“Everything is about them.” [Hunger Games]
1. Stop talking about ‘them’
Too many decisions in the classroom are currently being made based on what ‘they’ might think, whether ‘they’ are SLT or Ofsted. Keven Bartle suggests that we ‘fetishise’ Trojan Horses of education with their promises of magic bullet solutions. The danger of this is that teachers do not own their pedagogical choices.
Kevin Lister explains here. “The problem comes when we forget why we're doing something, and just do it without thinking, without questioning... To do something because someone else has told us to do it... is to abdicate our professional responsibilities...teaching practice should be a conscious, deliberate act.”
This is all the more important when ‘they’ have a shifting understanding of what good teaching actually looks like.
Schools minister, Nick Gibb here blames “assertions by charismatic educationalists on the conference circuit” for “failed education orthodoxies” but fails to mention the role of Ofsted in promulgating said ‘failed orthodoxies.’ Spot the difference between the ‘Requires Improvement’ Maths lessons below and the effective teaching strategies referenced in What Makes Great Teaching:
Lesson descriptions from Ofsted reports
“A feature of much of the... teaching was that teachers tended to talk for too long.”
“A common feature of... teaching observed was the use of examples followed by practice with many similar questions. This allowed consolidation of a skill or technique...The teacher typically demonstrated a standard method, giving tips to pupils on how to avoid making mistakes and sometimes rules and mnemonics to help them commit the methods to memory. Many of their questions concerned factual recall.”
Principles of Instruction
"The more effective teachers spent more time presenting new material and guiding student practice than did the less effective teachers. In a study of mathematics instruction, for instance, the most effective mathematics teachers spent about 23 minutes of a 40-minute period in lecture, demonstration, questioning, and working examples. In contrast, the least effective teachers spent only 11 minutes presenting new material.... One characteristic of effective teachers is their ability to anticipate students’ errors and warn them about possible errors some of them are likely to make... One of the goals of education is to help students develop extensive and available background knowledge.”
Keven Bartle invites Guerrilla Teachers to Unleash the Trojan Mice
This tweet from @Headguruteacher says it all:
2. Know your pedagogy
Keven Bartle points out that the first, second and third rules of good teaching are good pedagogy.
What Makes Great Teaching reports the findings of Askew et al. that the “pedagogical purposes behind particular classroom practices are as important as the practices themselves in determining effectiveness.” The report suggests that effective pedagogy consists of “more than just a set of classroom techniques, but... the ability to make complex judgements about which technique to use when.”
If teachers don’t understand and utilise the pedagogy, we run the risks of:
- Failing to make the most effective and efficient choices about what works
- Being regarded as technicians rather than professionals
- Being unable to engage effectively in necessary discussion about what works
- Being held hostage by the decisions of others
Research reported here found that, “on average, teachers believed 49% of the neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.” A recent survey reported here found that 90% of teachers in several countries agreed that individuals learn better in their preferred learning style despite there being "no convincing evidence.” Conversely Dunlosky points out here that “some effective techniques are underutilized – many teachers do not learn about them.”
What makes great teaching @Class Teaching
Daniel Willingham and Tom Bennett have written an excellent article here on learning styles and other myths in education.
3. Ditch the labels
The more I read about growth and fixed mindset, the more applicable they seem to teaching. Although Ofsted no longer grades individual lessons, in December, Teacher Toolkit found here a 50:50 split in whether schools were still grading lessons. Labelling teachers (even if it is based on more than observation of under 1% of their teaching) has the following drawbacks:
- Teachers self-conceptualise themselves professionally by these labels. This risks complacency in ‘outstanding’ teachers and disengagement from the professional learning community by ‘requires improvement’ teachers. Dylan Wiliam points out that, “Every teacher needs to improve. Not because they’re not good enough but because they can be even better.”
- Strong et al. found here that, “judges, no matter how experienced, are unable to identify successful teachers.”
- Ofsted currently define outstanding progress here as “almost all pupils...making sustained progress that leads to outstanding achievement.” Professor Colin Richards critiques this definition here as, “equally impossible to meet and to inspect.” Has anyone actually achieved outstanding teaching over a 20+ year career or is it impossible to sustain in the long term?
- Labelling teachers is a zero-sum game. By definition all teachers cannot stand out.
- Labelling teachers prevents focus on areas of improvement. What Makes Great Teaching reports that teachers are “unwilling to expose their weaknesses... because of the negative opinion that other professionals could have of their performance.”
In 1935, a miner called Stakhanov was feted in the USSR for mining 14x his quota (his achievements have since been questioned). This gave birth to the Stakhanovite movement for workers who exceeded their production targets. A ‘Stakhanovite’ had beaten Stakhanov’s record by 1936. Stakhanovite competitions were introduced and a quarter of Soviet women were designated as ‘norm breaking.’ Stakhonovites organised the two-hundreder and one-thousander movements for those exceeding their shift quota by 200% and 1000% accordingly and Stakhonivsm encouraged the development of work quotas.
Ring any bells? Professor Colin Richards criticises, “an obsession [with outstanding] that threatens to undermine what is reasonable and possible in the pursuit of an unattainable perfection that, in too many cases, demoralises rather than motivates.”
- James Theo writes here Why is Opportunity Cost so Important?