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Challenge, connect and cultivate, key takeaways of the British School of Rio Conference

Challenge, connect and cultivate, key takeaways of the British School of Rio Conference

By Miss Rosie Twells, English Learning Leader & Class Teacher

The British School of Rio hosted a conference in early April with the theme of “Challenge, Connect, Cultivate”. During this time, many international guest speakers delivered talks, seminars and workshops exploring these themes.

The event began with keynote speaker, David Weston exploring how we can develop as teams. He placed great emphasis on the importance of collaboration and collective commitment. Finding ways to become more self-regulated were highlighted, as well establishing routines and habits in the classroom,  to create a positive environment that supports learning. I particularly enjoyed the focus on teamwork, in which Weston shared that if, “collectively [we] create a culture where each of us gets better every day, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” This was a positive and inspiring speech that set up future seminars, where we saw active modelling of collaborative and supportive practices.

I attended four further seminars on day one. First, Tom Sherrington shared a practical and informative session, “Retrieval practice and vocabulary development”. He explored the intricate connections between working memory,  long-term memory and how teachers can activate the web of knowledge from all children to generate ideas. Practical ideas such as show me boards, think-pair-share and select a student could all be taken back and applied in our classrooms. These are successful because pupils are accountable for active participation in their own learning, building their agency and ownership. . Although children face challenges in the classroom related to memory overload, attention deficits or insufficient fluency of recall, with a varied diet of retrieval modes, teachers can ensure children revise and practice knowledge and vocabulary in different ways.

Alyson Gough from White Rose shared different strategies and practical tips based on mathematical talk and questioning in the second seminar. She showed that effective communication through concrete, pictorial and abstract think aloud routines, use of precise vocabulary and thinking stems are all vital to promote positive talk in Maths lessons. Examples of different questions, both to encourage and extend pupils of different abilities, were created together based on specific worded problems in the seminar.

Connecting upper primary with Key Stage 3 with George Speller was a key talk during the conference. Speller used Dave Harris’ book, Transition, to raise seven ideas to improve the transition process in schools. He identified that there were a range of issues around pupil anxiety, decline in school belonging and a decline in motivation when moving from prep to senior schools.

The main seven ideas centered on:

  • Agree on the long-term aims of education: present a clear vision that is connected throughout the whole school
  • Improve teacher understanding of each phase (before and after): this could be achieved through meetings between prep and senior subject leaders, taster sessions, teachers teaching across KS2 and KS3 and providing opportunities for longer term transitions across the term
  • Improve pupil understanding of the long terms aims of education: dispelling the myth that “serious work starts in senior school”
  • Encourage opportunities for children of different ages and phases to learn together: regular opportunities for enrichment which are truly collaborative
  • Develop a curriculum plan from infant to adult
  • Build learning experiences from each phase into the calendar: termly meetings for subject leads in prep and senior, regular use of facilities, joint curriculum day events/theme weeks, a whole school council and use of the house system
  • Make sure your induction programme is a subset of the transition programme

Reflections here are certain to enrich our transition programme so that we refine and consolidate our approach our own St Paul’s context.

The final seminar of the day was with Tom Sherrington, “Curriculum as schema-building”. This really helped us compare our current work in the Prep school on curriculum with other models, as well as providing clear guidance on how a successful spiral curriculum allows teachers to revisit key areas of learning.

 Tom Sherrington also shared with us the importance of the bigger picture, as well as approaches to building a curriculum that stands on an experiential foundation. It made me think about how we can teach children from their starting points, in our context, but also bring the curriculum to life and off the page, or even the screen. By deepening connections in an inter-disciplinary schema, in which children can take autonomy and bring their own involvement to the curriculum, they can have a positive experience with their learning, both in and out of the classroom environment.

Day two started with a keynote speech from Tom Sherrington on the meaning of evidence-informed teachers. He drew on concepts from previous seminars, such as knowing how the curriculum is built, knowing the children, knowing how we learn and staying true to the core values of school. Sherrington highlighted again the necessity of all children taking part, showing understanding, and thinking during lessons. Inclusion is an essential element in rich learning.

Day two also provided an opportunity to go more in-depth to a particular area of study with a workshop focus. I selected, “Creating critical readers through whole class reading” by Lynn Sear, the Director of Literacy Tree. Sear showed how reading with the whole class was aspirational, rather than focusing solely on the level of decoding, as often guided reading can be. She also shared that we need to select specific reading skills carefully when planning to teach them in the classroom. Our aim should be to make the  the reading experience authentic, individual and rich. Sear shared a variety of teaching techniques and activities that could be used as part of whole class reading and these can be added to the bank of activities already in use as part of teaching sequences with CLPE or Just Imagine at St. Paul’s. Something important to consider is the amount of time used within the timetable for reading and how this is implemented in the context of the Prep school at St. Paul’s.

On the final day, colleagues had an opportunity to reflect on their learning from the first two days. I was able to meet more with Fran Talavera, class teacher (Prep 3) and English Learning Leader from the British School of Rio in Botafogo. We have agreed to meet online at the beginning of June to discuss action points and progress from the conference, a really great opportunity to build on our work in St Paul’s by collaborating and sharing best practice with other practitioners.

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