What’s working in my classroom at the moment?

Two things have led to me writing this post.  Firstly I attended the excellent seminar last night organised by Teacher Development Trust and Teach First on The role of lesson observation in England’s schools and secondly I read a blog by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison).

At last night’s event Professor Coe (@profcoe) spoke in detail about evidence on how (un)reliable lesson observations actually are (for more info see here).  During the presentation he showed this slide:

CEM Lesson Observation 13Jan14

From this research the most alarming part is the quality (low) of instructional support. Professor Coe spoke about the support teachers get at the beginning of their careers and how the focus is often on classroom organisation (behaviour management) and emotional support.  Both aspects being easier to identify in a classroom.  This started me thinking about my own practice when working with other teachers, especially those new to the profession.  I do a lot of coaching which means I generally work in a way to explore what the teacher prefers as opposed to me recommending a certain approach.

As we know teaching is a complex job and to break down exactly how and why I teach students topics such fractions or equations as I do would be difficult as the knowledge I have of my students plays a big part in my planning.  What I have learnt over the last 10 years is not easily imparted because if I’m honest I don’t think I’m exactly sure.  A while back I read the American Educational Research Journal titled “The Influence of Teachers’ Knowledge on Student Learning in Middle-School Physical Science Classrooms.” you can read more about it here although I’m afraid I can’t find the research article. The gist of it was both students and teachers sat the same multiple choice test. The only difference being that the teachers had to also circle the most common wrong answers students would give.  The results showed that students of the teachers who knew the common mistakes showed the most improvement.

This changed not just my own teaching but also how I work with teachers.  When discussing plans I ask them what they think the common errors would be and how they will address these.  I also like David Didau’s (@learningspy) ‘break the plan’ (read about it here).  If they have thought about what could go wrong they should be more prepared.  I also recommend some of Doug Lemov’s techniques such as to practice before you ‘go live’. But is this good enough to improve instructional support?

Secondly I then read this post by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison) – things that make you go hmmmm... He concludes with how ‘There seems to be a growing number of teachers who are seizing the profession back by doing what we know works best in the classroom and encouraging others to do likewise – based on experience and research based evidence’. This got me thinking about what my current practice is and whether it is based on research based evidence.

I have always been a reflective practitioner and have done small action research projects with my classes but do I really know what works best?

So I thought I would write about what is working in my classroom at present:

  • Make the implicit explicit  – when I model how to answer a maths problem I verbalise all the thoughts in my head. I can’t quite believe how long it has taken me to realise how important this is.  Did I previously think my students were mind readers? Was I unlucky not to be told to do this in the early stages of teaching?
  • I train my students to ask 3 questions before asking anyone for help:

‘What information has been given in the question (which is important/of use)?’

‘what are you being asked to find?’

‘What knowledge do you have that will help you work it out & how will you go about this?’

Part of the training involves me asking ‘what question am I going to ask you?’ ( I stole this from John Mason). The ultimate aim is for them to only ask me questions which they genuinely need help with.

  • Give time to struggle – allowing students the time to struggle with a maths problem is vital. If they become dependent on asking for help too quickly they miss the opportunity to make sense of their new knowledge.  Encouraging a growth mindset and resilience is key.
  • See the thread of learning – If students understand how facts link together rather than in isolation their memory works better and avoids cognitive overload. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why students hate school’ to further my understanding of cognitive science.

In a few years time will I be blogging about my current practice as something that makes me go hmmmm…

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