A Great Teacher

I tweeted:

“A great teacher is not only interacting, knowledgeably, with the learners but is also interacting with the content. What is the best way to present the content to this group of students? How will you know what they have learned? Misconceptions?”

This was in response to reading a blog, an excellent blog by Tom Sherringham – which I can’t find to link to – about lesson observation. He has a focus on what the teacher knows about the learners. It struck me that one needed great teachers to also have a high level of understanding of the curriculum and how that curriculum is best taught.

So I would want to ask the teacher about what they were teaching.

Why is this being taught now? I want to hear more than just it comes next in the scheme of work.

How is this being taught? More than just the particular resources. Why these resources and not alternatives?

How will you know when this has been learned? Testing now and, critically, after some time has elapsed. What kind of tests,  what time scales, what success rate?

How will you know it is time to move on to the next content or that you have to reteach this one? Some sort of staged testing. Carefully constructed quick mid-lesson quiz.

What are common misconceptions for this content? How have you planned to deal with them?

There are other questions to ask. I would want there to be a set of these which are transparent to the observer and the teacher. They are not here to catch out the teacher but are here to support and structure the lessons.

One of the very real challenges in teaching is trying to deal effectively with the range of learning in any class. Those that are set up as mixed ability will have a larger range than those set up as set by ability. Both classes will have some children who have understood well and some who are still not getting it. There are benefits to both ways of organising classes. But in both one needs to know where each child is. The checking what each child has currently taken from the lesson is important. Probably more important is how much they have learned which is only possible to check after some time has elapsed.

Questioning – more thoughts

We all know that Bloom’s triangle/pyramid is pretty well debunked but I’d like to take a look at two different types of questions. If I was a Bloom’s supporter I’d call the first part low-order questions and the second high-order questions.

I will not do that in the way Bloom’s is often presented. The value in knowledge-based, low-order questions is two-fold. They provide a mechanism where the teacher can check if children have got what has been taught. I would place this second in value. Questions of this nature are needed to check that learning has happened and to revisit if there are significant gaps in students understanding

The second value is to support learning directly. Knowledge-based questions require the student to retrieve the information. I assume we are all well aware of the learning value of recall practice.

Ok, higher-order questions. These are not simply innately difficult but what then makes them higher-order? I suggest that such questions are ones which need the learner to connect together more than one piece of knowledge in a way they have not yet done. Hard to be sure that has not already happened as some children do go home and think about what has been taught. In that thinking, they may be linking what they have just been taught with what they already know. This is what we want our higher-order questions in class to do. Make them have to connect different pieces of information to be able to answer our questions. We are supporting their making meaning, which is what makes learning memorable.

I think that one would have to plan such questions in advance.