Spring cleaning our teaching part 1: knowledge, decision making and action

First posted on Tales From the Reach on 24 February 2019.

As there are currently plenty of CPD materials, books and blogs centred on how pupils learn, it is incumbent upon us to constantly consider and reconsider how we teach in the classroom and apply all of the ideas on learning we are reading to our practice. Here, it is worth thinking about how we can develop our ‘teaching skills’ as teachers before looking at more concrete examples of ‘teaching methods’. Moreover, I use the term ‘teaching skills’ as a precursor to ‘teaching methods’ as it is essential that we think about what we are going to do in the classroom as well as reflect on the impact of our teaching rather than just delivering content in lessons. By this, I mean that we cannot just replicate other people’s style of teaching, methods or ideas without establishing a framework in which to evaluate them in relation to our overall strengths and weaknesses as well as our pupils.

Importantly, there is a whole host of academic research on ‘teaching skills’, just like there is on learning, but delving into this research is time consuming and often distracts from the practicalities of day-to-day life in schools. However, in summing up much of this research, Chris Kyriacou (2014) says that academic studies view teaching as a complex cognitive skill that is centred on knowledge about how to construct and conduct lessons as well as adequately conveying the content to be taught. If this sentence seems obvious, Kyriacou identifies three tangible ‘key elements’ of teaching to help us reflect on some of our key skills. These are:

  • knowledge
  • decision making
  • and action.

Kyriacou has identified these three as, firstly, subject knowledge comprises what we know about the subject taught and an awareness of what the curriculum entails, which is essential to our own understanding of how to pass this knowledge onto others. Moreover, subject specific pedagogical knowledge includes an awareness of the how our pupils learn as well as knowledge of our own strengths and weakness as teachers. These two types of knowledge are essential in terms teaching as both interact and are dependent on each other.

Secondly, Kyriacou identifies decision making as a key factor in teaching as it occurs before the lesson, during the lesson and, of course, after a lesson when you reflect on how well everything panned out. I once heard a Herts for Learning adviser tell a group of trainees that teachers are ranked second only to fighter pilots for the amount of job specific decisions they have to make in a day. Although I have not found the actual study cited, many estimate that we make upwards of 1,500 decisions a day. Moreover, decision making is essential in planning schemes of work to fit around syllabuses. In this sense, most curriculum subjects are decision-making intense subjects as you will have decide what to include in lessons and what choices of topics your students will be most engaged in. More importantly, you will have to assess the content of lessons, especially key words, vocabulary and terms, to decide whether students can access them with or without further elaboration. For example, in my own subject of Religious Education, I cannot take it for granted that pupils will understand terms like ‘Eucharist’ or ‘atonement’. Decision making is obviously a key reason why we have had a recent INSET on curriculum planning and have been reviewing our long and medium term plans. It is also an important focus under the new Ofsted inspection framework.

And, lastly, Kyriacou identifies action as a key element in teaching. This would be how you perform in the classroom; whether you act on your decisions and, therefore, effectively impart your knowledge to the pupils. This is where ideas from The Reach Teach Toolkit can help us as well peer observations and reflecting on and implementing ideas and advice stemming from our learning walk observations and performance management reviews.

Therefore, the simple ‘key elements’ of teaching discussed above are a good way for us to reconsider how we approach teaching; in this sense, attempt some kind of spring clean in terms of reflecting on the impact of our teaching. This will align with our continued work going forward with The Reach Teach Toolkit as well as completing our performance management reviews.  Over the next few weeks, there will be a blog on creating a framework on which to assess our teaching (part 2); one that goes beyond the Teaching Standards. Following this, we will see how what makes great teaching (part 3) and then we will look at how we can categorise teaching skills into ‘teaching methods’ that consolidate our particular abilities as teachers (part 4).

Reference

Kyriacou, C. (2014). Essential Teaching Skills. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Some text is adapted from Jones, A. (2017). Teaching Sociology Successfully. (Abingdon: Routledge)

Photo credit: Pxhere (used under a Creative Commons Licence)

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