Festival of Education – Day 2

I went back for Day Two of the Festival of Education

Day One here.

9:10 – Tom Bennett – Teaching isn’t rocket science: why educational research often falls short of adding value to the classroom.

Johnny Ball  got rescheduled to the same slot as Marcus Du Sautoy, so I went to the spiritual room to sit at Tom Bennett’s feet and watch some more ‘educational stand up’¹ Tom treated us all to a breakdown of why research in education is often impactless. The crux of his argument was there is a lot of bad research! Education is not easy to metric and measure, and the values we have are not facts. Add into this mix the way media treats educational research findings and you have a hot mess of bad science getting wholesale thrown into the classroom.Science has predictive and explanatory power, and often educational ‘results’ have none of this! (I felt that this reflected a lot of what Dylan Wiliam said the previous day about evidence and impact). We then had a run down of some ‘Bad Science’:

  • Neuro linguistic programming. – Almost gone now, but this was HUGE cash sink in the past
  • Multiple intelligences. – the speed of take up is related to the climate in which they appeared, but critically even their creator (Gardner) admits there is ‘little evidence for their existence’
  • VAK (learning styles) just doesn’t exist but learning preferences do! It doesn’t mean there is something fundamentally different about how you think.(Read Daniel Willingham for more details)
  • Thinking hats.
  • Digital Natives and E-Learning (flip classroom etc) These are not based in research and should not be presented as science!

What I took away was one Big Idea: none of these describe how people think. If you make spectacular claims you require spectacular evidence. I thought his session was excellent and thought provoking. Enough to make me buy the book anyway!

10:00 – Tom Sherrington – Rigour, agility, awe and joy – the essence of great lessons

Next up in the undersized Spiritual Room (I think the organiusers may need a reality check on the power of edubloggers to draw a crowd; so many sessions were in rooms that were entirely too small. Tom introduced his series of blog articles containing great lessons he had obvserved, and he broke the qualities or ‘habits of great teachers’ down for us to show his idea that there is a false dichotomy of rigor vs interactivity. He accepted there was space for skills training in the curriculum; indeed it is important, but rigour is important!.

Habits of great teachers:

  1. Probing – how you do questioning, really challenge and dig into it, don’t stress about always asking everyone. Question answers.
  2. Rigour – need to reclaim the word as it doesn’t just represent exams. Need to pitch subject knowledge right. Focus on rigour and scholarship – students learning appropriate skills and knowledge to later use them creatively.
  3. Challenge – we cap achievement too often – students become focused only on completing a task and closed to doing other things. Ask yourself is the lesson level appropriate? If you are not struggling you are not learning.
  4. Differentiation – one size fits all? You need to adjust lessons to meet students’ needs. Try not to aim at the middle; instead prepare for the top. Differentiation affects everything you do.
  5. Journeys – homework is just stuff between lessons. Lesson is part of a bigger process. This should impact on schemes of work. Lessons never go according to plan. Flip learning is not new. Homework as prep. [Is prep elitist?] Treat homework as an opportunity for those who want to instead of worrying about who won’t do it. Coding levels is not helpful in this process.
  6. Explaining – some ways of explaining are better than others. Finding better explanation is good – that’s where department meeting time should go!
  7. Agility – changing it up! Throwing out what you planned if something better comes up! (Subject knowledge required?)
  8. Awe – Try to develop a sense of wonder before analysis. Design exciting moments. Don’t be too functional.
  9. Possibilities – Show students what is possible. Variance in target examples. Exemplar material and a variety of it.
  10. Joy – enjoy what you’re doing, plan for own enjoyment and the students are more likely to enjoy it too, or to put it another way ‘Are you going to be bored teaching it?’.

I have to say during point 4 above, I was left perplexed when Tom described a lesson where the differentiation was subtle – questioning, feedback oriented and individual, not a separate worksheet or task. Unfortunately the inspector didn’t notice where the differentiation was. I found myself thinking: ‘If inspectors can’t spot outstanding differentiation what on earth are we supposed to do!?’

Great session with loads of food for thought. I need to go read those blogs.

11:30 – Martin Robinson – Preparing students for the future with lessons from the past

I consider myself to be an erudite and articulate individual, but I will admit to being lost in the haze of lengthy words, quotations and book readings this clearly incredibly intelligent author used. I believe the crux of his speech was that there is a dichotomy between traditionalist and progressive teaching methods and this stems from the ancient Trivium of education. I could be wrong though. Highlights of the session include being asked as a group to show where on the spectrum between Gove and Robinson we felt we were and him stating that Mathematics is the only subject that doesn’t sit nicely in the education trivium because ‘it’s just too different’. Hmmm.

This was another session I believe would seriously benefited from a blurb in the programme as it wasn’t anywhere near what I expected, though a lot of folks around me seemed to enjoy it. Maybe it was just me then!

Thus ended my love affair with the Spiritual Room, as I headed to the Marquee with my political hat² firmly in place for…

12:20 – Tristram Hunt – The voice of opposition

Ok, so I didn’t take good notes in this session. The sofa was entirely too comfortable and once I got over my shock that a politician with education in his manifesto actually had classroom experience, much of this speech covered the same ground as the Twigg PSA earlier this week.

While the sofa was comfortable, it was time for lunch before my personal highlight of the day:

14:00 – Marcus du Sautoy – The Shakespeare of Maths: telling the great stories of Maths

English has big stories, it’s classic novels and it’s Shakespeare. Science has its big ideas, big themes and Big Bang Theory. Maths IS interconnected and driven by curiosity but currently we only gets halfway to a good curriculum; only provides tools no big stories.

So Marcus has an idea: a Mathematics Literature GCSE – big ideas and a space to be creative and curious. He presented us 2 example areas with the caveat that no, students won’t understand everything, but we don’t expect students to describe particle theory in detail when learning about the Big Bang, or to understand the whole of Hamlet. Do you need to understand everything in maths at early stage?

His two ideas were 4 dimensional space and prime numbers. Though they both have their real world uses, we don’t need to teach that. We would have to develop a new variety of Mathematical assessment. Perhaps with longer answers or broader questions, more akin to English or History exams.

In conclusion we need to take the foot off utility and onto creativity in the Mathematics curriculum.

Fantastic presentation by an inspirational guy; full of good ideas. Great end to the two days.

To wrap up, the whole event was pretty good, with huge potential to be even better. Thanks to all who worked hard, especially the ever polite and helpful event staff, many of whom I think were Wellington students, and thanks to all the presenters!

¹: As coined by Tom Sherrington

²: Political hat being a beeline for a comfy sofa and flicked my skepticism switch firmly too on.

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