October 25, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
It is the last week of the first half term of the year, and by now I would normally be desperately trying to drag my behind over the finish line that is the half term holiday. This year however I have a spring in my step, a head full of ideas and a renewed enthusiasm for work. This is all down to attending TLT14 (Teaching and Learning Takeover 2014).
This is the second year that TLT has taken place, but it has been the first year I have been able to attend. TLT is an event organised by teachers David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) & Jen Ludgate (@MissJLud). This free CPD event aims to bring together education professionals from across the country to share the work that they do, inspire each other and collaborate in various ways. Workshops are delivered under 8 themes that are core to classroom practice (e.g. feedback, planning etc.) As stated in the Edssential website, the aim of each workshop is for attendees to, ‘leave each one with an idea of how to adapt, refine and implement what you have seen into your own practice.’ (Edssential).
The opening talk was given by Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher). The general focus of his talk was about CPD. He highlighted a tweet that he had posted some time ago and the remarkable response that it received.
The message from the tweet, one that quite a few people at the time missed, was that teachers should be thinking about what a good lesson, department, school etc. looks like and do what is is needed to achieve that model.
Tom also showed a great clip (see below) that emphasised the point that just like we are regularly told we should not limit our pupils, we should also not place limits on ourselves.
A great talk to start the day and a great message to take back to colleagues at school.
So I attended four workshops during the day. Each had a different theme and each left me with different ideas and questions in my head.
The first session I attended had the theme of Planning and was delivered by Mark Millar (@GoldfishbowlMM). The central idea of the session was that when planning a lesson, teachers need to ensure that students are thinking deeply about the things we want them to remember. Mark argued that there are three factors in a ‘regular’ lesson that, if not planned carefully, can actually get in the way of pupils thinking. These factors were identified as; activities and tasks, questioning and class discussion and help.
Too often lessons are planned around tasks or activities rather than the learning that should be taking place. Pupils can sometimes become distracted with activities in a lesson and can lose sight of what they are actually supposed to be learning. As a science teacher this definitely rang true and I could highlight practical work as being a classic ‘distraction’ in science lessons. I have seen, and delivered, lessons where practicals have been used to help pupils achieve particular learning outcomes. However too often I have seen pupils get caught up in the excitement of lighting a Bunsen burner and lose sight of the fact that they are meant to be investigating the different factors that affect the rate of dissolving, for example. Practicals obviously have an important role to play in the Science curriculum, but we need to ensure that they are being used to challenge and develop pupils thinking rather than helping pupils to avoid thinking in a lesson.
Questioning and class discussion is another particular challenge. The aim should be to get all students participating and all students thinking. How this is done, I don’t really know yet. I definitely need to do more work in this area.
With regards to ‘Help’, Mark used a great analogy of ‘stabilisers on a bike’ when discussing the type of help teachers should be providing pupils. Any help we give pupils should enable them to stay on a steady path towards learning. If we give pupils too much support they will not be challenged and they may not be put in a position where they have to recall key knowledge.
Mark presented some interesting discussion points for us during the second part of the workshop:
‘In your classrooms and lessons, where have you allowed students not to think?‘
‘What are the problems with some of the ideas discussed in the session?’
Mark finished the session by highlighting one area of teaching practice that conflicts with the ideas he had discussed; ‘fun’ lessons. He pointed out that despite the fact that some lessons will inevitably distract pupils from thinking about the objectives planned, these ‘fun’ lessons do occasionally have a place in the bigger learning plan for pupils. Although content may not be successfully learnt by pupils in these lessons, they will often serve other purposes like helping teachers develop a positive relationship with their classes. Mark put it perfectly by using the phrase, ‘no lesson is an island’. Sometimes you need to be pragmatic about how you plan your lessons and see that the occasional lesson planned to engage pupils in a topic can help them to deepen their knowledge of that topic in the future.
The second session I attended focused on Feedback and was delivered by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison).
Shaun has written about his excellent session here and I would thoroughly recommend reading this post and the rest of his excellent blog. As well as some examples of feedback strategies, the following were some of the strong messages from Shaun that had an impact on me:
- Marking is planning – any marking that teachers do should serve to inform their future planning and therefore it is an incredibly important task. A chore it may be at times but one that should be planned carefully so that it can improve both the practice of teachers and the learning of pupils.
- Feedback should keep pupils in the ‘struggle zone’ – it should present pupils with high challenge but should present low levels of stress.
- Subject areas in schools should decide what useful feedback looks like for them and develop a personalised policy rather than following a whole-school policy.
- We need to think as carefully about feedback transmitted from pupil to teacher as we do about feedback from teacher to pupil.
After lunch I had the pleasure of sitting in a Leadership session being delivered by Mary Myatt (@MaryMyatt). As Shaun Allison remarked earlier in the day, ‘If only all OFSTED inspectors were like Mary Myatt’. The session was a refreshing take on accountability, stressing the importance of keeping standards and expectations high but at the same time being intelligent in what we expect ourselves and our colleagues to be able to achieve. The tone of the session was set when Mary displayed the comment,
‘We are human beings first and professionals second’.
There were a number of take-home messages that Mary delivered that will definitely inform my thinking over the next few months. For me, the central one being;
‘We are running our schools for our young people, not for OFSTED’.
Having taken on more responsibility in my school this year I have been struck by the number of hours that fill my weeks completing tasks that have very little, if anything, to do with learning. It is incredibly frustrating. Mary displayed one particular question that I think it is important for all leaders in education to ask themselves daily;
‘If it isn’t making a difference to children, why are we doing it?‘
The final session of the day was run by Jen Ludgate & Sian Carter (@siancarter1) and the theme of this workshop was ‘Differentiation’. Another great session to end the day, one of the central messages being that differentiation shouldn’t just be about supporting pupils with difficulties. It should also be about challenging all pupils to push the boundaries of their skills and knowledge. Jen and Sian argued that the key to differentiation is a deep knowledge of the pupils sat in front of you every lesson. Having a deep knowledge of pupils strengths and weaknesses enables us to ensure that all pupils are challenged and that we can ensure expectations remain consistently high. A number of strategies were demonstrated and I picked up some fantastic ideas that I will definitely be implementing over the rest of the term.
Like most good things, the day had to come to an end. What better way than a brief pep talk from Keven Bartle (@kevbartle). Keven reminded us that our roles as teachers are complex and we are expected to be experts of a variety of fields. Teachers are definitely their own worse critics, but Keven reminded us that we are heroes in our own right. We strive to be better ever week, every day, every lesson. Sometimes we need to take a step back and reflect on the good that we have done, and remember that it is a very long journey that we are on.
The day left me with so much to think about on the way home. So many ideas I would like to adapt for my own classroom. So many questions I have to ask myself about my own practice. On the train home one thought kept on crowding out all the others however; it is events like this that make me so glad and proud that I am a teacher!