Tag Archives: berkhamsted

#TLAB14 – my workshop on Creative GCSE Geography & Literacy

Here is the slideshow from my workshop at the #TLAB14 conference yesterday. Although aimed at Geography teachers, it might be useful to others for generic revision games and literacy support.

Here’s a vague commentary for the slides:

Slide 3-5. Messy rivers. In groups, students have a bagful of river sediment, piece of A3 paper and some keywords. They have to create a river cross-section from upper to lower course by putting sediment and keywords into the correct location.

Slide 6: River stories. After the messy bit (or just as another activity instead), get students to produce a written story describing the journey down river having to describe the changes & use key terms but in a creative writing sense (moving from the birth of a juvenile energetic river to sluggish middle age to the very end in old age).

Slide 7-9. Bunting! Not my own idea I confess but I love it. Put topics into a hat, then each student draws one or two out and has to produce a piece of revision bunting to be shared. Gives them ownership & remind them of corporate responsibility. I was surprised at how much the kids got into this last time, they really enjoyed it and produced quality summaries.

Slide 10-13. Cake modelling! Every good geographer has at some point come across the wave cut platform cake model from Tony Cassidy. The only addition here was that I had taught basic wave cut platform theory, then I just gave students some resources and as a group they had to produce a demonstration of how the landform is created. They had: mini whiteboards, paper, pens, mini cakes, sweets. Then they presented to each other and peer assessed. Then we eat cake (new cake, not played with!)

Slide 15-17. Jenga! You can use Jenga (or non brand specific) in lots of ways. For example: 1)Keyword / fact jenga – label pieces and then play the game. Teacher / student reads out a definition, player has to retract the piece that matches the definition. Competition to build tallest tower if played in groups. 2)Use coloured dots / coloured jenga and each colour corresponds to a different theme. Students are given a topic e.g. Hurricane Katrina. When they take out a piece, whatever colour they take they must give an appropriate response. E.g. Red correlates to fact, green correlates to causes, yellow corresponds to impacts, blue corresponds to responses, etc,.

Slide 18-21. Twister! Alternative versions, e.g. 1)Play the game in small groups. Within each group you have a quizmaster. Each time a player moves to a new spot, they have to correctly answer a question (e.g. define a word, recall a key fact, etc,.). If incorrect then spin the spinner again and have to move to a new spot and keep answering Qs until correct. 2)Assign points to different spots. Have differentiated questions worth different points. Students play the game and accumulate points depending on how hard the question is that they answer. Highest points win. Once back in the classroom for whatever option, I always get them to do exam case study questions timed to formalise it – and have been so impressed with how much better their responses have been.

Slide 22-24. Balloons? Various uses. E.g. 1)one student writes a question on the balloon, then throws to someone else who then answers the question and passes on. 2)Get students to draw a world map around the balloon to get across the idea of sphericity / world layout. 3)Create concept maps with lots of interlinking by drawing around the balloon to encourage links right round.

Slide 25-26. Musical chairs. Different options: 1) as the music plays move around and have to read key facts / study a stimulus image…when the music stops they have to answer an exam question. 2) have exam Qs stuck to the back of the chairs (no peeking), keep cycling through and when music stops have to answer the exam Q on whiteboards, etc,.

Slide 27-29. Paper planes. Two versions I’ve used. 1) Students write a question on a piece of paper, fold into a plane, throw at another student, who has to answer. 2) AfL. Fold up an example case study answer (either a model one or one the kids have just written). Throw around room to three different students who then highlight one per go with different colours for use of key terms, developed points, place specific fact. Throw to one final student who gives the question an overall score and final comment.

Slide 32-34. Creative writing & song. Dear John letters to develop explanations and literacy, but with Bingo for keywords. Can be about any topic. Similar for songs, e.g. writing a song to describe tectonic plate movement.

Slide 36. VCOP. Support and guide with literacy. Especially good for lower ability and for structuring extended writing.

Slide 38. PEEL flowcharts. Modelling how to write a 3 developed point answer (like for case study 9 mark questions) through a flow chart built around the PEEL structure.

Slide 41. Learning grids. Students roll two dice to get a coordinate, this then randomly selects what information to include in a piece of extended writing. Repeat as many times as you like (I usually do 3-4 times) and then they must include that criteria in their writing. Also good to use in reverse for AfL: get students to mark on the grid which criteria they think they have met and then when you mark the work you can highlight whether they have actually met this criteria or not, then use in your feedback.

Slide 43-44. SOLO structured thinking. The idea of SOLO being a move from simplistic basic responses and understanding to being more complex with interlinks. I tend to rename the different stages to: 1)Unclear  2) One idea  3) Many ideas  4) Interlinking many ideas  5) Analysing and interpreting these many ideas in different ways. This structure can be used to structure notes / plan essays or for AfL

Slide 45-47. SOLO hexagons. Hexagons allow you to tessellate in 6 directions to demonstrate multiple links. e.g. in this example as a group we had blue statements that were the impacts of difficult environments and in red the causes of these difficulties. Then they have to tessellate to make multiple links in preparation for extended writing.

Model the idea of essay structuring to class. Students to write down as much as possible as they can about a case study on each hexagon. Those aiming for B+ should be making multiple connections between these facts / statements. Then use these hexagons to structure an extended writing piece. Remind to use connectives between.

Slide 48. Sentence escalator. Sentence escalation. Kind of like ‘Chinese whispers’ to start then turning into written sentences.

Slide 49. Story cubes. Laminated dice allow you to swap in and out different images / words / facts. Students throw the dice and have to respond to whatever they see.

Slide 50-51. Revision cube. Students roll the dice and have to revise & produce a resource on whatever it lands on. Can make template online here

#TLAB14 Conference reflections

Yesterday was the second edition of the Teaching Learning Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School hosted and organised by Nick Dennis and Rebecca Brooks. The event was another huge success; both enjoyable and informative.

The first keynote was by Elise Foster, co-author of ‘The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius inside our School’. The book is based on the premise that our attitudes (either intentionally or not) can serve to either multiply or diminish others.

Are you a diminisher or a multiplier?
Are you a diminisher or a multiplier?

This can be true of teachers to students, and of leaders to staff. You can get a sense of the idea in this video summary. Through research both in business and in schools, the authors identify different attitudes and acts that we might exhibit at times and the impact these can have. She started off with asking how many of us in the room had every felt over-worked but under-utilised…you can imagine how many hands went up! I would a head teacher to ask that in a staffroom! Elise talked about effective multipliers as being able to get more from people simply because their high expectations ask for it, but in a way that says ‘go for it, you got this’ – being supportive but stretching, giving freedom to try.

Are you an accidental diminisher?
Are you an accidental diminisher?

She commented that multipliers are talent finders who see intelligence as a muscle to be stretched in order to grow, and of the dangers of micro-managing. Elise also demonstrated some examples of ‘accidental diminisher traits’ that we might all exhibit at times – although I would argue that there is probably a time and place for many of these traits to actually be necessary, so long as they do not become the norm or your only way of operating. It was a very interesting talk which basically ran through the findings of the book – so if you’re interested in more, then read it!

I went to a workshop by Stephen Lockyer – mostly because I wanted to see him actually do some work :-p but also to get a bit of primary perspective. Stephen was talking about making a child-centred curriculum in order to balance out the issue of ‘what we have to cover’ and ‘what we want to cover’. He showed how similar the issues are for children at primary and secondary – which reminded me that they’re just kids with shorter trousers 🙂 I particularly liked his thinking about there being a fine line between efficiency and complacency when it comes to curriculum content and teaching & learning in general. That there is a danger in sitting still too long just because something has worked in the past – equally it isn’t efficient to always be changing things for the sake of it. Delicate balance. He also highlighted how good it is to be flexible to respond to the curiosity and needs of children rather than sticking rigidly to our pre-thought plans, because sometimes the most interesting and effective parts of lessons are those that follow from children’s tangents – so we should build time into our curriculum for tangents!

The second workshop of the day was one that I led, on teaching GCSE Geography. I’ll put the resource in the next post.

Final workshop honours went to David Rogers sharing how Geography can contribute to whole school aims such as embedding literacy and maths. It was good to be given time as a group to discuss and to collaborate. We picked a theme, such as how to use Geography to teach literacy, and then had a choice of outcomes that were generated by John Davitt’s Learning Event Generator before we shared our ideas with the group. I was very pleased to see a few delegates ask to use one of the tools from my session before – balloon concept mapping!

The final keynote went to Dr Andy Williams on ‘The Capacity to Improve‘. I really enjoyed listening to this, he just had such a great story-telling style and reminded us all why we do it, and how ‘good teachers change lives’. I liked his statement and stance to forget Ofsted criteria : that Ofsted definition of good teaching is about making progress (which is valid) but that this falls short because good teaching should also be about being inspiring. You got the real sense that to him and his school, the children really come first and that the rest falls into place afterwards. It was an uplifting and positive end to send us all on our way.

If you want to see a summary Storify of the event then click here.

So, thanks to all involved. It was a well organised and interesting event, and I’m looking forward to #TLAB15 already 🙂

Looking forward to #TLAB14 conference

TLABIt’s been a long time since I posted, and I apologise for that. It’s been a bit manic at home and work and I need to catch up. Anyway.

Saturday 22nd March sees the return of #TLAB14 Conference – the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School. This event is hosted and coordinated by the wonderful Nick Dennis and Rebecca Brooks and their team. You can see my review of last year here. What I liked about the event before was that there was a careful blend of pedagogical theory / application from the likes of Alistair Smith, and then the subject specific workshops led by current teachers where they shared their own experiences. An event run by teachers, for teachers, through teachers. Sharing stories. Everyone an expert. I think also, where the event falls on a Saturday this encourages more like minded positive professionals to attend who want to get the most out of giving up their own time voluntarily. And there were great refreshments! And all for just £50. Bargain.

I took away so much from the event last year, and I was honoured and flattered to be asked to take part this time. As well as being somewhat nervous needless to say! The event was such a success and of such quality last year that I am worried about bringing down the side! We shall see.

The theme this year is ‘Multipliers: How can we tap into the genius within our schools?’ which draws on the work of Liz Wiseman and Elise Foster’s ‘The Multiplier Effect’ – who is giving the keynote.

My workshop is for Geography, obviously, and looks particularly at delivering GCSE – although I would say that there is no reason why strategies cannot be used for other key stages as well, just as I have used them with younger children myself. I shall be talking about revision games such as jenga, keyword games and creative ways to learn case studies. I will also be sharing some ideas about encouraging literacy skills and extended writing, particularly through the use of writing structures to enable perhaps more lower ability or less confident students. I find my students really struggle with the extended writing case study or decision making parts of their exams, and this is not normally due to a lack of geographic knowledge but rather to do with structuring an answer or developing answers.

Although I’ll be sharing some tools I’ve trialled before, I’ll also give delegates the chance to share their own experiences in the hopes we all learn from each other – after all, no one strategy fits all. And there will be time to try things out yourself, in a hands on way.

All resources will be shared via this blog after the event, and I hope it proves useful.

There will also be a Geography workshop led by Carmel Green who was excellent last year, and by David Rogers on how Geography can have a whole school impact and speaks from a leadership point of view as well.

If you want to attend, see the Lanyrd site to book or via the Berkhamsted website.

You can also see the agenda here and a summary of speakers and their workshop outline here. You can also see updates and follow the event on Twitter @TLABerkhamsted or my feed at the event @GeoDebs 

There is also a TeachMeet on the night before, Friday 21st 🙂

Hope to see you there!


TLA Berkhamsted – TeachMeet


The Herts Beds Bucks TeachMeet was the pre-event to the TLA conference Berkhamsted. The first thing I liked was that it felt as if Nick Dennis had been waiting for our arrival before kicking off. Greeted at the door, ushered in for refreshments, sat down, then click. On. Very efficient. After an overly long journey it would have been easy to not quite focus, but there were so many different presentations and nano-presentations that I was happily engaged. At some TMs I’ve been to, it’s felt like there hasn’t been a balance in terms of subject / pedagogy / topic – sometimes they feel too primary focused for me (a secondary teacher) or sometimes they are only about using a new piece of kit/tech. So it was refreshing to have a balance.

The one thing I will be trying asap from #TMHBB is the Sentence Auction idea. It was explained from point of view of an MFL teacher trying to improve grammar/vocab use through peer assessment but I see no reason why it couldn’t apply to other subjects. This is the premise:

1) Before lesson. When marking books, teacher copies out an example sentence from a variety of books. Some sentences are correct, others are incorrect.

2) In lesson. Group students, and give each group a set of each of the sentences you copied out (a mixture of right&wrong examples). The group then has to debate which answers are correct or not, and choose which ones they wish to ‘bid’ on in the ‘auction’.

3) Each group is given a budget of x amount (say £500) and they can allocate this budget to bid on different sentences.

4) Show the sentences one-by-one (e.g. on the board / on screen) as if exhibiting items at an auction. Groups then have to decide whether they wish to bid to ‘purchase’ said sentence. (You could even take this up a notch and link to MFL if you like by asking students to bid in a foreign language 😉 .)

5) At the end of the auction, once each group has purchased their sentences at whatever cost, you then reveal which ones are correct. Depending on how difficult it is to determine the correct ones you could actually assign a value to each sentence. Then reveal whether the groups had bid correctly for the right sentences, and decide whether they would have made a profit or a loss had this actually been real.  The team to make the most money from having correctly identified and purchased the right sentences is the winner.

I think this could be a great tool for GCSE, perhaps especially for picking out key facts / processes / place-specific detail for learning case studies. And I will be trialling it as such in revision sessions with Year 11 after Easter. It will be time-consuming, and we were warned that it can take the whole lesson doing this, but it is AfL and reinforcing. So I liked the sound of it. Something to try, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?Vincent van Gogh

Review of TLA Berkhamsted conference – Geography workshops

As mentioned in the first #TLAB13 post, I appreciated the format of the day and found that having workshops grouped by subjects was useful for encouraging networking. Being around the same group of people but with three different inputs meant you had longer to share ideas and discuss them. The sessions were also informal and relaxed which was good. So who & what were they?

1) Carmel Greene – Letting Go of the Reins of Geography

Carmel spoke about moving her teaching, and classes, from being teacher-directed to learner-directed and shared a great range of simple and effective ideas to encourage more independence. She shared how she’d moved from feeling exhausted at the end of each lesson to now finding that both she and her students enjoy the lessons more. And that’s the point isn’t it, teachers as facilitators to guide but that students should be doing the hard work? If the teacher is feeling more exhausted at the end than the students, then the balance of effort is skewed and we are allowing students to sit back and be passive – linking to Bill Rankin’s brain activity graphs mentioned previously.

Carmel shared the common fears of ‘letting go of the reins’ and suggested ways to overcome. e.g. “If I leave them to work independently, they are more likely to misbehave” – this is a common fear for many of us, particularly for new teachers. Solution? “Well structured lessons with timings, planned transitions and a range of learning tasks”. Carmel Greene preziSimple. The link to Carmel’s presentation is HERE and includes a variety of different well structured activities so have a browse. I especially like her phrasing for differentiated resources / activity – e.g. ‘Spicy / Mild’. Clearly she has put a huge amount of time and effort into creating resources which should, in time, mean less teacher energy / input during class and more student-directed learning. However, it is also quite resource heavy/intense and would take a lot of time to prepare the first time BUT the end result should be “less teacher talk, more learner progress” – which is the right aim.

2) John Sayers – Personal Geographies

I was intrigued in advance about John’s presentation because it involved the setting up of various jenga sets and the alluring promise of a prize at the end. So that got my attention. I was also happy to be the person keeping track of time and given permission to throw something at him if he went over. Happy days. Having said that, I was so taken up with all the myriad ideas he suggested that I actually lost track of time myself. John’s blog is HERE and if you check through this and his twitter feed you will be able to find links to all he shared. It was a whistle-stop tour from AfL to questioning strategies, literacy to sensory learning. I wish he’d had more time as it there just wasn’t enough to go into it all. But there were a couple of things I shall definitely be trying.

The first thing I really loved was his idea of the ‘Superstars board’. In essence a display board showcasing quality work but taken up a level. Basically you can have the name / image of the superstar student for that week, and then a QR code linking to the work they had produced. Means you can share quality work that is in a digital format as well, or take pictures of work and share this online then link to it – hopefully encouraging a bit more peer learning and pride. Love it. I will definitely be looking to do this at school soon and will show what gets produced.

John is an advocate of the ‘messy learning’ / ‘guerrilla geography’ / mission:explore type activities and I particularly liked the idea of making displays with a message from waste. He shared how he wanted to show how much waste the school produced by collecting all the rubbish bins from each classroom then gathering it all together to make ‘art’ as a Maps from wastedisplay, making the message of recycling/waste a bit more real. Sounds like something from Art Attack but I imagine would be very hard-hitting. I also loved the idea of making maps out of waste, e.g. creating world maps from spilled drinks or orange peel (see image)! Just a bit more tangible perhaps.

The other thing that really interested me (there were LOTS of things) was the introduction to the Floodlines app. I hadn’t seen this before. It’s basically an augmented reality app to demonstrate the Brisbane floods, and as such is really useful for KS4 case studies on flooding, risk and management. Check HERE to find out more. What I liked? The fact that it is a visual representation of real flooding overlaying maps, and the timeline bar that means you can see the onset > peak > recession of the flood. Great visual learning tool.

The jenga I mentioned? An AfL tool. You write on each piece of jenga wood, could be a keyword or anything, then once it is removed you could quiz on it. Games based learning with the added element of fear from causing structural collapse 😉

John also shared some great ideas on planning questioning, and on evaluating / assessing how well children work in groups. Once I have a go trialling these I’ll write some more. Check HERE for his presentation.

Finally, I was very excited to get the prize at the end of the session – a set of Thinking DiceThinking Dice that each have a different question to pose. Again, just a way of adding game/chance into activities – similar to using dice and the learning grids perhaps in that sense. But it could be useful for revision/group activities where students have to develop questioning styles. Or for the teacher themselves to ensure variety of questioning. Will have a play with those.

3) David Rogers – Inspirational Geography

With a title as grand as that, and coming after two really great workshops and two inspiring keynotes, and being after lunch David was up against it to maintain the quality. But as David Rogersusual he delivered. You can see all the details of his session HERE but the focus was on guerilla learning and ‘un-planning.

David shared a variety of ideas, including:

– The Geography/EAL mash-up project that Sam Atkins in our department put together – students using upside down world maps, orienteering maps, QR codes and a tablet/smartphone to conduct an entire lesson in a foreign language.

Geocaching & BBC Report (mostly the work of myself and Sam) ; how to get projects having a wider impact, raising engagement & getting in the news 🙂 This always makes me smile on account of one student who, when the BBC arrived to film, stated ‘it’s ok, I’m media trained’…he’d been appearing on Super Nanny!

Simple un-planning tools; e.g. using the Bing homepage as your starter activity. Could be to do with links to industry, environment, country-specific, etc,.

– Using RSA style animations / Bob Dylan ‘esque’ posters to increase literacy and case study knowledge at GCSE

And many more. The message was about taking risks, having a go. And importantly, it was not about tech. Sometimes David (and @priorygeography) gets stereotyped into being ‘the high tech one’ or ‘you’re the one about mobile devices’, but creativity and risk-taking isn’t always about using a new piece of kit. Sometimes it’s as simple as a piece of paper and a felt pen. As ever, he was funny and practical, sharing a range of experiences and giving credit where due to whomever else was involved. I’ve mentioned before being lucky to be in my department, and it’s true. He’s the visionary one that has the great ideas that Sam and I then put into practice. That’s what makes us a good team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

TLA Berkhamsted – the keynotes

Three great keynotes throughout the day, but I most enjoyed Alistair Smith & Bill Rankin for the reasons below.

Alistair Smith’s (@alatalite) keynote ‘50’000 chunks: how we become experts’

I thought Alistair’s whole talk and presentation style was excellent. A great mix of well-grounded theory (‘here comes the science bit’), honest evaluations of real school practice, and humour.

One of the first things that resonated with me was the statement “Expertise differs from experience”. So often longevity can be misinterpreted as mutually coexistent with wisdom. I come from a department where from my very first days as an NQT my boss would demand excellence and place opportunities for development my way; such as large-scale projects, creating schemes of work, mentoring others, running new trips, applying for awards, etc,. I know from speaking to others, and from looking over my own C.V., that I have been very spoilt with opportunities and as such have developed a wide range of skills and experience within a short space of time – a wider and deeper experience perhaps than many who have more years than me in service, but who not been given these opportunities, or who have let themselves stagnate.

Now I’m not saying I’m an expert. Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog regularly knows that I describe myself as ‘just a bit better than average’. Equally I am not saying that I am better in any way than someone with more years’ experience. Schools should value those with commitment and years: experience is often invaluable – as these people should really have become experts in their own right in terms of results and relationships. However, longevity does not equal expertise, or even experience. You know how if you live somewhere for a long time you eventually stop seeing the little details and wonders around you? Same with spending too long in the same school or the same role perhaps, there is the danger that you might stop to see the little details or stop pushing for that excellence or for new challenges.

Alistair put his ‘Requirements for an Expert School’ slide on display (see image) Alistair Smith - expert schoolsand asked delegates to stay standing until they felt the criteria no longer matched their own school, then to sit down. It was sad how many schools sat down at the ‘Teaching and Learning number one priority within the development plan’ and having T&L identified strategies in place. Does this say a lot about schools? Surely it’s obvious to have these priorities and strategies? This led on nicely to his discussion about Ofsted and school priorities. That schools sometimes confuse an ‘Ofsted One’ with ‘Real One’ – SLT perhaps focusing school policy, development plans and energy upon the drive to achieve that elusive Ofsted outstanding category rather than focusing on delivering consistent real world outstanding experiences to every single student every day. If we focus on the real core needs of learners, and on excellent teaching and learning then surely the rest will follow? Schools should be child-centred, not Ofsted-centred : “we need learner-led, not Ofsted-led education”.

Alistair summed up this message with his warning to ‘beware the Ofsted Whisperers’

Ofsted whisperers

and gave glowing examples of schools where SLT have refused to mention Ofsted at any time. Bill Lord @joga5 tweeted that “@alatalite ‘s presentation has the beautiful mix of making you feel uncomfortable and yet driving you forward” – and this is true;

it was inspirational but challenging. Plus it ended with an image of a sparkly necklace, so what’s not to like?! 😉
Bill Rankin’s (@rankinw) keynote ‘Building sustainable learning’:

Bill’s style was thoroughly entertaining. Despite obviously being very knowledgeable and experienced, he didn’t take himself too seriously and had a great sense of humour. By this point in the day I’d pretty much exhausted my phone with tweeting and taking pictures from the other sessions I’d been to, which left me unable to take so many notes – however it was memorable and thought provoking.

He kicked off with talking about the power of online communities and how anyone can enter and be part of something bigger, the idea of removing barriers and encouraging freer exchange of information. This struck a chord as I remembered a conversation I’d had with my sister about crowd-sourcing and how charities & organisations are using this as means of engaging online communities in terms of accelerating simple data entry and for scientific purposes. I haven’t investigated how reliable / scientifically beneficial these groups are but the premise is that regular Joe Citizen can access the internet and follow mundane procedures that are time-consuming but in enough quantity prove useful to researchers. If this is of interest to you, or if you fancy getting your students involved in a ‘real project’ that could be of ‘real life use’, then there are these:

1)      https://www.zooniverse.org/ – a range of science projects from ocean floors to astronomy

2)      http://www.oldweather.org/ – help analyse climatic information

3)      http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/ – the scientists, software developers and educators behind all the zooniverse projects

Similarly, my sister mentioned the Cancer Research hackathon that created Gene Run – that a smartphone app is being created that enables the public to access and interpret genetic information that would take scientists forever to analyse, but that through sheer mass numbers of ‘civilian analysts’ on their apps could speed up the mundane data processing and thus free up scientists to do the tricky part and actually find a cure. Cancer Research is something close to my heart; my dad has a clock ticking with his own illness. So it seems logical for researchers / charities to embrace technology and start using the ever-present mass market of tech consumers for something greater. Crowd-sourcing as a benefit for the greater good? Online communities allowing each individual to be part of something bigger? If this could be the case, then as educators don’t we have a responsibility to encourage learners to a) want to be part of something bigger, and b) be able to access online information and communities safely? FYI, If you are wanting more info on e-safety / online learning then check out www.e-safetysupport.com/stories – or you can see my pieces here.

Bill showed a graph (image) Bill Rankin's brain activitythat allegedly shows results for brain activity in a teenager during discrete times of the day. This, if true, is rather alarming. That learners’ own physiology reflects the fact that in lessons they are not engaged. I get the chance to speak to a large number of children across all age and attitude groups, and to speak to various staff in my role and this reflects the feedback prevalent from many that at present a lot of learners are not ‘misbehaving’, not ‘kicking off’, but are just passive. Not disengaged in a ‘naughty’ way, but in an un-stimulated way. And clearly this needs to change.  It is not enough to be satisfied that learners ‘sat still, were quiet and completed activities’ – this doesn’t mean a child is engaged or enthralled. And surely that’s what we should be aiming for? That learners actually are enthralled, captivated, can’t get enough. Not passive and compliant but switched on, enthused, invigorated.

This led on to his analogy between classrooms and cornfields; that cornfields are often lacking biological variety and interaction because of monoculture in the aim of mass production. The analogy being that schools can easily fall into the same trap: that through being measured by, and fixated with, results, schools are driven to ‘churn out’ learners –acting like a conveyor belt to mass-produce an end product (a child who has achieved set standard) rather than being as concerned with holistic experiences. Again, the danger that it is too easy (and too little) for our aim to only ever be on results in terms of pieces of paper, that our aim should be broader. And I guess this links to Alistair’s warning – beware the Ofsted whisperers again. I got into a few twitter conversations about this after Bill’s thought-provoking statement “Is the stuff that’s easy to measure actually the stuff we want to be measuring?” And I totally agree. There is the danger of producing ‘monoculture learners’. Mike McSharry on twitter likened it to car specs – that measuring is all about performance, but that you wouldn’t choose your next car based on a spec certificate alone. Likewise the learner and education. It’s not just about measurable performance. Education and the job of educators is more holistic, experiential – not just results but ‘soft skills’, life skills, instilling a love of learning, etc, – it’s about real life.

Now please don’t misinterpret what has turned into an essay / rant. I am not saying results aren’t important, or worth measuring. They are. See me on exam morning or results day and I’m a nervous wreck. But that’s not because I want the results for myself or to please SLT/Ofsted. It’s because I want children to get what they deserve and to have come out of school with a good experience. A poor experience means that they have been cheated. That poor experience could be in terms of academic disappointment if I don’t support them enough, in terms of lack of social skills, lack of experience of the real world, lack of real life understanding, lack of a love of learning, etc,. But that’s why I do the job, and it frustrates me when I see it not happening (either in my own classroom if I’m not up to scratch, or elsewhere) because it is cheapening what children deserve.

Again, what came through strongly in all the keynotes (including Bill Lucas too) was that what we do needs to be more learner-led (pity then that Gove et al don’t consult the consumers themselves 😉 ) and child-centred. Then the rest should fall into place.

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Narnia, when Aslan breathes upon a stone giant to wake him back from the spell:

“It’s all right!” shouted Aslan joyously, “Once the feet are put right, all the rest of him will follow.” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe

Review of TLA Berkhamsted conference

Last weekend I visited the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference and Teachmeet at Berkhamsted. I have to say, I found it the best and most inspirational conference I have been to. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day, and the atmosphere amongst everybody was fantastic.

It wasn’t just that the sessions were brilliant (they were, but), it was that the mood was buoyant and the other delegates and colleagues seemed more positive and engaged than at other events I have been to. Perhaps because it meant giving up Friday night and Saturday? Did this recipe lead to better focus and energy on the day? I don’t really know how to phrase it, but perhaps having to sacrifice a weekend in search of CPD meant that attendees were more committed to making the absolute most of it all? Rather than the passive, at times negative, delegates you can find at events (you know, those with the ‘that would never work in my school’, ‘actually I know this all already’ mentality?) there was a genuine buzz for the whole day. During break-out sessions and social time there was no-holds-barred networking and the air was thick with productive conversations and collaboration. Within 10 minutes of the first break I had made three new contacts and arranged to share resources and liaise on a topic in the summer term. And this comes from someone who is shy and genuinely fears the act of ‘networking’. It just happened easily. Personally I blame Nick Dennis 🙂

So, what did I enjoy most and take from the conference? In no particular order:

1)      The keynotes, particularly Alistair Smith & Bill Rankin

2)      Geography workshops – it was useful having workshops grouped by subject

3)      Teachmeet – the variety

I’ll blog a separate story for each of these because I seem to have written whole essays for each, so check the next posts as well. Massive thank you to Nick Dennis and Rebecca Brooks for organising it all so well, a really fantastic first effort and can’t wait for next year.