On being mischaracterised

Following my last post, I was at the centre of something approaching a Twitter storm. This seemed to be sparked by Nancy Gedge Tweeting:

gedge 1

I had not mentioned ‘the idea that there are good/bad sorts of disability’ in my post and so I took issue with this. Nancy could not support her tweet. Instead, she stated, “I know there is no direct claim there, Greg, however I do see your post as part of a wider school of thought – a wider narrative.”

So that’s OK then? It’s not what I wrote or what I meant but it can be characterised as part of a ‘wider narrative’? No, I don’t think that’s OK at all.

The problem for me was that I was now deluged with people in my timeline taking offence and calling me names. Some sought to educate me that there are neurological conditions that can cause behaviour problems. When I pointed out that I had written pretty much the same thing in my post, this was either ignored or the claim shifted to suggestions that I had been clumsy in how I had expressed myself. It seems that I touched a nerve by referring to a physical disability to illustrate my point. So let me make my position as clear as I can.

I did not seek to draw a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sorts of disability. Instead, I sought to draw a distinction between a special educational need and a disability, particularly because the articles that I was commenting upon appeared to be conflating the two. Special educational needs might be caused by a disability but they might not be. Or at least they might not be caused by something that would be widely recognised as a disability.

This is a complicated area, but let’s step away from obvious classroom issues for a moment and look at the interesting example of “Antisocial Personality Disorder”. According to the UK National Health Service website, Antisocial Personality Disorder is diagnosed in the following way:

“To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a person must have a history of conduct disorder before the age of 15.

Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed after rigorous psychological assessment. A diagnosis can only be made if the person is aged 18 years or older and at least three of the following criteria apply:

  • repeatedly breaking the law
  • repeatedly being deceitful
  • being impulsive or incapable of planning ahead
  • being irritable and aggressive
  • having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
  • being consistently irresponsible
  • lack of remorse

These signs must not be part of a schizophrenic or manic episode – they must be part of the person’s everyday personality.”

In other words, the diagnosis is based upon the individual’s behaviour. Therefore, it logically cannot act as an explanation of this behaviour because this would be circular: Person A behaves in a certain way because he has an antisocial personality disorder. How do we know that he has an antisocial personality disorder? Because he behaves in a certain way.

The label acts as a description – perhaps a very useful one – but in the absence of anything else it cannot also serve as an explanation.

It seems perfectly feasible that we could construct some kind of disorder around any pattern of challenging or unusual behaviour that we might see in a child. But this would not explain this behaviour or shed any light on whether a child had agency over this behaviour. Furthermore, if we decide that this disorder classifies as a ‘disability’, we must then avoid discriminating against an individual on the basis of it because we have laws that say that we can’t. So a child who behaves in an antisocial way must be given the same opportunities as a child who does not because the antisocial behaviour is part of his disability.

We see something similar with dyslexia. Despite attempts to rigorously define the term, it does lend itself to circular reasoning: This child cannot read because she has dyslexia. How do we know that she has dyslexia? Because she cannot read.

If we then apply the logic of accommodating a disability to the example of dyslexia, we might conclude that the child should be given audio versions of written instructions so that she can access the same curriculum as her peers. However, it might be the case that this particular child needs a rigorous reading intervention and the opportunity to do more reading than her peers rather than less.

Similarly, if we simply try to accommodate all behavioural problems on the basis that they are caused by a disability then we might miss an opportunity to do something about it. It’s quite a pessimistic outlook. The child might have agency. He might have chosen to misbehave or he might be able to reframe his thinking in ways that lead to better behaviour, more academic success and ultimately a more fulfilling life.

Moreover, if we simply seek to avoid discrimination – we don’t want to exclude this child from activities on the basis of his disability – then we also risk damaging the prospects of his peers.



Excluding students with a disability

There have been a couple of recent articles in The Conversation that have cautioned us against excluding students on the basis of those students having a disability (here and here). On first sight, this seems to be an argument that does not need to be made. Who would want to exclude students due to their disabilities?

Yes, there may be practical issues. I remember teaching science in a school that installed a lift up to the science labs so that a disabled student could take part. We realised that this wasn’t sufficient because the desks in the labs were still too high to complete practical work from a wheelchair and we also needed to ensure adequate protection was in place – students normally stand-up to complete practical work in order to avoid spilling anything in their laps. Nevertheless, we were all keen to work through any issues.

When you click through to the references in the Conversation articles, something odd seems to happen. To support points made about ‘disabilities’, these pieces often link to research on students with ‘special educational needs’ (e.g. here). Although a disability may cause a special educational need, these are not necessarily the same thing. Up to 20% of students in the UK have been classified as having a special educational need (although I understand this figure is now falling). It beggars belief to suggest that 20% of students have a disability.

It is also true that behavioural and emotional problems are often classified as a special education need. I can see how a disability might be linked to a behavioural problem. I can also see how a failure to learn to read (which could be due to a disability or could plausibly be a failure of teaching) might lead to a student feeling disengaged with school and misbehaving. But these things are all slightly different, aren’t they? A physical disability is something that a person has little agency over. To draw an equivalence between a physical disability and a behaviour problem implies that a student with such a problem has no control over his or her behaviour.

This might be the case for a particular individual but I think that most people would be incredulous at the idea that poor behaviour is generally a manifestation of a disability over which the individual has no control. If you believed this to be true then the notion of any form of punishment would be absurd because it simply would not work. Perhaps this is the claim?

Yet there is evidence that behaviour systems that include negative consequences can be effective. And how would you work with a student that exhibited behaviour problems? You would probably talk through scenarios and the choices that can be made in those situations or you might try to reframe thinking with cognitive-behaviour-therapy-type approach. All of which would be pointless in the absence of any internal control over behaviour.

If behavioural problems are to be included in our definition of a disability then it’s hardly surprising that students with ‘disabilities’ are disproportionately excluded from school. After all, what are they being excluded for?

None of this tells us anything about the rights and wrongs of exclusions. This is actually a moral argument about weighing the competing rights of individuals. I don’t think anyone would argue that students benefit from being excluded and I certainly think that any school exclusions should be minimised. We should try everything else first. However, I also think that there comes a point when a child’s behaviour is so damaging to the learning of their peers – or perhaps even puts the safety of others students at risk – that it is justifiable to exclude those students from a lesson or even from a school.

If there are those who disagree with my moral choice here then they should make a moral argument rather than confuse us with slippery categories.

Is Direct Instruction a cause of the trouble in Aurukun?

I did not intend to comment on the recent trouble in the remote community of Aurukun which has seen teachers evacuated until at least July. However, by now many of you will have read this piece in The Guardian in which a former principal of the Cape York Academy in Aurukun lays some blame for the issues at the introduction of Direct Instruction in the school. So I felt the need to comment.

The model of Direct Instruction used in Cape York is not just any generic form of teacher-led instruction. It is a specific and highly structured curriculum developed in the U.S. using the model of Siegfried Engelmann and colleagues. Direct Instruction programs of this kind are developed according to a set of principles that are set out in Engelmann and Carnine’s book, ‘Theory of Instruction’. But it doesn’t stop there because each program is then extensively field-tested and revised according to these field tests.

The Guardian article suggests two plausible ways in which Direct Instruction could be linked to the carjackings and attacks on teacher accommodation that have been reported in the media. Firstly, it is suggested that many strong teachers are not keen to teach the program. Chris Sarra runs a different education program through his ‘Stronger Smarter Institute’. He has been a longtime critic of Direct Instruction and, in my view, has been perhaps a little unfair. He is quoted as saying, “One of the great tragedies in all of this is not only kids disengaging but exceptional quality teachers disengaged and walking away as well.”

It is certainly true that Direct Instruction has a poor reputation in Australia, partly due to attacks by Sarra and others and partly because it is at odds with the prevailing educational orthodoxy of child-centred learning. Its use of scripted lessons may also not appeal to teachers who see this as an attack on their autonomy. If this means that Cape York can only recruit low quality teachers then this could lead to a downward spiral at the school which could have a broader community impact.

It is also plausible that there is community resentment at the fact that Direct Instruction is an American program that has not been tailored to meet local cultural needs. I remember reviewing the Direct Instruction “Expressive Writing” curriculum, finding it scattered with Americanisms and wondering whether Australian teachers and their students would fare well with it.

Sarra makes the interesting suggestion that, “If government was serious about providing quality education they could spend $150,000 over 12 months and have a specialist curriculum writer go to Aurukun, live in Aurukun, sit down with people and design a local school curriculum.”

This might be a great idea. Unfortunately, it would be pretty hard to design a Direct Instruction curriculum in this way. There are few, if any, people in Australia who are able to design an Engelmann-style program. If we could find such a curriculum designer – or perhaps buy one in from the U.S. – then the curriculum is only the start of the process due to the requirement for extensive field-testing. Much is made of the fact that Direct Instruction is an expensive intervention but I seriously doubt whether many people are getting rich out of it. The expense pays for the costly way that the programs are produced. I would be interested to see an Australian home-grown set of Direct Instruction programs but I can see why Cape York took the pragmatic choice of buying the American ones.

I think the Guardian article is misleading in the way that it compares the Direct Instruction curriculum in Aurukun with, “the regular Australian curriculum” used by Pormpurraw which is run by the Stronger Smarter Institute. These are very different things. The Australian curriculum is essentially a series of bullet-points and contains far less detail and nothing about individual lessons. Schools can implement it however they like and it is therefore much cheaper to produce and free to use because it is provided by government. Whatever Pormpurraw are doing, it is not simply implementing this curriculum. There must be much more to it than that.

The low-cost success at Pormpurraw is good to see and it is a credit to Sarra and his institute. However, I am not convinced that this is evidence that the approach works better than Direct Instruction because there are many other factors that might plausibly vary between Aurukun and Pormpurraw. If we just look at Aurukun itself then it seems that the introduction of Direct Instruction has been correlated with some improvements in attendance and results. So it might be having a positive effect.

We also have to acknowledge that there is a lot going on at Aurukun. It was interesting to read this piece on the BBC news website about the same series of events. It doesn’t mention Direct Instruction at all but it does suggest the following:

  • The community has a history of unrest and violence, caused by complex factors including alcohol and drug abuse, family breakdown, and long-standing tensions between the five clans which make up the 1,300-strong community.
  • Residents and community support staff say that Aurukun’s mostly law-abiding population is angered by the actions of about 30 “disengaged” children and young people believed to be responsible for most of the recent disturbances.
  • Locals are frustrated at an apparent failure of government to provide adequate security for teachers and what they see as a softly-softly approach by Aurukun police. Footage circulated earlier this month showed officers standing by during a public brawl.
  • Aurukun has been a testing-ground for policies such as “income management”, where welfare payments are credited to a card which can only be used to buy food and essential supplies.
  • An ‘influx’ of new faces to the police force has eroded community support.
  • There are ongoing disputes about the use of Aboriginal land for a bauxite mine and about a nurse who faked his credentials and is currently facing trial.
  • Although Aurukun is meant to be alcohol-free, drink is sometimes smuggled in and its use affects school attendance.
  • Many of the children and young people who roam the streets at night are not attending school.

Although there may be some plausible ways in which Direct Instruction may be linked to the issues at Aurukun, it is clear that this is a community facing some profound problems. It seems likely that a number of factors are at play and that the influence of the school curriculum is relatively minor. Given this context, I have to say that I find it unedifying to see the events at Aurukun used to attack Direct Instruction.

Three easy and free ways to improve your teaching

I am pretty sure that default teaching in most secondary schools is teacher-led. I am not so certain about primary schools and early education but teachers are still likely to spend a fair amount of time standing at the front and explaining things. You might therefore wonder why I take the time to criticise inquiry learning, project based learning and other ‘student-centred’ teaching methods. How can they be doing harm if they are not prevalent forms of teaching?

They harm education by presenting a false prospectus. Teachers who want to improve are confidently told to abandon their methods for something entirely different when the reality is that you don’t need to do that. Add a few simple ideas and routines to default teacher-led instruction and you have one of the most powerful forms of teaching known. You don’t need to create or buy-in supposedly ‘rich’ tasks. You don’t need to abandon whole class talk. You certainly don’t need to spend money on iPads or gimmicky software (although there are plenty of folks who will tell you that you do). There is hardly any good evidence to support these ideas but there is plenty to support the following ones:

1. Ask a large number of questions of all of the students in your class

Students won’t learn if they are not paying attention. One way to ensure attention is for all students to believe that they could be called upon at any time to contribute to the class. This can be done by randomly selecting students, but randomisation is not essential provided that the students cannot easily predict which students will be called-upon.

There are a variety of approaches that teachers use to ensure that students can’t opt out from questioning. One of these is to refuse to accept, “I don’t know,” as an answer. The teacher may insist that a student at least suggests something or the teacher may come back to that student for comment when someone else has supplied an answer. There are also approaches that require a whole-class response such as true and false (thumbs up versus thumbs down) or the use of mini-whiteboards. With these techniques, it is important to develop routines where every student is required to show an answer at the same time in order to avoid immitation. The teacher also needs to set-up a low-threat environment where nobody will be ridiculed for a response. I often say, “We learn much more from incorrect responses than correct ones.” Sometimes, of course, questions are more open, a variety of responses are valid and students will venture responses that aid the thinking of the class.

My battered box of mini-whiteboards
My battered box of mini-whiteboards

2. Ask a large number of questions of all of the students in your class

Same strategy, different reason.

By regularly questioning your students, a teacher gains information about what they know and can adjust the teaching accordingly. This sounds obvious but it is very easy for teachers to proceed with something when students have already lost the thread. I entirely accept that, just because a student can provide an answer in class, it does not mean that they will be able to do so at a later date. Learning decays. But I do think it’s a pretty good start. If students don’t understand the initial teaching then it is hard to see where they will go from there. And, of course, we can always use these questions to check whether students have retained something previously taught and this could be useful both for spaced practice and for checking the prior knowledge required before teaching a new concept.

Experience also suggests that it’s actually quite hard to predict what students will and will not understand and so pretty constant feedback mitigates this. It is therefore particularly important that a teacher doesn’t end up in a dialogue with only a small subgroup of the class who might not be representative of what all students understand. Frequent questioning represents a low-threat, low-stakes testing strategy.

3. Spend more time in whole-class interactive instruction

Whole class, interactive instruction is effective. The evidence shows this (see below) and so we should perhaps devote more class time to this activity that we currently do. A recent study by David Reynolds and Zhenzhen Miao compared the teaching of mathematics in English classrooms and Chinese classrooms. In the Chinese classrooms, whole-class interactive teaching was used 72% of the time whereas, in English classrooms, it was 24%. I will not draw a causal link because there are other differences between the two countries and many would attribute the higher performance of Chinese students to cultural factors. However, the Chinese approach does show that it is possible to teach in this way.

What’s the evidence?

There are many sources of evidence for whole-class interactive teaching. There is the process-product research of the 1950s through to the 1970s where researchers observed lots of classrooms and looked for correlations between teacher behaviours and student learning gains. Brophy and Good wrote a comprehensive summary here. This an area discussed by Barak Rosenshine who also points out that 1980s research into teaching “ill-structured tasks” such as reading comprehension, writing and mathematical and scientific problems solving led to similar conclusions. We can also look to cognitive science for lab-based studies that seem to replicate these findings and that provide a theoretical framework as to why explicit instruction of this kind is effective. In addition, there is a large body of research into formative assessment of which Dylan Wiliam is possibly the greatest proponent. This demonstrates the values of frequent, low stakes assessment that is used to refine and guide teaching.

A final point

Occasionally Ben Riley of Deans for Impact – an organisation that I respect and that does good work – pops up on Twitter to accuse me of advocating for explicit instruction all of the time to the exclusion of everything else.

Riley - all DI all the time

I have never suggested this. In fact, from pretty much the start of my first blog I have gone out of my way to stress that this is not my position. Other methods should be used when students become more expert and other methods should be used for the sake of variety if nothing else. As teachers, maximising learning is not our sole objective, something that I wrote about most recently in this post. So Ben needs to substantiate this claim or stop making it.

Evidence for Learning launch

I was honoured to be invited to the launch, earlier this evening of Evidence for Learning, a new education initiative by Social Ventures Australia that is seeking to bring the UK Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) model of large randomised controlled trials to Australia. I like John Bush, the guy who runs the program. I had a chat with him at researchED Melbourne about evidence in education and the merits of different kids of trials. Evidence for Learning certainly has the potential to add something useful.

Unfortunately, by the time I took my seat at the Commonwealth Bank on Collins Street, Melbourne, I was in a filthy mood. I had pre-booked a car parking space in the secure-a-spot car park at 700 Collins Street. When I arrived at the car park and typed in the PIN I was informed that it was invalid. A quick look at the information board and I realised that I was at the secure-a-spot car park at 699 Collins Street. It seems that access to the car park at 700 Collins Street is from a different street that is not actually accessible from Collins Street. So there was that.

I arrived at the reception and, although I was on the list, they couldn’t find a badge for me. I was then confronted with the backs of lots of people, my ice-breaking abilities somewhat hobbled by my lack of a badge. My mind wandered for a minute to contemplate what it would have said on my badge if I had one: my school? that I’m a blogger? So I fiddled with my phone and waited for the speeches to start.

After Michael Bedwell of the bank and Rob Koczkar of Social Ventures Australia gave a little context, John Hattie stood up to say a few words. As you might expect, he mentioned his big idea that, in education, ‘everything works’.

Hattie made the observation that “We have more educators with solutions than we have problems.” This raised a laugh and is hard to disagree with but it did give the sense that educators are a silly bunch, which perhaps we are. Hattie suggested that we ban the phrase, “What works,” and replace it with, “What works best”. He claimed that the EEF has ‘broken through’ although I’m not so sure that it has. I reckon that there are plenty of teachers and school leaders in the UK who have never heard of it.

In Hattie’s view, most evaluations of educational interventions don’t get past asking whether the teachers were happy or the students ‘engaged’. He made the crucial point that many things that we want students to learn are not initially engaging.

For Hattie, the value of the EEF is that it investigates scaled-up trials and scaling-up has been neglected in education. Hattie mentioned the new TV show that he’s involved with and how the things that most influence educational outcomes are often the opposite of what parents expect.

Matt Deeble, the director of Evidence for Learning, then stood up and introduced the program. He discussed the meaning of the logo (!) and the history of the toolkit; it was originally brought to Australia as a collaboration between the EEF and the Victorian department of education. I felt like I had an insight into the world of corporate philanthropy here because we were asked to applaud each of the various partners in turn.

The Evidence for Learning project will initially run large-scale trials of two maths programs: Quicksmart and Thinking Maths. I’m not going to research these in any great detail tonight but they do seem to represent two different approaches. Quicksmart is a tutoring intervention focusing on fluency and automaticity whereas Thinking Maths aims to ‘stimulate deeper and more engaging instruction’ and sounds like it might be related to the Cognitive Acceleration program of the same name. As with all such big trials, the main shortcoming is that programs are tested against nothing at all, meaning that it’s hard to pin down any key principles or what aspect of the program is responsible for any effect.

Finally, John Bush took the floor and ran a panel discussion with some of the collaborators. There was Tony Harrison of the South Australia education department, Kathryn Moyle of the Australian Council for Education Research, John Pegg of Quicksmart, Sue Buckley of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and Stacey Quince, a school principal.

Education bureaucracy seemed to be out in force but, given the lack of teacher involvement, I wondered about the capacity of this initiative to affect real classrooms. Buckley referred to the success of an AITSL email campaign that 14,000 teacher signed-up to. However, she then mentioned the AITSL illustrations of practice. I have covered these on this blog and noted how they conflict with evidence based practice and even the statements of John Hattie, the chair of AITSL, so this seemed like an odd point to make in the context of launching such an initiative.

When the discussion was over, I rushed away in order to minimise the amount that I’d be taxed for parking in the wrong car park, so I didn’t get the chance to talk to any of the main players. As with all such events, there were plenty of platitudinous non-statements – “We want every child to grow across every school” – but it was clear that people’s hearts are in the right place and that they really want to construct something that will have a genuine, positive impact. Let’s hope it can. I will be following developments with interest.

A day at researchED Melbourne

Yesterday was the day that researchED matured in Australia. It is a more difficult proposition down under due to the dispersal of our population and the fact that the main marketing channel – Twitter – does not have the reach with teachers that it enjoys in the UK. Nevertheless, a vanguard of about 180 cool kids made it to Brighton Grammar School in Melbourne for what turned out to be an exceptional day.

It started with an opening address from Tom Bennett and Ross Featherstone, the Principal of Brighton Grammar. Tom explained that researchED does not have a source of funding and survives on sponsorship and the fact that so many people are prepared to talk and help-out for free.

I then went to see Kerry Hempenstall. Kerry is a longtime advocate of Direct Instruction in Australia. He refers to this ‘Big DI’ and it represents the structured, scripted lessons developed according to the model of Siegfried Engelmann. My own, later presentation was about what Kerry would call ‘Little di’ or – using the term that I chose to use – ‘explicit instruction’. This is the wider group of practices to which Big DI belongs and so there was some overlap.

I am not an expert on Big DI and so I learnt a lot from Kerry, particularly about how teaching is structured so as to systematically run through examples and non-examples of a concept. Big DI is often caricatured as the rote memorisation of disconnected facts but Kerry pointed out that connecting concepts and generalising to unfamiliar situations, as well as the currently fashionable idea of spaced practice, are all built in to the Big DI model. The session ended with me wanting more and I resolved to read Engelmann and Carnine’s “Theory of Instruction” at some point in the not-too-distant future (I’ll first need to find a cheaper copy than this one).

I wrote down two Hempenstall quotes. The first was his claim that neuroscience is starting to show that, “Once something is learnt, the method by which it is learnt is largely irrelevant,” and the second quote was Kerry paraphrasing Engelmann on DI: “It’s not magic – it’s just attention to picky, picky detail.”

From here, we all moved on to the Keynote talk given by Geoff Masters of the ACER (amusingly referred to as “asser” by Tom Bennett). Masters started by discussing a recently released ACER report which outlines five challenges to education in Australia. Overriding all of this was concern about an absolute decline in Australian performance on international tests such as PISA since c. 2000. It is important to stress that this is absolute – our ranking hasn’t slipped just because other countries are doing better or because more countries are now participating, it’s slipped because today’s 15-year-olds know less than 15-year-olds did over a decade ago.

Masters was eloquent and possibly peerless in his ability to describe the scale and nature of the problem; everything from rising educational inequality to the declining quality of entrants to the teaching profession. He was also spot-on when he noted that politicians only ever talk about education funding and rarely discuss what this funding should be spent on.

Yet I have to question Masters’s proposed solution to our educational woes. His view is that we need to move away from a ‘traditional’ model of a Year Level curriculum on the quite reasonable grounds that children of the same age have very different needs. But seasoned educators will immediately see the practical problems with such an approach, just as we did when we watched the Ken Robinson TED talk where Robinson makes the same claim. Moreover, if our concern is sparked by international comparisons then I don’t see much evidence of the more successful countries dropping age-related curricula.

For the third session, I thought I’d take a look at Dan Haesler (I also wanted to see Pamela Snow and Gary Jones who were regrettably on at the same time). His area of interest is student engagement in education. You’re probably thinking that this is an odd choice for me and it certainly is not an area where I have any great expertise beyond that of any ordinary teacher.

I’ve read some of Haesler’s stuff before and he is a serious person. He doesn’t push the common shtick about funkifying your lessons. Instead, he presented some data from New South Wales about the connection that children feel to their schools. He suggested that we ask our students if there is someone in school who they feel they could go to with a serious issue and, if so, who. Would these potential lines of communication mirror the pastoral structures that the school has set-up? Probably not. Different students connect with different adults and we all have a role in well-being. I went to Dan’s talk with some of my colleagues and I think his ideas will feed in to an ongoing discussion that we’re having at the moment.

After lunch, I listened to Jen Buckingham talk about the role of think tanks in education policy. She was responding to a recent set of articles in The Australian Education Researcher that criticise the role of think tanks in the policy debate. I’ve been quite forthright in my view that this is a bit of a conspiracy theory. I think we should evaluate ideas on their merits rather than whether they come from think tanks or not. However, I learnt quite a few things about how Australian think tanks work, how they are different to U.S. based think tanks and some of the philosophy underpinning Buckingham’s think tank, The Centre for Independent Studies. Some of the teachers in the audience would probably have liked to hear more about the Five from Five reading project that Buckingham is heading and that she touched on briefly.

I sat out the next presentation slot because I wanted some down time before my own presentation. This was unfortunate because all four concurrent speakers were worth seeing. But I knew that I would not have been able to concentrate properly and do a talk justice at this point.

I spoke in session 7 about explicit instruction (my slides are here). I had to start by spending some time on definitions; semantics bedevil the area. The main idea that I wanted to convey is that successful explicit instruction is highly interactive and it is not just lecturing. I think I managed that. I also discussed the evidence for explicit instruction and its limitations, not least of which is the idea that, no matter how effective it is, you wouldn’t want students to experience five lesson per day, five days per week of whole-class interactive teaching and nothing else.

The final session that I attended was led by Trisha Jha and was about the evidence in favour of free or charter schools and whether we should set these up in Australia. Jha thinks that we should. She presented some positive evidence from around the globe and I thought she was quite honest about its limitations and some of the possible negative effects. I remain unconvinced about this proposal. I have a great deal of admiration for Michaela Community School in London, a school that simply could not exist under the previous school administration arrangements, but I also tend to agree with one of the audience members who questioned whether free schools in Australia would just be a policy distraction from the issues that we should really be focusing on. Jha’s response was to ask whether we can ever deal with those issues under the current arrangements. I’m still processing all of this.

It was great to share this day with my wife, Jo, and some of my work colleagues. The last researchED was in Sydney and so I flew up to that one on my own. This time, there were quite a few familiar faces around. Add to this the people who I had first met in Sydney and there was something approaching a family atmosphere.

After the conference, Jo and I joined some of the speakers for dinner in Brighton. Dylan Wiliam was in the area and so he managed to pop in for a chat. I also got to speak to some of the speakers whose talks I didn’t manage to see, including Corinne Campbell, Maddie Scott-Jones, Linda Graham, John Bush, Deborah Netolicky and Chris Munro. As always, there were those I didn’t get the chance to talk with and so I will hopefully catch them next time. I also bent Kerry’s ear to learn just a little bit more about Big DI. He was remarkably tolerant of my questions.

Let’s do it all again next year. I can’t wait.

Kerry Hempenstall and me
Kerry Hempenstall and me