September is a cruel month in many ways but one if its more established delights is that ResearchED is at the beginning. The jewel in the edu-geek’s conference crown. 2018, what a fantastic spread of speakers, themes and topics, all under one roof. What a way to start the year! This year is bigger than ever with over 1300 teachers, researchers and educationalists in attendance.
Our hosts were Harris Academy St John’s Wood, who occupy a fantastic new-build off the Finchley Road (albeit the layout and class numbers are rather labrythine to a newcomer). Nonetheless, it is a place of beauty, a cathedral of learning- something we all should have. I was a bit anxious as I had not really made my choices or plan B options for the day, in previous years I had a carefully constructed route plan. This year, I was more serendipitous and made choices session by session. The problem was there was too much choice – thousands of possible routes through the conference.
Sadly, I arrived too late for Tom’s address and the keynote as there was a trespasser on my train track, so I will have to leave others to fill in those gaps. Anyhow, here are my notes and messy thoughts on what I managed to see. Any errors and omissions are mine and not had time to fully reflect on some of the big questions but perhaps fuel for later blogs.
Deep S. Ghataria: Session 1: Measurement for schools and departments: Can we really measure progress?
Deep carefully laid out the challenges of tests and testing. There is no such thing as a valid test, it is more about what we do with it, what inferences we make and how they inform our learning conversations. The teaching community is obsessed by issues of curriculum but we are still trying to make sense of assessment.
Our measurement of student progress should avoid Byzantium number systems like flightplath. We need a sound model of students progression in the learning of the subject matter.
There are many problems with tests which make tracking progress tricky. Not all tests are the same level of difficulty, achieving 70% is not twice as good as 35%, we need to realise there are different sized gaps between grades.
Deep reminds us that there are four levels of measurement; nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio ands the challenges of collecting meaningful educational data. Comparative judgement is useful bit it only collects ordinal data.
Deep suggests the solution to mapping pupil progress is to use the Rasch model which makes interval data out of ordinal M/C questions. I need to do some more reading about this but if it works in the way that Deep describes then this may well be the future.
Session 2: Clare Sealy: What’s the fuss about a knowledge curriculum.
Clare starts with a description of her class learning about the Roman’s by making a Roman Road out of sand, clay and cat litter. It was fun but very little learning took place, activity-rich but knowledge-lite. Can you teach the same content but in a deep way? We need to give kids the bigger picture – fine detail is interesting but useless on its own. When learning about the Roman’s students need the hinterland of the subject to be able to make sense of the details.
A knowledge-rich curriculum helps set students up for their futures and helps them understand key concepts. How can you teach fair trade if they do not understand trade? By teaching Romans right we set them up for life? As Christine Counsell recommends, we need to help them develop a hinterland! We want children to be interested and interesting – they need this huge hinterland pouring into them.
Sometimes our pedagogy is activity rich and knowledge-lite, we are filling the timetable, fun with a hint of Romans. Is this the right thing to do? We did this because we did not know much about memory as a profession. There is no point in teaching too much as they will just forget it, so it might as well be fun.
A knowledge-rich curriculum is not just about drilling facts and passing exams. A knowledge-rich curriculum should broaden minds and be enriching. We should have a 3 year KS3 curriculum to develop hinterlands rather than just practicing GCSE style questions in Year 8 & 9.
Trouble with the word ‘skills’ – used to mean different things
Dispositions – resilience
Generic skills – problem solving
Generic skills are not generic dependent on specific declarative knowledge – they do not transfer. Learning to play chess makes you better at chess but not necessarily any cleverer. Latin does not make you think more logically. General problem solving, building spaghetti towers does not necessary help.
E.g. explanation … not good at all types of explanation depends on context.
Scientific explanations Vs Historical explanations
Scientific observational drawing Vs Artistic observational drawing
How transferable are skills from one domain to another?
Understanding is not separate from knowledge; it is connected to knowledge
I know that I am an open door in this area but it was fantastic to hear Clare knit it all together. I am ashamed of some of the things I have done in the name of generic skills building and wished that I had this at the beginning of my teaching career.
Session 3: Becky Allen: The pupil premium isn’t working. What next for the attainment gap?
Watch it here.
Problems with the data.
What conclusions can we draw?
- It is hopeless and inequality is innevitable.
- Not hopeless but solution is one to one tuition and it is expensive.
- We can do something in the classroom.
Session 4: Christine Counsell: Understanding and improving curricula: what can and can’t research do.
Watch it here.
Do we know what we are doing with curriculum? Do senior leaders know?
What does evidence based practice mean in curriculum development? Do the external goals of education distort or interfere with scholarly goals? Teachers are not just conduits of curricula, choices of topics are meaningful and contestable.
We lack a model of what senior curricular leadership looks like in schools. What do these people need? What research do we need? We are stuck in constant confusions about assessment and data, CPD and subject knowledge.
Pull of generic training is understandable but unhelpful as schools try to be led as coherent enterprises. To climb ladder of leadership one has to give up subject specialism. Subject specialism leadership has always felt transient. No two subjects are alike. We lose sight of the curriculum at leadership level. SLT need to be aware of the curriculum that sits behind the data.
Curriculum hides itself as we look at proxies – progress data.
Without curriculum, pedagogy is in a vacuum. General pedagogy may not help – the how to teach is a curricula issue. SLT cannot be master of 15 subjects – we need a language that helps us probe curriculum and what research would help?
7 types of question.
- Objective and subjective knowledge. What do they need to know.
- Indirect manifestation of knowledge.
Curriculum as narrative over time (Latin curricula). Not just about sequencing but about the generative properties of knowledge. What difference does it make if this happens in Y7 or Y9. What knowledge lies beneath it?
- Is the subject cumulative or hierarchical?
The status of what is learned depends on if it is cumulative or hierarchical.
- Is this disciplinary or substantive knowledge?
Curriculum is read as pedagogy. Are SLT aware of the architecture of curriculum knowledge?
- Recontextualisation of academic knowledge.
How, Where and for What purposes has recontextualisation taken place. School version of a subject Vs the academic version.
Compared to crazy cross-curriculum activities.
Inter-disciplinarity is better when we have deep understanding of a subject. Curriculum can it be bigger than the sum of its parts.
- Temporal character of curriculum — coherence of lesson sequence rather than seeing one lesson as a unit.
I am not sure I have captured the depths and delights of Christine’s talk. I would urge you to seek the real thing but I loved this session. Probably, my favourite … the return of curriculum to centre stage in school life.
Session 5: David Didau: Making Kids Cleverer
A return of Swindon’s answer to Stewart Lee. I missed David last year and it is a welcome return to an edutwitter favourite. There was even a funny reference to people sitting at his feet … the man, the myth continues. He did promise to leave time for us to pour scorn at the end.
- Purpose of education.
2. It’s evolution stupid
3. Is intelligence the answer?
4. Nature via nurture
6. How memory works.
7. You are what you know
8. What knowledge?
9. Practice makes permanent
10. Teaching kids to be Cleverer
Session 5: Paul Kirshner: Don’ts and Do’s in Teaching and Learning: An Evidence-Informed Approach to Teaching and Learning.
Watch it here.
Paul gave clear instructions that we were not allowed to type or look at our laptops as it causes cognitive overload and inattention. So here are the ones I surreptitiously took when he was not looking. He had a fantastic T-shirt with Research Legend written on it, deservedly so. I am very familiar with Paul’s work so probably should have looked up another speaker but I just wanted to hear it all again. His Masters Voice.
Good Teaching & Learning.
Effective Efficient Enjoyable
Success leads to more motivation and not the other way around.
What does the evidence say?
Advance organizer (David Ausubel)
The most powerful influence on learning is what you know already know.
Anchor – conceptual framework.
Describe or compare prior to learning
Assimilation and subsumption
Learning activities are the exchange between the two.
Meaningful learning – constructing meaning from new information.
Elaboration. Begin simple work towards complex. Begin broad and then go narrow.
I had to leave before the end but huge thanks to Tom and Helene for another fantastic day. Chicken soup for the teaching soul. I feel refreshed and renewed once more with lots of questions buzzing around my head. The revolution continues and this one is being televised.