Whilst every year should be a year of great teaching it sometimes helps to focus if you name it. So, 2015 is now the Year of Great Teaching.
I’ve decided to challenge myself to produce the odd podcast as part of some posts. Here’s the first attempt:
Over the past eighteen months I’ve gradually refined some ideas around what great teaching might look like and the steps towards it. The plan started at quite a simple level to explain differences in observed lessons and my subsequent conversations with teachers. It was shared in Consistently Good to Outstanding which, whilst now rather dated, is still one of the most viewed posts on the blog.
The starting graphic essentially focussed on the idea that as the quality of teaching and learning improved it was due to greater clarity about the learning gains expected. Well planned teachers were able to consistently deliver, over time, lessons leading to good outcomes for young people. The shift to even better quality teaching came when the teacher used on-going assessment and deviated from their plan, if required, to address the needs of the learner. It might be to slow down if students hadn’t grasped key facts, skills or concepts or to accelerate the learning if the initial pitch was too low.
A Revised Schema
To be clear this is just how the different elements of teaching fit together in my head. It allows me to understand the complex whole. It is incomplete and almost certainly wrong but I find it useful. It helps me identify key strands in what makes great teaching and potential “thresholds” to cross as a teacher seeks to improve her/his teaching.
The strands whilst separately identified connect together and are essentially intertwined. The revised graphic got tweeted and retweeted to various parts of the World thanks to @TeacherToolkit. As Ross’ timeline became filled with RTs he suggested I blogged the schema out in more detail.
A few people felt the graphic should have the quality of teaching improving arrow going upwards. So I’ve since reversed the direction. This also helped when producing some graphics to explain ways of improving the quality of teaching and learning.
Plan the Learning First
In the early stages of our careers or on a bad day we can mistakenly think about activities and pedagogy before we have identified the “why & what of learning”. This “why of learning” – is it the best that has been thought, or said or done or is leading to it? – and the “what of learning” – in terms of factual, conceptual, procedural or metacognitive knowledge – needs to come before the “how of learning”. What students are required to learn has implications for the pedagogy and activities used and so should precede it in teachers’ planning.
The Assessment & Expected Learning Gains Strands
Tightly linked, in fact intertwined with the expected learning gains, is assessment. In poorer quality teaching assessment is often an afterthought, idiosyncratic or missing in any meaningful way. Without pre-planned assessment based upon challenging success criteria the expected learning gains become weakly defined or even worse, incidental and haphazard.
We should use our subject and metacognitive knowledge to define excellence in terms of a series of success criteria, starting with the end point of the learning and planning backwards. This creates a series of milestones or way markers for the learning journey.
The next stage is to pre-plan the terminal assessment and assessments for each milestone. These may then be used to gather evidence of when each student reaches the various stages and what learning is required if they fall short. This process helps us define excellence within the curriculum, provides evidence of when students achieve it and enables a teacher to structure and sequence the expected learning between the milestones. The expected learning gains become tight and clearer in the teacher’s mind.
Teaching moves to the next level as the expected learning gains become non-negotiable for the teacher and student.
In short, the learning gains must be made. Two different but related assessment processes help deliver this. The first is assessment for learning where students are required to improve the quality of their work, in dedicated improvement and reflection time (DIRT), using feedback often from the teacher. The second, assessment of the learning requires an analysis of students’ work to identify individual or collective gaps in knowledge. These are then retaught. The gaps may be retaught, as appropriate, to a whole class or in small groups in class or through additional intervention classes. The expected learning gains become tighter as the gap between current and expected learning is closed.
Part of the journey towards great teaching happens before you even enter the class room.
The Pedagogy Strand
Whilst I tend to see pedagogy and resultant student behaviours as linked I’ll deal with them separately to help explain my thinking.
At its worst pedagogy simply isn’t good enough, it doesn’t lead to improved learning and outcomes for students. The temptation is to look for the latest Silver Bullet and implement it in your class room. The problem with this is two-fold: the latest silver bullet might be “fashionable but not particularly effective”. As quickly as one silver bullet appears so it disappears only to be replaced by another one. There is no time for a teacher to hone her/his practice or establish effective learning routines and protocols for students. Teaching and the class room can become frenetic and busy but not purposeful in terms of learning gains. The root of this problem is a lack of discernment by both teachers and leaders about which strategies are worth pursuing and which are not. Not everything that glitters is gold.
As Professor Robert Coe states (13th December 2014), “Some pedagogical practices are better supported by evidence than others.” It is important to use sources like the Education Endowment Toolkit and the work of John Hattie to make decisions about potential teaching approaches to use.
These studies are the essential starting points for teachers not end points. Understanding the various strategies and selecting appropriate ones is part of the professional learning journey for teachers. Becoming expert in the use of a particular strategy requires practice and peer support.
At its best pedagogy is based on teaching and learning strategies supported by evidence and contextualised to the situation – the school, the students, the room and even the time of day. This contextualisation is part of the refinement brought to their practice by skilled teachers. Refinement requires the on-going process of practice, reflection and fine tuning over time. Great teaching has a fluency, there is an automaticity, a flow that makes the whole lesson appear seamless and effortless. Great teaching looks easy but it is far from it. A copy of the table below is available here.
The Student Behaviour Strand
Behaviour can be the bane of too many teachers’ and students’ lives. At its worst poor behaviour totally disrupts students’ learning and a teacher’s teaching. There is a need to ensure students are compliant with: the school’s or class’ rules, the instructions given by a teacher and norms of behaviour. Without basic compliance learning is not possible but compliance in itself doesn’t mean that learning will take place, it is simply the minimum starting point.
“The teacher’s role agreed upon by all parties and all theories of learning, is to invite and induce students to engage actively with learning sources.”
Hattie and Yates (2014)
Engagement therefore is a key aspect of student’s behaviour in order to achieve good learning and improved outcomes. I define engaged as time on task. The more time on task the better as long as time on task equates to Professor Robert Coe’s definition, “On task = thinking hard about what they are supposed to be learning.” Engagement isn’t about edutainment but nor do I have a problem with learning being fun, as long as students are genuinely learning.
I’ve used the term “Interdependence” to describe a stage of learner maturity that encompasses but goes beyond independence. The interdependent learner is able to use the teacher, fellow students, written sources, hard copy & digital, social media and both face to face and on-line experts to advance their learning. Interdependence requires deep metacognitive knowledge, which has been explicitly taught not caught, and the grit and resilience to meet challenging learning goals. Students’ behaviour is often inextricably linked to their relationship with the teacher. Relationships could be a strand in its own right but I’ll weave it into the student behaviour element for now. From contempt or outright antagonism to increasing trust – I will be your teacher through thick and thin, for better or worse – and eventually respect, admiration and a lifetime of gratitude for how you increased a student’s life chances. Relationships matter in learning and academic outcomes as well as emotional and social ones.
The first challenge is to move to at least high achievement for all students. The next greater challenge is how to create space to allow our young people to grow interdependently and increasingly bring wisdom to the choices they make.
I’m already wondering whether we should also declare 2016 as the Year of Great Teaching as well … and 2017 … and 2018 … and 2019 … and 2020 …
What would your schema for great teaching & learning look like?
The follow up posts to this will be published shortly:
Links to Other Pages & Posts
#DIYTeachingCPD – the page consists of a series of links to posts on improving the quality of teaching and learning with a number of free downloadable resources.
#DIYTeaching Resources – the page consists of a series of free downloadable resources on improving the quality of teaching and learning plus some planners which can be used to plan the learning and lessons.
Bambrick-Santoyo, P (2012) Leverage Leadership Jossey-Bass (Kindle Edition)
Hattie, J & Yates, G (2014) Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn. London: Routledge