I was keen to meet Tom Bennett, (pictured) a “troublesome” blogger, teacher and wordsmith, who I have enjoyed banter with on Twitter and whose writings I am a big fanboy of. I state this safe in the knowledge that no one can accuse me of being a brown nose due to my melanin default.
More importantly however I wanted to go to an educational conference where at is heart was the continuing conversations by academics and teachers as to what works best for the teaching and learning of our students in schools.
I walked into the space feeling like a bit of an imposter. I was an external educator who spends a great deal of any given week speaking to or running workshops for students and teachers, around study skills, leadership and careers, but I was not a teacher. Not a true subject pedagogue. There was internal weeping and gnashing of teeth. Awaiting someone who may have spotted me from Twitter to shout
“He’s Not A Teacher. Get Him Out of Here”
It never happened.
Learning in the Classroom
I was most interested in the series of workshops focusing on cognition.
Confession: When I first started as an educator, I used to teach stuff about Six Hats and Learning Styles. I am over it.
I wanted to find out what other teachers had discovered about how students learn and retain information.
These sessions led by Daisy Christodoulou, Joe Kirby and Kris Boulton followed very similar themes but at their core were the principles of how students learn and memorise. Hirsch, Badley and Willingham were quoted as well as Bkork and Mercer (new to me). To be honest I had read a lot of the research stuff already as I am very keen to not have some teacher approach me in school and rub their chin asking me from whence my ideas come around memory. There is more than Buzan you know.
I felt however there was so much more that was missing. One of the attendees repeatedly asked how complete the research was as the teachers in this space focused on two areas of learning and memory when she stated (more than once) that there was more than two. Having a relative who has Alzheimers and a big student of what constitutes memory and learning outside of academia I had to agree with her. Unfortunately I felt the presenters somewhat dismissed her query as irrelevant when in reality it exposed major flaws in their conclusions. That they were espousing something that works, i.e. cognition in classrooms, by looking at a portion of the painting rather than the big picture
The Other Seminars
Aside from these sessions I also attended a session by Pete Yeoman on What Works in the Classroom. At first I found it hard to follow his train of thought and his haphazard clicking through his blog page as a guide for his talk, but there were some juicy tidbits I got around feedback (not two stars and a wish), involving students in research as stakeholders, and challenging the student binary around how they internalise success and failures. Still processing this.
Outside of the cognition seminars the other seminar that really piqued my interest was Meeting the Needs of the Most Vunerable Pupils. What makes Exceptional Schools Exceptional by Phillippa Cordingley of CUREE. The key learnings of collaborative learning, explicit cross school pedagogy, subjective knowledge trumping pedagogic expertise and investment in coaching and mentors for teachers was intriguing. As a non teacher it was interesting to see that the findings were cosigned by many of the teachers in the room.
My final session was about Mapping Concepts by Michael Slavinsky and Alex Weatherall. A great, if sometimes dizzying Prezi display, of how subjects could be mapped in school. Done from a science curriculum point of view I thought there was so much that could be done from this. I especially see how this could be expanded to map these learnings through to careers as well.
Throughly enjoyed the day. I definitely want to attend the London session in September as there is always learning. Loads of notes and thoughts that could be taken away from the day.
I think there is something to be said of a continuous conversation about cognition and memory. There was obvious overlap with the three core speakers I mentioned and I think it might be an idea for future presenters to have a conversation about stuff they are presenting so they don’t have to hash their presentations live to accommodate attendees.
My final recommendation is a good reminder for me to start attending TeachMeets again. Teachers/Educators can be so hack handed when it comes to visuals when presenting. Just limit the slides please. Focus on your core main points and if you want to do details then do a detailed handout of your findings, and not just copies of your slides. The impact of great content can be lost if the structure and delivery fall flat.
All in all, throughly enjoyed it. Kudos to Tom and the team and Looking forward to the next one.