Spring cleaning our teaching part 2: Using a teaching skills framework

First posted on Tales From The Reach on 3 March 2019.

Although last week’s blog identified some key elements that are intrinsic to teaching, they did not fully guide us as teachers as they were somewhat abstract and broad ranging. Therefore, Charlotte Danielson suggests that a teaching framework for professional practice can be used to get us thinking about our own teaching skills, which we may wish to review and clean up from time to time; hence my reference to ‘spring cleaning’.

A framework can be used for a variety of purposes and by new and experienced teachers alike. Danielson argues that because teaching is complex, it is helpful to develop a ‘road map through the territory, structured around a shared understanding of teaching’ (Danielson, 2007). Accordingly, those new to teaching will need a road map as they will inevitably be concerned with their day-to-day survival in the classroom whereas experienced teachers may want to improve and/or review their overall skills and benefit from reviewing a ‘road map’ or framework of essential teaching skills. Moreover, for experienced teachers switching to a second subject from other subject areas, a skills framework may be a good tool to ensure they are embedding best practice, whilst having the extra burden of learning enough to confidently teach their pupils.

Subsequently, in his review of the literature on teaching skills, Kyriacou (again, see last week’s blog for more on this) has made a distinction between ‘three dimensions’ that affect the quality of teaching (Kyriacou, 2014; see Fauth et. al., 2014 as well). The idea here is to set up a framework in which to assess the overall quality and effectiveness of our teaching skills; do we or don’t we fulfil these three dimensions when teaching and, if not, will there be barriers to learning. The three dimensions/categories identified are cognitive activation, a supportive climate and classroom management. The framework identified is conducive to teaching most subjects as it enables both new teachers and experienced teachers to think and adapt their classroom practice to the needs of their pupils. In relation to classroom teaching, their application can be broadly summed up as:

  • Cognitive activation: this could also be called thinking skills as it refers to the development of challenging learning activities that actively engage pupils and, subsequently, develop their knowledge and understanding of the subject taught. In some ways this aspect of the framework for assessing teaching skills combines thinking skills with engagement – in that, if you can kill two birds with the same stone, you’ve nailed it.
  • Supportive climate: this involves building effective relationships with pupils by being positive about their studies, giving informative and constructive feedback and generally showing that you care. In many subjects, feedback will be essential as your pupils will be writing plenty of essays or working out equations and will want to know that they are read thoroughly and marked. Additionally, displaying a caring side will be extremely fruitful when pupils really need your support and reassurance near exams.
  • Classroom management: in all classes, you will need clear rules and procedures in the classroom to effectively organise debates, discuss sensitive issues and maintain the peace amongst pupils with differing views; this will be particularly relevant in subjects like English, RE, History, Geography, PSHE and the Social Sciences. In these subjects, as pupils will need to show that there are often many perspectives on contentious issues, a mutually respectful classroom environment where other people’s views and opinions are listened to respectfully rather than being shouted down or dismissed out-of-hand, is essential.

The point of having a framework of teaching skills is, of course, a point of reference for us to refer back to regularly and to see if our professional practice properly fulfils the framework. On a day-to-day basis Kyriacou’s three dimensions can be extremely useful. However, from time to time it may be worth thinking about our practice in more depth. Probably one of the most extensive frameworks is Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (2007). The use of this framework is as a classroom observation instrument, but it can be used to reflect on our own professional practice, especially if you are considering teaching for the first time. Nonetheless, whether new to teaching or experienced, it can give you a fresh outlook on what you need to do to teach successfully. Importantly, Danielson’s Framework for Teaching was arrived at through extensive research on essential teaching skills and is made up of various components, but these can be simplified as:

Planning and preparation

  • Demonstrating Knowledge of content and pedagogy
  • Demonstrating knowledge of students
  • Setting instructional outcomes
  • Demonstrating knowledge of resources
  • Designing coherent instruction
  • Designing student assessments

Classroom environment

  • Creating an environment of respect and rapport
  • Establishing a culture for learning
  • Managing classroom procedures
  • Managing student behaviour
  • Organising physical space

Instruction

  • Communicating with students
  • Using questioning and discussion techniques
  • Engaging students in learning
  • Using assessment in instruction
  • Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness

Professional responsibilities

  • Reflecting on teaching
  • Maintaining accurate records
  • Communicating with families
  • Participating in the professional community
  • Growing and developing professionally
  • Showing professionalism

Adapted from Coe et. al. (2014).

For our purposes, the framework is first and foremost a tool for auditing your teaching skills to see if you are encompassing the essentials of outstanding teaching. However, as already stated, Danielson sees her framework as useful to all those in the profession; ‘The responsibilities of a first-year teacher are just as complex (in some situations, more so) as those of a 20-year veteran… they are plunged immediately into the full responsibilities of a teacher. A newly licensed architect, for example, would never be asked to design a major building the first week on the job, all alone. But this is exactly what teachers are asked to do’ (2007). It would be an unfair ‘veteran’ who does not acknowledge the immense task of a trainee or newly qualified teacher.

Moreover, the depth of knowledge needed to teach our subject specialisms, especially if the syllabus is not the same as our degree syllabuses or even degree subject, makes it even more daunting. It is important, then, that an extensive framework is available as a scaffold to support and remind the new teacher of their professional duties in and outside of the classroom.

This framework can also be of use to experienced teachers as Danielson argues it can help answer the questions, ‘What does an effective teacher know?’ and ‘What does an accomplished teacher do in the performance of her duties?’ By reflecting on this framework and auditing their skills, experience teachers can aim to be outstanding in all areas (of course, additional ideas can be added, especially if conducive to teaching sociology). Danielson feels that as teachers we rarely devote our precious time to professional dialogue and sharing best practice. Therefore, this framework provides the structure for discussions on how to improve our overall effectiveness. It can be very useful to collaborating colleagues getting ready to teach for the first time or looking to improve their colleagues’ and/or department’s practice.

The framework can be used in conjunction with the TRFS’s Learning Walk Tracker feedback forms to inform our ‘next steps’ and how we approach our roles within The Reach Teach Toolkit research groups.

Part 3 of these ‘spring cleaning’/reflection blogs will focus on getting us thinking about ‘What Makes Great Teaching”. 

References

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Major, L. E. (2014). What Makes Great Teaching.London: Sutton Trust. Available online at: [http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-makes-great-teaching-FINAL-4.11.14.pdf Retrieved 19/07/2015].

Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. (Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

Fauth B., Decristan, J., Rieser, S., Klieme, E. and Buttner, G. (2014). ‘Student ratings of teaching quality in primary school: Dimensions and prediction of student outcomes’ in Learning and Instruction, Vol. 29, pp. 1-9. Available online at:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095947521300056X[Retrieved 09/06/2016].

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

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

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

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