July 29th and 30th saw over 3500 humans descend upon Leeds for the annual Teach First Impact Conference. This is a review of the talks, workshops and events which I attended over the two days.
The opening ceremony contained a mixture of messages from the leader (Brett Wigdortz), introductions by two Year 11 pupils from King Solomon Academy, and speeches from Nicky Morgan, Doug Lemov (author of Teach Like a Champion) and Richard McCann (inspirational person). Ninestiles School appeared in a tweet about effective strategies for tackling low-level disruption during a Q&A with Nicky Morgan, while Doug Lemov discussed the importance of having a ‘culture of error’ and Richard McCann gave a brilliant speech on overcoming challenges throughout his life and the impact of an inspirational teacher on this.
Session 1 – Behaviour Management with Tom Bennett
I signed up for this talk hoping for at least one of two things:
- Tom would give advice about behaviour management which was broadly similar to the advice I give to new Teach First participants.
- Tom would share examples of best practice on school-wide behaviour systems, and his plans for his Tsarship.
We got the first one, allowing me to say “see, he says these things too!” if ever challenged on ideas like having pupils sitting in rows facing the front and setting, rather than negotiating, classroom rules. He was also a genuinely interesting and entertaining speaker, which is always pleasing.
Session 2 – Using Data to Narrow the Gaps with Shayne Elsworth
I love a good spreasheet, which is why I was amazed to discover the existence of pivot tables. I think I was most surprised that I didn’t already know about them, but they’re incredibly useful!
This session contained a range of spreadsheets, Venn diagrams, time series graphs, homework strategies and more spreadsheets which Shayne has used on a school-wide and a classroom-based level to great effect in his own schools.
The session has also given me the idea of using this spreadsheet, but with each heading having a hyperlink to a worksheet with relevant questions and answers, so pupils and teachers can update it throughout the year. Ideally, each pupil would only be able to access and update their own line of data, too. It’s probably possible, and potentially very powerful.
Session 3 – The Secrets of Literacy with David Didau
One big discovery of this session was that David pronounces his surname die-doww. The session discussed the ideas of ‘making the implicit explicit’ – essentially, explaining exactly what it is you’re doing when you skim, scan or zoom in and out of texts. As pupils will need a high level of literacy to even access mathematics papers in future, thinking about literacy strategies really is vital for all of us.
Bonus Session – How Can You Know What Works in Your School? with Tom Bennett and Rebecca Allen
This session featured Tom Bennett (ResearchED) rather than Tom Bennett (Behaviour Tsar). Discussions featured the need for all teachers to have an understanding of research, in order to protect us from VAK et al. Rebecca, from the Education Datalab, also presented some interesting data on the progression of pupils through school.
The second day’s keynote speakers definitely rose to the challenge of matching those from day one. Javed Khan, CEO of Barnardo’s, asked some important questions during his speech before Ruth Hunt from Stonewall discussed the importance of tackling homophobic language and creating an environment where pupils feel safe to be themselves. We also had a speech from a sixth form pupil reminding us that, above all, pupils are people too.
Session 1 – Using Data to Improve Planning with Reach Academy, Feltham
As noted on day one, I enjoy a bit of data. I’ve also heard about the excellent work happening at Reach Academy, so I was looking forward to finding out more about what they do. The answer was a mixture of clear uses of data, including pre- and post-topic testing, robust lesson planning and a reduced number of lessons per teacher to allow them to do all of this really well. They’ve only had three year groups so far, but the data is looking promising!
Session 2 – “Challenging Able Pupils in the Secondary Classroom” with Julie Taplin, Potential Plus UK
“This workshop explores the strategies that are proven to benefit your most able pupils in the secondary classroom” was the description in the conference booklet. Although I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I was hoping to hear from schools or teachers who have achieved excellent results, particularly relating to achieving A/A* grades at GCSEs. Instead, we started by looking at some barriers to pupils achieving (considering working memory, thinking about external barriers), which was fine. We then moved on to the idea that group work, collaborative learning, open-ended homework projects and using Bloom’s Taxonomy are the best ways to enable pupils to achieve.
I’m not going to argue that any of the things above are explicitly bad all the time in all subjects (they’re not!), but there are huge caveats which should be attached to their use, particularly in mathematics. No mention was made of the huge amounts of evidence which suggest that if you want pupils to learn something, it’s probably a good idea to explicitly teach it to them (summarised here: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/nothing-to-prove-but-i-will-anyway/) before having them repeatedly practise what they’ve been taught. For example, in mathematics, if you want pupils to solve one of those problems about tiling strange-shaped floors with unusually priced and shaped tiles (a life skill), it’s probably a good idea to separately teach them how to multiply, divide, count, use money and calculate the areas of shapes in separate explicit stages first, before applying their knowledge to these sorts of problems.
As this session was mainly populated by teachers who are going into the classroom for the first time in September, I’d argue that it’s potentially dangerous to prepare them by telling them that the strategies discussed above are the best ways to teach their pupils all of the time. It’s interesting that, just this morning, Tom Bennett wrote about his worries that “teachers eager to impress or improve are binding children to group work and self led projects when they should be…well, teaching them.” I managed to catch a few of the maths teachers and explain the caveats discussed, but I know that sessions like these will have been repeated throughout the conference, and I’m slightly scared.
Note: This group probably do a lot of excellent work with schools and pupils around the country, I just think this session needed to be a lot more nuanced than it was, considering the audience.
Session 3 – What if Everything You Know About Education Was Wrong? with David Didau
I was back with the Learning Spy for the final session of the conference. The evidence-based discussions in this session centred around tackling a number of assumptions which have been commonplace in most schools in recent times.
One particular thought that stuck with me came from David’s analogy that since he’d started using a satnav, he’d stopped remembering routes. The issue here being that immediate feedback doesn’t necessarily lead to better learning, but that it’s the nature of the feedback which is crucial (making feedback more ‘map-based’ than ‘satnav-based’).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, met a number of brilliant teachers from across the experience range, and attended a number of excellent sessions. Thanks to everyone who made it possible, and good luck to everyone starting their teaching careers in September!