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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Marking - Keeping it Simple

Teaching is a rewarding and challenging profession. Teachers are instrumental in the type of future their pupils will have, it is an influential profession. Teachers are therefore understandably scrutinised. The problem is this scrutiny has been incessant. It seems everyone has an opinion on the subject of teaching with study after study, recommendations on teaching and learning, changes to the curriculum, new teaching standards, changes to Ofsted inspections, lesson gradings and the gradings of teaching. It is not surprising therefore that many teachers are at best confused and at worst stressed and burnt out.    

In a recent blog post Are we Overthinking Teaching? I suggested that we should leave teachers to choose their own teaching style, to trust them as professionals to teach the way they teach and not to conform to a certain teaching style. In fact Ofsted we were told, as of the new academic year 2014 would no longer grade individual lessons.  

Could this be true? Teachers across the country cautiously celebrated. They were right to be cautious. The new 'push', 'drive' to improve teaching and learning is here ...... Marking and Feedback. Teachers have always marked pupils work so what is the problem? 

The opinions, suggestions, studies ........... Yet again teachers need to be told how to mark, how much to mark, to allow their pupils time to feedback on the marking, to ensure the marking is informative, provides next steps. The list is yet again endless. Again teachers become confused and unsure of how best to do something they have done well for years.

Teacher call for marking guidance from Ofsted

Teacher Swamped by Marking Heads Claim

Sadly all of this not only leads to teachers disillusionment but is also makes teachers look like moaners, constant complainers! Perhaps they are, perhaps though this is again because of the over scrutiny. Why oh why cant teachers be trusted, taken out of the spotlight for a while? Let teachers catch their breath, get a handle on the new curriculum and do what they do best, TEACH!

This government is emphatically on the side of teachers. We are freeing teachers from the constraints of government bureaucracy - and we want to go even further. We have challenged the orthodoxies that have undermined the teaching profession; and we are working to put evidence right at the heart of our education system to free teachers from having to kow-tow to such orthodoxies.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Are We Overthinking Teaching?

Whilst indulging in one of my favourite  'teacher' past times at the weekend, tweeting, I came across yet another teaching methodology article from the BBC Lavish Praise from Teachers does not help Pupils.

This article is based upon a study 'What Makes Great Teaching', produced by Prof Coe for the Sutton Trust which drew upon more than 200 pieces of research into what works in the classroom. The main findings of the report are as follows:

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:
  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment
Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:
  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material
Common practices which are not supported by evidence include:
  • using praise lavishly
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves
  • grouping students by ability
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”.                
Whether I agree or disagree with the findings of this study is irrelevant. My problem with all such studies and their following reports is the constant suggestions of what teachers 'need to do' or in the case of this article 'stop doing,' in order to get better and raise standards. 
Teaching is a profession that is wide open to constant scrutiny, teachers are bombarded with suggestions of changes to their methodology which, it is purported, will improve their teaching and likewise raise standards. The barrage of suggestions on how to improve are relentless. This can lead to teachers teaching in a way that does not fit them, it becomes forced, it doesn't flow.

What is being missed in all of these studies into teaching and learning is that  there is no 'magic teaching formula'. We know great teachers raise standards but no two 'great' teachers are the same. They each have their own individual styles and skills sets, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Great teachers love teaching and it is this passion and commitment that drives standards. 

The ability to be 'great' comes from teachers crafting their skill finding and refining their own individual style based upon their teaching philosophy, personality, age and life and teaching experiences. ...

Trainee teachers and those new to the profession should be allowed to discover themselves as teachers, to craft and refine their skill. Experienced teachers should be trusted to be 'great'' to do the job the way they know works and the way they, as professionals know they can!

Let's stop overthinking teaching!