The first national learning and teaching conference proved an inspiration, writes David Egan
Teachers from every sector of the education system took part in a historic event last week - the Welsh Assembly government's first national conference designed to showcase and celebrate innovative practice in learning and teaching in Wales.
It was organised in partnership with a wide range of education stakeholders, from funding agencies to local authorities, and was very much the brainchild of Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, who opened the conference.
Having seen so much innovative practice on her regular visits to schools and colleges, she became determined to find ways to both recognise and spread this work. A visit to New South Wales, Australia, in 2003 provided one model of how governments can promote learning and teaching pedagogy.
This was, however, organised in a prescriptive manner that she felt would be unsuited to Wales.
So, earlier this year, a pedagogy initiative was begun which has allowed practitioners themselves to shape a national approach to promoting innovative practice in learning and teaching.
As became clear through a series of regional conferences, there is a great deal of such practice in Wales.
Approaches to learning styles drawing on Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences, Daniel Goleman's books on emotional intelligence, theories on formative assessment expounded by the Assessment for Learning Group, and many other influences are making an impact on strategies for learning and teaching throughout the country.
As Ms Davidson pointed out in her speech, it matters not that the validity and efficacy of some of these theories are now being challenged. That so many practitioners in Wales are trying out these ideas, perhaps adopting, adapting and even rejecting them, is what counts, for it clearly shows that learning is also taking place among our teachers and lecturers.
The conference was just a staging post in the pedagogy initiative. A five-year strategy to further develop and spread innovative learning and teaching pedagogy in Wales will now begin.
The form that this will take will emerge out of the discussions which took place at the conference. As it moves forward it will extend its remit to practitioners in other areas of education and training such as those in work-based learning, youth and community work and higher education.
One of the main speakers at the conference was Professor Andrew Pollard of the Institute of Education, London university, and director of the largest educational research project ever funded in the UK, the Teaching and Learning Research Project.
He pointed to a worldwide trend that placed increased emphasis on the importance of developing learning and teaching pedagogy to improve both the quality and performance of education systems. Wales, he suggested, is at the leading edge of movements in this direction.
This sounded almost as sweet to those who had organised the conference as the buzz taking place in the sessions where practitioners were busy sharing their enthusiasms.
They listened intently as an early-years teacher from Rhyl described how, inspired by the foundation phase and with help from all quarters, she had transformed an area outside the school into a wonderland of play and active learning opportunities for her young pupils.
Two teachers from Cardiff, one primary and one secondary, gave presentations on how they had been motivated by a Learning to Learn course organised by their local education authority.
It had been provided by Guy Claxton, professor of learning sciences at Bristol university, whose work in bringing together the outcomes of research in cognitive neuroscience and socio-cultural studies has become enormously influential on teachers and pupils.
The primary teacher described how training pupils to become more aware of their learning, through engaging in self-marking, had led to improvements in both their motivation and the standard of their work.
The secondary teacher had found herself frustrated with her 14-year-old maths pupils who were often "stuck". By training them to become independent learners, she had also been able to transform their attitudes.
Finally, an FE lecturer, talking about the Welsh baccalaureate for which her college is a pilot centre, told how particular use was made of students mentoring their peers. They employed approaches similar to those envisaged for learning coaches in the Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways programme.
These were only some of the innovations in Wales.
Professor David Egan is special adviser for education and lifelong learning to the Welsh Assembly