The Active Ingredients of Great Teaching

At DMAT, we have moved away from a ‘tick-box’ approach to teaching and have embraced a ‘tight but loose’ approach.  We want teaching to be tight, in terms of focusing on sound , evidence-informed pedagogical principles, but loose in terms of how this is interpreted in classrooms.  For example, how a PE teacher models throwing a javelin will be very different to how a history teacher models how to write a discursive essay.  We do not talk about ‘outstanding’ teaching and we do not grade lessons; instead we talk about great teaching and how all teachers can get that little bit better.

We have distilled our view of great teaching down to six pedagogical principles – the ‘active ingredients’ of great teaching. We believe that when teachers implement these principles effectively, students learn well, have high aspirations of what they can achieve and so develop into confident and resilient learners.  Over the last half term the Durrington Research School team have been blogging about these six principles, here and on the Research School website.  This post collates all of these blogs.

The first principle, challenge, is the driving force of teaching. Only by giving our students work that makes them struggle, and having the highest possible expectations of their capacity to learn, will we be able to move them beyond what they already know and can do.

Further reading:

The Fundamentals of challenge – expectations and cognitive load

Everyday Challenge

Challenge informs teacher explanation, which is the skill of conveying new concepts and ideas. The trick is to make abstract, complex ideas clear and concrete in students’ minds. It is deceptively hard to do well.

Further reading:

Unpicking Explanation

Explanation Made Easy

Next is modelling. This involves ‘walking’ students through problems and procedures so that we can demonstrate the procedures and thought processes they will soon apply themselves.

Further reading:

Mastering Modelling

Everyday Modelling

Without practice student learning will be patchy and insecure. They need to do it, and they need to do it many times, as they move towards independence. It goes without saying that practice is the fulcrum around which the other five strategies turn. This is because it develops something that is fundamental to learning – memory.

Further reading:

Practice With Purpose

Supporting Practice

Students need to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Without feedback, our fifth principle, practice becomes little more than ‘task completion’. We give students feedback to guide them on the right path, and we receive feedback from students to modify our future practice. And so the cycle continues.

Further reading:

Thinking About Feedback

Focus on Feedback

Our last principle is questioning. Like explanation, questioning is a master art. It has a range of purposes: it allows us to keep students on track by testing for misconceptions and  it promotes deeper thought about subject content.

Further reading:


The Importance of Questioning

There are a number of ways you can find out more about this approach:

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1 Response to The Active Ingredients of Great Teaching

  1. Susan Reisner says:

    Has good points for great teaching

    Susan Reisner

    Math Teacher

    Dent-Phelps R-3

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