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