04 Oct 5 Teaching Fundamentals
Originally, this was set to be five-post series, but the first two didn’t seem to bite – so I’m making things easier (better) by putting it all into one post.
The five teaching fundamentals are aspects of effective teaching that I think are absolutely essential but are often things that I find I need to suggest as areas for development. The five fundamentals are:
- Checking for recall and understanding
- Being precise about what you want to be learned
- Modelling multiple examples.
- Specifying the outputs and timescales.
- Making time for practice.
I would say that this is often one of the weakest areas of practice in teaching in relation to how important it is: checking that students know and understand what we think we have taught them.
If I tell you something or explain something to you I want to be sure that you’ve understood it now and are also beginning the process of learning it – by which I mean getting it into your long term memory. Unless I check, I don’t know. In the post linked above I suggest a range of ways that this can be done. The most obvious thing is to ask questions that elicit responses from as many students as possible.
You can’t ask ‘Do you know the capital of Ethiopia?’ or ‘is everyone ok with the capitals’? You ask students ‘what is the capital of Ethiopia?’ and check that they know. Obvious! But often doesn’t happen.
You don’t give out a set of instructions or information and say ‘does anyone have any questions?’ You cold call the class and get some students to demonstrate that they’ve understood the instructions or information.
Just because students appear to listen or do what you ask; just because you gave an explanation and read some information – it does not mean your students learned anything. You need to check – now and again later.
The link above goes to a full post on this. I give various examples of where the learning is thrown out into the room but is never specified in a way that allows weaker learners to consolidate:
Here’s one example:
An extended discussion about a section of a literature text throws up numerous ideas: connotations for words, aspects of symbolism, plot nuances, character developments, sub-plots, contextual references…. scattered like dandelion seeds on the wind, into the ether of the classroom. Students leave the room, heads buzzing. But the next lesson comes: what did we learn last lesson? Who can remember – it’s a mess. Some students have great recall – but of different things to each other; others are left dredging up fragmented memories of the discussion – but nothing solid or coherent seems to be there.
The answer to this is fairly simple: consolidate the ideas into some key/simple ideas and facts and ensure students have their own record. The weakest students make the worst notes – so be prepared to give a handout or create a knowledge organisers to make sure all the key learning points are securely stated. This then feeds into the checking for recall and understanding.
3. Modelling multiple examples.
I find that where teacher instruction is weak, it’s where there is not enough modelling of standards and methods. Or it is where examples are all too different so that the general method is not clear. You need to show lots of examples to ensure that specific methods can be seen to apply with variations – but dart around to much. Eg in Maths – or anything where calculations are involved – it pays to do lots of examples with the exact same method but different numbers before adding any complexity.
This is a great guest post on the Learning Scientists’ website: Why two examples are better than one.
4. Specifying the outputs and timescales.
I find that often the weakness in a lesson is that time is not used well or that students pitch too low in terms of the depth of writing, the pace of working or the scale of their response – e.g. the length of a piece of writing. It’s so easy to fix.
An excellent routine practice is to specify the outputs and timescales very explicitly – using examplars where possible:
- You’ve got 10 minutes to complete exercise 2.
- You should be aiming to write 2 sides of A4.
- The report must have a diagram and your graph should be full A4 scale drawn with pencil and ruler. (Show example)
- It’s a GCSE answer so I’m looking for reference to amino acids and other products and six clear points.
- The portfolio you are making should end up looking like this: (show excellent exemplar – or better still show several excellent examples and some mediocre examples for comparison).
It’s amazing the difference this routine makes. Again – too obvious? Maybe. But worth saying again. Don’t leave students guessing what is expected.
5. Making time for practice.
This is one of the areas highlighted in the Rosenshine Principles of Instruction. In lessons where teaching is more effective, students all have time to practice what they have been taught, ideally with close attention from the teacher during a guided practice phase before more independent practice – to ensure standards are high and basic methods or key knowledge are understood.
In some subjects it is more difficult to design discrete practisable learning elements but where possible these should be quite tightly defined before pulling multiple skills together. It’s a good question to ask in your curriculum design and lesson planning: what will students do to practise? How many examples or opportunities will they have? How will we give feedback during the practice phase?