Teaching is such a simple word, yet it means so many different things and as a result can end up being devalued. But what if the simplicity was the quality of thinking done by children during a lesson, in assimilating new information, ordering and reordering ideas within a well-prepared challenging task, using and applying the known to a new situation?
We may never be able to judge absolutely the quality of learning of every child during a lesson, but we could judge the quality of tasking, the range and depth of challenge, the quality of questioning, discussion, feedback, involvement, independence, review and evaluation, before a check of the outcomes, so it would seem possible to make an inference that learning might or might not take place as a result of the lesson, based on the quality and depth of interactions.
A teacher is likely to be able to talk, expressively and eloquently about their subject, for an extended period and many can do so and make the subject very interesting, yet, if the learners are not tuned in to the substance and the direction of thought and therefore do not learn, is it the fault of the teacher or the learners? Are children consumers or producers of learning; passive or active?
At the other extreme, pure discovery methodology can also lead to reduced overall learning, as the children may not have a range of skills with which to enhance their discovery. There are significant benefits of experiential learning however, especially in a highly communicative environment with actively engaged adults.
Much teacher time and energy is expended in trying to distil the “best methodology”, as if teaching is a team sport and you have to be in one team or another. To my mind, the best methodology is that which the teacher judges will enable an individual child to learn something which they didn’t before, to internalise it and use it when needed to perform another task. Having a very broad range of approaches available allows a choice. A reflective practitioner will know when a lesson is not going well, should identify the reasons and alter course accordingly.
To use an overused cliché, it is not rocket science.
A school policy for teaching and learning is likely to show evidence of: -
1) analysis of evidence leading to quality information being made available to support
2) detailed planning, including the provision of appropriate resources and staffing.
3) Students in the best practice, actively sharing in their learning journey, which is
4) tracked and reviewed at regular intervals with
5) records being collated and disseminated, allowing the process to be cyclic and developmental.
It all starts with knowing the children, so that challenge and response can be refined, supporting their learning journeys.
How does any teacher see inside a child’s head?
Unless there’s some kind of externalisation, oral, written or facial expression, it can be next to impossible to understand.
A friend worked in a special school for severely disabled children 4-19, until his recent retirement; an incredibly challenging role. In discussion we were exploring ideas within teaching and learning. It soon became apparent that, in order to support his learners to make progress, he had to effectively “get inside the heads” of each individual, to try to understand as well as possible what made each of them “tick”, especially those with severe communication difficulties. Inevitably there was a small element of trial and error, but with 1:1 ratios, any “misconceptions” could be addressed immediately. The evidence upon which he worked was often miniscule, but, over time, he refined his responses to each child’s needs.
Where student teachers were working in a school for moderate learning difficulties, each child unique in their presentation of need and their home environment, they had to get to know the children really well to be able to create appropriate plans for learning.
The notion of what makes children tick is an important one. Misunderstand this and even the most well-meaning adult can cause a situation to escalate.
Anyone watching either Educating Essex, or follow-up series, cannot fail to see adults seeking to understand the individual children. Even then, nothing can prevent a flare-up.
After a period of working with a variety of schools, I reflected on their personalised, rich curriculum. Their reasoning was based on their analysis of their children’s needs. This led me to speculate about the point at which personalisation is embedded in practice.
The last two statements embed a clear expectation, of learning, use of time and potential outcomes. If based on capability, “I want to see if you can…..” the expectations embedded also drive the in-lesson conversations, questions and on-going feedback. Coupled with exploratory discussions in-lesson and the use of exemplars, they are the checks and balances to evaluation, by children and the teacher after the lesson.
Successful teaching and learning is not just the product of a sequence of activities to be done at specific times. That way lies stereotype teaching and limited learning. The strategic thinking of the teacher in defining the learning journey of children embeds the points at which the children will take over and become producers of learning, deepening the experience of both learner and teacher as skills are demonstrated which can be further refined at a later date.
Thinking is an essential component of learning; without it a learner would not exist, except in the most passive form, the stereotypical “empty vessel”.
How can we ever know what is going on in a learner’s head, unless there are opportunities for them to express their ideas cogently, with the view that all expression is a “draft thought”, capable of challenge and alteration? This can occur in writing, but writing is likely to have already gone through a thought process before being produced. However, seen as a draft, writing can be supportive of developmental conversation, orally or through effective feedback responses.
Therefore talk would appear to be a major component of learning experience. To make real progress in learning, learners need to make sense of both what they know and how they know it. They need to have a partner relationship to ensure they become independent producers, not just passive consumers of learning.
We talk of learning journeys for children. It is possible to use the idea of a journey to support a child’s articulation of what they are thinking and reflecting on how their ideas have changed. Essentially the learner becomes the storyteller of an episode of learning, using recount in as detailed a form as possible to put across an idea. Personalised storyboarding, or developmental notes, can support the expressive process. Their audience, members of the class, including the teacher, can ask for clarification and provide feedback. Learning thereby becomes a collegiate project.
Thinking is supported by language and language is further developed by articulating thinking. Talking things through is the means by which children’s understanding of their own learning is deepened. Talk to Jerome Bruner, or Vygotsky…
The fundamentals of education; thinking and talking, before recording?