It was clear that a huge effort had gone into the preparation, which eased everyone into the day, with coffee and cakes on arrival. Just like being in a large staffroom. We were made very welcome, into a beautiful, purpose built Primary School that was obviously valued, as demonstrated by the use of space, the high quality displays on every suitable surface and the smiling children who shook hands with everyone and welcomed us.
Eventually, we all had to settle down and listen to the warm welcomes, from a group who obviously valued their colleagues, enough to put such effort into the day. Lucy Powell, the local MP, and shadow SoS for Education, gave a short welcome and then took some questions. She seemed genuine in her admiration for teachers and, it seemed to me, was genuinely interested in children and their life chances, although there were hints of gaps in her understanding of education as a whole; but then that can apply to all politicians who live on soundbites.
Hywel Roberts was just as he always is, an incredible bundle of energy and ideas. Imagineering is a catch phrase, but it has a long pedigree and this is central to his approach. It would be wonderful to see him in action with children; he is well worth cloning, if you want children to develop as thinkers. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’d prefer his model of ideas-generation to many other more stylised approaches. I can still see the forest and the spooky house images. They were that powerful.
I stayed for the morning in the room assigned to assessment. There were 32 workshops available. Three that I wanted to attend clashed with mine after lunch. Staying in one place gave a stronger flavour of thinking in an area. I was able to listen to Jon Brunskill, Mike Tidd and Conor Heaven. Each, as you would imagine had a different slant to offer, the nuances enabling deeper reflection.
Jon was more philosophical in his approach, seeking to explore the purpose of Primary education. This could have taken all day, weekend, week, or even a lifetime. The purpose can seem to mean whatever a particular group wants it to mean, which after 45 years from starting my initial training, still creates a wide continuum of expressed views. I still hold to the view that all teachers need skills across the whole continuum, from which to choose when confronted with a learner need that is not satisfied by the prevailing approach. I also believe that we should by now, be able to assess for capability, rather than draw an arbitrary line and say that below this the children have failed. An example was an assertion that one third of Primary children leave without being able to read. They can read, for the most-part, but perhaps just below the level decreed as the expected standard. I think this has more to do with teachers’ lack of individual reader challenge, rather than the nuts and bolts of the reading process. Teachers teach reading, but children need to be cajoled and challenged to read, for themselves, between formal teaching sessions, with check systems in place. In that way, the dynamics of actual reading become as important as the phonics and the SPaG.
Mike Tidd was excellent, deserving his pre-eminence as a significant current thinker. What I appreciate about Mike is that he thinks and shares with everyone, through his blogs and other forms, freely and unambiguously. This session was no different. He took several aspects of current classroom practice and offered practical alternatives, including the invitation not to do some things; to think before putting huge effort into activities that may have limited impact. The room was packed, a clear recognition of the esteem with which he is held.
Conor Heaven had a slight technical issue, in that he had mislaid his memory stick, perhaps in so doing living the modern metaphor; my memory is beginning to be stored elsewhere. Conor is great. Charming, engaging, a veritable Tigger to have around. His enthusiasm for teaching and learning is contagious. He drew us into his narrative, working with parts of his blog, a diagram drawn from the internet and his phone, where his presentation was available to him, as notes. My feeling was that I was with a natural teacher, prepared to go with the flow and make something work; it did Conor, thanks.
As this was the after lunch slot, it would have been very easy for everyone to fall asleep, especially those who had spent the previous evening sampling the local brews. I was grateful as a few drifted in, then slowly the room filled. It doesn’t matter how long I have been doing this job, it still makes me nervous.
I’d come with a relatively simple premise; that all good teaching depends on how well you know your children. For the PowerPoint slides, click here Primary Rocks Live; Powerpoint. Much of what I said can be gleaned from the more general writing on my blog, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, but it is central to all quality decisions made in the classroom. As I work with ITE trainees, I’ve explored this through the teaching standards. I’ve appended a number of linked blogs below.
I have spent a great deal of time looking at process based tweaks, rather than a concentration on the details; other have done that, and to my mind may have created industries rather than helpful approaches. In this I’d put assessment for learning, which Dylan Wiliam now wishes he’d called responsive teaching, differentiation, which used to be called match and challenge and growth mindset, which was also linked with the original match and challenge, with the challenge aspect embedding much that seems to exist as aspirations of growth mindset. Like any reflective, analytical, investigative artist, a teacher needs to look holistically, and focus on the (thought) process as well as the outcome, which, to me, falls in the remit of quality control. All of these elements are honed within experience; the more you see and do, the more you are likely to know.
In some ways, I was pleased to go last, as it felt as if I could draw together many threads that had permeated earlier talks. As the (significantly) elder member of the day’s community, the significant difference between the others and my thinking is in our different teaching experiences. Mine have spanned 4-16 as a classteacher and 4-12 as a Head.
Different experiences in different contexts will colour thinking, as adaptations to circumstance offer opportunities to be innovative, which, to me, is an essential teacher quality, and which makes me worry about the more stylised thinking and approaches that are beginning to take over some school approaches. While well-meaning and benign, they take away the teacher as thinker and replace them with teacher as deliverer of a methodology, with the children having to adapt to that need. If anyone needs to be adaptable, it is the teacher; in fact it is demanded within Teacher Standard 5.
We must retain the right for teachers to be the lead thinkers in each classroom. To that end, planning needs to be in their hands, at least in the short term, so that they can make informed adaptations to evident need. This was a topic in the panel session. I feel that looking at planning over different timescales can free teachers to do this. Planning Learning
And then it was all over.
Goodbyes were heartfelt. It felt like a giant staffroom breaking up for an extended holiday. No doubt the conversations will continue, via various social media. It was a brilliant day of thinking.
My thanks to the PrimaryRocks organisers, hoping that they had enough time to recover before this week.
A Happy Easter to all.
teaching Standards 2012; aide memoire
24652 ; Teacher Standards
Thinking lessons; teaching standards
Differentiation as informed dialogue?
Growth Mind-set reflections
Assessment WITH CHILDREN IN MIND