I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe hundreds of lessons and work directly with mentoring and supporting more than 30 Newly/Recently Qualified Teachers. I also base my reflection on the incredible books that have been recommended to me as well as my own experience teaching over 8000 lessons in 5 different schools over 14 years.
The aim of this article is not a critique of any particular teacher training programme – it could perhaps be considered as a compilation of the best practice from the various programmes and teachers that I have had the pleasure of observing, developing and working with. Coverage of the following would ensure a solid foundation for any teacher. Some might even use this as a knowledge audit to identify areas for development in themselves or in teachers they are mentoring.
If we spend roughly 70% of our working day directly teaching lessons, I would argue that the majority of this time is spent communicating. We communicate ideas, subject content, our ethos and our expectations every day. So perhaps sessions on the following would be useful:
- Voice training
- Regular feedback on presentation-a weekly exercise could be for developing teachers to communicate a complex idea, perhaps something from their subject specialism or a specific learning theory. I really enjoy Wired’s 5 Levels series so perhaps it could be inspired by that. Trainees should have the experience of trying to teach a concept with or without certain aids e.g. without a whiteboard, with only a whiteboard, with only powerpoint, with only a visualiser and to reflect on which content is best taught through which medium.
- Handwriting practice (on a whiteboard)-this will be one of the primary methods of communicating ideas for many teachers, learning how to write legibly on a board is often neglected.
- Other strategies from Doug Lemov’s excellent Teach Like A Champion (TLAC) 2.0 book e.g. Threshold, RADAR, Breaking the plane, Strong Voice, Circulate, Strong Start. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of Lemov’s work and his book. I would argue that not a single day lesson goes by without me using at least 5-10 of his techniques. Likewise, when I look to help teachers improve, frequently I will identify a TLAC technique as the best action point or lever for improvement.
As aforementioned, Lemov’s TLAC 2.0 book should be a core text for any teacher training programme, when it comes to routines, Lemov’s book and accompanying videos distill the most effective strategies used by great teachers around the world. Whilst Lemov’s section on Systems and Routines mentions only six techniques, I would argue that the whole chapters 1,3,5 and 7 cover another 20 routines which are essential for an efficient and effective classroom.
Beginning teachers often spend some time learning to design resources, but they may often be left to their own devices to “explore what works” and “try things out” based on their initial lesson observations of other teachers. Based on the principles of direct instruction that we would use with novice students, I would argue that beginning teachers also need to be taught in the same way, with direct instruction and only gradual fading once expertise has been developed. Here are a few things which every teacher should know how to design:
- Multiple Choice Questions
- Do Nows which interleaves, reviews and provides a form of low stakes testing and formative assessment
- Exit tickets
- Worksheets or workbooks which follows the “I, We You” and Shed Loads of Practice (SLOP) format – starting with teacher modelling, followed by joint construction and leading to lots of independent practice questions
- Sequence of lessons- which build on prior knowledge and allow for revisiting of content
- A spreadsheet marksheet/tracker – SUM formula, VLOOKUP, Conditional formatting.
- A seating plan (preferably in a spreadsheet) and what data to use. The data I always start with is prior attainment to ensure weaker students have a strong partner near them. I would also then check this seating plan with the Head of Year for potential behaviour issues and compatible working pairs.
- Functional wall displays
Workload and time management
This is something that all teachers will struggle with at some point, but certainly in the early days when lesson planning may take hours in itself. A few useful strategies:
- Stephen Covey’s Time management matrix
- Planning by the week (Not by the day)
- Importance of Sleep
- Use of technology e.g. Quizlet, Google/Microsoft Forms, Online resource banks and communities (Facebook, Twitter and subject specific communities), using email filters, classroom management software
Marking and feedback
- Sampling and Whole Class Marking and Feedback
- Immediate and precise feedback during circulation
- Peer marking
- How to mark summative assessments (Question by Question), identifying misconceptions and actions to address these gaps
Science of learning and research-based instructional strategies
Instructional principles and pedagogy should be based on research along with experience of the tutor. I will provide an extensive reading list later. However, here are the key theories which every beginning teacher should be aware of:
- Direct instruction and gradual release
- Cognitive Load Theory
- Dual Coding
- Cognitive Apprenticeship
- Retrieval Practice and low stakes testing
- Elaborative interrogation – asking how and why
- Semantic Waves (Legitimation Code Theory)
In addition to the above general theories. I would also include sessions on subject-specific pedagogy.
Classroom culture is such an important topic and although most students are taught about high expectations, it would also be useful to talk about explicit strategies for building a culture of success in the classroom. A strong learning culture encourages students to learn from mistakes, to participate and be proactive in their learning and students will have a strong (collective) purpose for being in that classroom.
Oli Knight and David Benson discuss the importance of thinking like an expert in a specified subject in their book “Creating Outstanding Classrooms”. This concept is based on David Perkins’ “Playing the Whole Game”. Students and teachers need to know how to think like a Mathematician, Computer Scientist, Artist, Musician, Historian etc. What does it look like or mean to be an expert in this field. This has to be the end goal for students and we need to design our curriculum not only to match the specifications (which will change regularly) but also to prepare students for the real world. For some teachers, they may enter the profession directly from university, without much industry experience. It may therefore be useful to have industry talks and panels to map the talent pipeline and get insights from industry. What are the most important and in-demand skills in the industry, how can we teach “junior versions” of this.
All of the above would produce a solid foundation for any teacher. After 14 years, I still think I need to work on certain areas above. It is an ambitious and utopian teacher training programme. The big picture is complex and I’ve tried in the past to codify it in a diagram, shown below:
You will notice that I have not really focused on behaviour management in this post. This is partly because Lemov's book is a solid starting point and clear routines themselves lead to fewer behaviour issues to start with. I may decide to do a later post on behaviour inspired by the work of Bill Rogers and Michael Linsin.
Some may think that I am prescribing a particular way of teaching for all. I do not believe in “Roboteachers” and a set way. These techniques are a toolkit and the way we use these will vary as teachers develop their own teaching style. Joel Klein once said, “You can mandate adequacy , but you cannot mandate greatness: it has to be unleashed.” Eventually, teachers will build on this foundation and discover their own teaching style.
These are the books that I would recommend for all teachers. They're the best books that I've read over the past 14 years:
- Teach Like A Champion 2.0 – Doug Lemov
- Principles of Instruction – Barak Rosenshine
- Why Don’t Students Like School – Daniel Willingham
- Make it Stick – Peter C Brown, Henry L. Roediger and Mark A. McDaniel
- An Ethic of Excellence – Ron Berger
- The Hidden Lives of Learners - Graham Nuthall
- Embedded Formative Assessment – Dylan Wiliam
- Creating Outstanding Classrooms – Oli Knight and David Benson
- The Motivation Breakthrough – Richard Lavoie
- How We Learn – Benedict Carey
- The End of Average – Todd Rose
- Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker
- Start With Why – Simon Sinek
- Cleverlands – Lucy Crehan
- Inventing Ourselves – Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
- Legacy – James Kerr
- The Chimp Paradox – Dr Steve Peters
- The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin
- Get Better Faster – Paul Bambrick Santoyo
- Theory of Instruction: Principles and Applications - Siegfried Engelmann and Douglas Carnine
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