Tuesday, 30 July 2013

So let's establish that you know nothing about this topic then?

As part of my teaching practice as an NQT+1, we have had CPD on behaviours of outstanding teachers led by two fantastic practitioners: Ken Brechin and Darren Mead. This session involved various activities but one aspect was studying a video of 'Outstanding Teaching' which was not provided by the school or by OFSTED. 

One thing that a colleague of mine picked out as being a behaviour of outstanding teaching was the fact that the teacher we observed on the video explicitly told the students at the start of the lesson:

"So let's establish that you know nothing about this topic..."

This was preceded by the teacher's starter activity establishing to the students that they knew nothing about the topic. It was quite obvious that the teacher had planned this starter to establish and demonstrate to the observer that the students knew nothing about this topic. This then enabled the teacher to demonstrate at the end of the lesson, quite explicitly, that progress had been made with repeated calls of:

"Just to be clear, at the start of the lesson you knew nothing, and now you know this...." 

What followed was a discussion between my cohort of teachers, Ken and Darren about:
  • whether this was a behaviour of an outstanding teacher
  • whether this was done for the sake of learning or just a demonstration for OFSTED
My take on it at the time was that yes, it was an outstanding behaviour and yes, this was done just for OFSTED. When I refer to an 'outstanding teacher', I am specifically talking about OFSTED's criteria for outstanding teaching or more specifically SLT's view of OFSTED's criteria for outstanding teaching. Kev Bartle has discussed the idea that there is a myth that OFSTED want progress within lessons:

"...the mythical creature of ‘progress in lessons’ has come increasingly to dominate the judgments made of the lessons of classroom teachers as if it was something that really existed.  At the very best it is a spectre or ghoul, a translucent and barely visible shadow of something else."

Similarly, David Didau has blogged at length about this topic making sure that there is learning in lessons and not to focus on progress:

"...performance  is easy to observe whereas learning is not. You can tick a box to show that students’ performance has moved from x to y but you can’t tell sometimes whether learning has taken place."

The above teacher was trying to demonstrate that progress was made in the lesson by showing the inspector that the students performance had gone from x to y during the lesson by signposting at the start that they knew nothing and at the end that they knew something. Whether this was a behaviour used repeatedly by the teacher is unknown. Similarly, we do not know if this signposting was something that was what the OFSTED team observing deemed an outstanding behaviour. 

Darren was pretty incensed by the activity as he suggested that it was an act just for OFSTED and in no way benefitted the students' learning during the starter, learning objectives or review. 

However, the more important question is whether it aided learning or was it just a demonstration for OFSTED? Well, by the big song and dance that this teacher did when making it clear that the students knew "NOTHING" at the start and "LOADS" later on ("nothing" was repeated by the teacher 6 times during the learning objectives), I'd suggest that said teacher intended to do it for OFSTED and not for learning. The only way I can see that it helped learning at all was that it might have motivated the students for future lessons by suggesting that their hard work and effort had enabled them to make progress. But again, this is focussing on the teacher's view that progress is the same as learning. It is important to 'signpost' to the students where they are in their learning to motivate, but as a starter activity to demonstrate that your students are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge? Not so sure. 

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