Edfest: Sherrington

Tom’s first session is about great teaching: mechanics with soul.

He says his message is about mixing traditional and progressive pedagogy, rather than seeing them as separate poles. There are various websites that try to compare the two, but largely fail by clearly expressing bias. He speaks about the benefits of either side, bringing in examples from his experience: lessons in Chinese schools vs learning skateboarding: it is hard to recreate the latter in a physics lesson, for example. He thinks that schools leaders should encourage learning to be like a rainforest, rather than a predetermined plantation – clear goals but with less micromanaging of how.

Tom shows off his pedagogy tree. It needs to be in an environment where it can flourish, but it needs rigour and structure in order to be able to grow. A rich, fertilised environment and structure creates all sorts of possibilities; sometimes we spend too long thinking about the nutrients and not enough about the structure. Rigour is important: but high expectations, excellent subject knowledge, challenging wrong answers and so on are not separate from creating awe and wonder, which are essential for insisting on the rigour. A virtuous circle.

He cites his technology department as an example of this: discipline and old fashioned learning in year 7 provides the skills and structure that students can then apply to designing and making items higher a up the school. He describes a history lesson that began with group discussions and ended with a more traditional written task.

Tom talks about students at his grammar school, many of whom have been schooled in independent learning at home from an early age, and therefore come from a wider culture to the school environment, and how teaching needs to be adjusted for students not coming from a background like this. Some people need an education more focused on their intrinsic motivators. Making a maths hat for homework, for example, might create a softer motivator for the right kind of person, whereas another might prefer a sheet of difficult algebra problems. We need to find certain hooks to encourage students to see that learning can be an enjoyable thing.

This chimes in with something I have been thinking about recently about education being an unfortunate inconvenience for some children, and not viewed as a way of achieving success in life for some families (the former from a friend who is a school governor, the latter from the news recently, I think) and whether this could help with those students. Play, for example, can help with language acquisition that for some students might already have happened within the home learning environment. It bridges a gap. But it depends on CONTEXT! Amen to that!

Tom also talks about co-construction: a progressive idea that often mixes with traditional ideas like didactic teaching and testing to create learning with a buzz.


He then talks about history teaching, where the synthesis of knowledge and skills is very apparent (very, very true) and where teaching persistent pursuit of lines of enquiry is very important. He also talks about rote learning and its value in certain areas of the curriculum, for example poetry, which is written to be spoken.

Tom makes a good case for a mixed economy when it comes to teaching. Sometimes traditional teaching needs to be deliberate: rote learning, strong teacher expertise; but a nourishing and supportive environment is very important to encourage students and make it accessible for all. That is great teaching, in Tom’s opinion.

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2 Responses to Edfest: Sherrington

  1. bt0558 says:

    Thank you for this. I wasn’t able to attend and watch Tom in action so it is gret to see a balanced review like this. Much appreciated.

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