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Reflections from the Northern Learning Conference (NLC) 2018

29th January 2018

On Saturday we attended the Northern Learning Conference (NLC) 2018, hosted at the beautiful St Peter’s School in York. There were 4 inspirational speakers, and it was fantastic to have the opportunity to attend an event alongside our teaching colleagues to pick up tips, evidence and strategies that will help our practice and give us more ideas to pass on to the schools we work with on a regular basis.

The first speaker was the keynote, Jaz Amfaw-Farr (you might have seen her a few years ago on The Apprentice!). She shared her experiences as a child living through abuse and neglect; truly harrowing stories. She really impressed upon us how important 5 specific teachers were in saving her life. She has gone on to be an early years teacher herself, as well as a motivational speaker presenting at conferences and events all over the world. Her main message was one of the significance a teacher has in a child’s life. She encouraged reflective practice and got us to think about WHY we choose to work with children… how do we channel that? How can we communicate in the most supportive and positive way with the young people we share our days with? Growth mindset, reflection and nurture were strong messages I came away with, both as a practitioner and a mum.

The second speaker was Hywel Roberts; author and self-titled “travelling teacher”. Anyone who has attended his presentations will know how inspiring, funny and engaging he is! I had the pleasure of delivering workshops at a Leeds and Bradford Dyslexia Association Conference in 2016 where he was keynote, and he made an incredible impression on me then. The main messages I took away this time around are that it’s not just ‘okay’ but crucial to try and leave the over-planning and tight restrictions of a “worksheets” approach to teaching, and to focus on inspiring and engaging learners. Take them on a journey and have faith that within that excitement and passion, the learning will happen, and you’ll be left with children who are not just motivated but driven to write. The research backs this approach up; evidence shows that when children make an emotional connection to the content, it enables deeper more robust learning. Hardly surprising when you think about it! Hywel bases a lot of his approaches (mainly stories and imagining, or “just say” as he says!) on Heathcote’s continuum of engagement, which is all about engaging and inspiring children. I would highly recommend any school to book him for modelling lessons, and defy anyone not to feel inspired after seeing him in action! It was wonderful as a Speech and Language Therapist to hear someone so experienced share the importance of oracy for the foundation of literacy skills. I came away with ideas and inspiration, as well as face ache from laughing so much!

The third workshop was delivered by Teacher, SENCO and presenter Amjad Ali. He inspired us through sharing his real, practical experience. His workshop was based on 6 core principles of good teaching, the first 3 were absolutely up our street as Speech and Language Therapists:

  • Always pair oral/written information with a visual to enable dual coding
  • Link abstract concepts to concrete representations (including tangible examples) to enable kinaesthetic learning.
  • Repeatedly revisiting older topics (Blocking versus Interleaving the curriculum)

These 3 principles in particular resonated strongly for us, as these are the strategies we always advocate in our work in schools to enable students with stronger visual learning abilities (often the case for children with language difficulties) to better access the curriculum.

Amjad’s workshop was bursting with practical ideas in the classroom; such as “Think Tax” where the teacher gives children 3 gold coins at the beginning of each lesson, every time they ask a question they have to pay a coin… a great way to develop and encourage independent strategies alongside the well known “three before me” approach. Also the importance of how we communicate our intentions to students, particularly how we need to be explicit about our expectations.

I was so delighted to hear such a well-respected voice in the education world enthuse about the importance of visual and kinaesthetic approaches in the classroom. I will be checking out his website ( and I will be encouraging teaching colleagues to do the same. All his resources are free and available as editable word documents rather than PDFs! Bonus!

Lastly, a workshop on Metacognition and evidence base in teaching delivered by Julie Watson, Psychology Teacher and Head of Y13 at Research School Huntington School (which funnily enough was my Comprehensive a long time ago!). It was great to hear how developing metacognition and awareness through simple teaching strategies is backed up by a wealth of scientific evidence! It is hailed as one of the most effective (and cheapest!) approaches for improving learning outcomes and accelerating progress. Fantastic as so many of the interventions that we deliver have a focus on active listening, independence and helping children with language difficulties to learn that even though it is difficult, there is still a way around the problem. We promote strategies to help yourself in the classroom and help children see that using strategies is as much their responsibility as their teacher’s!

Overall, I was thrilled to attend and came away both inspired and feeling lucky to have shared this day with teachers who spend their lives always striving to have a positive impact on the children they support. The main themes from all speakers was a focus on resilience, the importance of positive, clear communication, the importance of specific feedback from staff to children, and a general ethos of growth mindset (which as a parent and practitioner I am a huge fan of). A fantastic day which helped us feel geared up for the Yorkshire Rose Dyslexia Conference on May 12th where we will be delivering workshops on Working Memory – we hope to see you there!

To book a place at the Yorkshire Rose Dyslexia Conference please see Eventbrite: