Some ideas about teaching well

I’m currently on a short MOOC run by IoE. This week focuses on intelligence and is based around the recent work of Prof Gordon Stobart. I initially drafted this thinking paper for teachers at the school where I am Chair of Governors but I think it’s worth sharing.

Stop thinking about pupils in terms of ‘ability’. This is a false construct that lacks reliability and drives us towards thinking about fixed intelligence, which is, of course, nonsense. It depends so much on the environment in which learning is taking place. Those pupils we think of as ‘more able’ have simply often learnt to be better learners through the attitudes and language they have developed over time.  Research indicates that 80% of those pupils identified as ‘low ability’ at age 5 are still in bottom groups at age 16.

Professor Gordon Stobart from IoE talks about ‘small multipliers’ so a small advantage leads to a greater advantage because pupils get more chances to develop their learning. Stobart suggests that we abandon ‘ability’ in favour of thinking about pupils in terms of their acquisition of skills and concepts:-

  • Novice
  • Apprentice
  • Expert
  • Master

This might help us to see what ‘mastery’ really is. The expert teacher acts as a coach, rather akin to a sports coach. A sports coach has a clear understanding of each player’s strengths and what they need to do to improve and they target their work to hone those skills.

Expert teachers:

  • Find out what children actually know and understand. This aligns with what Doug Lemov says in Teach Like a Champion 2.0, when he tells us to be wary of ‘self-reporting’. Ask questions to explore understanding. EG a pupils may know about the planets but asking ‘so, what causes an eclipse?’ will check if they can turn knowledge into understanding.
  • If a child comes up with a wacky answer they don’t just give them the right answer; find out the thinking behind the wrong answer. Give then a bigger picture. Tune kids in, model it. Help them to make sense of it
  • Use diagnostic questioning and carefully structured feedback. This is what Dylan Wiliam says about feedback – it needs to be task-related and not eg0-related. It is specific and focused.

Questioning

Stobart notes that, by the time you have taught for 14 years, you will have asked a million questions. However, research indicates that 60% of these questions are simply recall questions. And a further 20% will be process (eg have you got a pencil?) The art of questioning, suggests Stobart, has not changed much in 100 years.

John Hattie points out that pupils take an average of five seconds to answer a question and, typically, they use up to three words. So, how are we going to develop our questions to deepen kids’ understanding?

Hattie says that the biggest difference between an experienced teacher and an expert one is the level of cognitive demands of the work they set their kids. Expert teachers expect more from their pupils. This is what was also found by the Cambridge project, ‘Learning without Limits’.

Further reading

Gordon Stobart – The Expert Learner; challenging the myth of ability.

John Hattie – Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

Doug Lemov – Teach Like a Champion 2.0

Susan Hart – Learning without Limits

ordon Stobart – The Expert Learner; challenging the myth of ability.

John Hattie – Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

Doug Lemov – Teach Like a Champion 2.0

Susan Hart – Learning without Limits

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