Thinking a little more about teacher thinking.
Teachers need to know the subject at hand, which may be different for a graduate specialist in a Secondary school compared to a Primary generalist, responsible for a range of subjects, where some areas of knowledge will be stronger than others. However, for both, the need to know is key. Where any teacher reaches a point where it is their own knowledge that is a barrier to children’s progress, this must be addressed urgently. In the first years, this is likely to be a constant need, especially if there is a change of year-group, or perhaps school, where the new context has different schemes. This puts inevitable pressures on new teachers, so high quality mentoring and in-school documentation should be available for everyone.
Teachers get to know their children, to varying degrees, depending on their contact through the week, but they are trained to understand learner development through the age range. Primary teachers spend 25 hours a week with their classes; a secondary teacher may see each class for two hours a week. The difference in interaction time embeds different levels of nuance of knowledge of the children. Both phases of teacher should be aware of the whole achievement range of their age range. One tweet today, reporting on Singapore education called this “horizon thinking” … what came before and what comes afterwards…
They ensure that behaviour ensures learning can take place. Working within agreed and clearly articulated school approaches, maintenance of behaviours that allow learning is fundamental.
They will have ordered the agreed curriculum into discrete themes, topics or programmes of study. Order and organisation are essential to progression in learning. Some topic areas “feed forward” into successive topics. Therefore, what is now often being called “interleaving” can be planned, although often it is recall through circumstance and a spiral curriculum.
They order and organise the coherence of their plans over a known timescale, ensure that classroom and the resources for learning support the learning proposed. The use of space and resources are in teacher control. How furniture is arranged to suit teaching, and resources are available for easy access and return, embeds an element of control, reducing some potential causes of behaviour issues.
Their plans seek to match the needs of the subject with the needs of the children, providing appropriate challenge to all abilities. This is the first stage of “differentiation”, which used to be termed “match and challenge”, with challenge being the most significant aspect. What are children being challenged to think about, talk about and attempt to do?
They plan learning over a timescale to ensure a dynamic is established which fully engages learners, in and out of school, and assures the imparting of a body of knowledge derive from the wealth of local and wider information and experiences. Spiral curricula, interleaving, home tasks, “flipped learning”, working memory, long term memory, practice, rehearsal all have a part to play over time.
They ensure that any input gets across the essential information on which the lesson is to be founded, through a variety of means, which are enhanced by the availability of in-class ICT facilities. Exposition has always been a significant part of all teaching. The teacher at the front, speaking clearly and articulately, directly, explicitly, using a variety of imagery to support, video, modelling with concrete resources or through diagrams, engaging with evident audience need in timely manner. That technologies are available, e.g. visualisers, to make this exposition and modelling even more overt, should mean knowledge sharing of a higher quality.
Teachers are reflective storytellers, have a broad subject vocabulary that enables subtle retelling with appropriate links made at different levels of need, with a high degree of audience awareness.
They interact with outcomes, orally in class and in writing after the lesson, while marking books. They are constantly making judgements or assessments, on an individual, group or class level. Within lessons, teachers are audience aware, looking for signs that imply lack of understanding. They ask questions, closed to elicit discrete knowledge, but also open ended to allow broader thinking, explanation or articulation of thoughts.
They use the outcomes as new reference points against which to plan the next steps. Outcomes offer another layer of reflection on assimilation of learning, with two layers of response, teacher, what needs to be further addressed, child, what do I need to do to improve? The one potentially impacts on the next lesson, the other might simply be feed forward notes for consideration in subsequent work. Teachers talk now of whole class feedback. If a teacher notices, because of a lesson, that a large proportion of the class don’t “get it”, the next step has to be a revision to secure that learning. ‘Twas ever thus. Equally, by identifying a group with need, to offer challenge to the secure group, enabling detailed remodelling to another, bringing them up to speed, would appear sensible.
Teachers add broader value to schools in many, many ways. Working in teams, subject, year group, whole school, thinking, working and occasionally playing together, the team ethic has an impact on daily school life through personal interactions, setting a positive tone among the adults. Some offer specialist clubs or other interests, including subject expertise to the benefit of the whole.
They undertake personal CPD that enhances their practice. Starting as high-quality thinkers, most teachers are life-long learners, so engage with each other to share expertise, formally or more often, informally. Many attend local events, through subject groups and cluster initiatives, perhaps travelling to specialist conferences, in school time, or, as is currently the case, to a plethora of volunteer organised conferences, Teachmeets, TLT, Pedagoo, ResearchEd, Northern (southern) Rocks, Primary Rocks, Reading/Writing Rocks… Equally, a number also interact via social media, such as Twitter, which then acts as a conduit into conferences.
Teaching requires a collegiate approach to thinking and self-development. One starts as a novice and assimilates information from many sources, creating a sense of self that contributes to professional confidence. Expertise develops over time, but, as in all learning, there is always a little more that can be found.
Teaching requires life-long learners.