#054 Tom Sherrington: The Learning Rainforest

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I spoke to Tom Sherrington.

Tom is an experienced former Headteacher and teacher. He has worked in, and led comprehensives, grammar schools and international schools for 30 years, giving him an incredibly wide-range of experiences to draw upon. He is a popular speaker at events such as researchEd, is the creator of the very popular and thought-provoking blog, teacherhead.com, and is the author of one of my favourite education books of recent years, The Learning Rainforest: Great teaching in real classrooms.

So, in a wide-ranging conversation, Tom and I covered the following things, and plenty more besides:

  • What did Tom learn in each of the different school environments he worked in?
  • What is Tom’s favourite failure, and what did he learn from the experience?
  • What are the Rainforest and Plantation metaphors that Tom uses throughout the book, and am I so wrong in thinking that the Plantation set-up is rather appealing?
  • What is a knowledge-based curriculum, and what would its opposite look like?
  • Would Tom prescribe essential elements of each lesson – eg drills, low-stakes quizzes – or leave individual teachers to decide?
  • If Tom was a Head of Department today, what would his departmental meetings look like?
  • How does Tom observe a lesson and give effective feedback?
  • Then it all kicks off as we discuss assessment, and I ask Tom about “macro summative assessment tracking”, how it manifest itself most commonly in schools, and why it is so bad?
  • Then we dive into Mode A teaching, focussing on two killer strategies: Signal, Pause, Insist, and Think, Pair, Share
  • Then it is time for Mode B, looking at developing independence in our learners, and the beauty of Structured Speech Events
  • I then ask Tom what piece of research has most significantly influenced his thinking or his approach to teaching?
  • And finally, what does Tom wish he’d known when he first started teaching that he knows now?

I am going to come out and say it: I think this episode is another classic. For me, it is right-up there in terms of its applications to teachers of all subjects with the Dylan Wiliam, Daisy Christodoulou, Doug Lemov and Harry Fletcher-Wood episodes. This one in particularly has lots of takeaways for teachers who observe lessons, run departments, or even run schools. It was a privilege to talk to Tom, and I think you are going to love the conversation.

Two quick plugs before we crack on:

Obviously, if you buy one book as a result of this episode, make it The Learning Rainforest. But if you are interested in reading about 12 years of maths teaching mistakes, then maybe take a chance on my book, “How I wish I’d taught maths”, available from all good and evil book stores. And if you have read it, and you have time to give it a quick review, that would be ideal…. So long as it is a good one, of course.

And if you are interested in spreading the word about your product, service or event to 1000s of intelligent, engaged, and quite simply incredible listeners, then I am now offering the opportunity to sponsor episodes of this post. Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Tom Sherrington’s Big 3:
1. David Didau: Learning Spy
2. Rosalind Walker: The Fruits are Sweet
3. Mark Enser: Teaching it real

On Twitter Tom is @teacherhead
Tom’s blog is teacherhead.com
Inside the Black Box, by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, can be found here
The SMILE cards that Tom discusses can be downloaded here
Tom’s book, The Learning Rainforest: Great teaching in real classrooms, is available on Amazon here

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

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