We all know that a teacher’s favourite month is August…for obvious reasons! That said though, there’s something strangely satisfying about September. It’s a time to reflect on the year that has just gone and think about what went well and what you want to focus on over the coming year. I like the fact that we have a re-start every September.
With this in mind, during our INSET day, we shared some things to encourage all of us to reflect on our classroom practice. The first was these three questions, from Robert Coe:
These are brilliant questions, that require honest reflection from all teachers. In the words of Daniel Willingham, ‘memory is the residue of thought’ but in reality, how often do we really require our students to think hard? This is difficult. If you have a class of thirty students, they will all have different starting points, so getting all of them to think hard i.e. in the struggle zone, is really hard.
There is no easy way of doing this. To do it effectively, you need to get to know your students and know how far you can challenge them, without pushing them into the panic zone. This will involve questioning them thoughtfully, modelling carefully, giving them clear feedback to develop their thinking and perhaps using scaffolding to start with (take care with this – scaffolding can breed dependency). You also need to get them used to being ‘stuck’ and accepting that this is OK and by the same token, resisting the temptation to jump in and rescue them too soon.
It’s worth doing a bit of planning here. Before the lesson, consider some ‘think hard’ questions that you can pose to the students, to challenge their thinking. Tell them that this question or task will be hard and that they will find it hard – and that this is OK and that you will support them with it. Read more on this here.
The third question, adds an extra dimension to the idea of ‘challenge’ – getting students to think about their thinking. So don’t just question them about the answer, question them about the thinking that got them to the answer – and then praise this process, as much as the answer. Value their thinking.
We then looked at nine things that Dylan Wiliam claims, every teacher should know about:
This list is a great summary of the huge amount of educational research that is out there and provides teachers with much to think about. Some of the key takeaways from this list:
- Take the time to build strong relationships with your students – show them you are passionate about your subject and their learning.
- Learning takes time – it doesn’t happen in a lesson. It happens when students have to think hard and keep coming back to things – having to retrieve things from their memory, supports learning. So, a recap at the start of every lesson, really works.
- Use hinge questions to check if all students are understanding the key points – not just the brightest students. Harry Fletcher-Wood writes about this here.
- If you are taking the time to give students feedback, make sure that they do something with the feedback. More on this here.
- Think carefully about group work – this sums up why:
- The jury is out on number 9. Are students really in a position to give feedback about what helps them to learn effectively? Debateable. Wiliam argues that this project supports this idea.
We think that our six principles, when implemented effectively, support many of these points:
What we want our teachers to do is to consider these reflective points and then use them to plan how they will implement the 6 principles in their own classroom – a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching. The best teachers will combine this pedagogical excellence with a passion for their subject, that is put across to their students. They will also display a genuine sense of care and interest for the progress their students make and won’t give up them on them – they will demonstrate a relentless belief that their students can succeed. Hopefully, this passion for the subject and dogged determination will become infectious and the students will see the importance of their long term success in the subject and so try harder. At that point, we might have a chance of developing their ‘grit’:
Have a great year!