Tag Archives: teaching and learning

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’.

The post Teachers Need Deep Subject Knowledge appeared first on Becoming Educated.

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.

The post Into a New Dimension for Great Teaching appeared first on Becoming Educated.

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.



Bubble and Squeak

My Granny taught me a lot about cooking. She’d read a recipe – say for pork chops with apple – and say that she thought she’d make it for tea, and maybe alter it a little bit, because she realised that she had some lamb chops and apricots that would make a good combination. Whatever she made was delicious – she was a great cook.

I thought about this today when I attended a seminar which was advertised as being about Team Based Learning (TBL). TBL is a very structured approach to active learning, and it has a fairly formulaic recipe. Some proponents say that it should be followed to the letter, others say that there can be some leeway in modifying it – but my experience today got me wondering: when does a learning design stop being a modified version of the original and start being something else altogether? The version I was told about today was an interesting type of active learning, but it was very removed from being TBL. It was not bad teaching and learning, in fact I think it was very good – but I don’t think the presenter had understood what the original design was all about.

So where do we draw the line? If I tell you that I am making you a Shepherd’s Pie, but actually I substitute the original filling with apple and the topping with meringue, is it still a type of modified Shepherd’s Pie? Surely not. How about if I keep the original filling and top it with meringue – is it now a not very palatable Shepherd’s Pie? Possibly.

To return to Granny’s cooking, of course in the example above she wouldn’t have told us that she was giving us pork chops with apple – she’d present the dish as her own, maybe as inspired by the original. And, importantly, my Granny understood cooking – she understood why the original elements worked together and why her substituted ones would also work together well. I think that’s the same for teaching and learning – before we can start swapping bits in and out of a successful design, we need to understand how and why the original design works.

Some people might say that TBL is poorly named, and that others can be excused for not understanding that it is a particular type of design. That might be so, but I don’t think that’s much of an excuse.

#100wordTandL Musiccam⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

This is a music specific post but can be adapted for your own context. Pupil and lesson observation feedback this term have highlighted the use of a simple webcam as a useful tool to aid learning. As a music teacher I find it very quick and easy to use the webcam over the piano to […]

Royal Society of Edinburgh on Education in Scotland⤴

from @ JDMcDsblog

The Royal Society remains concerned at the lack of evaluation of Curriculum for Excellence. In it briefing notes, December 2014 it says,

“The absence of a systematic programme of independent evaluation of CfE has been a long-standing and key concern of the RSE Education

Committee, and that, ” high quality evaluation of CfE must relate to the aims of the reforms and the criticisms to which the reforms have been subjected.

It should seek to identifywhat is different about CfE and consider the extent towhich the distinctive and innovative features of the reforms are being reflected

in classroom practice.”

Professor Sally Brown goes on to observe that, ”

The RSE has been particularly concerned about the lack of a systematic strategy for development and implementation of CfE. Such a strategy would be expected to cover the identification of strategic goals, design and planning of the reforms; pilot work to test alternative courses of action; and independent evaluation. CfE has suffered profoundly from a lack of pilot trials and independent evaluation. In our view, problems have tended to be dealt with in isolation, with many different groups having been formed to give advice on particular aspects of the developments. This has made it very difficult to manage the system as a whole, and has, we believe, been the major cause of increased teacher workload.




“Times Educational Supplement” -Four Ways of Learning⤴

from @ JDMcDsblog

Good piece in the Times Educational Supplement by Mike Gershon proving an overview of four different theories of learning, paraphrased as:

1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

  • Physiological needs such as food, water and sleep;
  • Safety needs: protection from violence and harm;
  • Needs for love, affection and belonging;
  • Needs for esteem; and
  • needs for self-actualisation (fulfilling potential).


2. Bruner’s scaffolding

  • Modelling
  • Giving advice
  • Providing coaching

3. Vygotsky’s proximal development

  • Assess where pupils are in terms of independent capabilities.
  • Create open tasks that can be accessed on a number of levels.
  • Build different levels of challenge into each section of your lesson.
  • Track pupils’ targets in the front of their books.
  • Identify particular groups of pupils to work with one-to-one, according to their ZPD.

4. Dewey’s experience and interaction

  • Get out of the classroom.
  • Use discussion.
  • Give pupils opportunities to be independent and to make decisions.

Special needs are a special case⤴

from @ Mimanifesto - Jaye's weblog

I came across a great blog post, courtesy of my twitter PLN this afternoon, which has really had me thinking. The writer, Jarlath O’Brien makes a passionate and convincing case for non inclusive education – specifically, special needs schools. I try to avoid writing about this subject, as its very close to home. My son (now […]

Quintillian, A Roman writer on education⤴

from @ JDMcDsblog

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. Th eonly surving work is his twelve-volume textbook on rhetoric entitled Institutio Oratoria, published around AD 95. This work deals with the theory and practice of rhetoric, and also with the foundational education and development, providing advice that ran from the cradle to the grave. Quintilian believed that the teacher was one of the most important elements in a child’s life, stating that he (and it was always a he)should be one of good character, with the following qualities:

” Let him be strict, but not grim, and friendly but not too relaxed as to incur neither hatred nor contempt; he should talk a great deal about what is good and honourable; the more often he has admonished his pupils, the more rarely will he need to punish them; he must not be given to anger, but he must not turn a blind eye to things that need correction; he must be straightforward in his teaching, willing to work, persistent but not obsessive; must answer questions readily and put questions to himself to those who do not ask any; in praising his pupils’ performances he must neither grudging nor fulsome (the one produces dislike of the work, the other complacency); in correcting faults, he must not be biting, and certainly not abusive for many have been driven away from learning because some teachers rebuke pupils as though they hate them”


Teachers should be well learned in a variety of subjects and capable of higher reasoning, otherwise pupils won’t be able to learn materially properly or in depth:

“the unlearned teacher may well approve faulty work and force his pupils to like it because of his own judgment..it is “a virtue in a teacher that he should carefully observe the differences in the abilities of the pupils whose education he has undertaken, and understand the direction to which their various talents incline”"

The major duty of the teacher is to establish the right course at the start than to rescue a pupil from errors into which he has already fallen.

His method was for the teacher is to give a broad outline of the material and ask the students give their own version of the material after presentation. The two versions would be combined in a kind of synthesis.  Anticipating the concept of scaffolding, he recommended that younger pupils should receive the “material pre-digested” while after they have successfully completed the beginning tasks, the teacher can then provide them with further freedom. If they do not, and commit further mistakes, Quintilian advised that the pupils must then “be brought back under his guidance”

One of the more important traits in teaching involves assortment of subject matter according to Quintilian, explaining that “variety refreshes and restores the mind”. He emphasized the “Study depends on the will to learn, and this cannot be forced. It is important to keep a fresh curriculum and provide the students with a multitude of subjects to learn.

Reading, writing and speaking were considered by Quintilian to be the most important functions of the pupil. When learning the letters of the alphabet, Quintilian believed that learning the shapes of the letters along with the pronunciation and succession was important. Following the basic reading, writing and speaking portion, pupils would then be schooled in grammatici which was “the subject comprised of two parts: the study of correct speech and the interpretation of the poets”

The study of grammatici was extremely important  because “the principles of writing are closely connected with those of speaking, correct reading is a prerequisite of interpretation, and judgment involved in all these”. Pupil should be well versed in poetry, history and philosophy and the subject matter of the readings was to contain moral undertones and be
substantial models for exemplary morals:

“These tender minds, which will be deeply affected by whatever is impressed upon them in their untrained ignorance, should learn not only eloquent passages, but, even more, passages which are morally improving

Following his arguments on basic education, Quintilian set out the curriculum for the future orator which dealt with every higher skills such as interpreting narrative, court room appearance, knowledge of ‘cases’ and examples all to be used when both giving a speech or arguing/pleading a case. Quintilian explained his philosophy on the curriculum in his twelve books, which he intended to supply the orator with a guide to lifelong learning and provide those teaching the art of rhetoric a template to follow.