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Great (and poor) teaching takes many forms – despite the claims of some commentators

My new pdf handbook 'Great Teaching: from Principles to Practice' is timely.

It addresses two important issues:

1. Teaching approaches

2. Trusting teachers

1. Debates about whether teachers should adopt a diet of direct instruction or more varied classroom activities are archaic – great teachers use whole class instruction alongside a wealth of other stimulating and rigorous activities. Those who argue that great teaching is either direct instruction or discovery learning live in a naive fantasy land of their own making, where ideology and dogma rule. Such commentators produce no substantive evidence to justify their claim that schools are rife with ‘progressive methods’ that damage children’s education. The anecdotal evidence they point to is decades out of date and does not reflect the current landscape in schools and colleges. The same people report that direct instruction is ‘proven’ to be the best teaching approach. Once again, this is a wild claim for which there is no evidence. Their view that ‘project work’ fails children is also fake news; poorly structured, unfocused project work is just poor teaching as is talking at a class for an hour with little engagement with the students. Both are caricatures and neither represent reality in this arcane debate. Guy Claxton expertly exposes these false claims in his excellent new book, ‘The Future of Teaching and the Myths That Hold It Back’.

Passionate teachers have always used direct instruction to inform, engage, stimulate, and develop curiosity in students and long may such approaches continue. But they have also used well-structured and focused independent, paired, and small group activity along with enquiry and investigation – developing the skills so valued by employers and tutors in higher education.

2. Trusting teachers

'Great Teaching: from Principles to Practice' offers a menu of 157 practical strategies to support teachers seeking to encourage and develop greater participation and engagement in whole class teaching. The strategies are all based on 7 rigorous key principles (P1-P7) that take teachers through the processes that lead to great teaching:

  1. Clearly expressed and understood learning intentions.

  2. Students able to visualise what success looks like.

  3. Safe, welcoming and well managed learning environments with established relationships.

  4. High expectations, with tasks and activities planned to meet needs and ensure progression.

  5. Reading comprehension developed across the curriculum.

  6. Responsive teaching with teachers using feedback to adapt lessons and intervene with individuals and groups as required.

  7. Feedback of all kinds including written, verbal, whole-class, self, and peer-assessment, technology-based, all incorporating feedforward where students act upon the guidance.

These principles, or similar ones developed by schools, can be used by school leaders to place greater trust in their teachers and support staff by allowing teams to use a wide variety of techniques to meet the principles. This offers teachers greater autonomy, choosing techniques in line with the topic, class, subject needs or the age of the students they teach, moving away from rigid lesson planning templates. If leaders trust their teams to meet the principles, they can also reduce the need for constant scrutiny, with accountability lying with the team and not top-down.

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