Firstly, welcome to my first ever blog, and thank you for coming here to read my take on all things Cog Sci and classroom based.
To put this site into context, I have been teaching chemistry for 8 years across two very different schools. One was a highly successful state grammar school based in a charming market town, the other a comprehensive school based on the very edge of a city which had recently come out of a big change in leadership an management as it became an academy, situated in one of the most deprived areas of the country. This is important because I have had two hugely different points of view when it comes to teaching and has shown me a huge variety of starting points that students can come into school with.
When I was training in the heady days of 2011/12, VAK learning styles, group work and differentiation were strong features of the course. Were we providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity, to develop their ‘thinking skills’ or their problem solving. Even then, I had reservations. I couldn’t work out why I was being told to get them to ‘discover’ information when I could just explain it to them really well. I started to wonder ‘what was the point of me being qualified in chemistry’? Fortunately, I was able to get through the year demonstrating enough of what they were looking for that I gained QTS and started teaching.
I was lucky enough that my first school was very traditional. There was very little in the way of top down direction of how to teach and what a lesson should look like. This meant that I was largely left alone to experiment and unsurprisingly what worked best was not me hiding bits of worksheet around the room, was not group projects to teach each other new stuff, and definitely not making resources for different learning styles. What worked was me explaining the content as clearly as I could while making the children listen to what I was saying. I know – a shocking revelation, but if I had delivered a lesson like that for my university tutors it wouldn’t have gone down well at all.
After playing around online and reading lots of different blogs, especially Adam Boxer’s wonderful ‘A Chemical Orthodoxy‘, I began to realise that a lot of what I was doing had a name and that it was called ‘Direct Instruction’ and that there was a whole different way of teaching that I hadn’t been trained in. Crucially this ‘new’ way was evidence informed! Now obviously cognitive science isn’t a panacea, and no one technique will be the perfect solution for every single student you ever teach, and yet despite this it’s a very good starting point.
The stuff that I want to be sharing is going to be based on what works for me and what works for me is the sort of resource that you can use in any lesson and that gives the larges number of kids the chance to just ‘get’ it. Nothing fancy. Not all bells and whistles. I admit, I prefer resources that either have a low impact on work load or that are high impact once, and can then be used time and again with minimal tweaking. I believe that preparing resources should take the minimum time to allow teachers to focus on crafting the most clear explanations of key knowledge that they can. I think that it’s the best use of their time. Without a good explanation at the heart of your teaching you’re trying to build on rubbish foundations. It doesn’t matter how much they practice or attempt to learn it, the new material will come slower and you will end up in a mess.
So to finish, I will briefly outline what I believe makes for a good lesson. I can’t claim that if you were to drop in on me at random and have a look you would always see all of these things, but the point of this blog is to invite you to read and learn with me, or if you’re already expert at this, to comment or contribute on the way.
- Excellent behaviour from students.
This means not just that they are being nice, but that they are engaged and active in the lesson. They have to be making choices that increase their own learning.
- Full attention from students.
If as a teacher you’re going to be explaining detailed aspects of your subject to students, they should be listening with their full attention!
- Opportunity to practise retrieval
I want to post a whole blog on this topic, but suffice to say that retrieval practise is a key strategy for not only making sure students remember material from previous sessions, but also establishing connections with new information which in turn makes it easier to learn.
- Completely clear and unambiguous explanation.
This is the heart of good teaching, to me. If you can explain something complex and abstract in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding you’re doing it right.
- Lots of practise
There’s no point just explaining stuff and assuming they now know it. Drill them! Make them use the information in a variety of ways and a range of situations. Practise makes perfect after all.
So thank you for reading this far. Do you have anything that you would add to this list? If so perhaps you’d like to comment below. I can also be found on twitter @MrGreenw00d so please feel free to follow me there where I will try to remember to talk about this blog.