The Enormity of my Ignorance (or what I learned at CEM 30)

At the beginning of his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb talks about the size of Umberto Ecco’s library, a reputed 30,000 books. The point he makes is that the value of those books is not in which have been read, but rather those which are yet to be read. The knowledge yet to come.

Well, following a brilliant day at CEM’s 30th anniversary event, my library has just got a little larger, both metaphorically and, within a few days, literally.

The keynote was by Professor John Hattie, on blistering form discussing the impact of what we do (“Almost everything enhances learning”) suggesting all you need to have a positive impact in the classroom is a pulse. The trick it seems is to have a significant impact and we were left in no doubt that practitioner and leadership expertise will trump structural change. He also stressed the importance of valuing what we do, “Success is all around us. We don’t need to go to Finland.”

He was followed by Professor Steve Higgins discussing meta-analysis, it’s history and it’s significance. The full presentation can be found here.

The more I listened to what he was saying the more I wanted to know what a Special school data specific EEF toolkit would look like. Would the outcomes of the analysis be the same?

Professor Maggie Snowling then talked about interventions for language learning impairments and comparative analysis of phonological approaches and oral language work.

Following Dr Christine Merrell’s piece on evidence based strategies for supporting children with ADHD there was a group discussion.

Now my first additional bit of reading is a booklet developed by Dr Merrell as part of her study called, “Working with difficult children in Primary Schools”. Not necessarily the wording I’d choose, but the evidence indicated this booklet had an impact and I’d like to know why. As Professor Robert Coe mentioned later, maybe we need more booklets.

During the discussion I decided to ask a question. Now I don’t know why, but in these situations I get really nervous awaiting the microphone in a way I never get speaking to an audience. A sense I suspect of feeling on thin intellectual ice, but ask it I did, heart pumping.

“Given the recent investment in, and reorganisation of, the legislative and administrative structures which govern access to Special education, is now the time to conduct a meta-analytical evaluation of the interventions and organisational structures evident in Special Schools?”

The response from the panel was positive but short on detailed response, so Professor Coe brought Hattie in. Whose response was “Have you read David Mitchell’s book? The details are different, but the story is the same.” In saying that he was referring to the evidence of significant impact of different approaches in mainstream.

The book, which is my second addition to the library is “What Really Works in Special Education” Routledge (2007). Now I’d be delighted if any other Special Ed types would contact me to let me know that you also hadn’t heard of this or read it. Please, tell me I’m not alone! There is also a companion website which I am yet to explore which can be found here.

This was all before coffee.

After we heard from Professor Dr Eckhard Klieme on measuring the quality of classroom teaching, Professor David Andrich discuss the controversy in PISA, which I almost understood, and Professor Peter Tymms. Professor Tymms was particularly engaging discussing interventions. His critique of the National Literacy Strategy and it’s lack of impact was incisive and his parting shot that, “Politicians pensions should be tied to Pisa.”, made the point that rarely are those who implement change held accountable for its impact or lack of.

This was followed by Professor Andreas Demetriou talking about aligning developmental and educational analysis, which whetted the appetite with a brief description of what sounded particularly interesting from a Special Education perspective. So next added to the list is the research studies associated with this. I didn’t collect the references but will seek them out.

Professor Paul Newton then talked brilliantly of the tension between judgement and statistics with regards to exam standards and managed to make norm referencing entertaining. I think he might have also explained why everyone since about 1998 seems to have better A-Levels than me, although that might be wishful thinking.

It was finally the turn of Professor Robert Coe to discuss the challenge of connecting research and practice, with a nod to the role of movements like ResearchEd.

So, a few bits to read, but an inordinate number of questions now playing on my mind. They will settle in time and some will disappear and some will stick, but what they have done is raise the spectre of just how much I don’t know about what I do.

In his keynote, John Hattie stated, ‘When a teacher walks into a classroom and says my job today is to evaluate my impact – all good things follow”. Well I walked into a conference today and I reevaluated my understanding and I think some good things will follow.

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2 thoughts on “The Enormity of my Ignorance (or what I learned at CEM 30)

  1. Thanks for sharing this Simon. You are not alone!
    I’m not sure I would have made it beyond coffee – how do we not know about this info – it is terrific!

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