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#5Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching

This morning I really enjoyed reading Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching by Carl Hendrick and then David Didau’s Practice vs Talent: 5 Principles for Effective Teaching.  Others have followed or maybe preceded these; May’s #blogsync is “five things” or #5Things.  Feel free to join in.

Photo Credit: Erik via Flickr cc

These are five things I wish I knew when I started teaching.

  1. Pupils’ Common Misconceptions & Errors

One of the joys of teaching Science is helping children to understand the World around them and how it works.  Or at least how we currently believe it works.  Part of this involves unpacking and addressing a whole series of misconceptions and errors; teachers will find these in all subjects and phases.  Factual errors like “all metals are magnetic” are pretty easy to address.  When faced with an aluminium can pupils know aluminium is a metal; they also know it’s not magnetic.  They soon recognise their own error and can correct it.

A different order of challenge is conceptual misunderstanding.  Having demonstrated the expansion of metals I was floored by a pupil’s explanation, “It’s because the particles got bigger”.  I wasn’t expecting the response and had not planned a way of addressing it.  Pupils believing that a skydiver opening their parachute goes up; reinforced by their explanation that they had seen it on TV, when one person in free fall was filming another, left me speechless.

Experience counts when teaching.  Misconceptions and errors tend to repeat with each cohort or pupils and your ability to help pupils rethink improves.

  1. Theories of Knowledge and Learning are Different

Bloom’s taxonomy was all the rage and possibly still is.  We tried to use the taxonomy to plan lessons, struggled and gave up.  Bloom’s is a theory about different types of knowledge; it isn’t a taxonomy about how children and young people learn.  Whilst the SOLO Taxonomy had been about for a decade or so no-one thought to introduce me to it; it was another decade or so before I stumbled across it in Hattie’s Visible Learning.  I didn’t grasp the importance until a few years later.

The SOLO Taxonomy is about learning; starting with simple facts (or skills), linking these together and forming concepts or complex skills is invaluable in creating learning progressions.  Having a simple model and more profound understanding of the importance of determining and continually re-evaluating the order in which a particular scheme of learning is taught would have benefitted myself and my pupils immensely.

  1. Feedback is For Teachers

Assessment for Learning was the thing for most of the second half of my class room teaching career; post publication of the Black Box.  The whole focus was on feedback to children.  Little, in fact nothing, was made of the powerful benefits of feedback to teachers. 

The biggest unseen benefit of our approach to assessment after levels has been the feedback to teachers.  Staff are increasingly open and honest about which aspects of their teaching is effective and which aspects not so.  Their evidence is taken straight from the assessment data of their classes.  If I’ve taught this well the pupils would have performed; if not, either the scheme of learning needs re-ordering or I need to find someone who has and learn from them.

  1. The Only Silver Bullet Is There Is No Silver Bullet

Over the years I’ve tried far too many new fads and stupid ideas.  There are no short cuts or quick fixes that really benefit children; most are to satisfy the insatiable monster of accountability.  Too many silver bullets waste time in the class room, when planning or do a disservice to our pupils in the long term.  The joys and challenges of learning go together. 

I wish the EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit or the IEE Best Practice schemes had been running when I started teaching.  The use of evidence requires time.  You start by believing the evidence says X and so I must do Y.  You move to realising that there is evidence to suggest pretty much “everything works somewhere” so reliability and validity matter.  Causation and correlation are not the same thing; evidence based practice is not a silver bullet rather a way of working that has layers and needs thought and consideration in application.

  1. You Can Smile Before Christmas

It is an old adage that has more than a grain of truth.  However, if you’re not careful the whole truth is lost and you become an unauthentic tyrant or nagger.  You can smile before the end of September, even the first week of the month, if you are concurrently working on rules, routines & relationships. 

Rules so the expected standards of behaviour are enforced and reinforced from the word go.  Pupils will challenge you.  In the end consistency and inevitability of consequences, being seen through, will win the day with nearly all pupils.  Routines create norms and efficient ways of working that allow for an orderly class room.  Don’t create problems for yourself would be my maxim.  Finally, schools are safe and orderly places in which to work; we establish this with the consent of our pupils.  They come to school to learn, enjoy learning and are more likely to do so when they feel safe and there is good order.  They know this.  Building relationships enhances this consent exponentially.



5 thoughts on “#5Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching

  1. A thought provoking piece. Thank you.
    Do you think the silver bullet phenomenon is a passing phase?

    We seem to be moving towards the concept that teachers have to be researchers. We all have to be researching the silver bullet. Why? The new Chartered College of Teaching seems to be majoring on the idea of giving teachers access to oodles of research papers. As if giving teachers lots of data will turn them into super teachers.
    Teaching is a complex business. How many lessons have you watched where all the boxes were ticked but the lesson was not good?
    Somewhere along the way the profession has jumped on a treadmill that it cannot get off. Our only response is “go faster”. Never mind the direction, “just go faster”.
    It seems safer to just go along with current fad. Prove your management skill by making your staff go faster.

    We need direction, but who can provide it?
    I recall a science lesson where a year 7 student told me that a compass always pointed forward.
    The teaching profession needs a compass, but also the ability to use it properly.

    Posted by AssemblyTube (@AssemblyTube) | May 7, 2017, 10:00 pm
  2. One thing I wish you’d never heard about!
    The EEF toolkit.
    The nature of the ‘evidence’ in the EEF toolkit is increasingly being recognised as fundamentally flawed. It relies on meta-analyses of research, reduced to ‘effect sizes’ (or, equivalently but very misleadingly, ‘months progress’). This measure is seen as something which simply is not a proxy for educational importance at all and the league tables of more or less effective interventions is thoroughly misleading.
    Psychologists like Jan Vanhove have been saying this for a while: standardised effect size just a measure of how good your research design is (see http://janhove.github.io/design/2015/03/16/standardised-es-revisited). In education, The EEF toolkit and Hattie’s Visible Learning are based on this notion of ‘effect size’. Even the big ‘evidence based education’ people like Cheung & Slavin note that effect size varies with sample size and with whether you use a standard test or one a researcher makes up (https://goo.gl/JHEGpE) and Simpson really knocks the EEF toolkit to bits by showing that the effect size is just something which a researcher chooses (https://goo.gl/EzdcJT). For example, feedback looks like it has a big effect size because it is easy to study, not necessarily because it has a big educational impact.
    Arguments that these league tables are meant only to be used as discussion starting points is clearly false: you don’t need rank orderings to start a discussion. Whether intended to or not, these ‘months progress’ numbers push teachers and schools in directions which aren’t grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the research.

    Posted by Freddie | May 15, 2017, 3:01 pm


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