Today was the first NorthantsBLT development day this academic year and saw a different approach to the focus and structure of historic events.
Previously, the days have focused around lots of sharing from schools with lots of opportunities to swap opinions on apps, use of online tools and ideas for using these in the classroom. This year, we have tried to focus more around the ‘B’ and the ‘L’ in BLT: Better Learning.
We were delighted to welcome Ewan McIntosh to lead the day who set up our thinking with an inspiring keynote on the theme: Visable thinking, visual learning. There were so many gems that came out of this session and here’s my reflections on a couple of things that have stuck with me throughout the day…
Design Thinking is clearly a passion of Notosh and Ewan and, having recently become familiar with the concept, I can see what an effective model this would be for structuring learning in a school. In particular, I agree that often as teachers we can hold on to the divergent creative thinking aspect and introduce learning already packaged up to children in a format we’ve decided on.
Incidentally, when I returned to school this evening, a teacher proudly brought me two pieces of ‘home learning’ that children had excelled in based on their recent visit to an Indian wedding. He told me that he couldn’t believe how much better the writing was compared to what he sees in the literacy books day in day out. When we unpicked what was different about the task, it became clear. The home learning was open ended, it was based on a real experience and children were allowed to choose which aspect of the Indian wedding they wanted to focus on, how to present it and how much to do. Both children had owned the divergent phases of the design thinking model and the results were spectacular. I’ll certainly be revisiting this model as we develop our Learning model at school.
Prototyping was another aspect that struck a chord with me. Ewan talked about 18 prototypes being an optimum number within a design phase and we were asked to reflect on how many opportunities children have to ‘prototype’ their work within a lesson or unit of work. Typical responses were possibly 1 and at best 2 but in most instances we expect learners to move straight to a finished article from a set of instructions, modelling, demonstration or explanation. If we want to develop resilient learners, we have to give them opportunities to fail, reflect and improve – something that prototyping seemed to describe well.
THE ‘TESTS Vs GENUINE LEARNING’ ARGUEMENT
Often, when you’re exposed to inspirational ideas like today, the concern for lots of colleagues is that they would love to implement some of these practices but they feel that there’s a conflict between develop genuinely great learning and the testing/progress agenda in schools.
I find myself having this discussion with colleagues a lot (and I know I’m in the minority) but I don’t think that testing conflicts with great learning. I think that if you create great learners, they are more than likely to be able to become capable readers, writers and mathematicians and take tests in their stride. If you like, success in tests is a by-product of being a great learner.
The one exception to this (I believe)is the Year 1 phonics test – something I’m yet to find a supporter of!
PARENTING CHILDREN AT SCHOOL
Today, Ewan described the age old issue of asking children what they learned at school when they got home and the standard response that parents get. All parents in the room (including myself) nodded in agreement and talked about how from 4-18, ‘nothing’ followed by a range of confrontational and avoidance behaviours is the norm in almost every household. It made me realise that we’re all stuck in this repeating cycle of asking children questions, being disappointed by the response and then bemoaning either the school or the child respectively for either not providing enough memorable learning or for not being interested in education. A thought struck me: Perhaps our questions are wrong and not the answers.
When I came home this evening, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of asking Stanley the questions that I wanted the answers to – I asked him questions that I thought he would be interested in answering. Who’s the tallest in your class? Who’s the naughtiest in your class? If you could bring any bit of your school home, which bit would it be? What’s the silliest thing that’s happened at school this week? Tonight I had a much more talkative Stanley about school and found out lots about his school day!
So today got me thinking and I hope others found it provocative too. Yet again, it reminds us that while technology is a great tool for learning, it’s the skill of teaching and a well developed approach to learning which is the key to making it effective.
Thanks to Peter and Ewan for leading today and to Helen and Gareth at the University of Northampton for providing the venue and being great hosts. Here’s to more successful BLT events in the future: Better Learning with (or without) Technology