzzle fits in with the next is crucial in a sequence of learning. Focusing on the connections and links between disparate ideas is how we move from a pile of stones to the building of a house. Ensuring each connection is secure through formative assessment, particularly through the online supplement, is necessary to avoid the ‘curse of knowledge’ and to know that your students are able to move onto the next component of the course. The curse of knowledge is the idea that when you know something well it is difficult to imagine that others don’t, and so we tend to brush over simple but important links and connections between content. Often, these links are actually vital for a novice to develop their own schema on a topic.  This 1976 cartoon by James Stevenson visualises the issue well:

USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENHANCE LEARNING

Shortly, I will be able to provide you with an example of this map being interactive, where students will be able to click on a relevant section and be taken to the relevant learning associated with it. This can be done using H5P and then utilising mastery pathways (more on this soon in the 2nd strategy post).

MODELLING THINKING AND PROCESSES

There is an enormous amount of research (Clark and Mayer 2008) validating the effectiveness of modelling your own thinking and processes to students to move them from novices with immature schemata to experts with developed, sophisticated schemata. The novice is indeed a different type of learner to the expert, their less developed schemata severely impacting the cognitive load on working memory, and thus having significant implications to the types of questions and activities you engage them in. The table below illustrates the need to understand the learning continuum when planning a sequence of learning.

Actively explaining the ‘glue’ that binds topics and how you arrived at your understanding provides a model for students to learn and use in subsequent learning, learning in which they are more likely to make their own independent ‘glue’ as they will have more knowledge to draw from and more automaticity in their working memory.

KNOWING WHERE YOU ARE GOING INCREASES ENGAGEMENT

Not only is it useful to highlight to students how each topic fits together to form the schema in a course, but it is also useful to show students how the course fits into a larger picture of learning. A course map should also articulate to students the possible exit pathways that acquiring the knowledge in the present course facilitates. The TEQSA framework for teaching (3.1.1) is clear in this being required:

 The design for each course of study is specified and the specification includes: g.  exit pathways, articulation arrangements, pathways to further learning.

Research has found that students are often ‘… not aware how different elements of courses functioned as building blocks in the development of their research skills and knowledge.’ An increased awareness of the connections between courses within a program would serve to provide greater opportunity for students to think more about them, and consequently develop the necessary schemata. The visual course map is ideally suited to provide the context and purpose of a course in relation to others in the program. Seeing possible overlaps in outcomes by viewing colleagues’ maps provides opportunity to identify the connections and make them explicit in your teaching sequence. This will deepen learning as the explicit connections will strengthen students’ memory of the content through the continuous retrieval process that such a strategy affords.

This then further encourages students to participate in your course as they will revisit/need the content in other courses too, and the overlap will reduce pre-census cognitive load.

WHAT’S THE EFFECT ON METACOGNITION

STUDENTS: The visual journey map allows students to self-evaluate their own understandings of each section, and source extra information, resources and practice to fill any gaps. This is particularly important in the first 4 weeks of teaching, even though the schema at this point would be only partially complete. I will provide lots more advice on metacognition in the 3rd strategy post.

YOU: The added benefit to this strategy is that it helps you fine tune your course, ensuring that there is a logical sequential flow to the sequence of teaching. It will help you define the key aspects that you want students to focus on, and give you direction on how to structure resources and assessment based around those.

HOW TO CREATE THIS RESOURCE

  1. Create the map as a rough mind map articulating the key components of your course.
  2. Work backwards and add in assessment (see part 2) at key junctions
  3. Then either on your own, or with help from a learning designer, create a series of visuals that sequence the growth of the schema.

HOW TO USE THIS RESOURCE

  1. The map would be displayed as the first image in your first lecture, as well as the dominant image in the online supplement.
  2. The first teachings would then highlight the section of the map currently being addressed, with the remaining sections faded out.
  3. Crucially though, the map should be continually referred to as the learning continues and builds on itself. This not only provides context, but assists the retrieving of knowledge, as students make stronger neural connections to what has already been taught from the map because of it being continually referred to and thus recalled. The students are then beginning to build the schema in their own minds.
  4. The final lectures would display the map and encourage learners to fill in the links. This could form an excellent formative assessment task prior to exams to help students identify areas of weakness. 

The next post will provide strategies for designing the support presented to students in terms of scaffolding cognition.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter (@edmerger) or on LinkedIn for more discussions about learning design.

Cover image: Credit: © Images.com/Corbis

START STRONG, FINISH STRONG

A STRATEGY FOR PRE-CENSUS LEARNING DESIGN

RATIONALE

the data suggest that students who start strong finish strong

Enabling students to make educated decisions about whether or not they should continue with a course post census is of paramount importance. Poor decisions have large financial, social and employment implications that are inextricably tied to them, and they also weigh heavy on the conscientious lecturer. This is the first in a series of posts designed to support the capability of faculties in the application of 3 strategies to help reduce the number of students who drop out after census without being able to formulate precise understandings about their aptitude for learning in a particular course.

The numbers in black represent hypothetical, but likely familiar, attrition of 1st year undergraduate students in respective faculties filtered by low participation in online engagement. Since modern higher education is very much characterised by a blended learning experience, where the online component is used to address the lack of personalisation in the face to face offering, the data suggest that students who start strong finish strong, and conversely, those who don’t won’t.  

This leads to the burning question: why aren’t these slow starters getting involved? There could be multiple reasons, but what this resource proposes is that it is not simply that they don’t like the look or navigation of a page, but that dis/engagement is also affected by the sequence of instruction and perhaps most critically, by the levels of support embedded in the sequence specifically dedicated to the development and building of schema

Modern learning design then needs to be considered on several fronts:

  • the sequence of learning and its purpose
  • the support presented to students in terms of scaffolding cognition
  • the user experience  

I suggest that attention to these factors would increase the participation levels of these disengaged students, and give them a better indication if the content they are engaging with is suitable either in terms of academic difficulty or actual interest in the course.

For some students, disengagement at the first signs of challenge can become the default behaviour; then failure is not seen as their fault ( a learned helplessness) – they are able to maintain dignity. The trouble is that they and indeed we will never know if they were actually capable of achieving in the course. Supporting cognitive load from the first instance will ‘catch’ some of these students too.

IMPROVING STAFF WELL-BEING

Students failing your course is never a nice feeling. The impetus for attention then is not solely limited to the plight of the student, but for faculties eager to retain students initially drawn to them, and the lecturer who has to bear the statistics. Of course, sometimes students simply get it wrong and enrol in a course they would never be suited to, and faculties are forced to work harder to guide and reposition them in something more appropriate. But even in such a context, this resource is still of use, in helping students arrive at an understanding quicker, and at a more informed and conclusive decision. Once the strategies are applied, the lecturer can safely conclude that they did all they could to sustain their students’ attention, and not feel a gnawing sense of guilt or worse, shame at the darkness on the graph.

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MOTIVATION

Perhaps tellingly however, large numbers of students who persist through semester one and actually had mid-range online participation levels do not re-enrol in any course within the same faculty in semester two.

Notably, these numbers are larger than the disengaged numbers in semester one. Even with online engagement, these students did not experience enough satisfaction to continue their interest in the course; they were willing, but the course couldn’t support them. Because of this outcome, it could be argued that even though some of these students did start strong in terms of participation, it may have simply been motivation and therefore resilience that drove their engagement. Resilience at this stage of the student’s journey then is a poor proxy for success and reiterates the need for stronger learning design that works on building intrinsic engagement in students. Intrinsic engagement is only likely to form when students experience success in their learning, almost always the result of deeper understanding of concepts and topics – facilitated by scaffolded cognitive loading.

IN SUMMARY: Learning sequences that support the significant cognitive load demands on beginning students by:

  • explicitly focusing on the sequence of learning and its purpose,
  • by supporting students in terms of scaffolding cognition,
  • and by following the technological design principles necessary to engage the modern user

 will all combine to help students to begin their studies on the front foot, and eliminate poor design of a course as a possible contributor to discontinued enrolment.

Learning design that supports the building of intrinsic engagement then empowers students to make the correct choices in deciding to continue or discontinue with a course. Concomitantly, this resource also provides additional structure for students already experiencing success, helping them move more quickly from the novice learner to the expert learner, and thus independence, and adding weight to statistics that support the notion of Strong Start, Strong Finish.

In the next post I will discuss the first learning design focus, and explain the power and necessity of a curriculum map

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter (@edmerger) or on LinkedIn for more discussions about learning design.

SCHEMA

What’s the most important thing to consider when designing a learning sequence?

Simple – know where your students are on the journey of cognition. Know how much schemata they have!

The Learning Continuum

It matters little what age or sector your students are in. Where they are on the cognition continuum determines the type of learning experiences you design, the questions you can ask and the quality of responses you can hope for. This is because the brain looks very different at each of these stages, stages that ultimately represent the amount of knowledge and understanding about a given topic.

The brain stores information by creating schema (schemata in the plural), or webs of interrelated ideas. The more knowledge a student has, the greater the number of connections that the schema possesses and the more likelihood that more complex questions will be able to be processed, and answered.

The acquisition of schema is absolutely paramount to learning, and so MUST be the primary focus of the design of a learning sequence.

This learning continuum informs the AQF Level 7 threshold learning outcomes for Higher Education in Australia, with focus of year 1 undergraduate degrees that provide induction into the key ideas and knowledge of the discipline, and moving to application of the knowledge in the third year.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter (@edmerger) or on LinkedIn for more discussions about learning design.

DUAL CODING and ART – is there a connection?

I recently tweeted an imploration to primary teachers to teach more art in order to help secondary students become better at utilising the method of dual coding. The response to the tweet certainly took me by surprise, with a mix of responses ranging from:

  • support, to
  • indignation at the notion that art should not be taught to benefit secondary students but be taught for art’s sake, to
  • indignation that primary teachers shouldn’t be serving secondary teachers

But most surprising of all was the assured dismissal of the notion from one of the strongest proponents of dual coding in the present climate: Oliver Caviglioli.

My position is this: a student who is better at art, and specifically drawing (a distinction I admit I should have made clear in the original tweet), is more likely to dual code because they are more confident in drawing and more able to represent their conceptual understanding.

There is an important distinction to be made here however. If the conceptual understanding is already there, then there isn’t much more encoding happening, so technically, it is not dual coding. The benefit of drawing would be in the retrieval process, strengthening the memory by creating another neural pathway to it via the drawing. However, it could also be argued that the drawing is still serving teh encoding process by strengthening the coding, forcing teh drawer to think deeper about the concept. It is from this position then that i shall continue in this line of argument. Thanks to Dan Williams for this insight.

I’m certainly not suggesting that someone who is not good at drawing is excluded from dual coding, a point that Oliver understandably exhorts in order to open the practice to as many as possible. Oliver states that dual coding is not about drawing or perception, but is more a means of translating conceptual thinking. I completely understand this distinction, however I believe that a more confident drawer is more able to represent concepts and understanding because they possess the ability to convert what’s in their brain onto the paper with greater ease than someone who isn’t a good drawer. The automaticity that resulted from the development of the hand eye/brain coordination would free the working memory, and should significantly speed up the process of encoding with dual channels*.

I use myself as the example of this: I am always trying to dual code my understanding of what I read, but my lack of drawing ability forces me to go to google and search for images, which takes time, and is at the mercy of what is already there. My ‘search’ is my conceptual understanding, it is what I want, but if the drawing I have in my mind isn’t there, perceptually, not only has it taken considerably more time than if I drew it myself, but worse is that I have to take the second best image. A student in the classroom trying to conceptualise their understanding to improve the encoding process is also at the mercy of such conditions, but worse without google, clumsily and painstakingly attempts to transcribe their ideas onto the paper. It’s demotivating.  

One of Oliver’s retorts to this is that the skill of line drawing is simply a 5 minute training exercise, and thereby negates the connection between competency in drawing and dual coding. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Oliver, but I believe there is some creeping in here of the ‘curse of knowledge’. All skills are arrived at via a process of the acquisition of schema. It is the accumulation of knowledge and indeed its practice that eventually leads to automaticity when new contexts present themselves, and without the underlying acquisition of a ‘learning to draw’ schema, the skill of dual coding suffers. Take for example the images I’ve chosen in the post’s front image. Getting line drawings to reflect the differences between the old aged person and the zombie and the assertive flag bearer (in other words, numerous and maybe even countless concepts) is not something that can be mastered in 5 minutes.

Alex Quigley also challenged the tweet suggesting that there is no evidence linking the idea of better drawing with better dual coding, intimating that the connection between effective drawing and dual coding would in fact be quite the jump, an example of ‘far’ transfer of knowledge. I replied that using this as a basis for not engaging in the development of ‘drawing’ knowledge to develop a broader skill is dangerous ground as it effectively renders the accepted argument for the concerted development of distinct knowledge that doesn’t resemble the final skill as redundant. Daisy Christodoulou succinctly addresses this here with her marathon analogy. She also recently addresses an ostensible contradiction with ‘far transfer’ and the distinct development of knowledge here, leaning on the idea that there are alternating stages in a larger cycle of learning, and that well thought out learning design essentially replaces the ‘far’ with ‘near’; with the larger goal in mind, all knowledge acquisition is a part of the journey, and the concept of ‘far’ becomes ironically short-sighted.

I would place learning to draw as a useful component on the journey to mastering the larger broader skillset of dual coding. And because of that, I would say there is a connection between art and dual coding. Of course, as Alex states, there is no evidence to truly affirm this, but it seems pretty logical to me. Open to being wrong.

*I don’t have any evidence of this. It is an intuitive assumption.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger and follow this blog, if you’d like.

SHOWING and telling your CURRICULUM’S STORY

Last year I posted how I approached my GCSE Literature course design; it was one of my most read blogs (thank you to all). I suggested the course should essentially be a story, with each new learning sequence inextricably connected to the last, and indeed, to several other parts of the journey. The story would be continuously referenced when every new piece of content was added, the discussion of the links significantly helping my students to understand that the course was a whole being, and not to see it merely as a disparate collection of units: a process that would significantly aid their memories as the links would effectively and continuously and unconsciously build a strong schema that could be referenced to reduce cognitive strain in new learning contexts.

Well, it most definitely worked. The post is below.

What I Would Change

I should have added a visual map of the final product, as well as making each stage of the journey visually explicit so students could see how the journey unfolds. This would have helped students see how each new piece was connected to what had been learnt. The map then would have become a representation of the schemata that would form in the student’s brain, and helped secure the links of knowledge that enable understanding.

So I’ve added the visual map now. The video shows the content incrementally building and connecting to various other content.

This visual display also serves other very powerful functions

  • It helps you as the teacher to see the key elements of your course, and design a relevant sequence that will piece it all together.
  • The visual aspect to the mapping provides a more concrete demonstration of how lesson after lesson actually fits together. Obviously the final map presented at the beginning of the unit of work won’t mean very much to your students, but as the units unfold, the connections will become more tangible. I would always have the final map as well as the map in progress visible to students somewhere in the classroom.
  • Students themselves could be adding to their own map using dual coding as the learning sequences are presented to assist developing understanding. See how I have done this for A Christmas Carol here and the entire poetry anthology here.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is acc-in-quotes-e1562592233762.png
  • Students can then also self-evaluate if there are any gaps in the sequence; they will be able to see why they can’t engage with a certain topic because they have a clear visual display of the gap leading up to it.

Zoning in and Mastery

  • This process can be emulated in micro, at every stage of the learning journey. Each new topic should have a small concept map that the teacher frequently refers to, that articulates and visually shows the various links of importance.
  • Each map, once secure in the student’s mind (effectively turning them into an expert on this particular learning continuum), presents opportunities for more open ended questions and tasks to be explored and undertaken. Designing learning that incorporates this balance between higher order thinking and more concrete closed knowledge chunks is an essential component of healthy retrieval practice, as suggested in this latest fascinating research by Poojah Agarwal.
  • Retrieval practice – remove sections of the map; remove words in each circle; remove some of the lines connecting the topics and have students create new connections justifying their choices in writing along the line, as Sophie has done with her excellent reading connections post here. There are also other options for mixing up retrieval here.

The Power of the Map

Of course, the links are subjective, but that only serves to strengthen the learning as links are debated and justified. In fact, this process presents many higher order learning possibilities, all serving to deepen the understanding of the key concepts and constructing new thinking:

  • Justifying the links and connections strengthens the understanding of each aspect of the map
  • Strengthen comparisons – Once individual content is secure, the student can ‘think’ with what s/he has, and with comparison a must in all literature courses, this process pushes thinking to connect ideas. The comparisons can also be made with context, and students can more easily see how certain eras and writers are affected by others.
  • Each section can have many more contextual links added if time permits, which continuously builds a cultural literacy that can have a big impact on the Language course comprehension tasks and general reading proficiency.

Here’s the explanation as to how the map has been constructed from the previous blog. In the explanation I’ve covered every text/element of the Eduqas GCSE English Literature and Language courses. 

The courses offer a wonderful web that spans centuries of time. The oldest text is of course Shakespeare. What’s good to know when thinking of Elizabethan context is that the time is dominated by religious conflict, with the heirless Elizabeth I’s court choosing James I (James IV of Scotland) to succeed her primarily because he was Protestant. His continuation of the persecution of Catholics is what led to the Gun Powder Plot, and James’ consequent fear of assassination. In Jacobean times the showing of Macbeth served to illustrate that corrupt ambitions lead to tragic outcomes, but the theme is pertinent still because it can be accessed on a variety of levels: selfishness, greed, lying etc, and thus becomes a central strand of the moral and affective learning in the entire course. 

Jumping to the late 1700’s, George III lightened some of the anti-Roman Catholic laws, but Catholics still couldn’t vote in parliament. George is disliked for extending the war in America after the failed prevention of American independence, intransigent in his view that the new state should be made to pay for its disrespectful arrogance of wanting such freedoms. William Blake references this in the poem London: ‘The hapless soldier’s sigh/ Runs in blood down the palace walls.’  Soldiers are disillusioned in being forced to fight for things they don’t believe in. The blood down palace walls is perhaps a signal to Londoners to rise up against such tyranny like those involved in the French Revolution.

Shelley reiterates opposition to George’s warmongering, in the metaphorical Ozymandias, a tale of an arrogant egotistical ruler who proudly expresses his ‘sneer of cold command’, and who doesn’t realise the futility of demanding to be seen as the ‘king of kings’. Shelley’s reference to the bible’s labelling of Jesus is likely the result of exhaustion from the continuous battles between Catholic and Protestant religious factions. Shelley’s solution: become atheist, a stance that had him expelled from Oxford. (Shelley essay here)

Shelley’s, and indeed all of the Romantics insistence that it is really only nature that lasts and therefore warrants our ultimate attention is confirmed when a book of poetry by one of the strongest ‘natural’ poets, Keats, was found on his drowned body in 1822. Wordsworth too could be considered in this vain, with Excerpt from The Prelude adroitly referencing the importance of nature in grounding the developing individual, as well as Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist that similarly uses nature as a cover to examine the human condition, but Shelley was more aligned to the newer Romantics. Keats’ instruction to cherish the moment and to accept the inevitability of death in To Autumn, an admirable feat considering that death and loss dominated his life, is a timely message for students whose culture demands that what is now is irrelevant and that the next best thing must be acquired at any cost. The perpetual message, interminably promoted on social media, that the grass is always greener on the other side is an incredibly damaging one for our students. The message corrupts and distorts into the belief that what is on the surface must be prioritised, and that we must look and act like the unrealistic impressions generated by media… Continue reading

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger and follow this blog, if you’d like.