When it comes to feedback, there has been lots of blogs about feedback to pupils – written and verbal and in lesson responsive teaching. There have been fewer about how feedback can help improve an aspect of a teacher’s classroom practice in terms of their subject pedagogical knowledge.
Which aspect of your practice do you most need to improve and how do you know? This question is a key part of our appraisal and professional development process; when I was a classroom I couldn’t have answered it with any degree of certainty. I was observed, graded and provided with written feedback. It was “of its time”; pretty much useless and pretty much unused. This is still the reality for far too many teachers. Producing a lesson grade; utterly unreliable but also loses all the detail a teacher needs to pinpoint an aspect of her/his practice that needs improving.
A different approach is to look at assessment data; what have I taught pupils that they appear not to know? As ever data is only a starting point but it can be very useful in helping identify an aspect of the curriculum which you may not teach well. A key point here is that you’re looking for something you’ve taught that lots of your class didn’t understand or couldn’t do, not just one or two of them. If teachers take responsibility for identifying and addressing issues in their practice the process becomes a low stakes, systematic, mastery orientated approach. This is a garden mile away from the toxic accountability culture that currently pervades too much of our system.
Once you’ve identified something you want to improve here are three ideas that may help you improve your practice:
Is there another teacher whose data shows s/he has taught this topic or a particular aspect of it well? Teachers are always happy to explain, “Well this is how I teach it”. What you’re looking for is the evidence that the approach s/he takes has impact; then be interested in their approach. If there is no-one whose data is particularly strong then look to see if your subject association or bloggers have an approach/set of resources you could trial. Does the new approach have any more impact on pupils’ learning?
Go back and revisit your teaching of the particular aspect of the curriculum. Think about the learning flow or logical development of knowledge that pupils’ need to be taught to understand the particular concept. What needs to be taught in what order and why? Are the basic building blocks in place in terms of their prior and surface knowledge? Is the knowledge appropriately sequenced with Goldilocks’ size steps (not too easy, not too hard)? Did you assess pupils during the lesson to ensure they were with you at each step of the journey? It is very easy to miss out steps in the learning journey or fail to check the class has learnt each step before moving on.
Another possible focus of improvement could be the way the subject content was taught. Looking at it from a working memory perspective; the challenge is to reduce the extraneous cognitive load when teaching. This is the strain put on working memory by the teaching approach that is unnecessary; that is, it doesn’t help develop the required automaticity or schema required to understand what is being taught. Was there an aspect of your pedagogy – materials, activities or approach that didn’t help core learning but did take up space in the working memory? In the classroom I was a nightmare for going off at a tangent; pupils wouldn’t know whether my aside was central or peripheral to the learning. This doesn’t help or support pupils’ learning. Reduce the strain on working memory by methodically, systematically and purposefully teaching each step. Support the learning through modelling and worked examples; question all pupils at each stage to check understanding before moving to the next step.
Taking back control of your own learning is another step towards great teaching.