ResearchEd Rugby, my takeaways (part 3)

Session 3: Martin Robinson

Next, I attended Martin Robinson’s talk which focused on “the conversational classroom”. I’m not finding it quite so easy to summarise this particular talk because there was a lot covered (cognitive overload) and no clear structure (could have done with some dual coding to help organise the information more). So here is my attempt to make sense of my jumbled thoughts.

  • Students should be given the opportunity to talk more. Kudos to School21 for focusing on developing their students’ ability to speak – each student has to make a speech to an audience – but shame they sound more like TED talks.
  • Education allows students to join in the conversation of mankind that began in the swamps and continue to the present.
  • Much of this conversation is built around conflict or dichotomy, e.g. liberal versus conservative values. We can only truly understand something if we explore the opposing viewpoint as well. Quote by John Dewey: “Conflict is the gadfly of thought… It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity”.
  • Two ways to discuss conflicting views, through dialectic or dialogic. Dialectic allows you to explore an argument towards a conclusion, dialogic allows you to explore it in an open-ended way.
  • “But we’re not interested in your opinion…yet”. Far too often, we invite students to express an opinion when they have insufficient knowledge or understanding of the subject. Martin gave an example of a student who went to see the play “Endgame” a few years ago, and when asked for his opinion, stated that the play was shit, just about two people dying. However, some years later, that same student approached Martin again and told him that, after seeing his grandfather dying from cancer, he now finally understood what the play had been about. So it’s important that, before we invite our students to speak or discuss, we give them the necessary background knowledge and understanding of differing viewpoints.
  • There are three parts to joining in the conversation of mankind: grammar (background knowledge), dialectic (explore the opposing viewpoints), rhetoric (express your own argument). As an aside, this is a perfect metaphor for how to write a good history essay.
  • Finally, express your argument (rhetoric) as follows:
    • Exordium – the hook that catches the attention of your audience (could be a good introduction perhaps?)
    • Prothesis – you present the history of what you are talking about
    • Partitio – you make the points that are uncontroversial and then the points which are contested (what are the conflicting opinions?)
    • Confirmatio – you state your thinking (state your argument)
    • Confutatio – you refute opposing argument
    • Peroration – you sum up your arguments (basically your conclusion)

Those were some of the points made, but my main takeaway from this talk was that we need to equip our students to make good arguments firstly by teaching them the background knowledge they need, secondly by showing them how to explore opposing viewpoints so that they can make an informed judgement, and lastly showing them how to express their argument convincingly. A lot of GCSE history essays could benefit from the above!

Keynote: The Learning Scientists

This was the last session of the day in which the Learning Scientists, Dr. Yana Weinstein and Dr. Megan Smith, explained what they do. They are cognitive scientists who are interested in research on education. They have a rigorous process of testing scientific theories in the lab, twice over, before they test the theories that show the most promise in the classroom. What they come up with are guiding principles for teachers (they are not talking at us, but with us) for what might be useful in education.

One interesting statistic is that in a recent survey, 93% of teachers in the UK said they believed in learning styles. The Learning Scientists talked us through the experiments they did that demonstrate that people don’t learn any better by using a preferred learning style. One area where there does seem to be a difference in learning is the external and internal locus of control. I wasn’t too clear on what these actually mean, so I Googled and found this definition:

Locus of Control. The extent to which people believe they have power over events in their lives. A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes, while someone with an external locus of control blames outside forces for everything.

In the experiment they conducted, people who were identified as having an external locus of control were given visual scaffolds which helped them perform better while those with an internal locus of control did better in less structured activities. This is a finding that will perhaps invite further research in due course.

The Learning Scientists highlighted the 6 most effective strategies for learning, with the top two being by far the most effective:

  • Spaced practice
  • Retrieval practice
  • Dual coding
  • Interleaving
  • Elaboration
  • Concrete examples

Yet despite these strategies being so effective, there is very little mention of them in teacher textbooks (in the US, but probably also in the UK). Another interesting point made is that students shouldn’t rely on their intuition into what works best. In one experiment, they asked a set of students to revise by re-reading material and another set of students to revise using retrieval. When interviewed at the end, the students who re-read their material were far more confident about their revision than the ones who had used retrieval practice. However, when tested, it was the retrieval practice students who performed better.

I would have liked to have heard more about practical applications of these strategies but unfortunately our time was up.

As can be seen from my 3 blogs on ResearchEd Rugby, there was much for me to ponder and take home. Thanks again to the organisers for such a productive and informative day.


Please follow and like us:


  1. Thanks for the summary, not quite the same as being there yourself but certainly a lot quicker.

Comments are closed.