In my first year of teaching I waited outside an examination room for my A Level physics students to emerge from their final exam, more nervous than they were. Tom handed me the paper and asked how to do question five. I explained it could easily be solved with a momentum approach. It took me 20 years to discover what I was doing wrong: teaching topics in silos, then foolishly expecting students to know which topic related to which question. It was just not obvious how to approach some questions.

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Geoff Petty: Five steps to improved teaching Geoff Petty: Five steps to improved teaching Teachers can be simply too busy, as well as wary of getting out of their comfort zone, to improve their methods.

But the secret is to put them in charge of their learning, make them feel motivated and supported, and let them try out new ideas to see whether they work.

It really can make a difference, says Geoff Petty. Teaching has at least three times the effect on student achievement as any other factor you might change. Also, teaching can never be done perfectly — it is always possible to improve. But how should we improve teaching? The research shows that both institutions and teachers themselves find it oddly difficult to improve teaching. But we do know a hugely motivating way that really works. Why the problem? Institutions have even more difficulty.

We are all familiar with the CPD training session approach. Because some staff go back to their desks after the training, they see that their inbox and in-tray have grown while they were being trained, so they embark on reducing the backlog. If the training suggests teaching and learning methods that are known to be effective, and the teacher finds these interesting and relevant, which is not always the case, then some teachers will usually try a method out.

Soon even those who have tried the methods have reverted to their normal practice. The training was a waste of time. Teachers are very practical people and it turns out they are motivated by relevance. They want to decide for themselves what the problems are that they and their students are facing with their teaching and learning, and they want training based on that. Like all adult learners, teachers need to be in charge of the objectives of their learning; we should have known that too.

There is often remarkable agreement in my experience. This may not go smoothly. The teacher will not be used to this method, and neither will their students. They will have to try the method out in small ways, repeatedly, adapting as they learn the outcomes of using this new approach.

Teachers also need regular meetings with a community of colleagues to support them. This democratic group of, perhaps, six colleagues meets about every four to six weeks to discuss the experiments the teachers have been carrying out. But, more importantly, lots of learning is created, and a huge positive buzz.

In these meetings each teacher takes it in turn to describe how their experiment is going. They might bring along evidence such as student work to illustrate this. They give an honest, warts-and-all description of the experiment. Then the group discusses how the teacher could overcome any difficulties to proceed with the method. The teacher then tries it that way and the reflective active learning cycle repeats: Do, Review, Learn, Apply.

At the end of the year teachers report to others outside their mutual coaching team so that teachers can all learn from each other. A Supported Experiments Exhibition is a great approach, where teams exhibit to each other what they have tried and achieved. I can hear you! First, it is practically the only way to improve teaching that has been found to work Timperley Oh, and it creates a tremendous buzz — both staff and students love it.

Explore the pedagogy What learning and teaching strategies could we use to solve these problems? CPD training on these methods would help. Share and celebrate success Teachers report on their experiments and share their strategies.

Sharing is both within and between teams. Learning Fairs are useful here. Embed practice New and improved strategies are agreed and then put into schemes of work, assignments, worksheets, lesson plans, and so on. The whole team now has access to the improvements.

Teaching has more effect on achievement than any other factor. To raise achievement we must change how we teach. Only teachers can change teaching. Changing teaching is itself a learning process. Learning requires support, practice, with checking and correcting.

This is hard, we need to do it together, and learn from each other. References Helen Timperley et al Teacher Professional Learning and Development.

Joyce and Showers Student Achievement through Staff Development. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Teaching Today – Geoff Petty (3rd edition)








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