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Choke points and Pitfalls- reflections from a virtual day at ResearchEd Warrington

We are proud to welcome Dr Sarah Benskin– Assistant Principal: Curriculum, T&L and CPD; Science teacher and lover of educational research to the world of blogging. Here she has a great run down of the virtual offer fro rED Warrington.

I am a big fan of ResearchEd and have attended several events, both in person and during the great virtual events.  Listening to so many great speakers and their knowledge around educational research means I always leaves the day with excitement and ideas about what I can take back to school and use and I would say they have had a huge impact on my reading, my practice and my leadership over the last three years.

Having attended ResearchEd Birmingham in March I decided not to make the trip up North in April but loved the concept that GST King’s Warrington (EdTech Demonstrator School) were offering a bargain alternative ticket for under a tenner to listen to six sessions delivered virtually.  I wasn’t sure quite what to expect and I was sat patiently waiting at 9am before realising (with slight disappointment), my ticket didn’t include Mary Myatt’s key note speech

However, at 10am the screen kicked in and I was sat at home with coffee in hand settling in to listen to Paul Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner) deliver a session on how learning happens. Whilst I felt reasonably well versed on this, I had been asked by the Head of Y11 to deliver an assembly next week on revision strategies and the science of learning behind them  so whilst listening my reflections were very focussed on how I could use this to support students in my assembly. There were some great explanations around desirable difficulties, cognitive processing of information and cognitive load theory that I thought would be perfect to present to students.

This session was then swiftly followed by Tom Sherrington (@teacherhead) focussing on checking for understanding.  I really like listening to Tom as he always makes so much sense and we are a Walkthru subscriber school so I knew I would have many notes and ideas I could take back and think about how we might implement them in our context.  I heard Daniel Willingham’s quote “memory is the residue of thought” in both Tom and Paul’s session and had used it myself in staff training earlier this term revisiting Willingham’s model of learning. Some of the things Tom mentioned drew my thoughts back to the fantastic work on motivation summarised in Peps McCrae’s motivated teaching and I now really believe, in my context, there is a solid understanding of working memory and long term memory but still more work to do on attention and its role in motivating learning. The more I read around this subject the more I think that motivating attention is going to be a key driver for improvement. Tom showed us some of issues for learners around memory- attention deficit; memory overload; lack of prior knowledge; lack of fluency for recall; task completion masking poor learning and offered some comprehensive solutions around checking for understanding and overcoming some of these issues.

I then moved on to the third virtual session was a lively session that was more of a conversation between the great podcaster Daniel Bull and behaviour expert Barry Smith (@BarryNSmith79). Barry’s passion for creating an educational norm where students do not ignore adults was inspiring and again lead me to reflect back on Peps work around motivated learning. When Barry talked about culture and politeness I could see the link to motivated teaching through creating the conditions for learning where students have consistent run routines; good behaviour is a social norm and therefore creates desirable nudge norms; clear boundaries around adults and students where everyone is polite to each other creates a sense of belonging and having explicit values that are modelled everywhere with clarity and purpose creates the buy-in. All of these factors create the conditions required for students to become motivated to learn and this is so important.

Following on from Barry, Zoe Enser (@greeborunner) got us to take a pause and reflect on research for a moment.  She carefully took us back and reminded us of the mutations around teaching and learning of the past (VAK; thinking hats) and possible present (growth mind-set; dual-coding) and potential future risks (Retrieval practice) and asked us to consider how we implement change in our context to prevent research mutating from its intended purpose to something that is in fact detrimental to students learning. I have read Nick Rose’s article on lethal mutations and Adam Robbins recent blog and it’s an area I find really interesting.  It is so easy to read a summary (and I have been writing summaries for staff to access research) or implement a strategy that someone has told you about and over time it loses its intended purpose. The importance of the exploration phase in implementation of change is illustrated in the EEF guidance and clarity of purpose is key. A later session by Kathryn Morgan (@KathrynMorgan_2)  took us back to the excellent Viviane Robinson’s book on reducing change to increase improvement, that considers theories of actions (explaining observed actions that are underpinned by the beliefs and values of the individual) and change fatigue. Kathryn also took us through Harry Fletcher-Wood’s excellent blog on professional learning and the three questions to ask, with particular focus on the reality of our context and to consider the role sense-making plays in implementation of change. Having been completing some professional development myself with Ambition Institute on curriculum senior leadership this really resonated as the sense-making component really helps to contextualise the theory and allows for reflection and dialogue and deeper schematic constructs to form and if we want the change to be sustained that we have to provide the opportunity to engage all teachers.  Nick Hart (@MrNickHart) has also written a good blog on theories of action worth a read.

Now back #REdWarr and the penultimate session. Combined with all the previously mentioned sessions and Kathryn’s session, took me to the key takeaway of the day and the change I would want to implement back at school. This session was given by Blake Harvard (@effortfuleduktr) and he presented the work of a paper by Stephen L Chew on “An Advance Organizer for Student Learning: Choke Points and Pitfalls in Studying”.  Expanding on the earlier sessions of the day we revisited the model of learning again but here we looked at a simple advanced organiser that clearly identifies pitfalls and chokepoints.:

The emphasis was again on attention, working memory and long term memory and whilst much of what was said had been said in the earlier sessions the clarity of this organiser was brilliant. Having cognitive process and cognitive load theory at the forefront of classroom design has to be a “best bet” for student success in the classroom.  Chokepoints were explained as the limitations of our memory processes and pit falls as the things students do to impede their learning such as not thinking when trying to retrieve or highlighting notes. I absolutely loved the concept of pitfalls and chokepoints and I could see easily how this can be applied in the classroom and sharing a simple resources such as the advanced organiser would support staff with making sense and applying the ideas behind the science of learning with a quick glance.  Using all the learning from the day I have adapted this into my own version to take back to school and I also went beyond a teacher organiser and adapted it into a student friendly version. 

I still want to reflect on Zoe and Kathryn’s insights around avoiding mutation and ensuring staff are able to sense-make so I am going to build this into our CPD and I am going to present the student organiser as part of my Y11 assembly next week.  Another great ResearchEd!


Motivated Teaching: Harnessing the science of motivation to boost attention and effort in the classroom: 3 (High Impact Teaching) Paperback – 15 Sept. 2020- Peps Mccrea

Reduce Change to Increase Improvement (Corwin Impact Leadership Series) Paperback – 11 Aug. 2017 by Viviane M J Robinson

Chew, S. L. (2021). An advance organizer for student learning: Choke points and pitfalls in studying. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 62(4), 420–427


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