Tag Archives: Great Teaching

Teachers Need Deep Subject Knowledge⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

A teachers subject knowledge has strong evidence of impact on student outcomes. So how do we get deep and fluent subject knowledge?

Why do we need deep subject knowledge?

Professor Rob Coe and colleagues wrote in their 2014 What Makes Great Teaching? report that “the most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students learning”. What is significant about this is that of all the factors they analysed, only effective instruction was found to be as important.

Prof. Coe also highlights the need for deep subject knowledge in the Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review. In the review the authors place subject knowledge in Dimension 1 and Element 1.1. The write:

The first element of Dimension 1 is essentially content knowledge, of a deep and connected kind. Teachers need to know how different ideas in the subject or domain are related, similar, sequential, analogous or distinct. They need
to have thought about, and have good answers to, the kinds of ‘Why?’ and ‘What would happen if…?’ questions that students may ask and that teachers themselves should ask to promote connected and higher-order thinking.

Great Teaching Toolkit, Evidence Based Education

Rosenshine also documents the need for deep subject knowledge in Principles of Instruction. Rosenshine looked at the defining characteristics of effective teaching, with regards to subject knowledge he found that effective teachers were able to provide detailed explanations of the material they teach. To exemplify this he writes that:

‘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.’ (p. 14)

Principles of Instruction, 2012

In the paper Rosenshine also notes that effective teachers don’t overwhelm students by presenting too much information at once. Instead we can give short presentations, check for understanding and provide many examples. I’d go as far to say that we can’t provide quality lectures, demonstrations and worked examples unless our subject knowledge is deep enough to allow us to do it well. Furthermore, we wont be able to ask a lot of questions without knowing what we want the students to think about.

Going Off Piste is one of my favourite teaching strategies outlined in Making Every Geography Lesson Count by Mark Enser. I also spoke about this being a great strategy from The Learning Rainforest by Tom Sherrington. Both are great books. In MEGLC, Mark Enser writes about shifting away from a lesson plan to tackle student misconceptions. Enser writes:

Without this underlying knowledge in place, it would be negligent to just continue with the planned lesson. Instead we need to stop to address the area of confusion with a clear, albeit ad hoc, explanation and then provide the opportunity for students to practice using this new knowledge.

Making Every Geography Lesson Count

Mark then goes further by outlining that this approach would not work unless the teacher has a ‘deep well of knowledge to draw on’.

So i’m sure by now we all agree that having a deep subject knowledge is essential for effective teaching, the question we now need to consider is how do we develop a deep and fluent knowledge of our subject and how do we maintain this knowledge throughout our time in the classroom.

Developing and maintaining deep subject knowledge?

Despite the success of the What Makes Great Teaching? report many initial teacher training courses and in-school CPD focus on what the authors call ‘less significant elements’. Because of this many teachers take matters into their own hands when develop their subject knowledge through reading books, joining associations and discussing their practice during breaks and lunches.

If we accept that a teachers subject knowledge is incredibly important then we need to build in time for it during the working week. A great example of this for school leaders to consider is Subject Planning and Development Sessions (SPDS) used at Durrington High School. Shaun Allison describes the approach by saying:

These sessions have been calendared once a fortnight, in subject teams.  They will provide the opportunity for subject teams to meet and work together to plan high quality teaching, through regular, subject specific collaborative planning & CPD – placing the focus very much on our core purpose….great subject teaching.

Shaun Allison in Class Teaching Blog

If this isn’t possible in your school for whatever reason as an individual teacher you can take control of your subject specific development, as Kate Jones writes in Love to Teach you should ‘own your CPD’. Teachers can develop their subject knowledge by doing a number of things:

Read around your subject – I have written previously about why you should develop a reading habit. I would recommend that you read subject specific books to deepen your knowledge on the topics that you will be teaching. This deep knowledge will allow you to provide clear ad-hoc explanations and go off piste.

Plan lessons with colleagues – each member of your department will have expert knowledge in a different area of the course. Just like how Shaun Allison tasks his teams during SPDS why don’t you get together with a colleague and plan explanations, identify potential misconceptions and co-create lessons to teach and discuss afterwards. There is something to learn from everyone and it is my opinion that teaching is most certainly a team sport.

Join your subject association – each subject has an association that is often brimming with resources and like minded colleagues to bounce ideas off of. Many associations also offer department memberships which is often underused.

Find a wider community – social media is a great place to chat with teachers and about teaching. Many subjects have their own hashtag (#teamenglish for example) and thousands of teachers sharing resources, ideas and challenging one another. If used well it really is a great community. There are also loads of conferences, TeachMeets and BrewEds that you can get along to. They are often organised by teachers that just love collaborating with other teachers.

What next?

Developing your subject knowledge is incredibly important so I encourage you to prioritise it. I’ve offered a few suggestions to develop and maintain your own knowledge but there are many other options. If you are a school leader I implore you to prioritise time for teachers to develop their subject knowledge. After all, the evidence suggests that it has a ‘significant impact on student outcomes’.

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Into a New Dimension for Great Teaching⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Teaching is incredibly complex and nuanced but are there ‘best bets’ for us to work to improve teaching in our classrooms so that our students learn more?

Great Teaching Toolkit

Prof. Robert Coe and colleagues from Evidence Based Education (EBE) reviewed existing research studies and frameworks and synthesised them into their brilliant evidence review. Their aim is to help teachers ‘make better decisions about what they can best do to improve their effectiveness’ and in doing so have identified four overarching dimensions with a total of 17 elements within them from their evidence review of existing research. What is even better news is that this is just the start for them as they want to build a community of practitioners to share examples of the elements of Great Teaching and to tell EBE what they look like in your phase or subject. Get involved here and help shape the next steps of the Great Teaching Toolkit.

Four Dimensions to Great Teaching

The Great Teaching Toolkit is unbelievably rich in wisdom. Therefore, it offers so much food for thought and it is difficult to know where to start but its aim sits right at the heart of what i’d like more of in teaching; helping us identify areas to improve that will have a direct impact on our students. The four overarching dimensions in the toolkit are:

  1. Understand the content that they are teaching and how it is learnt
  2. Create a supportive environment for learning
  3. Manage the classroom to maximise the opportunity to learn
  4. Present content, activities and interactions that activate their students’ thinking

These are all areas worth pursuing for improvement and as a teacher I feel I do well in them but I could do even better and this toolkit helps me unpack the elements and prioritise my learning as a teacher. As the authors note ‘Great teaching must be defined by its impact: a great teacher is one whose students learn more’. They also discuss that a great teacher cannot be pared down to a particular set of practices as teaching is complex.

The toolkit helps break through this complexity and does well to unpack each of these four overarching dimensions into what they call the 17 elements. These are the ‘best bets’ to focus teacher professional learning on in the future. The toolkit, they say, is the first step of a long term project which you can be a part of.

The 17 Elements

  1. Have a deep and fluent knowledge
  2. Knowledge of curriculum sequencing
  3. Knowledge of curriculum and assessment tasks
  4. Knowledge of student strategies, misconceptions and sticking points
  5. Promote relationships that are based on mutual respect
  6. Promote a positive climate
  7. Promote learner motivation competence, autonomy and relatedness
  8. Create a climate of high expectation
  9. Manage time and resources efficiently
  10. Ensure that expectations for behaviour are explicit
  11. Prevent, anticipate and respond to potential incidents
  12. Give students an appropriate sequence of learning tasks
  13. Present and communicate new ideas clearly
  14. Use questions to elicit student thinking
  15. Respond appropriately to feedback from students
  16. Give students tasks that embed and reinforce learning
  17. Help students to plan, regulate and monitor their own learning

You may notice that some of these elements overlap but they follow a consistent pattern to becoming an expert teacher. For instance, It fits in nicely with my belief that we must develop deep subject knowledge as well as pedagogical content knowledge. Furthermore, we must create a classroom culture that is conducive to learning and once these two nuanced and complex areas are set we can then push our students to think hard and learn more. This is what makes the Great Teaching Toolkit so exciting for me. It offers a clear path and vision for teacher learning.

So what next?

Read the Evidence Review and get involved in the Great Teaching Community and help shape the toolkit moving forward. I will blog further on each of the dimensions and the elements within them. Sharing success and identifying areas for improvement. As I type I am excited for what this could mean for teaching in my lifetime. I’ve craved a research informed and research engaged profession and this toolkit goes some way to getting it. The main issue will be ensuring everyone in our profession reads it and then engages with it.

This is important reading for anyone who is leading in teacher professional learning so make sure they get their hands on it. Above all, make sure that your future professional learning is informed by research and is guided by ‘best bets’. After all, we want great teachers who help students learn more in every single classroom.

The future is full of bright spots in every classroom for us to celebrate and share.

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What every teacher should do: ask a lot of questions⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Asking questions is one of the most important things a teacher does on a daily basis. Teachers ask thousands of questions per week in their classroom and are fully aware that not all questions are equal. It requires great skill and precision for a teacher to ask the right question at the right time. Getting to this stage of asking the right question at the right times takes practice, purposeful practice because not all practice is equal either.

Why do we use questions?

Teachers use questions for a number of reasons but good questions get pupils to think and think hard. Checking for understanding is a key skill to also develop and the best way to do this is to use questions which move from closed to open questions. Beginning with knowledge recall questions a teacher can skilfully move to more open questions and really get the students to think hard.

Similarly, questioning allows you to deepen and develop your students understanding by using strategies such as probing (I particularly like ‘Probe Them Like Socrates’ from Making Every Lesson Count). This provokes our students to think hard and thinking is one of the true essences of learning, especially given that ‘memory is the residue of thought’.

Questioning also ensure that students undertake most of the cognitive work in the classroom and Doug Lemov beautifully writes about ‘ratio’ defining it as the balance of cognitive work shared by students and the teacher. This idea brings to light Lemov’s techniques of ‘no opt out’, ‘100%’ and ‘no hands up’ all of which will contribute towards developing a business like and productive classroom culture.

Finally, questioning does a lot to help build the classroom culture that is conducive to a positive learning experience. By incorporating and insisting on some of the techniques put forward by Lemov a teacher can really build an inclusive culture where it is ok to get it wrong. Getting it wrong is a cornerstone of questioning which allows the teacher to identify misconceptions and misunderstanding which could prompt them to reteach material.

The discussion of classroom culture through the use of questioning brings me onto my last point. Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby write in Making Every Lesson Count:

Questioning and class discussion help you form and maintain your classroom culture. Do you expect students to answer in subject-specific language? Do you accept incorrect or incomplete answers, or do you expect a high level of correctness? Do you expect them to listen respectfully to each other and to respond sensitively?

Allison & Tharby, Making Every Lesson Count

What does Rosenshine say?

Barak Rosenshine says in his 2012 paper that ‘less successful teachers ask fewer questions’ and that ‘most effective teachers also ask students to explain the process they used to answer the question’ showing that skilful teachers probe and dig deeper. This is vital if we want to make the invisible visible and get to grips with what our students actually know and can confidently tell us. I like to cite Rosenshine because of the language he uses, i mean who doesnt want to be one of his ‘most effective’ teachers? with this in mind then, you must ask a lot of questions.

Asking the right questions

In The Teaching Delusion Bruce Robertson writes ‘the questions you ask should be ones which students have a reasonable chance of answering’. So before asking questions make sure that you have taught the students something which they might have access to from their long term memory. Bruce also discusses the concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ questions and instead tries to focus his readers on thinking about ‘what makes a good question?’. Bruce suggests that we keep in mind the Goldilocks principle which is to ‘ask questions which are appropriately challenging – not too easy and not too difficult’.

As alluded to earlier we must carefully consider our questions based on what we have taught. We cannot think about something we do not know anything about so asking a student a question hoping that they know will be like trying to find a need in a haystack in the dark!

Questioning ideas

Now that we are in full agreement that asking a lot of questions is good for the soul how do we go about asking the right questions in the right way. A few ideas that I like are ‘ Wait Time’, ‘Probe Them Like Socrates’, ‘No Opt Out’, ‘No Hands Up’ and ‘Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce’. All of them contribute to an inclusive classroom culture whose foundations are built on the ratio of students thinking a lot harder than the teacher. Why? because the teacher will have planned their questions before hand, of course.

No Opt Out – This is one of my favourite Lemov Techniques from Teach Like a Champion. This is where you don’t allow students to say “i don’t know”. You either probe or rephrase your question or revisit them before your period of questioning is done. The simple act of returning to them after their peers have given an answer ensures a culture of high achievement and that they verbalise what has been said, given them a better understanding of what is being discussed.

Wait Time – In 1972 Mary Budd Rowe investigated the amount of time teachers left between asking a question and requesting an answer. She found that most teachers leave just 1 second, even today teachers wait for too short a time. I am guilty of this. Mary Budd Rowe found that if a teacher waited for just 3 seconds there were a number of positive changes in the classroom including better responses from the students. This technique is the easiest to implement, all you need to do is count in your head 3-5 seconds after asking a question. You’ll be amazed at how much better the responses are from the students after some thinking time.

Probe Them Like Socrates – In Making Every Lesson Count Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby propose this method of questioning and I love it. Socrates used this dialectic method of questioning when teaching the young men of Athens over 2000 years ago. Socratic questioning is still used today to challenge the accuracy and completeness of a students thinking. These six levels of questioning are considered important:

  1. Getting students to clarify their thinking: Why do you say that? what do you already know about that? could you explain further?
  2. Challenging and probing students about assumptions: is this always the case? do you agree or disagree with this?
  3. Demanding evidence: why do you say that? can you give me an example of that?how do you know this?
  4. Looking at alternative viewpoints and perspectives: what is the counterargument for…? what are the advantages/disadvantages of this?
  5. Exploring implications and consequences: but if.. happened, what else would result? how does X affect Y?
  6. Questioning the question: why do you think i asked that question?why was that question important?

Pose, Pause, Pounce Bounce – I first came across with in Ross McGill’s 100 Ideas for Secondary teachers: Outstanding Lessons. This technique is when you pose a question, pause for 3-5 seconds (or even longer if you deem it appropriate), pounce on a student to answer (Cold Call) and then bounce their response to another student (can you go further? do you agree/disagree?). You can keep this going and have a number of students respond to each others answers. Ross writes more about it here on his Teacher Toolkit blog.

The post What every teacher should do: ask a lot of questions appeared first on Becoming Educated.

My take on Differentiation⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Ive been reading a lot of posts on the topic of Differentiation and it has really got me thinking about how I do it. As a Teacher of Physical Education I am confident that I differentiate quite well in the gym. I use smaller rackets in Badminton, balloons in Volleyball and make tasks more complex to challenge and extend pupils. Sport is brilliant at applying and using mastery tasks and pupils respond well. It is in the classroom that differentiation can be a confusing topic, especially for less confident teachers and newer teachers during NQT years.

If you were to ask 30,40,60 or even 100 teachers on their definition of differentiation they would all give you slightly different explanations. Why is this? well we have all had different routes to get to where we are now and have jumped through hoop after hoop in getting this. After a while our opinions and ideas on education may not even be our own. However, it is time now to bang our heads together and grind out the true meaning of differentiation.

For years teachers have spent countless hours per week creating differentiated work for their pupils. Why? we care. Many teachers still can be found doing this and it is no fault of their own. We are compelled to help every single one of our students but we must ask if this is really how we go about differentiation. Is it a waste of time? I certainly think so.

I have seen and been part of lessons that lowered the bar of expectations for the young people. Not intentionally but think of your own experiences and consider how many of these strategies you have seen: differentiated learning objectives like must, could, should or all, some,few. differentiated worksheets, some for the most able and some for the least able. Tasks related to each grade, this is for A candidates. Success criteria for some, most, all.

All of these send messages too young people that they can’t all do all of the tasks set. Imagine sitting in a class where the learning is split into must, could, should and a child completing the work he must do and then stopping there. Or imagine getting work for the least able, wouldn’t that put a big dent in your confidence.

Ive been guilty of using some of these strategies as I felt it is what I should be doing. I can remember outlining success criteria for all, most and few. This pigeon holes children into brackets and moves firmly away from fostering a mastery mindset. We must stop labelling children like this inadvertently. We must take all children seriously and believe they can all do all of the work. The only difference really is the amount of time they will take to get there based on their starting point.

What we should do is perhaps consider changing our vocabulary. If I asked you to challenge students instead of differentiate for them would this change how we approach our lessons? Could be become more Pygmalion in our approach.

A study conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) looked into the Pygmalion Effect. In the study they told teachers that a number of students were ‘intellectual bloomers’ even though some of them scored poorly in an IQ test. Unaware the teachers taught all of the pupils for a year at which point the children IQ was tested again. All of the students who were labelled as ‘intellectual bloomers’ showed significant gains when compared to the control group. This is a self fulfilling prophecy in that if we increase our expectations of students they will respond and the author suggest that the teachers may have subconsciously changed they way they behaved with the ‘intellectual bloomers’.

Why is this important for differentiation you ask? Well could we not all be a bit more Pygmalion and believe that all young people will produce excellent work and not just those considered to be smart or be labelled gifted and talented. What I mean by this is that I want us all to aim high and support up. Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence beautifully sums this up. In the book he talks about how he developed excellence and craftsmanship in his children’s work. He describes how his children created radon gas reposts that were so accurate they were used by their own town and associated towns asked for the work. He also speaks to how younger pupils created field guides that are almost professional. These are just two examples from his book, I urge you to read it.

Strategies he employed to achieve this started with a relentless focus on excellence. He modelled excellent work, encouraged learner to work through a number of drafts, if the work wasn’t good enough he would support children to redo it. He demanded excellence by aiming high and supporting up.

This isn’t easy, trust me I know. It is however a place where I would love to get to but I am a long long long way from it but I have a few ideas on how I and you can make differentiation just what we do as a great teacher. My thinking here has been heavily influenced by David Fawcett through his book Relearning to Teach.

Along with aiming high and supporting up, you should consider making the thinking easier and not the task. A challenging concept but we want young people to access the work. We can do this by considering where they are and improve their knowledge. Before they begin with work we must show them What a Good One Looks Like (WAGOLL) as we can’t assume that they will know without seeing it first. I use writing frames with a lot of my senior classes and offer some pupils more support with this and take the support away from some pupils to allow them to use their own knowledge and retrieval to produce a quality answer.

I mentioned in a previous post how we should become ‘historians of excellence’ by displaying previous outstanding work. This will also help pupils identify what excellence looks like and help with their own work by giving them a sense of ‘if they wrote that, so can I”.

Modelling should be a key piece of your teaching toolbox as along with showing excellent work being able to deconstruct pieces of writing by describing your thought process and breaking tasks down into manageable chunks is a vital skill when aiming high for your students.

Sentence starters are also key to help support pupils but the key here is not making the thinking easier but by providing a carefully considered sentence starter you can support a lot of students to kick on with their written responses. In Relearning to Teach by David Fawcett he references this excellent post from Doug Lemov. In the post Lemov discussed how he, through carefully designed sentence starters, could add rigour to pupils work. It is well worth a read and it will add to your teaching if you consider carefully how you construct sentence starters.

A key tool you can use to help aim high and support up is ‘I Do,We Do, You Do’ and is a form of explicit teaching. In this model you (the teacher) share your thought process as you tackle a problem. The class do the same thing which you will write down fully what they say, take a step back and problem solve together to solve the problem. Once the pupils are happy they then complete the ‘You Do’ which is where scaffold and supports are removed and they get on with completing the task.

David Fawcett’s brilliant Relearning to Teach has had a significant impact on my thinking when it comes to differentiation and a lot of my examples have came from his book. His book also confirmed a lot of my current thinking but a key comment he made in the book allows us to further explore differentiation. After you have shared your high expectations and modelled excellence, provided writing frames and sentence starters you now need to support up students where necessary. For this David describes differentiation as ‘just bloody good teaching and being responsive’. What he means by this is that it’s your skills as a teacher that will provide pupils with challenge and support.

This is where differentiation really kicks in after modelling and explanation you really do need to get amongst the students. I have been guilty of perhaps checking for understanding too quickly and of standing back for too long. Working the room is a key teaching practice and its here where you can provide challenge and differentiation for each pupil. By checking over their shoulder, asking how they are getting on, asking how they will tackle their work or simply probing through the use of sharp questioning will allow you to build a picture of who needs what support or stretch in their learning.

To aid this type of differentiation the teacher needs to be completely secure with their subject knowledge to allow for expert explanations and the ability to change the explanations to suit pupils. They also should plan their questions thoroughly and also consider questions that will come from misconceptions and misunderstandings to get pupils back on track and thinking about what you want them to think about. Giving timely feedback on work that causes thinking will also be different for each pupil and can be achieved while you skilfully work the room.

In sum, differentiation for me is what Harry Fletcher-Wood calls Responsive Teaching. Forget all the resources and the busy strategies it is about you, the master of your craft and the students learning from you, being challenged by you and being supported by you. It is easy to offer pupils different worksheets that are easier for them or more simple in what they ask of them but challenging all pupils to achieve excellence by aiming high is much harder and relies on your skill as a teacher but stick with it. If a pupils is charging ahead, challenge them. If a pupils is struggling, immediately support them. By getting amongst them and questioning them on their thinking, their work and how they plan to tackle problems you get a real sense of their learning where you can provide meaningful feedback to move learning forward. Teach for excellence, demand excellence, support everyone and get amongst it.