Being an outstanding teacher is about being ‘outstanding over time’. Because of this, evidencing the amazing work that you do ‘week in week out’ is of paramount importance if you are going to be rewarded for the excellent teaching that you carry out each and every day.
So what are the ingredients of outstanding teaching? Well, according to Ofsted, the following ‘quality of teaching and learning’ grade descriptors tells us all that we need to know. In fact, after analysis, it would appear that there are ‘4 big areas’ that should be an everyday focus in our work.
I expect that all of our students make good progress in our lessons. I anticipate that we all use AfL strategies. I imagine we all have high expectations and create classroom environments conducive to learning. I assume that we all use a range of differentiation strategies to help all students advance, regardless of their ability. However, it would appear that the ‘icing on the cake’ is to be able to effectively evidence this so that students, parents, SLT and other important people can be satisfied with the quality of teaching and learning that takes place in our classrooms.
The following will briefly outline some strategies for evidencing the ‘big 4’ areas described above.
Progress is the difference between a ‘start point’ and ‘end point’ of a student’s understanding within a lesson or series of lessons. It is therefore important to assess and evidence student’s understanding before a period of learning takes place.
During a lesson, make effective use of early questioning to assess students understanding before you teach them the lesson content. The use of ‘mini-whiteboards’ is a highly effective tool in assessing the understanding of the ‘whole class’ (so consider using these). At this point you should have an idea of the percentage of the class who understands what you are about to teach them (this should be a low percentage!). Why not write this percentage on the board?! Now teach them the lesson content. Finally make use of effective questioning again to check their understanding. At this stage, the percentage who understand should be high – write the new percentage it on the board to show yourself, the students and any observers that the class have just made rapid progress. And those students who have not can be your intervention group for the next stage of your lesson.
Over a period of time, the use of personalised targets and the clear tracking against these targets must be documented so that teachers, students, parents and SLT can all see the progress that students make over time. Try to break your student’s targets down into half-termly targets and give your students regular assessments on the work carried out. Track their results to identify student progress. Where students don’t make the expected progress you might like to consider documenting the intervention carried.
‘Assessment for Learning’ encompasses a range of strategies, but at its core, AfL is about enabling the students to understanding where they are in their learning and what they need to do to advance further.
Assessment criteria (learning ladders) are vital for effective AfL. Students need to independently be able to assess the work that they are doing (through both self and peer assessment), reflect on the work carried out and make improvements accordingly. Train students to make use of any assessment criteria that you have produced, perhaps by creating a peer/self-assessment document with space under the criteria for students to write a short reflection and a clear list of improvements that they now realise are needed. You could introduce ‘Pit Stops (Personal Improvement Time)’ into your lessons to make this process explicit.
Similar to strategies outlined in the last section, the use of mini-whiteboards during class questioning for teachers to check the learning of students is of paramount importance when it comes to knowing when to dynamically make changes to lesson plans to ensure that all students are suitably challenged. If after assessing the class it is clear that students have not progressed as you had expected, or made faster progress than expected, make it clear that the lesson will change direction to maximise the learning of the class.
Differentiation is ensuring that all students are challenged, regardless of their ability level. There appears to be three main ways to differentiate and all have their relative merits:
• Differentiation by task, which involves setting different tasks for pupils of different abilities.
• Differentiation by support, which means giving more help to certain pupils within the group.
• Differentiation by outcome, which involves setting open-ended tasks and allowing pupil response at different levels.
All have their place and often the most effective differentiation strategies are born out of careful planning depending on the needs of the class you are teaching.
In terms of evidencing differentiation, make it explicit in your lesson plans and clearly base it on the relative needs of your students.
One important point when it comes to differentiating is not to make it limiting to progress. When differentiating by task, it may be a good idea to try not to limit lower abilities by forcing them to attempt less challenging tasks. For example, you may have three programming tasks, one suited to level 4 students, one suited to level 5 students and one suited to level 6 students. It may be tempting to ask students to carry out the task which matches their target level. However, whilst a level 6 student should only carry out the most challenging task, level 4 students should be free to pick any task so not to limit their level of challenge.
Evidencing an Effective ‘Learning Culture’
When planning lessons, we correctly spend long periods of time thinking about what the students need to know and how we will deliver the content. But equally important is teaching students how to learn (not just what to learn).
There are a great many ‘Learning Habits’ which together promote the skills required for students to ‘better learn’ and if utilised effectively can create a positive ‘learning culture’ in the classroom.
I expect that you promote all of these skills implicitly in your lessons. However, one way to build an effective learning culture in your classroom is to educate your students about these skills ‘explicitly’. Maybe pick a couple of habits which are really pertinent to the topic you are delivering, discuss them with your class (e.g. programming will require: Perseverance and Capitalising) and enable students to practice these skills. Overtime it will become second nature and your students will become more effective learners as they will have honed the skills required to be effective learners.