Improving Teaching Through Purposeful Practice

Up and down the country, it’s a time when teachers are thinking about appraisal.  At Durrington, we use this as an opportunity for teachers to think about an aspect of their teaching that they want to make a focused effort to develop.  The starting point for this is for teachers to come up with an inquiry question that identifies what they want to focus on.  For example:

What impact does the use of a metacognitive approach to planning 16 mark questions delivered over a year have on the attainment in these questions for my year 11 class?

What impact do model/co-construction/practise teaching cycles delivered over 1 year have on English Language reading results for Y11 students?

What impact does interrogative questioning delivered during the course of the year have on deeper understanding of key concepts to improve attainment for my KS4 classes?

What impact does explicit vocabulary instruction delivered 2.5 terms have on literature component 1 mock exam results for PP Year 10 students?

Having identified their inquiry question, the idea is that teachers will engage in deliberate practice to embed this into their teaching over the course of the year.  In ‘Peak: Secrets from the new science of success‘ Anders Ericsson describes deliberate practice:

“Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there”

Peer support will be a key part of this at Durrington.  During INSET days teachers will meet with colleagues who have an inquiry question with a similar theme e.g. metacognition, cognitive load theory, formative assessment, to discuss and support each other.  We think this has huge potential for our school.  Imagine if every teacher focuses on making an important aspect of their day to practice significantly better with purposeful practice like this?  Magnify this up across a whole school and the potential impact on learning is huge.

Practice with Purpose’ by the Deans for Impact, is a really useful document that will support this work.   Although it is aimed at novice teachers, it provides a useful framework for all teachers to use:

  • Push beyond one’s comfort zone – choose an inquiry question that will require you to make small adjustments to your teaching, beyond what you usually do in the classroom on a day to day basis.  This should be informed by research evidence, to give you the best chance of making a difference to student learning.
  • Work toward well-defined specific goals – be very clear about what you want to change and the impact you will be looking for.  Looking at the examples of inquiry questions above you will notice that they all identify a specific aspect of practice to change, a time scale, the difference it will make and how the impact will be evaluated.
  • Focus intently on practice activities – this takes discipline and is difficult, because changing habits is really hard and this is what’s required when we make changes to our teaching.  So, finding strategies to remind yourself to practise is important.  This could be as simple as a post-it on your computer reminding you to ‘ask more elaborative questions‘.
  • Receive and respond to high quality feedback – this is a key part of the process.  Ask a colleague to come and observe you and give you specific feedback on the aspect of your teaching you are trying to develop e.g. how many questions do I ask? Who do I ask? Do I encourage thinking by asking follow on questions?  How much thinking time do I ask?
  • Develop a mental model of expertise – make sure you have a clear idea of what the research evidence says about effective learning and how what you are looking to develop in your teaching will support this.  Use this to build a mental model of how you will know students are learning and compare this to how your students are performing.  This will help you to make adjustments to what you are doing.


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