Getting Great

Teaching is a creative profession, and at DHS we want our teachers to be innovative and excited about what they do – not stifled by an overly prescriptive approach to teaching.  We want teachers to takes risks and try new things out, by learning and growing from each other.

Within this though, we acknowledge that there are some key aspects of pedagogy that should be consistent throughout our practice – so we talk about a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching.  Tight, in terms of ensuring that these key pedagogical principles are strong features of our teaching, but loose in terms of how they are implemented and developed by teachers.  They are outlined below by the following diagram:

expert pub

In order to facilitate this, we’ve stopped using lesson observation grades.  This has been liberating and has opened up a great deal of discussion about what we think great teaching looks like.   Andy Tharby has written here about how this has made lesson observations far more of a developmental process – this is exactly what they should be.  We want our teaching to be informed by:

  • Dweck’s idea of a ‘Growth Mindset’.
  • Berger’s idea of an ‘Ethic of Excellence’.
  • What other external research, thinking and developmental work around cognitive science and learning says is effective.
  • What other great schools are doing.
  • What our own internal research, carried out by our own staff, suggests works within our context.

We’ve used this as an opportunity to come up with some prompt questions to support discussions about great teaching – not a checklist.  This is what we’ve come up with so far:


  • Are learning objectives concise and challenging for all?
  • Are the tasks set going to allow all students to be stretched and challenged?
  • Are all students expected to develop their knowledge and skills during the lesson?
  • Is there sufficient support in place to allow slow and stuck learners to achieve these challenging objectives?
  • Does the teacher’s knowledge of the students they are teaching allow them to be proactive about implementing this support – so that it is seamless and focused?
  • Is formal, subject specific, academic language modelled by teachers and encouraged from students?
  • Is the bar of expectation high for all students?
  • Is appropriate support and scaffolding in place to enable all students to achieve this level of expectation?
  • Are examples of excellence shared, discussed and deconstructed with the class?
  • Is subject content relevant and challenging, because of excellent teacher subject knowledge?
  • Are assessment criteria referred to explicitly?
  • Is homework suitably challenging and engaging for all students?


  • Does the teacher establish prior knowledge and use this to ‘hook into’ new knowledge?
  • Does teacher subject knowledge add clarity, depth and breadth to the learning?
  • Does the explanation focus on the key learning points, success criteria and subject threshold concepts?
  • Are there opportunities to make the explanation more concrete and credible e.g. demonstration, visual, practical, appropriate use of analogy etc?
  • Does the explanation generate curiosity and so ‘open up the learning gaps’?
  • Is explanation clear and concise, especially when subject matter is challenging?
  • Is teacher talk and gesture enthusiastic, firm, kind and inclusive?
  • Does the teacher judge carefully when to move from surface learning i.e. key ‘bits’ of knowledge to deep learning i.e. using, linking and applying that knowledge:

awl solo thresholds


  • Is practical work and other activities carefully modelled, so that students are shown how to use this new knowledge and skills?
  • Does the teacher share and compare examples of excellent work – ‘This is great because…’
  • Are exemplary examples of subject specific products, including writing, deconstructed with the students
  • Is subject specific writing then modelled and co-constructed with the students
  • Does teaching allow critique of models
  • Do teachers model ‘expert thinking’ by verbalising implicit thought processes?
  • Is modelling scaffolded to maximise the learning for all students?

Deliberate Practice

  • Once students have had input from the teacher, are they given time to practise this new knowledge & skills?
  • Are students made to redraft and improve their work?
  • Does the teacher observe for mistakes, intervene when necessary and so ensure that practice is perfect?
  • Are mistakes utilised as a key aspect of leaning?
  • Is practice supported by scaffolds and support when necessary?
  • Are scaffolds and supports removed at the right time to allow for independence?
  • Is there evidence that threshold concepts (key subject-specific knowledge and skills) are practiced regularly to improve retention?
  • Is homework used as an opportunity to develop the use of new knowledge and skills?


  • Does questioning involve a wide range of students?
  • Do we ask students ‘Why?’ a lot – to get them to verbalise their thinking?
  • Does questioning both deepen and develop thinking and check for common misconceptions?
  • Are student responses developed by further questioning e.g. what do you mean by that? Can you expand on that?
  • Are students given enough time to think about their responses? Think, pair, share is a nice strategy to develop this.
  • Are hinge questions used during the lesson – to assess whether or not the learning can be moved on e.g. from surface to deep learning?
  • Are reluctant respondents encouraged to respond by careful scaffolding?
  • Are students encouraged to respond to and evaluate the responses of their peers e.g. use ABC questioning – after a response, they need to agree, build on or challenge the response.
  • Are students encouraged to ask questions?
  • Are students expected to rephrase answers in Standard English?
  • Don’t respond with ‘excellent’ if it isn’t. Be positive, but develop their response by further questioning.


  • Is feedback in line with subject specific expectations – as outlined in the feedback policy?
  • Is feedback a 2 way process? Does the teacher reshape and adapt instruction in response to student feedback?


  • Is our teaching (within and between lessons) and curriculum planning responsive, based on the performance of students?
  • Do we use a good variety of feedback, that encourages students to consider – Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next?
  • Do we focus our feedback on – the task, the process and encouraging self-regulation?
  • Is personal feedback focused on the effort and hard work that students put in to their work?
  • Is there a good mix of verbal and written feedback?
  • Are students encouraged to critique the work of their peers? Are there opportunities provided for students to do this e.g. through ‘gallery critique’?
  • Are there opportunities for the ‘public presentation’ of work?
  • Is feedback kind, specific and helpful?
  • Is feedback designed to make students think – instead of giving them the answer?
  • Is feedback timed right i.e. are students given enough ‘struggle time’?
  • Are students expected to move towards ‘closing the gap’ by responding to feedback e.g. DIRT – Directed Improvement & Reflection Time?
  • As a result, do students know what they have got to do to achieve?
  • Are self-assessment strategies such as proof-reading, editing and redrafting employed to aid metacognition.
  • Do students get useful feedback on their homework, as well as their classwork?

Next steps for 2014-15…

We will continue on our journey next year, supported by the following work:

But for now…a few days to go, then this….


Have an amazing summer!


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3 Responses to Getting Great

  1. Pingback: Getting Great | Reflecting on Education

  2. Pingback: Edssential » Getting Great

  3. Pingback: What makes a great teacher? | PGCEPhysicalEducation

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