It was always intriguing when walking around school, whether as a class teacher or management, to come across a piece of work, on display or in a book that made you go “Wow, how did you do that?”
The answers were inevitably illuminating, as the colleague or child recounted the stages that they had gone through to end up with a finished outcome, in whatever subject. They describe the process. In education, we can become obsessed with outcomes, to the detriment of the process, or the process is laid out in such a way that it becomes more a copy exercise than requiring the learner to make decisions and refine their own outcomes.
After four years of teaching, I went to a school that used the Dienes multibase approach for all its maths teaching. Despite being pretty reasonable at maths, and having used the base 10 materials as modelling aids, I was unaware of the background to the thinking and the multiple purposes that could be demonstrated using the materials. The school DH, Joe, as maths lead spent several hours taking me through the details of varied function machines and exemplification of equations. He also gave me a copy of the “bible”, from the Masters course that he and the head had completed. Tutoring through the processes strengthened my teaching for the rest of my classroom and school career. Worked examples enabled me to explore my own and possibly children’s misconceptions.
Therefore to improve the outcome, in any area of learning, there’s a need to refine aspects of the process. Just a few possible examples.
A writing outcome is hard to read, so it’s reasonable to look at improving the handwriting. But, in reality, it may be multi-layered, with a need to look at grip and basic letter formation, with alterations in both being practised outside the redraft exercise.
In maths, just having the correct answers in a book might hide the face that a child has copied from another. Asking the child to articulate (talk) their thinking through the process is more illuminating. This can become “show your thinking/working out”.
In art or DT, different elements can require a focus on the fine skills of material selection, colour, cutting, joining.
“How did you do that?” can become the basis for oral description, for written instructions to another or a report on what was done, with an evaluation of the outcome supporting subsequent attempts. If the process had been captured as images during development, the images can support the ordering and organisation of the talk or writing.
Virtually every area of school activity involves process in some form. Time for active processing (thinking) is often at a premium, as teachers move from one activity to another.
“How did you do that?” is also the essence of CPD. Listening to and learning from a colleague explaining the processing in their subject responsibility can enable insights for less experienced or confident colleagues. In a teaching force that can appear ever younger, it’s essential that the experience is passed on, otherwise it’s lost to the system, then requires a process of discovery. The art of explanation is based on clarity and ordering of thinking. The coach has to consider detail as well as an overview description.
So, my advice to all teachers is to acknowledge the expertise of colleagues and to seek to emulate them. If everyone was enabled to become as good as the “best”, the system as a whole would improve. So, over an end of the day cuppa, sit together and chat. Learn through dialogue and demonstration.
“Show and tell” works for children, too. “How did you do that?”