Discussion Dinner Blog

Being invited to attend any event that involves eating typically elicits an enthusiastic response! As one might imagine, getting to talk with some of the finest minds in education, while enjoying a takeaway, was an opportunity not to be missed!

The topic of our discussion was Knowledge Organisers and our objective was to unpack the research that underpins what they are and what that might mean for ATT.

What is a Discussion Dinner?

As lockdown restrictions have disrupted our usual ways of working, the Discussion Dinner was a creative solution that solved the issue of how to get a group of educators to sit around a table, eat together and talk!

Prior to the meeting, ATT colleagues met to share ideas around Knowledge Organisers, which led to a series of questions that we wanted to explore during the dinner. At the start of the session, Abby made it clear that this was not a formal panel discussion but an environment for organic dialogue.

This ATTI Discussion Dinner was, therefore, an opportunity for us to test our theories and challenge our thinking. A small group of ATT colleagues were joined by our esteemed guests, including:

  • Cat Scutt, Director of Education and Research at The Chartered College of Teaching
  • Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School-Dixons Academies Trust
  • Mary Myatt, education adviser, writer and speaker
  • Nick Heard, Executive Director National College of Education
  • Sam Hall, Learning Executive at Up Learn
  • Sonia Thompson, Headteacher St Matthew’s C.E. and Research School

What is a Knowledge Organiser?

Essentially, a Knowledge Organiser is a sheet of paper that contains the critical knowledge that a student should learn within a given topic. This might include core facts, dates, events, or concepts alongside precise definitions. I first encountered KOs during a visit to Michaela Community School in Wembley and was astonished by the powerful impact they seemed to be having in the classroom. I have also seen KOs implemented badly in schools, often due to poor implementation or little investment in the research required for them to be meaningful.

What did we learn about Knowledge Organisers?

The calibre of guests attending the dinner ensured that the discussion was extremely insightful. Clearly, it would be impossible to distil a 90-minute discussion into a short blog so here are some of the key ideas that resonated with me beyond the evening.

Knowledge Organisers can serve multiple purposes. They can help to clarify core knowledge among teachers, leading to a better understanding of curriculum content. They are an excellent memorisation tool for students, providing them with the most important facts that should be committed to their long-term memory. Finally, they can support parents and carers in structuring important conversations around learning with their children.

There was lively debate around whether Knowledge Organisers were appropriate for each key stage and subject area. The broad consensus was that they are effective to learn declarative knowledge (conscious knowledge that we can verbalise) but pointless when it came to procedural knowledge (how to do something, such as a practical skill). I reflected on my experiences as a drama teacher, a KO would be great to teach the context of a play but ineffective to help a student learn an accent!

There was also discussion around the active ingredients required for the successful implementation of KOs. A strong theme was the importance of school culture. As teachers and leaders, we need to understand and reflect deeply on the ‘why’ when it comes to KOs for meaningful engagement.

When asked about the best People Development activities to support in the creation of KOs, our guests unanimously agreed that the process of actually creating one was the best training available!

As the meeting concluded, we were advised to keep exploring the research around KOs, particularly regarding how content is presented on the page. KOs should be more than just a list of disparate facts; we should explore the relationships and connections between concepts, terms and facts in order to help students further comprehend and internalise knowledge.

 

What did we learn about Discussion Dinners?!

The format of the dinner helped to establish a relaxed atmosphere and the fact it was on Teams meant we were able to meet colleagues from across the country! It was certainly useful that we had identified our lines of inquiry prior to the meeting but the use of the chat function meant that lots of questions and comments were responded to while maintaining the flow and pace of the debate. This was an exciting model of PD and hopefully a blueprint for future initiatives.

So, what’s next…

Having considered what a Knowledge Organiser should be, how they are created and the process of effective implementation, our next stage is to agree a vision for what KOs might look like at ATT. We are still towards the beginning of a journey, but equipped with the strongest knowledge, we have a clear path forward!

George Coles

Assistant Principal, Sutton Community Academy