Arrived back home last night after my third researchED conference, this one for Secondary Literacy in Swindon. Thanks to Tom Bennett and Co. for another great event and for continuing to drive the researchED movement. Also: thanks to all the attendees for their enriching ideas and wonderful company, and to Swindon Academy and principal Ruth Robinson for the perfect venue (and prefect-provided assistance — splendid group, there).
Most especially, thanks to the amazing David Didau for inviting me to speak, for engineering the whole of the conference, for making sure I was taken care of while in Swindon, and for provoking so many thoughts and laughs. I can barely believe I know David, much less that I’m able to hang with him occasionally to share ideas about education. I look forward to our continued collegiality, and I’m hoping I can get David, Tom, Carl Hendrick, and others from the researchED community (I have a long wishlist of possible speakers, believe me) over here to the U.S. sometime soon. It’d be great to continue learning from one another. Stay tuned, as it’s something I promise to work on.
If you’re interested in learning more about my talk (‘Of Skyscrapers and Sand: The Importance of Background Knowledge Foundations to Effective Textual Comprehension & Analysis’), here are a few resources. Be in touch if you have questions about any of them.
- If interested in seeing my talk, ‘Of Skyscrapers and Sand’ (which streamed live and is now housed on YouTube), see here.
- For my presentation’s Powerpoint deck, see here: researchED_11715.
- For how the presentation was viewed in real-time by Tweeters (those onsite and others joining via live stream), see this Storify.
- Here, also, is a Storify of my tweets during sessions — pics, salient ideas, etc.
- P.S. – Thanks to all those who attended my session, for all the lovely response/feedback, and for all the great discussion/visiting over the couple days. Though researchED conferences are their own reward, leaving with professional affirmation and new collegial relationships is such a huge boost. I’ll see y’all on Twitter, all right? Be in touch any time.
Now let me expand on something that struck me throughout the day — yet another reason to love researchED, basically.
Having previously written this and this, it’s probably quite plain: I’m way past objective on the researchED matter. I am too excited about the types of improvements researchED could bring to the ed enterprise, plainly, to possibly view one of their conferences as anything less than incredible. Fair enough. As my starry-eyedness dulls over additional engagements, though, I’m finding that I’m able to see and appreciate new facets.
At the Swindon conference, a facet that kept leaping out was the high quality of teaching I was seeing in each session. Sounds rather obvious, I know, at a professional learning conference for educators, but it’s not always something one can count on. At Swindon conference, however, I was taken in by my presenter and intentionally, pleasingly guided through their content no matter the session topic, no matter the time of day, and no matter the layout of the space. And, crucially, I never felt subject to the over-practiced, too-slick veneer sadly typical of many presenters at other conferences. Indeed, I was convinced of all my presenters’ passion for their topics, and was impressed by the wide range of instructional strengths on display.
The range I saw, for instance, included the following fine teachers and strengths:
- Professor Ray Land‘s confident and secure demeanor, ability to make big ideas seem more manageable, and amazing sense of effective ‘lecture rhythm’ — knowing just how long to pause, for example, to let certain ideas sink in.
- Summer Turner, who very effectively punctuated her deliberate and well-sequenced series of presentation points with illustrations from her career, from literary criticism, from philosophy, and from her personal growth arc. Though I walked in already convinced of her points on Canon and Character, I can’t imagine anyone who walked in less-convinced didn’t end up fully converted by her talk’s levels of rationality and personality.
- Jo Facer‘s ebullience captivated a tightly packed room (important in the period just before lunch). Also, her audience-participatory demo was (1) well-managed and (2) valuable for underscoring her content without ever sinking to being ‘fuzzy-fun’. Highly appreciated, by the way, Ms. Facer, as my tolerance for fuzzy activities with strangers is receding rapidly with age.
- Through great intentionality, charisma/carriage, and sheer subject-expertise, Phil Stock turned a highly ambitious objective (i.e., demonstrating, through layered and connected text samples, the potential complexity of simile — then showing what his school is building in terms of a layered assessment-intervention system — it’s layers, people! Layers of layers!) into an efficient discussion and thought exercise that both spurred new ideas about structuring assessment and convinced me I was smarter than when I entered.
For all researchED conferences’ rich content and discussion, then, the sheer quality of teaching being modeled at the conferences should not be overlooked. In fact, I’d say that being able to watch these top-of-game pros do the thing they’re so committed to is as important to my professional growth as any of the content. Yeah, I take my notes and talk with presenters afterward to pick their brains and gobble up presentation slides when posted and all that, but it is so incredibly useful to see little things like how they phrase certain questions, how they manage space, what kind of visuals they’ve chosen to use, and on and on. You can bet, in other words, that I will be recommending some such techniques forward into schools where I’m working with less-masterful teachers.
In closing, Note to Future Conference Attendants: If you’re heading to a researchED conference, make sure to take note both of what presenters offer and how they offer it — their sequencing, their delivery style, their pacing, their means of responding to questions and unforeseen situations, etc., etc. With teachers this skilled, you can’t help but take many good things away. Hell, I was stealing from the aforementioned set of people all day long. I hope my own work will be better as a result.