Yesterday, ResearchEd came to Wales. For the first time. It was hosted by Cardiff High School, the school at which I teach, and it was a fantastic day. Kudos to James Wise and Gareth Rein for helping to bring it to Wales and it was great to see hundreds of delegates give up their Saturday to engage with the latest educational research to help inform their practice. I was honoured to be asked to speak at the event – it was a privilege to do so. The atmosphere throughout the day was extremely positive, welcoming and in fact, inspiring. And it’s always nice to meet twitter friends in real life – shout out to Dr. Gareth Evans (@Mathemateg) who is doing fantastic work in North Wales, lots through the medium of Welsh.
The theme of the day was unquestionably curriculum. This made perfect sense with the recent publication of Curriculum for Wales (CfW) due to be implemented in 2022. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding the what and the how of this new curriculum at the moment so ideas and advice from curriculum designers and teacher researchers, in this so-called ‘Engagement Phase’, was most welcome.
There were 6 sessions in the day and a bonus pre-recorded talk by Dylan Wiliam. I make brief notes on each below – more for my own record than anything else but I thought it may be useful to anyone who missed the sessions. (How hard were some of the choices?!)
Dylan expressed his excitement of the first rEDCymru and translated ResearchEd to YmchwilAdd 😊 He gave us a little history of his relationship and his changing views on educational research over time and called for teachers and education researchers to work together. He said that teachers should use the significant body of research that is available, but do so in a critical manner in a way that works for them in their contexts.
Rosenshine and Curriculum: What’s the connection?
In the first session proper, Tom introduced Rosenshine’s Principles of Instructions and how it can be used as a lens to interrogate a curriculum. Tom talked about how schema is constructed and about attention, working memory and long-term memory. In particular, he stressed the importance of how new knowledge builds on prior knowledge and that if that any assumed knowledge is not there, students will be unable to make progress. This resonated with me and in particular within maths due to its hierarchical nature. We have to know where our students’ starting points are and to be prepared to go back as far as necessary before proceeding (which is a surprisingly long way back for some students with some topics!)
What Can and Can’t Students Learn From Studying Chess?
In this session I explored whether the cognitive benefits of studying chess can transfer to mathematical learning. Many countries have chess as a compulsory part of their curriculum and there is research to suggest that studying chess can result in gains in IQ, mathematics and even reading scores. However, some of this research is flawed. Better, more recent research casts doubt on these claims. I showed that memory and problem solving skills are largely domain specific and do not transfer to domains other than chess knowledge. This can help reason why using brain gym or learning how to play a musical instrument does not result in children becoming smarter. Of course there’s a place for chess, music etc, but do it for its own sake and do not do it as a means of improving some other area of learning.
How Curriculum for Wales Could Work
David Didau & David Williams
This was a popular session and was preceded rather ominously with the Manics’ “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next”. David Didau drew from his very good book “Making Kids Cleverer” stating that the most advantaged students succeed despite the curriculum and that what works best for the most disadvantaged students works best for all. The talk was obviously centred around CfW and both Davids articulated some concerns, challenges and reasons to be optimistic. One concern articulated was that the wording of the progression steps were too vague and open to interpretation. However, both agreed that there was nothing in CfW that was at odds with a knowledge-rich curriculum and David Williams concluded that CfW is a huge opportunity for us as a nation to get it right. That’s up to us, and our children’s futures quite literally depend on it.
Using Desirable Difficulties to Make Learning Easier
Damian drew upon the work of desirable difficulties by the Bjorks. He discussed the importance of revisiting topics and building this into a scheme of work. This is crucial in order to avoid rushing through the year to leave 3 weeks to revise everything – when in reality you’ll need to re-teach everything again from scratch in those 3 weeks as the students will have forgotten it all! He also discussed the complexities of choosing the optimal spacing gap and that this should be significantly closer in time to when the topic was last taught than to the future test date. I really enjoyed this session as, although I was aware of the research, it was inspiring to hear Damian’s delivery, the application of the ideas and how he’s refined his approach over the past few years.
Purposeful Storytelling in the Mathematics Classroom
Kieran Mackle & Lloyd Williams Jones
In this session Kieran and Lloyd drew upon the work of Willingham and others. Stories are based on the 4 C’s; Causality, conflict, character and complications. Each of these were explained in depth and I was very interested to hear that much research has been done in this area supporting the fact that storytelling works. I liked that fact that Kieran and Lloyd emphasised the point and the strategies (such as careful sequencing) required to make it most likely that students remember the mathematical ideas contained within the narrative. They’re collecting stories on their blog and welcome contributions (contact @Kieran_M_Ed)
This session was pitched at middle and senior leaders and explored how we can manage uncertainty and problems. Matthew was reassuring in that he described schools as complex organisations, that it’s normal to feel imposter syndrome, and that some problems had no solutions – just resolutions. Whereas at times it seems that we are rushing to solve problems or introduce new initiatives, I liked Matthew’s observation that sometimes leaders do not get rewarded (or even credited) with doing nothing, even if that is the correct course of action. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something!
Rumours are already circulating about rEDCymru2 – sign me up now!