James Nottingham is our key note speaker at this year's Better Education Conference. He gave us the opportunity to ask him some questions to get to know him a little:
Can you tell us a little about what you were like at school?
I loved primary school. I loved studying dinosaurs, I loved playing outside, I enjoyed learning to read. But then I hit secondary school and a couple of months later, my mother died and I went off the rails. By the time I was ready to start again my teachers had labelled me a ‘naughty boy’ and that label stuck. No matter how much I began to try again, I had that label to overcome. The best teachers started again with me and I learnt lots. The average to worst teachers seemed to be blinded by the label and as a result, I made very limited progress in their lessons. In fact this was one of the motivating factors for going into teaching – thinking that surely I could do a better job than some of these muppets!
What do you see as the role of schools in today’s society?
If we are to believe the newspapers then our role is to solve every single one of life’s problems! Putting that aside, it seems to me that one of the key things we should be doing is helping children and young people to learn how to learn. Of course, all students should learn to be literate and numerate and sociable but underlying all that is this idea of learning how to learn. Of course, almost everyone learns how to learn - it’s pretty much in-built right from the word go: babies explore, investigate, wonder and try all sorts of new things. But what I’m talking about is the deliberate way in which the best teachers teach students how to learn, how to solve problems, how to think around different issues, how to communicate and to collaborate and how to become independent, resilient, thoughtful learners.
What do you see as the most burning issue(s) for today’s teachers in general?
I think one of the biggest issues is how do we find the opportunity to teach students to be thoughtful, persistent, adventurous, imaginative, creative, critical and wise when we feel as if we’re always in a rat race? Many of us feel compelled by national and state governments to ensure every one of our students jumps through the hoops, passes the tests and achieves the grades so that they can move on to the next level. Not that passing tests is a bad thing but when that becomes the reason for school, when it becomes the daily obsession then we run the risk of many other important aspects of learning being left by the wayside.
What can staff look forward to when they come to your workshops?
My first keynote (on 2nd June) will focus on motivation and how we might encourage, motivate and challenge students more. This will include the way in which we talk about challenge with our students. If a student is finding something straightforward and easy, I believe we should be saying, ‘wow you’re finding this really straightforward and easy. Let’s make it more interesting shall we?’ NOT ‘let’s make it more difficult’. I will give the reasons for this and the effects we can expect as a result.
My follow-up workshop will focus on the Learning Challenge. Known by many as the Learning Pit, the Learning Challenge is something I developed with my students back in the late 90’s and is now used in hundreds of classrooms around the world. It is even being considered by the Finnish government as one of their official new strategies for learning. The Learning Challenge looks at how to help students engage in critical thinking, how to work together to think about problems, and how to deal with cognitive conflict. It also builds resilience and growth mindsets – which is the topic for my next workshop. Growth Mindsets refer to the research of Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University. I work closely with Prof Dweck, going on presentation tours together quite regularly. So during this workshop, I will be sharing why her research is so important and what we can do to help students become more determined, resilient, engaged and focussed on learning.
On 3rd June my keynote will be focused on progress and what we can do to focus students' and staff’s attention away from a grade-obsession and onto progress. That is not to say that achievement isn’t important! Of course it is. Unfortunately however, there are many students who believe they will never achieve top grades and this leads to demotivation and an unwillingness to try. Conversely there are many students who believe that it is their right to achieve the top grades and that school is easy. With that attitude, many top-grade students take their foot off the gas and coast for months – sometimes years. Then when they come a cropper when faced with real challenges, they drop out or give up. Indeed the demographic most likely to drop out of university in their first year are girls who have breezed through school always getting the top grades and never failing. My contention is that we should be thinking more, focusing more and celebrating progress more. No matter where a student begins, we should be working with them to make significant progress, to develop, to grow, to achieve their potential (and beyond?)
My final workshop will look at ways to teach students how to think. The strategies I will share will include odd one out, mysteries, coding & decoding, opinion corners and collective memory. All of these are really nice strategies for helping us as teachers to question students in a more productive way and they are superb in helping students to learn how to think together.
Is there a little teaser you can provide for each of your workshops?
This is a series of interviews that James Nottingham made with Carol Dweck in 2010. It covers Dweck’s research about praise, feedback, competition, high expectations and talents.
The Learning Challenge Animation
This short animation shows how the learning challenge (also referred to as The Learning Pit) can be used to challenge all students to make outstanding progress.
Progress .vs. Achievement
This short video will give delegates an idea as to why James Nottingham encourages a focus on progress. In it he talks about why progress is arguably more important than achievement and what we can do to help students think about beating their personal best.
The Teaching Target Model
This video gives an insight into The Teaching Target Model. The model is the basis James uses for helping all students to enjoy challenge and be willing to get out of their comfort zone.
Labels Limit Learning
This is James Nottingham’s TEDx presentation made in 2013 in Norrköping, Sweden. It identifies the impact of labels - good and bad - on student expectations and how this affects learning.
Secure your place
Passes for day one and day two of the Better Education Conference are still available at www.better.edu.au. Visit the website to secure your place.