David Didau at #TLAB13

As an English teacher (and self-confessed Twitter-holic) then the choice of the first #TLAB13 workshop was a no-brainer: I was going to listen to David Didau’s Anatomy of an Outstanding Lesson session.

For those of you who don’t know David, he is an associate member of SLT and Director of English and Literacy at Clevedon School in North Somerset. He is also an associate of Independent Thinking Ltd and specialises in training on Literacy, AfL, Outstanding T&L and English.

He blogs and tweets under the name of @LearningSpy and I have always found his take on teaching to be both innovative and refreshingly real.

So, I left the theatre with my head buzzing from Alastair Smith’s keynote and entered the room to the sound of Cameo’s Word Up – classic theme tune for an English teacher, right? (Later in the workshop David spoke about playing music at the start of lessons and its potential to change mood/atmosphere etc.)

What a pleasure it was to meet David and to get an insight into how he goes about planning a lesson. He manages to combine authority with an endearing humility which belies his ‘twitterati’ status as the go-to-guy for English.

Alastair Smith had already talked about the problem of many lesson plans being simply “elaborate to-do lists” and David’s workshop continued this theme as he promised us he would demonstrate his “contempt for activities”.

Firstly, the visual metaphor of the iceberg to describe lesson planning was perfect. It really is the unseen ‘stuff’ that makes the observed lesson work. And, as someone currently mentoring NQTs and a PGCE student, it gives me a great discussion point for this week’s meetings.

David’s learning questions resonated with me. (I’m using the word resonate a lot in my #TLAB13 posts – but it was that kind of day. Lots of little lightbulb moments or earnest head nods and palpable relief that I’m not alone in problems, dilemmas etc)

Five Planning Questions

1. How will last lesson relate to this lesson?

2. Which students do I need to consider in this particular lesson? (Pen Portraits.)

3. What will students be doing the moment they arrive? (Bell work.)

4. What are they learning and what activities will they undertake to learn it?

5. How will they – and I – know if they are making progress?

Again, not only am I going to reflect on these questions in my own planning but they will become part of my dialogue with the department. I liked the idea of the Pen Portraits. Having certain pupils in each class who are the focus for that unit, skill, module, term etc seems like a good way to do it.

David is a teacher. He may have additional responsibility and a sideline in writing and training etc but the man teaches. So when he talks about how “time is precious” and offers ideas of how to work smarter, then this fellow teacher is listening. His assertion that “a set of books marked is a lesson planned” and “lessons can simply be working through the feedback” made me think. Could I (and by extension, the teachers in my department) be working smarter when it comes to marking and planning?

I liked David’s idea of the post-it note as instant feedback. I’m a fan of the post-it note as teaching aid. I use them all the time. I’m not sure I have used them in this way though – an instant take-away-and-implement idea. Genius! (The idea: step back during the lesson, observe pupils’ learning & use the post-its to offer suggestions, feedback, next steps etc)

The workshop continued. I was typing away furiously. Discussing ideas as they popped up with Kristian, my fellow back-row occupier. (It was probably at about this point when I stopped forgetting I’d already been up for hours and realising what a brilliant day this was turning out to be!)

A discussion about learning outcomes followed. David shared his use of the phrase “so that we can” which was a little slice of genius. This allows you to split the learning from the outcome but still make it meaningful and coherent. See the example he gave below:

Learning: To be able to analyse characterisation.

“so that we can…”

Outcome: Evaluate Steinbeck’s intentions

Or another: zoom in on details “so that we can” zoom out on the big picture

This was my second instant take away from the workshop. I’ll be framing my learning objectives/intentions/outcomes (whatever the phrase du jour is!) in this way from now on. It makes sense.

As a fellow English teacher, I always appreciate training delivered by subject specialists. I am confident that whatever subject the audience taught, they would have gained much from David’s clear breaking down of the elements of a lesson but, as an English specialist, the subject-specific element gave this the edge.

David on writing was very interesting. He writes with his pupils. Sometimes this may be typing straight on to the screen in full view, other times it may be on paper and then shared with them at the end of the task. It sharpens his own writing. It helps him re-frame tasks or questions. It also models good practice and, let’s be honest, good writing takes deliberate practice. (I do this. I think I miss a trick though; I don’t perhaps explicitly talk about the writing process enough. My third instant takeaway from this session.)

I’m going to pinch a Didau-ism and make it my own. Henceforth, I won’t talk about writing… it’ll be called drafting so pupils realise it is a process. I’m also going to channel David when I say: “If it isn’t proofread, it isn’t finished.” 

David went on to talk about how there is no magic formula for a perfect lesson. I agree. He did however point to one fact that separates the good from the great when it comes to lessons. What is it? The relationship between teacher and pupils. As the class teacher, you have an innate advantage or trump card you can play on the observer: your knowledge of the pupils in front of you. “Dare to know” challenged David and he’s right.

Thinking about the outstanding lessons I’ve observed and, dare I say it, the best lessons I have taught and they hinge on the teacher’s knowledge of the pupils in front of him/her. If you dare to know your pupils and teach a lesson tailored to meet their needs, designed to help them progress or to challenge them to exceed expectations, then how can it fail to impress those who may be observing?

What a workshop. What a guy.

Sycophantic? Unashamedly so. I had the privilege to meet someone whose writing I’ve long admired and, do you know what, he deserves the plaudits.

#ukedchat – a year or so on and I’m still a fan!

I blogged in August 2010 about the weekly #ukedchat discussions that happen every Thursday on Twitter between 8 – 9pm.

https://dailydenouement.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/ukedchat/

A year on and I’m more enamoured than ever with the whole #ukedchat ‘thing’.

Why? Well, for a start I have now got professional contacts from all over the UK who provide me with advice, support and inspiration on a daily and weekly basis. Sometimes I think there is a tendency for teachers to become quite inward-looking. We get very caught up in “this is how we do it here” and “our focus is this”… #ukedchat takes you out of your own classroom and gives you a privileged insight into hundreds of other schools, methods, pedagogies etc.

It’s free. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Join us?

Wackoidal: the new education buzz word?

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove was invited to discuss the twenty-four free schools opening this month. The free schools are a Conservative invention: centrally funded, outside of local authority control and run by anyone who wants to run one. Except those with “wackoidal theories” of course; Mr Gove isn’t keen on them.

Wackoidal. [1] As education buzz words go, this one appears at first glance somewhat bizarre. However, if one considers its source…

The “fairy godfather of the free schools,” as Marr so delightfully called him, has certainly not endeared himself to many teachers since taking up his post as Secretary of State for Education. Why? Well I’d argue it’s down to his own wackoidal theories which, unfortunately, he has the power to turn into policy that have done for him.

Let’s recap on the Gove revolution to date. There was the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme, described by one High Court judge as “an abuse of power.” Then there was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance which helped pupils afford to stay in post-16 education. Not forgetting, of course, the subsequent U-turn on EMA. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate was another headline grabber from Mr Gove and his coalition pals. Having blamed Labour and their league tables for squeezing the “fun and enjoyment” out of education, all of a sudden here was Mr Gove saddling us with yet another measure to meet. (I’m glossing over hikes in university fees and cuts to public sector pensions as I don’t think I can place the blame for those wackoidal theories entirely at Mr Gove’s door!)

And what of Free Schools?

I’m all for raising standards, giving pupils the skills and experiences they need to succeed in our 21st century world. And yes, like many a teacher, I’ve played the ‘if only I was in charge’ day-dreaming game. But are free schools really the answer? The schools, twenty four opening this month and 280 more applying to open, are free to teach broadly what they want and their teachers don’t have to be trained as teachers. I watched Jamie Oliver’s Dream School experiment on Channel 4: some of the experts made fantastic teachers, others not so much. I’m not saying a teacher’s training gives them a divine right to teach, in fact I find I rely heavily on skills I learned in my previous career in my own classroom. However surely some training is better than none?

Andrew Marr questioned the Education Secretary on what would stop free schools going down ideological routes, giving creationism or Islamic fundamentalism as examples. Apparently we shouldn’t worry; MI5 are being used to check the backgrounds of those who apply to set up a free school and Mr Gove promises to root out those with “wackoidal theories.” So that’s ok then.

Marr probed further, asking Gove about his recent ‘defeat’ at the hands of coalition partner Nick Clegg on the issue of schools being run on a profit-making basis. We’re safe “for the moment” was his attempt at reassurance, but Gove admitted to being a “pragmatist not an ideologue” when it comes to the profit argument, which says to me that the idea is sure to be mooted again in the not-too-distant future.

Personally I think the idea that companies may be allowed to make a profit from running a school is one of the most dangerous and highly ‘wackoidal’ theories to date, but what do I know, I’m only a teacher. If I ran my own school I wouldn’t be looking to make a profit. But that’s not going to happen… or is it? Really Actually Free School 281? Now, where did I put that application form.

[1] Wackoidal (adj.) is likely to make it into the OED in its next round of inclusions, given the flurry of interest its use in this interview has sparked, and will no doubt make its way into one of my A Level English Language lessons on language change and the formation of new words. So for that and that alone, Mr Gove, I thank you.

Written for the Huffington Post UK.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/clare-sarson/wackoidal-the-new-education-buzzword_b_949105.html