The top 5 things I believe about teaching

Ok here we go. The first post of my blog.

I have recently seen prominent Edu-bloggers post about 5 things (check this and this) so I thought I would follow suit and state the 5 most important things I believe about teaching. This is a snapshot of my views right now; I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

1. Education is an end in itself

We shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist trying to work out what the jobs of the future will be so that we can design relevant curricula for them. Education should be about passing on the best and most enduring knowledge we have accumulated up until now. This, by Sputniksteve, explains brilliantly why accessing our rich cultural knowledge is an entitlement, not a need. As for those 21st century skills we’re supposed to be teaching, let me say this. When I was at school, there was no such thing as the Internet or social media. That hasn’t stopped me or many other people of my generation from using new technology productively. My blogging here today is testimony to that. What has stood me in good stead though, is literacy and communication skills. Which leads me on to…

2. Literacy is key

Being able to read and write well, and to communicate articulately is the fundamental thing all children leaving mainstream schools should be able to do. Reading well, and understanding what we are reading, is the passport to greater knowledge. Our children are not reading nearly enough and no amount of “looking things up on Google” can be a substitute for this. Get them to read, read and read even more. By the same token, get them to write a lot more too.

3. Poor behaviour is the biggest obstacle to learning

Disruptive behaviour in class impedes the learning of all children, particularly the  most disadvantaged. No school should consider itself good or outstanding unless excellent behaviour is achieved in all lessons. All children can behave, given the right culture and systems in place. Schools in the toughest neighbourhoods have managed to get the behaviour right. If they can do it, all other schools can do it too.

4. Test often, revisit topics and over-learn

Testing is not necessarily cruel and evil. Low stakes quizzes and tests help children embed knowledge in their long-term memories. And once they have learned something, let them learn it again some weeks later, maybe from a different perspective. Err on the side of over-learning so that children develop fingertip knowledge that helps free up their working memory to think about new problems. You can probably tell, I’m a great fan of Daniel Willingham and The Learning Scientists.

5. There may be no best way but some ways are more effective than others

Given the rationing of time and resources, it is worth reflecting on what is the most effective way of teaching each lesson. Project and independent learning work may have a time and a place, but in my experience so far, the weaker students learn the least with such methods. Card sorts and activities around the room might be fun, but often children learn more when the teacher explains things explicitly and gets them thinking with good questions and answers.

That’s my little manifesto for now. But hang on, scotch everything I’ve written above. This excellent blog post from Michael Fordham actually describes, much better than I ever could, what teaching is all about.

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