Knowledge Bank - Creative Teaching & Learning

Towards Outstanding Teaching

What constitutes Outstanding Teaching? How can I create stimulating and engaging lessons? How can I build on students’ previous knowledge and ensure progress? And which pedagogies should I read about to develop my teaching?

The Ofsted Teaching Standards call on teachers to consistently make teaching interesting, stimulating, inspiring, and challenging. ‘Successful learners’ are described as ‘showing excellent, enthusiastic attitudes to learning’.  At least part of of Ofsted’s judgement on your school will officially be about your quality of teaching and learning. The inspectors’ view of teaching and learning in your school, and what systems you have in place to monitor and improve it, will colour the whole Ofsted report – no wonder many teachers feel pressured to get it right!

Fortunately, there are many different ways to be ‘outstanding’. Current pedagogies emphasise the importance of developing independent learners with learning to learn skills, thinking skills, and talk for learning skills, as well as making learning motivating, collaborative and enjoyable for learners.

Some of the current key thinkers on these subjects and their pedagogies are outlined below.

Creating successful learners

The notion of a ‘successful learner’ develops the concept of Assessment for Learning and the requirement that learners understand how to be successful in a task and how to make progress. Diana Pardoe (quoted in Ann O Hara’s ‘Classroom conversation commended by Ofsted‘) defines successful learners as learners who know what it means to be a learner.  Pardoe outlines three key priorities:

  • Developing the language that will enable them to have a meaningful dialogue about learning.
  • Recognising the ‘movers’ and ‘blockers’ of their own learning.
  • Understanding that real learning is about overcoming difficulties.

Also in this article, Ann O’Hara presents some examples of ideas which have been successful at helping learners develop the language to talk about their own learning and progress. She shows how in schools where talk and questioning focus on learning, students have a secure foundation for the evaluative feedback of peer and self assessment, and are really able to identify what they have achieved and their next steps.

For Chris Watkins, successful learning means noticing how the learning is going, and how that relates to where we want to be. Watkins develops the metaphor of learning as a journey in order to help learners develop the language to talk about planning, monitoring and reflecting on their learning. But it also demands that we really do put learners in the driving seat – giving them more autonomy and involvement in determining their learning. Watkins argues that this will lead to greater intrinsic motivation and more success evaluating their work and setting higher challenges. Some ideas on how to do this include involving students in determining the purpose of the lesson and the future learning, providing opportunities for choice, and engaging and listening to student voice. For practical ideas on developing a more learner-driven classroom culture, see Watkins’ article, ‘Learner-driven learning’ (Open access – also available from Creative Teaching and Learning here).

Enquiry-based learning and Philosophy for Children

This is a child-centred learning approach using enquiry as a driver for learning. Importantly, students establish the lines of their enquiry (and may or may not also choose the subject of the enquiry). Through student involvement in choosing the subject and orientation of their learning, it is hoped that the learning will engage more with the students’ contexts and help them to make sense of the world they are living in and the issues pertinent to their lives. In the Active Enquiring Minds Program, students practically research a chosen topic. Students learn about a range of research methods and this helps them plan their research. Students may also choose how to present the results of their research – by PowerPoint, video, report etc.

A popular enquiry-based teaching approach is Mantle of the Expert. In ‘Exploring history through drama’ (open access), Tim Taylor explains how using Mantle of the Expert and other dramatic conventions can increase a child’s historical knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm. The big idea is that the class does all their curriculum work as if they are an imagined group of experts. They might be scientists in a laboratory, a rescue team at the scene of a disaster or archaeologists excavating an ancient artefact. They might be running a removal company, or a factory, or a shop, or a space station or a French resistance group. Because they behave as if they are experts, the children are working from a specific point of view as they explore their learning and this brings special responsibilities, language needs and social behaviours. For more information on mantle of the expert, visit their website.

In the Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach, students are given a stimulus and asked to generate questions from it about anything problematic, puzzling or interesting, thus deciding the framework of the ‘Enquiry’. The group then reasons together out loud, putting forward ideas, responding to and building on the ideas of others and generating further questions, until they are satisfied with how they have dealt with the problem. The approach is more concerned with developing reasoning and talk skills. The role of the teacher is to use guiding questions to develop higher level reasoning.

Both P4C and enquiry-based learning emphasise the equally important development of group work, and co-operative skills as fundamental to the learning. For further information, see Ros Frost and Graham Handscomb‘s ‘Active Enquiring Minds’, Sarah Payton and Ben Williamson‘s ‘The spirit of enquiry’, and the Philosophy for Children Knowledge Bank which has lots of useful links.

Active learning and Activity Centred Teaching

In his article ‘Active Learning is Better Learning’, Chris Watkins discusses a view of active learning that is not just ‘doing a productive task’. Rather, it is an approach whereby students are actively engaging with all the material they are learning, (as opposed to just ‘passively receiving’) and actively ‘sense-making’. This need not be physically active or even include getting out of their seats – rather, it must facilitate learners to be involved in individual tasks, and in the process of their learning. Being involved in planning their learning, and reflecting and reviewing knowledge or skills learnt.

Jeremy Hayward and Gerald JonesActivity Centred Teaching is a pedagogy that promotes the use of carefully structured activities to develop high level thinking skills (forming an argument, analysing complex ideas, etc). They argue that, in contrast to the child-centred learning strategies, some subjects, particularly those that involve grappling with difficult concepts, can really benefit from very structure teacher led tasks.

ACT involves the teacher setting the content and pace of the lesson, and the teacher structuring or guiding the learning. However, they do this around an activity. The activity should be designed to prompt the learner to enquire, discuss, manipulate and interact with the material being learnt. It is a kind of discovery learning about concepts. Activities could involve quizzes, questionnaires, formal debates, structured role play, games etc. Their article, ‘Activities speak louder than words’ provides a great summary of more practical activity ideas, which can be adapted to whatever you are teaching.

 Multiple Intelligences and Different learning styles

 The theory of Multiple Intelligences and Different learning styles is much established. In her article, ‘How to make every lesson outstanding’ (open access), Marcella McCarthy highlights the importance of synaesthetic learning – where teachers consciously work to cater to all preferred learning styles. In such lessons, students are presented with learning opportunities in a variety of different forms, and as a result, the learning objective of the lesson tends to become very clear. Different tasks also have the advantage of breaking the lesson down into shorter, more engaging sections, keeping students interested while allowing teachers to move around a class, checking learning in an individual way.

Visual tools may also prove useful. For ideas on how to use these, see the Visual Tools Knowledge Bank or visit the website of Logo Visual Thinking (LVT) to explore an interesting method of using visual display with magnets to develop thinking skills.  See John Mckellar’s ‘A dramatically informed lesson’ for an example of a lesson combining educational drama and visual learning strategies.

Evaluating outstanding teaching

For school leaders, it is important to know how ‘good’ your teachers are and what they need to do to improve. The qualities of outstanding teaching are implicit – outstanding teachers often don’t know what it is they do that makes them so outstanding – and this can make it difficult to evaluate your teachers. In her article, ‘How good are your teachers?’ (open access), Heather Clements describes how school leaders can begin to evaluate and improve their teachers’ effectiveness, aided by her new toolkit – What is Good Teaching?

She explains that each school needs:

  • A clear Quality Standard which is understood by all.
  • A senior leadership team with the skills and knowledge to support the development of outstanding classroom practice.
  • A monitoring and evaluation schedule that creates a cycle of review including teaching, learning, attainment and progress.
  • A clear correlation between pupil progress and attainment, and judgements on the quality of teaching and learning.
  • Effective use of performance management to ensure teachers can identify where they need to improve and receive the support and professional development to do this.

The What is Good Teaching (WIGT) toolkit provides a clear quality standard, tools for observing lessons and recording the outcomes succinctly, and tools for teachers to evaluate their own practice and support learners to better understand how well they are learning. It supports professional development and makes clear the implicit qualities of outstanding teaching to support schools in their drive to achieve consistently high quality teaching. Visit our bookshop for more information on and to purchase the WIGT toolkit.

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