Practical Pedagogies Conference – Day 2

Image: Photo from Ewan McIntosh’s session on questioning and feedback. More info / links below


A slightly less rushed reflection of day two, written in the airport after a lovely day strolling around Toulouse, but only posted now as the airport wifi didn’t seem too willing to load my blog!

Following an excellent meal at the end of Day 1, Day 2 through everyone straight back in with another four workshops!

Workshop 1 – Theory of Knowledge

In hindsight, perhaps I wasn’t really in the target audience for this workshop and so this was probably the least useful for me as I didn’t really have the context to make sense of some of it.

None the less, from talking to other people on my table I got the idea that ‘Theory of Knowledge’ (or as one delegate put it ‘asking how we know what we know’) is a key element of the International Baccalaureate. There seemed to be lots of cross over with the old ‘Critical Thinking’ AS level in the UK, although there was the potential for it be to be much more applied.
I got the impression that it wasn’t especially valued by many students, perhaps because it was often taught as an add-on, rather than a key element of the subject.

My notes, including several photos from walls around the room are here.


Workshop 2 – Questioning and Feedback – Ewan McIntosh

Another excellent, thought provoking session, bursting at the themes. As with yesterday’s workshop I’d seen some of the ideas Ewan was talking about on his blog and in the NoTosh Lab, but talking them through with others and getting more of a context really helped to make sense of them.

A few takeaways for me:

  • You need to separate the process of generating ideas and evaluating them for quality – we tend to combine them and that just stifles ideas
  • UnGoogleable questions are more interesting and lead to deeper thinking, but that doesn’t mean the Googleable ones are not important, especially as part of learning deeper
  • Questions need to pass the ‘So what, who cares’ test – and it may take some tough love to get students (and teachers) there
  • Get lots of feedback in to early versions of ideas and iterate often. (There’s a link here, I think, to the 30% vs 90% feedback I read about a few years back ( I think via Doug?) and Tom has written about recently. It take 4 -5 prototypes to get something good. I’ve also seen Austin’s Butterfly in a new context
  • For this, this provides a valuable structure to help me help my students improve the quality of their independent learning projects when I go back to school.

I need to go back and reread the Mindset, Skill set, Tool set stuff in light of what I’ve heard and thought about here.

Workshop 3 – Embedding Coaching and Mentoring to improve standards in Teaching and Learning. Pete Sanderson (@Lessontoolbox)

A very interesting session, exploring how Pete has used Mentoring models to help separate out ‘Performance Management’ and improving the quality of teaching, by ensuring that all teachers are entitled to support in reaching a goal of their own choosing

I must confess I didn’t realise how fought over the ideas around coaching were, and several of the audience seemed to have issues with how it had been deployed and there is clearly a tightrope to walk in terms of empowering teachers to improve, and ensuring quality across the school. None the less, it sounded like a very positive process to me, and something I hope more schools (including my own) look to implement.

There were a couple of interesting discussions with people around me about the use of peer mentoring as a way of further developing this, and the power that can be accessed by changing observation from something that is done to them, to something that they get to do.

My notes are here

Pete has blogged a summary here


Workshop 4  – Reading like a Scientist, Writing like a Geographer. Angela Cooze

I was interested in this session even before I knew it was Angela (who is from UWTSD – the University I did my teacher training in) who was running it.

My interest around subject specific literacy was sparked by Dr Steve Wilkinson at TLAB, and this session contained some really interesting, practical examples of how writing can be improved in a subject specific context.

Before I come on to those, I was again left thinking how important it is to let students draft ideas and structures on post-its before coming to write. I’ve often done it with A Level students, I need to make sure it works it’s way down to KS3.

There was a plug for Geoff Barton’s book ‘Don’t call it Literacy’, which I’ve never read but heard very positive things about.

A few of my takeaways from this session:

  • Can another member of staff work out what the challenge was if you remove the title from a student’s piece of work?
  • Modelling is key – but not of the final product, but of the process (A link here I think to the work done by John Tomsett and others around annotating exam papers with their thought processes rather than their answers for students to read through)
  • Starting with a teacher version and having students improve it to a point they can use it as a starting point for their own version (eg a piece of writing about a particular river)
  • This can lead to writing that is a little limited, but it provides a better scaffold for students that we current offer, and as David Didau says, the point of scaffolding is that you’re supposed to take it down after a while. I think you’d need to plan for this though.

Closing session – Ewan McIntosh

There was so much here, I’ve discovered my notes have stopped as Ewan prompted us all on to Twitter to outline our Objectives, Strategies and Tactics (from his original Key Note). I think I’ve managed to capture them all here.

Key takeaways and reflections

  • It’s ok to aim big (sometimes I forget this)
  • Don’t be fearful of mediocrity – it’ll stop you innovating
  • How do you get those around you to join your orchestra, rather than playing like soloists?
  • I can’t help thinking we need this kind of provocation in the next few years for the team who are drawing up the new curriculum for Wales.

Final reflections

This was an amazing, intense, thought provoking and (at times) headache inducing two days. I loved it!

Huge thanks to Russel and the team at IST for organising it so well, and to Ewan for being so thought provoking. Also to everyone I got to catch up with again, to everyone who I finally turned from a Twitter follow into a real person and friend, and to everyone who I had never heard of before, but who nudged my thinking in various ways and who are now filling my Twitter stream with their ideas.

I suspect more posts will follow as I start to digest everything I heard.

A few other people have already started blogging their reflections. I think Ben was first out of the blocks, and Simon Gregg’s post is here. Keep an eye on the #pracped15 hashtag on Twitter for others.

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