My takeaways from Tom Sherrington's workshop

On Saturday I attended a full day workshop run by Tom Sherrington. It was excellent, so I share my main takeaways here. In no particular order, here they are:
  1. Senior leaders should be very wary of blanket diktats. 'Everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere' was the Dylan William quote that he endorsed as mirroring his own view. Allowing for variation applies as much within a school as it does between different schools. When you introduce a new initiative ask yourself whether insistence on compliance is necessary and helpful: sometimes it will be; sometimes it won't. Leaders shouldn't be afraid to let a variety of 'plants and trees' flourish in their school. [A teacher at my table gave an excellent example of a well-meant but misfiring of top-down initiative. In his school teachers had been told that they must use the lolly stick method of questioning in their classes for all questions thrown out to the whole class. This removed from him any discretion over who to ask and when - ridiculous.]
  1. The progressive vs traditional outlook which divides many edu-sages on Twitter (but not in my experience chalk-face teachers) is unhelpful. Teachers need a range of strategies in their teaching toolbox from which they choose the most appropriate 'tool' according to the context and their professional judgement.
  1. Effective questioning is a kingpin of effective teaching and is not considered in enough detail in most schools:
    • dispense with hands up - pick on pupils to answer according to your knowledge of them and what you are seeking to get in terms of an answer
    • get into the habit of probing pupils further 'how do you know', 'are you sure?', 'is that always the case?' etc. this can be a powerful way of deepening and extending knowledge
    • never let a pupil get away with a 'I dunno' response. If you really get nowhere, move to another pupil for the answer and then come back to the original pupil for reiteration/clarification/further probing. The unspoken message should be that: 'non-participation is not an option in my classroom'.
  1. Regular, repeated and deliberate reinforcement of what has been taught is essential to effective learning. Too often teachers 'deliver content' and then consider their job done. Tom advocated:
    • choral responses (to get pupils saying the what they've learnt out loud to reinforce it)
    • regular low-stakes testing
    • mini whiteboards (or similar) for regular checking and reinforcement of what has been covered
    • teaching pupils how to revise and memorize effectively (not just copying out notes, making nice revision cards etc.)
    • knowledge organisers for topics to reinforce what has been learnt and even what forms the core 'grammar' of a particular area of learning. 'Grammar' here used in its traditional sense
The key message here was that students (and adults) forget most of what they have been taught unless there is an active and sustained effort to remember.
  1. Knowledge is vital for gaining more knowledge - it is easier to learn something new if you already have somewhere in your 'schema' to hook it.
  1. Misconceptions are devilishly hard to get rid of once established, so foundations are key for beginner learners. For beginners well administered, tightly managed direct instruction is likely to be the most effective way of reducing the chance of gaps opening up in pupils' schemas.
  1. You cannot see learning happening in front of you. The only things you can actively measure in class are all poor proxies for learning. So be careful if your school sets a lot of store by graded classroom observations. In fact grading lessons is a suspect practice; the only thing senior managers really have to rely on as a quantifiable measure of teaching effectiveness is post-hoc test results.
  1. A whole gamut of further reading was suggested including:
I have been a follower of Tom's blog and tweets for some time, so I had an idea of what to expect from this workshop and knew that his views largely chimed with my own. As a result, I was a little wary of indulging in confirmation bias as I nodded along with his pronouncements. Nonetheless I got a lot out of the day: it was challenging and thought-provoking - a great way in which to kick off the new school year.

Thank you, Tom :-)

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