We were lucky enough to have ResearchEd right on our doorstep this weekend. An absolutely packed event with some excellent speakers, despite the train strikes. Over 20 staff from our Trust attended and here are some key takeaways from the sessions we chose.
Keynote: Learning To Read, Kathy Rastle
Quote: “How are we going to spell 40+ sounds with 26 letters? That, in a nutshell, is the problem of English spelling?” (Crystal, 2012)
I had expected this to be of limited relevance to secondary, but I was very wrong. Professor Kathy Rastle’s talk on the importance of phonics in learning to read, and its efficiency in light of the nature of our alphabet was fascinating and should be heard by teachers from all settings. Some key takeaways for secondary included:
- The sheer difficulty of the task of learning to read in English; a hugely complicated task and a ten year journey.
- Regardless of age, the importance of using phonics to teach struggling readers how the alphabet works, at any age.
- The power of morphology to help make the relationship between words clear and increase vocabulary – by approximately 7 times.
Takeaway from Chris White: “the importance of students actually reading along rather than just listening.” A really key part of the reading programme if it is to support younger readers.
Epiphenomena: Claire Stoneman @stoneman_claire
In this session, Stoneman talked about how easy it is for school leaders to get distracted by epiphenomena (things which accompany but do not cause event). Our tendency to observe surface and novel features rather than look in depth and with great care can draw us to the new or to investing time in solutions which do not actually have the highest leverage at that point in our school’s journey.
Claire gave many examples of trends in education which could easily be seen as ‘lethal mutations’ and explored how they might be very important and high-impact strategies when delivered with fidelity, but not when just ‘ported’ from one setting to another, without a deep understanding. Her advice was targeted at leaders, but I think it equally applies to any classroom teacher bring a new strategy to their practice :
- Be sceptical and question surface features to ensure that you really understand why they are there and that your attention has been guided to the deep reasons.
- Don’t allow the focus (e.g. the new innovation) to drown out subsidiary awareness of all the other important thing that interrelate; keep an eye on that bigger picture to analyse what is really gong on.
- “Be students of our schools.” (Evans, 2019); explore what is going on in dept, looking at a range of data with a ‘quiet eye’. Consider carefully how new ideas might translate to the specific context in which we work.
- Ensure that we make decisions the best we can based on rational arguments: encourage questioning, different viewpoints, discussions and disagreement.
Building a Strong Professional Culture to Support Teacher Learning and Improve Pupil Outcomes: Cat Scutt @catscutt
“Teachers becoming more expert in their areas of strength may have more benefit than focusing on areas of weakness.” (Cat Scutt, summarising Dylan Wiliam).
This was probably the most packed session I attended all day; 40 minutes flew by as exciting ideas followed rapidly one after the other. The importance of teacher autonomy and strong behaviour policies to professional culture and teacher retention were justifiably emphasised. Ways to build a strong culture of professional learning were explored and explained effectively. These ideas apply to schools as a whole but also anyone trying to build a strong development culture in their team: departmental, pastoral or sub-group. Rather than try to summarise so much useful material, I have a shot of the penultimate slide as the ideas were all mapped together in a cohesive whole.
Communication in Schools: How to Say What you want, to get what you mean: Nimish Lad (@nlad84) and Lekha Sharma (@teacherfeature2)
One key takeaway from this session, also a feature of others’ talks over the course of the day, is the importance of psychological safety for a team to thrive. If people are going to disagree, question ideas and communicate productively it is vital that they feel safe to do so. However, more than this, Edmonson’s research in the field of medicine, has shown that the highest-performing teams were not those that made the fewest errors but the most. What they had in common was the psychological safety to make mistakes, report these openly and learn from each other. There is every reason to think that this would apply equally well in the field of education.
The Research Behind High-performing teams and how to lead them in schools: Samuel Crome (@Mr_Crome)
In schools we all belong to multiple teams with whom we interact on a daily, weekly or termly basis. Even when not sharing a space as a team (e.g. when in a meeting) we are still part of that team as we move around school, perform duties and, of course, interact with students. Crome’s extensive research has led him to conclude that the foundation trait of high-performing teams is belonging. It is the sense of belonging which lays the groundwork for psychological safety, effective communication, healthy conflict a shared vision and all the other features of successful teams. For anyone leading a team, Chrome offered 4 “best bets” for building a high functioning team:
- Mental models and knowledge: definite, codify, share and increase.
- Communication: plan carefully, consult team and agree, develop a shared system.
- Meetings and debriefs: focus on sharing knowledge, give ownership, review processes regularly (not when something goes wrong).
- Create a culture of team learning and development: build a coaching ‘way of being’.
Other key takeaways and useful ideas:
In her talk on assessment myths, Christodoulou defended the GCSE system and explored the reality behind such myths as that other countries do not have exams like these, that teacher assessment modules or coursework provide more valid insights and even that exams don’t help learning.
From Andy Lewis’ talk on ‘Making Humanities 6395% Better’ Gemma Ridley took away insights into the importance of selecting your anecdotes and stories very carefully to enhance rather than obscure learning. The gruesome, horrific and memorable can often dominate students’ recollection of the important points and stories need to be used with care and skill.
Alex Fairlamb’s talk on diversity within the curriculum gave Gemma Fulton a key takeaway when she noted that, whilst teaching white working-class boys in Sunderland “I didn’t need to teach them to look in the mirror; I needed to teach them to look out the window to learn about the rest of the world.”