Edfest: Tom Sherrington

The room is packed for @headguruteacher speaking on Rigour, Agility, Awe and Joy. Ten great lessons he has seen. Effectiveness, excitement, high quality. The room is rammed, with people crowded round the door to hear it.

Tom shares pictures of lessons from his school. A History lesson about Dresden: different questioning styles, peer assessment, identifying narrative and evaluation, and a written task that builds on all of this; traditional learning with modern approaches to interaction and resourcing. Global perspectives on research: a pre-U course, involving a y13 to help with the questioning. A food lesson, focused on skills. Student taught ICT lessons – programming skills that the teachers don’t have.

His ten habits

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(These undoubtedly on his blog if you don’t want to squint!)

Great teachers develop these habits over time and become better as a results. Forget tricks and strategies. It’s the habits, the things you do “on a cold and wet Tuesday afternoon when you’ve forgotten you had a lesson at all”

Probing. The way you do questioning: weaker teachers spread their questions and worry about inclusivity and positivity whereas stronger teachers challenge and really get to the heart of the matter and challenge the students to defend their answers. “That’s not right – but let’s talk about why you thought that”

Rigour. We need to reclaim the word because it can be really powerful. Teachers need to have confidence in their knowledge of the material, so that they know what level to pitch the lesson and can insist on students getting it right. Being correct is important and the message is that we shouldn’t shy away from pushing students to get it right and work at it and practise and refine. I agree with Tom that rigour is important, and we shouldn’t accept mediocrity. ‘Is it right?’ ‘Almost, Miss.’ ‘OK, so not right then.’

Challenge. You can teach yourself some things, eg skateboarding, better than you can be taught them, and we need to remember this in the classroom, because sometimes teachers get in the way. Don’t limit to the task because students will conform, because that’s what they do (echoes from our Ofsted report…). Have high expectations! Allow and encourage them. I think it’s important to be fully aware of what teenagers are capable of at various ages, so you know how it can look. This is why I’ve been using more historians’ work, in its original form, with y8 this year. It is comforting to know I have some of these habits, sometimes!

Differentiation. Most lessons are designed for one group and adjusted, and that’s usually the middle group, but Tom recommend top-down planning. He is speaking my language again! This will stretch the most able every time and pull to the ceiling instead of into the middle. Differentiation can be implicit, based on teacher knowledge of the students. Echoes what Dylan Wiliam said yesterday.

Journeys. Students are on their own learning journey and they need the support to learn in between lessons. Tom points out we’ve had flipped learning since we had libraries. Homework should be prep for the next lesson, and don’t tell them off for not doing it, because then it become a chore. The opportunity should be there for the kids who want to do it. Give them the tools to study for themselves and prep for learning. On levels – Tom says the language of the levels is a code students don’t understand. They don’t help on the journey.

Explaining. A good explanation forms part of excellent teaching. Tom says his science department have conversations among themselves about difficult concepts to discuss how to explain it. Don’t waste time in department meetings on bureaucracy if you can help it – have conversations about teaching if that is what you want to improve. Didactic isn’t bad. It doesn’t necessarily make them better learner or like the subject, but it works in terms of outcomes.

Agility. Be prepared to go off piste. That’s the responsiveness of a really great teacher. Mini whiteboards can be overwhelming because you get so many variables in answer, but good responsiveness can make it really powerful, as long as the teacher is confident in thei subject knowledge.

Awe. Ofsted compatible! Get the students excited every lesson. Tom talks about a picture taken by the Hubble telescope and the existential crisis it can create. Before you hack the poem to death with analysis, read it and enjoy the words. Don’t always be too functional in your approach – “stop and smell the flowers”!

Possibilities. Show them what they could do. Sow an amazing piece of work from a previous year to make it seem doable, and help them plan the journey to that amazing possibility.

Joy. Plan for your own enjoyment and love it, because it is infectious. If you think it’s great, they will too. What a great motto to end with.

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One Response to Edfest: Tom Sherrington

  1. @adampjacob says:

    Nice post Sally. Sounds like an amazing talk. Makes me feel positive about my own practice but a bit concerned about our lesson observations: do we value these qualities in our teachers? I think we should, certainly.

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