Guest blog by Duncan King, Director of Digital Learning at The Perse School.
I picked up on the Festival of Education through twitter early this year and had high hopes from the billing that this would be a fantastic event. It did not disappoint. Held in the atmospheric grounds and buildings of Wellington College, it was brilliantly organised and set out to attract teachers (and tweechers), parents and families by bringing together leading speakers from the world of education.
As anyone who has been to a music festival can attest, one of the greatest challenges of these type of events is choosing who to see. There were as many as ten different talks running simultaneously and I was left wondering what might have been if only I had turned right to hear Andrew Adonis or left to hear Michael Wilshaw (I missed both, alas). That said, the talks I did see (thirteen, in all) were, almost without exception, stimulating, challenging and entertaining. They varied enormously in content and style and encouraged me to make new connections between ideas at different scales in teaching: from the big picture, philosophy and direction of education, right down to specific lesson ideas and practical measures to aid the use of technology in the classroom.
As perhaps already hinted at, my festival experience was greatly enriched by twitter. I used tweets as my notes, a summary of the key ideas I heard and thoughts I had. Meanwhile by following #educationfest I could also see others’ opinions on the same presenter and get a sense of what was being said in presentations I was unable to attend. I made many new twitter connections during the two days and finally met people in person who I had originally only known through twitter.
Here is a summary of some of my festival highlights:
Tucked away in the first slot on Friday, Daphne Koller (Professor of Computer Science at Stamford and co-founder of Coursera) was convincing in her view that MOOCs potentially offer most to those with poor access to education both in developing nations and within developed nations. She also presented compelling evidence of the potential benefits of the use of online assessment to drive mastery learning which chimed with Michael Barber’s (Chief Education advisor at Pearson) view that technology is likely to have a significant impact in assessment in the next 10 years.
Oliver James was brilliantly entertaining, debunking ideas about the importance of genes in child development, making a plea for parents to avoid only giving praise to children for academic performance rather than effort (encourages perfectionism which in turn may lead to problems such as eating disorders) and suggesting that we should worry less about trying to educate under 6s and let them learn through play (as many of our Scandinavian neighbours do).
Dylan Wiliam is a fantastic speaker and he made a real impression on me, going at some pace and digging deep into research to find out how teachers can improve. His answer is deliberate practice; a constant desire to reflect on what has gone before and learn from mistakes is needed throughout a teacher’s career. Dylan also made an interesting observation about homework: the evidence suggests that most homework is ineffective but that homework which is effective is work that prepares students for the lesson to come, not work that consolidates the lesson just passed. To me this seemed like tacit support for the idea of flipped learning, which I wrote about in a previous blog last year.
Tom Bennett (TES Behaviour Guru and organiser of the forthcoming ResearchEd conference) did a superb demolition job on popular educational ideas from recent years – learning styles, multiple intelligences, thinking hats and others. He eloquently expressed how the quality and quantity of educational research has been lacking and that this has left a void which has been filled by untested ideas that have an attractive concept at their heart but no evidence for their effectiveness in improving learning. Tom also writes brilliantly – if you haven’t seen it, take a look at his blog.
I have seen Tom Sherrington (Head of King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford) speak before and he again impressed with his presentation of his 10 characteristics of great lessons. You can read more about them in his excellent blog here. Tom also came up with some of my favourite quotations from the weekend, including: ‘If you’re not struggling, you’re not learning’; ‘we need values in education, not just outcomes’ (otherwise what drives outcomes becomes the priority – i.e. teaching to the test); ‘if you’re not enjoying the lessons you’re teaching, your pupils aren’t enjoying them either’. Look out for the book he is rumoured to be writing.
Geoff Barton’s (Headmaster of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds) talk, ‘don’t call it literacy’, was inspirational and I went away with a deeper understanding of the importance and challenges of teaching pupils to write well. His suggestion that we need to help students to move from ‘what should I write’ to ‘how should I write it’ resonated strongly.
Finally, Michael Gove being interviewed by David Aaronovitch was arguably the headline act of the festival (if you ignore Katie Price, which was not easy given that she arrived in a pink bus). It is certainly an understatement to say that Gove is a controversial figure, but he actually came across incredibly well and while you may not agree with what he had to say, he did say it very well and you cannot fault his conviction. After the event I was reminded to read this article which appears to give an accurate profile of the real Michael Gove.
This extended summary still really only gives a small taste of the event and given the variety of talks on offer each delegate must have had a very different experience. In short, to get a real impression, you had to be there – perhaps next year you will.
Duncan King is Head of Geography and Director of Digital Learning at The Perse School. This blog was originally posted on his blog http://whatwillschoolbelike.wordpress.com/ Follow Duncan on Twitter: @kingduncanking