ResearchEd 2018. My day…

It is extraordinary that well over 1000 teachers will give up their Saturday to listen to CPD, even when the quality is as high as this.  Yet Tom Bennett’s ResearchEd does it right: tickets are cheap, speakers are generous with their time, and often as engaged in the whole day as the delegates, and the range of material on offer is simply staggering. The programme is phenomenal:

If anything, there were times when the conference was the victim of its own success – rooms were often not quite big enough, the corridors were heaving with humanity and several sessions were impossible to get into.  Possibly we have reached the end of the Woodstocking of Edu conferences – maybe there will need to be a reduction in places available next year because there are simply too many people wishing to attend what has become one of the most important days in my calendar. I hope not. I heard a few grumbles, but most were accepting of the situation and got on with things with good humour.

At this point I usually try to outline the key elements of each session I attended but this year I thought I would leave that to the presenters, nearly all of whom make their work available via Twitter within hours of the sessions closing, so who am I to add my layer of interpretation, cognitive bias, halo effect and so on?  Instead, I thought I’d share my thoughts about how I might use this material in my classrooms this year.

The sessions attended:

1: David Weston & Bridget Clay: Unleashing Great Teaching: The secrets to the most effective teacher development.

2: Daisy Christodoulou Assessing Writing with”Writing Ages”.

3: Harry Fletcher Wood: How can behavioural psychology help us nudge students in the right direction?

4: Sarah Barker Developing Automaticity in Handwriting at Secondary.

5: Alex Quigley: Making Sense of Metacognition.

6: Mark Enser: Teach Like Nobody’s Watching -The simple, the complex and the complications.

David and Bridget were talking through ideas found in their book ‘unleashing great teaching’ and it set me up well for the day. I’ve not read the book, though it will now be on my CPD list and it gave a useful heads up before embarking on a day like this: the issues around Confirmation bias, sunk cost bias and the ‘IKEA effect’ as well as other ways in which we tend to be led to find all sessions at a day like this were a timely reminder to keep my head screwed on and to think hard before ‘biting’. We were also introduced to ‘systematic reviews’ of research.  If, like me, you wonder about research claims or are asked to research a new idea for your school, this is something which I am sure I should have known about, but didn’t.  If you google your subject and add systematic review, you get a number of research documents which are the result of the study of all the available evidence on that topic – not just a pilot in the lower 6th. This is my takeaway from this session, given in a packed drama studio and holding the standing room only crowd in rapt attention.

Duly warned against the Halo effect, I went along to Daisy Christodoulou expecting to enjoy what I heard. I first heard Daisy at #TLAB13, I think. This was one of the earliest of the T&L conferences which owed much of its existence to EduTwitter –  when she was about to publish her book 7 myths and i have heard her numerous times since. She is always interesting and her current work with the No more marking group makes her very much someone who has something worth saying. Today’s work on establishing a writing age was interesting, although I do not see an immediate application at my school – our cohorts are too small and, at the moment, we do not have enough regular partners with which to share our data.  That said, this is something of which we should be aware.  She contends that the most accurate way of reporting accurately the achievement of a student both within school and to their parents, is the ‘mark and confidence interval’ method. However, this is rarely ever done and is confusing. In principal, any mark must have a +or- range, often a couple of marks – any English Department knows this and we see it every time we moderate coursework or peer assess our marking.  Using this idea, she suggests makes us see students in a different light. Imagine 2 students scoring 28/40 and 30/40 respectively.  Given a confidence interval of + or – 2, we see that they are broadly working at the same level. Yet they may be separated by a grade boundary. When this happens each is immediately related not to each other, but to the outliers at either end of their respective grade. This is particularly tricky at primary, she suggests, with only 3 different grades in each year, though the principal works for those of us in secondary as well.

What she has been able to do, to assist reporting progress is to collate the 50,000+ students in the ‘no more marking’ cohort by month age and ‘score’ in their system.  By doing this, one can see plotted on a graph the spread of marks by month of age. The confidence interval allows for a spread to be plotted and overlaps can be clearly seen, as well as a clear evidence of where the student is in relation to his or her age and then reported against the average in that group. Very neat, very sensible and very useful.


Harry Fletcher Wood’s session – crushed on the floor at the front, was a useful exploration of ‘nudges’ to solve problems. His ideas to consider when faced with a recurring problem can be found here. The problem I chose to consider is around 6th form students who simply ignore all attempts to impose deadlines, despite threats, calls home, detentions and cajoling in equal measure. This is something which plagues my A level group and there is one man in particular who I need to support in completing his work in a timely fashion. Pointing out that resistance to change is often seen as a ‘people problem’ and that we almost always focus our response on the student, Harry suggests a number of ways of addressing the issue from a less confrontational position. He suggests a useful acronym: EAST. Make the task Easier, make it more Attractive, make it Social and make it Timely. I am thinking about applying this…

First I will look at how I can simplify the issues which might prevent the work from being written – I will place a room at the disposal of the student and at first make myself available to help with any obvious questions which he has not found himself able to ask in a lesson environment. Having tried to make it easier for the student to settle to work, I will support him with emailed reminders and prompts. This can seem intrusive, but for many the issue is actually getting down to work in the first place and such reminders should help to ensure that deadlines do not just roar past in the depths of night.  Another of the factors in non-completion is often a fear of failure. I think here I need to stress the fact that a draft and even a final version is not final – it is a small percentage of the whole mark attained. This should help to assuage the fear of failure and to show that a mark attained is so much better than marks lost through non-completion. I need also to stress the social aspect of non completion – of his peers, I think, rather  than staff. Why should a student care if my marking load is increased by his lack of work? He might respond to the idea that all the others in the class have completed – he alone has not-  and that this is not really a position which will make them think in any positively of him. School is a social experiment in so many ways and students often wish to remain slightly anonymous in their classes. Failure to submit places their heads above the parapet and in this case will be quite a useful tool… or not, we shall see. This is work in progress and by no means the end of the thinking process. I am in touch with Harry on Twitter and will be intrigued to see what small changes I can make which might address this issue. Above all, I am not seeing this as singularly a pupil problem any more.

Sarah Barker’s session on automaticity in student handwriting was a real treat. We all have students arriving in Year 7 with dreadful handwriting, even after (presumed) close attention at primary school. Of course they do not need beauty, she asserts, only legibility and readability, and although some can get dispensation to use computers in exams, this means that we are not teaching a life skill and I would rather work hard in Years 7 & 8 to see if improvements can be made. We do see parents at school requesting PC use early in their son’s career. I understand the sentiment but will tend to wish to apply some of Sarah’s ideas first.

Building on research into automaticity, she finds that several strategies oft employed have a negative rather than a positive outcome. Ideas such as tracking the pen point closely actually reduce the fluency of the writing. Instead she advocates practice and uses old-fashioned handwriting paper with technical writing patterns to copy derived from her reading of the research (and her grandfather’s calligraphy skills.

I like this and know a few children with whom I wish to embed the idea.  Simply use the bottom 5  or 6 lines of every page and require the student to complete the practice daily. After copying  waves and castle walls, we can move onto hand strengthening using rows of dashes built up into columns and eventually to letter forms. I will try this. I like the idea and it seems easily applicable. After all, it is something to try and something that I have not heard before.

Alex Quigley is another of those speakers and writers who just seem to get it right. His session on metacognition was most timely as I am about to address my Lower 6th cohort about the new world that is 6th form study. These boys cannot simply do ‘independent study’ without more help to build their awareness of the things they do not know or find difficult. I will wish to share ideas here about our self- awareness and the subsequent strategies we can put in place to address our perceptions of our weaknesses.  Alex used a great example of a Welsh language document to talk us through the student thought process… I can use the Chaucer text which they meet for the first time this term.  We can support our students in this endeavour and hopefully the application of metacognitive approaches will pay dividends not just for us, but also for the boys when they head to university.

Finally (I did not stay to session 7 for a number of reasons) Mark Enser gave us the route to teaching as though no one is watching. His contention that teaching is essentially simple and made complex by the external forces of parental demands, SLT requirements  and the fear of OFSTED. This was particularly apposite when Amanda Spielman came through the door to watch the session. Sitting half way back, I did enjoy the rustle of heads as delegates recognised the Chief Inspector and needed to comment to their neighbour.

Mark’s session was fun and highly engaging yet making serious points, especially in the light of workload issues. He moves to stop teaching becoming a chore in a 4 part mantra: Recap, feedback, application, test and his session took us through the process using numerous examples from his Geography teaching. His use of low stakes quizzes and similar approaches to the recap phase is familiar, but it is always good to be reminded of what have become the basics of my practice.  I did enjoy being reminded that ‘practice makes permanent’ rather than perfect and also to hear so much good common sense being delivered in such a positive manner. This was a great way to round off my day before heading back to Swiss Cottage and thence homewards.

Roll on the next one!  Brilliant and hugely stimulating.