I observed a highly effective lesson today. Paul Greendale at King Harold business and enterprise Academy, Period 6 on a Thursday. The details of the lesson are outlined in the “Learning Live : Revision and Challenge with Paul” blog but suffice to say it was incredible. It had all the “ingredients” of an effective lesson; student enjoyed it, they demonstrated a thirst for knowledge and demonstrably consolidated and extended their understanding. It had skilled questioning, challenging and thought provoking tasks. Many of the “things” which Professor John Hattie says have the biggest impact on achievement were present; peer tuition, feedback, and students thinking about their thinking where the teacher fostered meta-cognition. It was superb, and even though there are a millions of ways to get students to the same point, and even though the observation of one lesson is flawed in so many ways, it does not take away from the fact that students had a great learning experience.
Should Paul’s way of teaching be duplicated? Many would say no. That it would stifle creativity, and that there is no “one way” to teach. Indeed recently there have been numerous books and almost a whole movement against prescribed ways of teaching; for very good reason too. Ofsted have come out categorically saying that they have no “preferred” way of teaching. They are at pains to make this clear in fear of the counter argument that “there isn’t one way to teach”. There are problems with this though. If there isn’t a prescribed way to teach then everything goes. If you can challenge all ways of “teaching” we end up in an argument over style rather than substance. This is dangerous and unproductive, there are effective ways to teach (and some more effective than others) as long as you get it right.
We can learn from others. One of the reasons that I have started the “Learning Live” blog series is for this very reason. I fear that in the new age of “half hour” lesson observations and gathering a range of evidence to measure “teaching across time” as a profession we may lose the skill of observing a lesson from start to finish. There is a valid reason we should observe, analyse and evaluate lessons, teachers and teaching, and this is to learn what might work in more than one classroom.
The huge caveat to this is the Bananarama principle; “It’s ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. Take Paul’s lesson for example. Students did a version of “speed dating”. Speed dating could be criticised as a modern fashionable technique from teaching training circa 1998 that was based upon trendy teaching which put the student at the centre of the learning. I have seen speed dating that has been incredibly ineffective. Students just say a few things based on a half understanding of a topic which is confusing. Net result is confusion, noise and at the worst a spreading of misconceptions. But not in Paul’s lesson! Well considered question grids created thinking, this thinking was amplified by peer interactions supported by previous knowledge acquisition. It worked the way it was done.
Let’s take another example. Paul lectured at the end, he drew a diagram, explained and took a few questions. Like speed dating this could be criticised on numerous levels. However, it was effective. The lecture was based upon knowledge of what students were finding difficult. Although students sat “Passively” listening (not even writing down) their brains were anything but passive. A clear and concise explanation prevented this. Again “It’s ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”
Read the Learning Live blogs of both Paul and Ruth, look closely; what can we learn from their practice? How would you implement this in your classroom? How would you know it was effective?
There might not be “one way to teach” but there are certainly many, many effective ways to teach effectively and observing these is one way to improve.