Edfest: Early Reflection

In a repeat of last year, I went to the Festival of Education with my friend and colleague, Tut. To say that Tut was on one this year would be something of an understatement: I put this down to her being all about vocational learning (she is the school Queen of BTEC) and getting the hear Alison Wolf. Here’s how many of our conversations went on Friday:

Tut: How was that talk?
Me: Oh, it was very enjoyable. REALLY good speaker, could have listened for hours. Funny, too.
Tut: What impact is that going to have on your practice, then?

BAM! Um, OK. Yes, I do see that that is the point of the conference, but I do sometimes need a little while to think it through, especially with something like this: there weren’t really any history-teacher-specific workshops which are the easiest to work in, and although I mostly try and pick things that are going to be helpful to my practice, sometimes it’s nice to see some stuff that is just interesting. This is what EdFest does in spades: there are so many workshops (15 possible sessions to attend over the two days) that I can go and see the interesting abstract as well as the mechanical how-to. So, what will I do differently as a result of attending this conference?

1. Pedagogy Postcards:
The T&L team at school, of which I am a member, have been struggling to share our ideas in a meaningful and accessible way with other staff. Someone suggested using Learning on the Loo, but then Tom Sherrington referenced his Pedagogy Postcards blog series during his session, and that was the first thing that made it onto my plans list.

2. Positive Praise:
The combination of Swinson talking about behaviour management and Wilson talking about underachieving boys made it really clear that this is something that might be missing from my classroom management arsenal. Not that I never say anything nice, of course, but I am from the more laconic school of teaching and I could probably stand to hand out more praise. I have in my desk, for example, signs which I occasionally hold up. They say “Stop talking”, “Don’t tip your chair”, “Spit that in the bin”, and “W1” and “W2” for our warning system (these last are rarely used, I hastily point out, because I do think the warning should come with a little behaviour-correcting chat). When delivered with a raised eyebrow they usually have the effect of nipping that behaviour in the bud without causing too much confrontation. Now I am thinking it would be nice to have some signs that say “Housepoint” and “Well done”. And, yknow, do other more meaningful things to raise the level of positive reinforcement in my classroom.

3. Word Rich:
Geoff Barton’s talk on habits of the word rich will probably have the most instant impact on my practice. I love the very simple idea of dictating a sentence each lesson and scoring students on their grasp of various grammar rules and key spellings within it. I think this might be a great tutor time activity and allow for a year group leaderboard in which tutor groups compete to have the highest score (although my tutor group is significantly smaller than most of the others so we’d have to think of a way to cheat win in spite of this). I could dictate the learning objective: the benefit of being word rich is that I can craft something challenging out of the dullest sentence.

Just to clear up any confusion, I don’t agree with making students write down the LO, but our interim head last year insisted and now they’re in such a habit that they do it without me telling them to and some of them even panic a bit when I forget to put the LO on the slide, so I have to add it for them to copy. Thus, even though (I think) this is no longer the rule, I don’t want to rock the boat. Dictated LOs seem to be slightly more meaningful though, as they will be getting more writing practice.

 4. ANYTHING rich, really – sharing the love
A theme I picked up from many of the sessions I went to – Sherrington, Swinson, Wilson, Barton in particular – was the idea of what I like to inarticulately call “Getting at pupils the way they are best got.” This has impacted my lessons in a variety of subtle ways this week; a bit more praise here, some more support there, a slightly more progressive activity with one class, using a slightly broader vocabulary with another class, selecting pairs for tasks based on friendships as well as data….working at being engaging is not a shameful thing. I remember when I had my old tutor group in year 7, being resistant to a totally full tutor program on the basis that, for some of those students, the 20 minutes we spent chatting in the morning might be the only meaningful conversation they had with an adult all day. That’s not necessarily helping their numeracy or literacy or imparting great wodges of knowledge, but it is setting them up better for a day of learning, the way my mum used to set me up by chatting through my day with me on the way to school. In a perfect world we don’t have to provide that for our students, I know but….Context, again. It is definitely my favourite word. So, I’ve made more of an effort this week to nourish my students in little ways, and I feel like a better differentiator because of it.

5. More navel-gazing
Somebody suggested to me earlier this year that teachers all overthink things and History teachers are especially guilty of this, so I can’t believe I am actually going to aim for this, but, there you have it. Coe pointed out that we have a good learning model in schools – teach, practice, practice, practice, assess, feedback, practice, practice, assess. Teachers generally skip everything after the first step when it comes to their own learning, though. I should think more about impact over time. It’s not very easy to express this sometimes, because I think I soak up a lot more subconsciously than I could ever recognise, but I will certainly revisit my blog notes a bit more regularly over the coming year. Sometimes I remember the simplest little lesson hacks from my teaching youth and wonder how I ever forgot them; evaluating and reviewing in a more systematic way might help with that. An extra column for this on my weekly planning sheet (I can’t get on with a day-to-view planner, no matter how hard I try) might help.

6. Don’t upset a primary teacher: Boy, are they angry with Gove. Some of them were still fizzing when we left the tent, after he was hustled to his car by his enormous minders, thus cutting dead my audacious attempt to ask him to pose with me for a selfie. Something about a phonics test pass mark not being released by the DfE. Somebody commented on Twitter that the early years teachers were angry at being unable to cheat, but I think I need to have that explained to me; how does knowing the pass mark enable one to cheat? This is the thing that might end up having the biggest impact on my practice, come to think of it, so please enlighten me.

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