ResearchED Literacy at Chobham Academy

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Fresh off the back of such ventures as Cereal Killer, Burger and Lobster and the Cat Cafe, a new hipster boutique restaurant has taken the East End by storm. In a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the status quo, restaurateur Tom Bennett’s ‘Lasagna and Fluency’ gastropub offers £5.99 Bechamel Cuisine with a compulsory side serving of professional development for primary educators.

“It’s a bit annoying to have people hammer my subconscious with Powerpoints about sample size between the courses, but all in all, the meal was a delight. It had an effect size of 1.9 with regards my contentedness”, said everybody (Source unconfirmed).

Anyway, yes, ResearchED Primary Literacy Day was a hoot, and a galvanising hoot at that. I attended with a colleague who is uninitiated to the incestuous klafferaffe-obsessed nature of Twitter Teaching. That said, she too has gone home with phone in hand, ready to sign up and begin following Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer)

It began with a welcome from Tom, following by a speech on the love of reading and the need for fluency, delivered by none other than the Queen of the Split Digraph, Ruth Miskin. We learned that West Ham – a constituency which incidentally has a very high take up of Ruth’s schemes – is one of the  top-performing in the country, despite a high deprivation index. As a Forest Gate teacher, I took this fact in the spirit that I presume it was intended; as a highly personal compliment. Ruth, Newham, Britain – you are welcome.

With masterful use of the dramatic silence and a well-practiced Teacher Face, Ruth articulated her main point: children need to be taught to read, and if they cannot read, they are essentially a bit screwed. She is right. As teachers, we need to bridge the literacy gap that exists between the wealthiest and poorest in society, and between the households that are promoting reading and those that are not. If pupils’ reading age at six determines their ability to become wealthy, successful and articulate in later life, then presumably Ruth herself was reading Ulysses in the cot.

Joking aside, I shall raise my flag as a member of a Ruth Miskin school, and say that I see many good things in her approach, and that our learning outcomes in school are very favourable. The kids I teach in Year 5 have a solid understanding, and we are able to do things that many Year 5 pupils cannot (no evidence for this btw), because of their very firm foundation.

Before moving on, I must address a pressing issue. Ruth asked ‘Is there any reason why we should not put this sign up in every school?’, pointing to a poster saying something to the effect of ‘Every Child In This School Can Read’. My answer to her question – because it was written in Comic Sans. Finished.

To plough on, my next session was @HeyMissSmith’s session about Reciprocal Reading. I did not know this was @HeyMissSmith until after the talk, highlighting a way in which celebrities can slip seamlessly past us. Reciprocal reading was an interesting one for myself and @ldnteacher to attend, as neither of our schools does either RR or Guided Reading. The whole thing seemed to be to be very labour intensive, but I realise that is only in contrast to my own situation which is “Come in, get your book, let’s read in silence”, which is perhaps suboptimal. Whilst squatting on the floor brought my skinny jeans dangerously close to tearing point, it was clear to see how well-versed @HeyMissSmith’s class were with the approach, and the quality of the discussions was high. Her children have impeccable manners too, I would add, as I know this is pretty much the best compliment a teacher can receive. I know this, negatively, from occasionally having to physically hoist my own pupils from bus seats to allow the old and infirm to sit down. Loljk they are respectful.

Myself, my colleague and @ldnteacher then attended Professor Steve Higgins’ session on the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit. This was a meaty and thorough introduction to the toolkit for me, as an uninitiated sapling with no strategic oversight on the spending of our school. What a bloody brilliant thing the Toolkit is. I know that to say this at ResearchED is like having your UAF membership card fall out of your pocket at an EDL rally, but I struggle to digest reams of quantitative data. Faced with a page of numbers, I tend now – as I did when studying Quantitative Methods at Cambridge – to begin to daydream and emotionally shield myself from feelings of inadequacy by remembering how good I am at writing expressive poems. EEF Toolkit was clear even to me, with my distinct proclivity towards qualitative research. It will allow me to begin to ground my forays into designing school interventions with a strong grounding in evidence. I should be good at this more rational approach because I was born in the Chinese Year of the Horse.

Enough of all that learning junk anyway, let’s talk about Lasagne again. How did Bennett manage to put on four members of kitchen staff and enough lasagne and salad to feed an army, alongside a never-ending sequence of biscuits within the price of the tickets? And those biscuits, by the way – so dense that light bends around them. Anyway, the lasagne was pleasant and whilst shoving it in our heads, we were all talking about literacy, which is mental for a Saturday. Normally at lunch time on a Saturday, I would be nodding enthusiastically to my tutee in my classroom whilst stealthily sliding my hand into a pack of crisps. The Solid Snake of Cornsnacks. Not so, at #rEDliteracy. In the queue, I even managed to start a little discussion going about Multimodal Literacy, which was a bit like trying to promote astrology at an astronomy conference. Similar-sounding but different and subversive (except my ideas are not stupid – see here (PLUG!)).

My final session of the day was ‘If This Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right’ by Stephen Lockyer. The talk itself was great, and began with a primary-affirming version of ‘Whose House Is This?’, in which Stephen indicated the scant displays, and we all scoffed at the shameful lack of cuddly toys, glitter etc. Stephen explained how much of a ball-ache it is to be told that the things you see work every day do not work. He went through some things that do work, and looks at how they do. He was just all round very engaging, clued up about the realities of primary teaching, and entertaining.

My colleague – on her aforementioned first exploration into this crazy little cult we’ve started – baulked at the fact that Stephen is just a man with a teaching job doing this talk, rather than a professional speaker. She baulked at the fact that people were bantering with each other, having previously interacted through Twitter. She saw me prodding away at my iPad and saw the posts by @LKMCo streaming down the screen with such a frequency, I worried my screen might pass out. I think she thought @LKMCo was a bot.

“Who is that?” she enquired.

With the assured finger of a member of the clan, I extended a point in the direction of Loic in the corner, acting as the Samuel Pepys of the day.

The session over, I went down into the lobby with my colleague to chat about the day. She enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. We spoke of how we could embed research into our school. We spoke of her joining Twitter. We spoke of how odd it is that this exists and so few people still know about it. Sometimes it takes the eyes of an outsider to see how great something is – it is a real achievement.

My colleague went home to her children and I was too late to attend Jon Brunskill and Rich Farrow’s talk, so I sat in the open-plan entrance and ate three more of those extremely dense shortcakes. It was a good day.

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