Having attended #rEdRugby last June, I naively thought I was slightly more prepared in what to expect at the National Conference, but nothing prepared me for the volume of people, when entering the building. There is something truly inspiring in seeing so many teachers gathered in one place, on a Saturday, for one reason only: to be the best they can. It was refreshing to see a mix of people, who crop up on my timeline, with wide and varied opinions in education, coming together in one place. Everyone welcome and valued.
Entering the Sports Hall was like emerging into a festival you had won a golden ticket to. The buzz and excitement reverberated off the walls and in all honesty, it was quite overwhelming. Being a primary school teacher, I naturally did what comes second nature and sat on the floor at the front, although I did draw the line at sitting cross-legged. The introduction from both Dan Moynihan and Tom Bennett served to settle nerves, build excitement and allow us the opportunity to realise the unique position we were all in. To quote Tom and his Game of Thrones reference, ‘When you arrive this morning you will be like John Snow and know nothing… hopefully when you leave you will be able to say that’s what I do, I drink and know things.’ Hopefully he was referencing the tea and coffee in the entrance hall.
These are a a few of my highlights from the day. Obviously they won’t be in any near enough detail to do them any justice.
I had agonised over this slot the entire train journey down, as whether to see Tarjinda Gill @Teach_well or Jennifer Buckingham @buckinham_j and felt Tarjinda Gill would give me practical and relatable ideas I could take back to school and implement into my teaching practice.
I felt nervous walking into a session alone, but was greeted with a big hug from Tarjinda as soon as I entered the room and her welcoming nature made me feel truly comfortable. She began by explaining the curriculum rationale from her setting that focuses on high leverage tasks (with a knowledge focus), assessing the growing domain of knowledge, building on that and a progression model that is visible in pupil’s books.
It was interesting to note that she advocates going straight into a teaching task over pre-assessment of ‘what do you already know.’
There were elements that I personally would rather have more autonomy over, such as the books I select within my classroom, but can fully appreciate the rationale behind the decision. Exposing children to archaic language and key texts that build on each other is equally important to me as exposure to modern, newly published books I have fallen in love with with.
Take home message was stripping things right back to the basics. Over-load of exposure to a multitude of text types, before the basics of handwriting, spelling, and sentence composition have been mastered, is counter intuitive.
I also really liked the idea of using ‘5 words to spell’ from a previous year group, alongside 5 new ones, provides ‘lovely big gaps in retrieval’ as promoted by @EnserMark (which I will discuss later.)
I was equally torn who to see in this slot (which was a running theme of the day) but having been a huge fan of @huntingenglish for so long, I couldn’t let the opportunity to hear Alex speak pass me by.
As I expected, he spoke with clarity, vision, reflection and interestingly, huge humility.
Curriculum has been like a tsunami on my time line for a while now and it was surprising to see someone not presenting a magic bullet but instead exposing themselves publicly about the mistakes they have made in curriculum design.
Alex proceeded to explain the mistakes he made over this. No ego in the room. The take home messages included:
1) Lack of collaboration and co-construction stops a shared long term belief and vision.
2) An inability of consistent implementation often caused through through lack of support and the sustainability of that support when circumstances change.
3) The lack of ability to dedicate time to discuss reasonings about why and how.
4) Curriculum nonalignment.
5) Pupil’s reading ability and the challenge of accessing academic texts.
6) Enduring myths and high accountability.
I will openly admit that the teaching of mathematics is the area I always want to develop in and it was an easy decision to chose @Mr_AlmondED for my final slot before lunch. With my brain buzzing and full of the ideas from the previous talks, it was very welcoming to hear the measured, calm approach to presenting Neil took in his delivery.
He began (like Alex) by showing humility and admitting the mistakes he had made within teaching and how cognitive science revolutionised his thinking and approach to pedagogy. Managing and reducing cognitive overload is at the fore front of Neil’s teaching and it was nice to have a quick recap on this area, particularly if it something relatively new to your teaching model.
I am very aware I won’t be able to do justice to the talk as it was scaffolded with excellent visuals that exemplified his points, but Neil succinctly talked us through the structuring of his mathematical model. Beginning with multiple choice questioning that (like Tarjinda discussed with her approach to spelling) testing new learning and old learning, often from the year group below. He discussed the research surrounding pre-testing and how actually sitting a cold test before study and instruction significantly improves the end outcome.
He then moved on to the the F word. Fluency. The importance of absolutely cementing fluency before moving into reasoning and problem solving; using the Rosenshine model of getting children to reflect on learning this week, last month, last term.
He then moved on to his delivery of new content and I loved the idea of ‘silent teacher’ to reduce cognitive overload, something I do without thinking in my literacy lessons but simply not thought of to use in mathematics- face palm. The whole process is explicitly scaffolded and opportunity to watch and engage equally balanced, finishing with diagnostic questioning. A fabulous talk and gave me lots to think about.
The Golden Panel
The golden panel consisted of @huntingenglish @Tom_Needham_ @buckingham_j @ThinkReadTweet and was hosted by @HoratioSpeaks.
James Murphy presented specific questions to panel members and eloquently summarised their answers into a pithy sound bite. I was actually so mesmerised by the speakers I didn’t write down many notes (again I won’t be doing the speakers justice) but things I scribbled down that have stuck with me include the following:
Alex- ‘Vocabulary teaching isn’t separate to curriculum and is the fabric of subject domains.’ It was really important to hear how vocabulary cannot be taught in subject isolation and exposure to meaning in a maths lesson of a word has a completely different meaning in a history lesson and a wider understanding of that is needed.
Tom- ‘Teaching through examples and structured sequences with foundations are the building blocks of fluency.’ I am actually massively annoyed I didn’t get to hear Tom present and I hope very much he is on the list to speak at #rEdnorthampton so I can hear more on what he has to say.
Diane- ‘Don’t put a ceiling on what children can do. An inability to read isn’t a sign of lacking intelligence.’ I actually was incredibly inspired by Diane and the staggering work she has done around supporting children in reading. I particularly liked how she noted that just because a child might not get a GCSE, isn’t a reason not to invest time and energy. By supporting a child to read, you are enabling them to live in society and function in a word rich world.
Jennifer- ‘All teachers should have a strong knowledge of decoding.’ Jennifer shone a spot light on teacher training and how not enough focus is given on equipping teachers with the knowledge of how to teach reading. In primary, teachers will have a secure knowledge in decoding and strategies surrounding how to support children with reading. It was interesting that within the secondary sector, that isn’t given as much time, training and support with. A science or history teacher needs as much understanding of why a child can’t read their text book as an infant teacher navigating a 4 year old through phonics. She also discussed the role Primary year 6 teachers have in equipping children with vocabulary needed to cope with transition into secondary education.
Ending with an Enser
The highlight of the day for me was listening to @EnserMark discuss interweaving within the curriculum. With a powerhouse speaking style, that slam dunked his first words out with a mic drop, Mark meant business. He regaled us with stories how in the past, lessons that focused on ‘doing’ and evoking episodic memories (such as teaching geography lessons using cake) are now shown to be a waste of time in cementing knowledge. (This may not be as straight forward as this in light of the blog dropped by Paul Moss @EDmerger earlier today but that is an aside.)
He then moved on to discuss interleaving, something entirely new to me. Using two things side by side to draw out differences. It was something I felt I wanted to read up on more and found this quote which was helpful in securing my understanding:
‘Interleaving refers to the benefits of sequencing learning tasks so that similar items – two examples of the same concept, say – are interspersed with different types of items rather than being consecutive. This results in a more variable and challenging task but is associated with benefits in terms of memory and transfer, which apply to concept learning as well as other domains (Kang, 2016).’
Full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm, we were given the analogy of treating curriculum like the preparation of making sour dough. (Mark Lehain would be happy hear this.) When making sour dough, you keep something back to use later. So in terms of the curriculum Mark eloquently discussed the need to
‘Keep something back to use later. What can we take out of one topic to put into the next? What are the threads that I am weaving through my curriculum that will keep appearing elsewhere?’
He then hit us with a planning model of beauty, which unfortunately you can’t see very well in the picture below.
Take home messages from the talk include:
1) Decide your big picture; fundamental knowledge, threshold concepts and examples.
2) Think how you will structure this.. ‘to understand x they first need to understand y.’
3) Plot the schema.
4) Build this into planning with places referenced, images used, knowledge organised to scaffold, retrieval quizzes built in and assessment to pull together.
‘Move away from a culture of doing to a culture of learning.’
In conclusion, if anyone is wondering if these kind of events are right for them, the only way you will know is if you attend. I enjoyed my day massively and have lots taken away to reflect on. It’s also about friendship, shared passion and meeting people you spend hours chatting with online in person. I wouldn’t be me without ending with a series of selfies. Thanks for reading if you got this far.