Thoughts on TLAB13

I wrote this last year and published it at the time but it seems to have fallen into my drafts folder. As #TLAB14 approaches, I thought I would resurrect it.

Many of my colleagues on Twitter have been posting their thoughts about #TLAB13, an amazing Saturday conference which brought together several hundred teachers, many of whom knew each other only as @mr peel, @dailydenouement, @learningspy and so on. We were treated to three stunning key note addresses which are no doubt reported on elsewhere, but I want to talk about two English presentations which struck a chord and to pop them onto the blog in the hope that some of the many students who come here might comment on the ideas as a means of extending the feedback.

The first was the session by Rosie McColl, the AHOD English at Berkhamsted school. She delivered a workshop called “can students learn to be effective teachers?”

The premise was that typical group presentations serve little purpose and can be little more than tedious explorations of Wikipedia. Harsh? Possibly not and I am certainly going to try this one. Se was supported by student feedback from her own school, and comments from an eloquent group of students from a guest school – the Wren Academy- who helped to make a very strong case.

Criticism of the traditional model ranged from the predictable- dull and occasionally allowing good notes to be taken in a passive manner to the more surprising- students doubting the veracity of the information because their peers are not deemed to be reliable.

Rosie’s response as can be seen above, is to insist on questioning as the only acceptable form of presentation if learning is to be positive, independent and shared. In short the need on the presenters is not simply to assimilate information but to ensure that they interrogate it to develop a group of questions to put to the class, who, in turn, need to engage their minds in answering. At times, there is even the chance of fortuitous digression to explore unimagined ideas. Brilliant.

“Not rocket science”, you cry. But this is the joy of such a day. Often the ideas that are not rocket science are the ones we value and the ones we will use again and again. I think this is one of them. It is not that I have never asked students to use questioning, rather that here was direct evidence of the efficacy and video proof that it works.

The other session that spoke to me was that of Daisy Christodoulou, the former star of University Challenge who is now at the Curriculum Centre. She presented a passionate plea for grammar to be given a core place in the teaching of English. In short, rather than endless projects and worksheets, something of a return to grit in the delivery of English. Her resources were well chosen to show the issues with weak grammar in student work. I have often told my students to give examiners no excuse to penalise any work by proof reading thoroughly. As David Didau points out, work is unfinished if it is not proofread. However with no consistent teaching of the fundamentals of grammar, how can students recognise their errors or develop their writing with any confidence? Daisy showed us a detailed 3year plan to take yr 7-9 from the basics of grammar to confident and sophisticated manipulation of the dark arts. Whether her course suits all is tricky. I am keen to see what my school can do with the idea… If we have the time in the teaching week. And there’s the rub.

Still, the fact that there are such passionate advocates of accuracy is a joy. This is not a call for zany new thinking, and it might be a little dull and repetitive to deliver. Good. At the start of the day we were urged to beware the “OFSTED whisperers” by Alistair Smith. It is possible that Daisy’s approach might not be the dreams of inspectors looking for entertaining lessons. To those of us who want to move grit and repetition back to the top of education without sacrificing all the paedagogical advances of recent years, this was a refreshing clarion call.