I just thought I’d share a quick summary of a few of the excellent points from
Tom Sherrington’s recent Inset sessions that I attended at Backwell School, North Somerset recently. It was a mostly reassuring day for me personally, as many of the ideas and strategies he discussed I was aware of, being a keen reader of edutwitter and the latest books on pedagogy. My department are definitely moving in the right direction I believe! However, many of these tips around embedding learning, a knowledge led curriculum, and strategic planning were delivered with humour, humility and fresh insights from Tom’s own personal experiences. They offered specific strategies for support, and Tom was happy to explore teachers’ questions. He was a really engaging speaker, and I would highly recommend him as a speaker who would offer a lot of thinking points for school CPD sessions. (A free book would be a lovely Xmas present, Tom -hint, hint!)
Learning Points from @teacherhead Tom Sherrington’s Inset sessions at Backwell School – Wed 29/11/17
- Major Focus on Task based Intervention work for under-performers rather than reflection work. What is the specific task to improve? Encouragement of a move away from self-reflection work: ‘I can do/know this’ to ‘here’s a task to SHOW me you can do/know this’ – Let’s test whether you know this. Tom offered the brilliant analogy here of an Abseiling instructor. They wouldn’t just say ‘All ok?’ with a group of beginners and let them go over the cliff! They’d double check key elements first until they are confident in the learners’ ability to go independent.
2. Questions were raised about the challenge and rigour of Yr 7-9. Are we leaving it too late if we only really push students in Yr 11? One school was cited as having 9-10 as the focus GCSE years, then going ‘beyond’ in Year 11.
Is our curriculum model coherent? Do years link together effectively?
- Embedding learning over time was also considered heavily.
Don’t mistake performing for learning. Information is only learned if students can do it in a week, a month, 6 months. Use strategies from the ‘Learning Scientists’ here. Elaboration, use in sentences, retrieval practice, etc.
Nothing wrong with rote learning at times. Higher ability problem solving is reliant on memory/ knowledge of an array of procedures and information to choose from. Plumber/Chess players analogies here. Both would not suddenly get all creative and try brand new ideas out. They would select the right course of action from their prior knowledge of many situations and experiences.
- Exam Practice is not necessarily the best way forward, although it was acknowledged that stamina for longer papers needs to be built as students get closer to the exams.
We looked at the ‘Learning Zone’ as opposed to the ‘Performance Zone’.
In the ‘Learning Zone’ students took their time over small components of exam skills; they would be set drills to practice; they were allowed to make mistakes, and learn from them, reflecting on improvement steps in a low stakes environment without grades.
This was preparation for the ‘Performance Zone’ where mistakes must be kept to a minimum, time management is crucial, and extended writing is encouraged.
The message was that LEARNING happened in the ‘Learning Zone’ not in the ‘Performance Zone’. Don’t over-play lots of broad, lengthy exam practices.
Some students in one school were told exactly what the Mock questions were, so they could prepare fully for them. They did well, earned confidence, and recognised that if they revise the main material, they’ll do well!
- Are we specific/explicit enough with our revision instructions on what to learn?
e.g. If this character comes up –what are the four main things you need to talk about?
- Major focus on increasing Challenge in classrooms
Are our expectations high enough of learners? Are we ‘lifting the lid’ on occasions and seeing what happens?
Are we all ‘hand on heart’ setting really tough work that our top attainers can struggle with from time to time?
Let’s challenge our top attainers through depth not speed.
Top end Modelling is vital.
Are we tolerating mono-syllabic answers out of gratitude or really probing students to extend the depth of their thinking?
We need to build strategies for ‘deep end survival’. Set super tough work, but make it clear that there is support there for them if they need it / they can use X resource if they need it. Don’t let them drown!
Eliminate soft filler activities – wordsearch / cover page / posters. There are students in our mixed ability classes who can sit A-levels now – what are we doing to stretch them?
Are we occasionally setting work that is ‘impossible to finish’? An example of a question set to a Yr 7 for homework was ‘What is the difference between Science and Philosophy?’
Are we the experts in the room? Do we take time in Faculty meetings and in our own time to build up deep subject knowledge?
There was an acknowledgement we differentiate for different people at different times, and can’t always focus on ‘lifting the lid’ for the top. But now and again it’s worth trying to see which students will surprise you by rising to the super-tough challenge level!
Thanks for reading, and well done to Tom for some excellent ideas.