Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!
Through the summer and autumn, if you follow UK Twitter educators, you can’t have missed the talk of the ResearchEd conference and the follow up for Researchleads. Some of the tweets included the slides from the talks and, in reading one in particular, from Prof Coe, I was moved to tweet that it was stating the obvious, probably causing someone to splutter a little. The gist, as I read it, was that it is hard to really describe and unpick what a good teacher does, something which I would endorse.
Reflecting on a long career, I have been lucky enough to read reasonably widely and to listen to speakers, both local and national, sharing their ideas, their interpretations in some cases, of their research, geared to the needs of the assembled audience. There was inevitably some nugget to take away and consider further.
Now, taking away that nugget and distilling it to fit with the reality of my own practice, using the available classroom resources and gearing it to the needs of the class, would inevitably mean that it was not an exact copy of what had been proposed, but, in most cases, it worked. Others took the ideas, use them verbatim and found that they did not work. The difference was their lack of interpretation to their own circumstance.
When we gathered to share outcomes, it was interesting, as we were all then sharing anecdotal evidence from our classrooms or schools, not pure research.
However, to me the significance was that few ideas can be replicated in another setting without adaptation, to the available resource and the host environment and the intended audience.
I’d go as far as to say that any teacher who uses material from another source, even a parallel class colleague, without adaptation, faces the prospect that “it won’t work”, and worse, they will not have the background thinking in order to find ways to adapt it in-lesson.
The notion of research in education intrigues me, in that it implies, by simply using the word, that something top-level is being done, where in reality, someone may be keeping a close eye on a classroom tweak, and that sums up for me the reality of the situation.
As a head, I wanted my staff to be actively investigators in their classrooms; they were certainly paid to be the lead thinkers in the classrooms on a day to day basis, which is where the list of words in the title seek to articulate the range of thoughts that might go through an actively engaged teacher mind during and after a lesson.
AnalysED; PlannED; AppliED; ReviewED; RecordED...
The larger proportion of teachers set up their class spaces to suit their preferred approach to and their understanding of, teaching and learning. The order and organisation of the space, the tables, the resources, the storage of work books are all critical to good classroom management. Too little space between tables and there’s room for bumping and irritation/distraction. If all resources are stored together, they ensure convergence into a small space. If teacher sight lines are obscured in some way, there is potential for a child to avoid detection. So the first decisions that a teacher makes are to do with the way the space will operate, under perceived ideal conditions. If learner behaviour offers insights into inefficiencies, leading to less effective learning, adaptation has to be considered.
EngagED; QuestionED; WonderED; SpeculatED; ConsiderED; InvestigatED; ArticulatED; DecidED…
The teacher role is to seek to get across essential information/knowledge to learners in a way that enables them to assimilate it, consider it and then to be able to put the information into use, sometimes by repetition, but also by application in a situation that enables the teacher to check whether the information is secure.
The teacher is acting for a short period as a storyteller, has a narrative with an internalised script and the audience. The best teachers, aware of their audience, will interact intuitively with individuals, in a learning dialogue that enables them to ascertain the growing awareness of the subject matter. If information is being shared by a different means, such as film, then the teacher will be aware of the attentiveness of the group and may seek to cement some aspects of learning by note-making exercises while the film is being shown.
Dialogic approaches enable learners to see the thinking of more confident, articulate peers, as the processes are pursued. Engagement with issues enable the teacher to gain insights into learner thinking.
While children are working, the teacher should be actively scanning the room, looking for signs of learning tension; too easy, too hard, each has its own body language. Distraction, disruption should be noted and acted upon quickly enough to maintain the learning tone. It is a case of ignore signals at your peril. Time is of the essence. Cliché but true.
The teacher will be guided by their expectations in creating the lesson, anticipating how it will go and any distraction from that should lead at least to wondering, then exploring matters arising.
Issues that are investigated, checked and addressed, based on the evidence arising, are likely to be more easily resolved within the lesson, where the information is useful. To consider marking and written responses after the event as adequate may be putting an additional hurdle into the equation. Marking and response are vitally important, but they are, to me, no substitute for timely interaction.
So, before we get to the stage where every teacher is deemed to be an in-class researcher, I’d much rather that they became active in the following activities, which would be the basis of my definition of the craft and art of good teaching.
Before; AnalysED; PlannED;
During: AppliED; ==EngagED; WonderED; SpeculatED; ConsiderED; InvestigatED; ArticulatED; DecidED…
RepeatEd as needed.
What if teaching became:- planning as closely as possible for the perceived needs of the learners, with in-lesson adaptations to evident needs? Too simple?