How do I teach?

I was asked this question during the week and it made me consider how do I actually teach. In twenty five years, have I changed my way of teaching?

As people that might follow my work, you will know that our curriculum in Wales is changing. We have developed 4 purposes, 6 areas of learning and experience and 12 principles of pedagogy, but is it really all about the numbers because ultimately the true success of any curriculum is down to delivery.

On researching the web for ideas I came across the 16 steps. This is an excellent guide to teaching.

https://www.fastcompany.com/44276/attention-class-16-ways-be-smarter-teacher

The second article I read was,

https://teach.com/what/teachers-know/teaching-methods/

In this article, you gain an indepth knowledge of what it is to be a teacher in a Classroom and their discussion on techniques is very thorough.

Many moons ago, my nephew gave me ‘Teaching Skills for DUMMIES’ by Sue Cowley. This was given tongue in cheek however as a starter for ten it has excellent advice. Each chapter builds on your knowledge and helps to move the teaching forward.

When I recently had an interview, I had learnt many acronyms as it helps me to learn and for this reason, I have developed my own very simple guide to teaching, SALT.

Why SALT?

Firstly, salt is an important seasoning in our food, it can improve the taste and quality however, too much salt can ruin what you are creating, it is about striking a balance, and for me that is exactly what teaching is all about. It isn’t one thing, it changes according to the class, the aims of the lessons and what you want the pupils to learn. The balance will change depending on the lesson being taught.

Rather than joining a debate about the best learning techniques, are we teachers or facilitators? I will suggest that the best teachers are aware of all techniques and use their skills to choose the right techniques for the class, the lesson, reflection and building on prior knowledge.

The quote I hate the most about teaching is by George Bernard Shaw, “Those that can, do and those that can’t teach.”

This quote has been said to me a number of times and I have always given my own repost,

“Those that can, do, because of the excellent teachers that made them believe they can.”

Yet, he has also provided one of my favourite quotes,

As a teacher, there will be periods when you are trying to discover your teaching style but ultimately, the style comes from adapting techniques and creating and recreating your teaching style.

________________________________________________________________

SALT

1) S: Smile – Know yourself and your class

When you stand or walk around a classroom, the interpersonal skills are the true bedrock of success for a teacher. Initially you must try and understand the needs of the individual in your class. The initial step is to provide them with a warm, caring and useful learning space. This therefore begins with a smile.

In a primary school setting, the best teachers know their pupils well. They understand that not every child has a fantastic home with supportive parents. They understand why a child might be disruptive, they reflect on the character and do not allow prejudice to interfere in their work. They care every minute of the day for every child in their classroom. They are excellent practitioners because they place the child first.

In Secondary settings the above is still true however they have less time with each individual and a very tight curriculum to teach. Yet, the best secondary teachers, learn about their class, develop a knowledge of the child and respond accordingly.

Teaching is about building a rapport, an effective working relationship and this should always begin with a welcoming smile.

To smile might mean having to hide your own nerves and concerns however confidence creates confidence. To put that differently if you are not comfortable with yourself or lacking confidence, it can lead to a disruptive lesson. The teacher becomes loud, the class becomes loader and the lesson sinks like a stone in water.

If you are confident or grow in confidence, the class will follow you and whether through facilitation or direct teaching, the class will learn. Imagine being driven by a taxi driver that doesn’t know the way? You soon lose faith and begin questioning. This is no different to being in a classroom when you can easily lose a class through lack of confidence and therefore engagement.

Always remember to be yourself. Learn and observe the best teachers but always be true to how you wish to teach. Create your own style and technique.

2) A: Aim of the lesson or what are you trying to teach?

This involves many aspects of teaching including, planning, pedagogy, curriculum content and what the pupils should have gained from the lesson. This also leads to questions or debate between direct teaching techniques or facilitating learning opportunities.

I will not stop this debate on my own but I firmly believe it is the wrong focus. Sometimes I have taught pupils a certain fact that I wish them to learn e.g. the rivers in Cardiff. This has involved direct teaching. It has also involved school trips to the start of a river or to the mouth of a river, then it will lead to a facilitated task allowing the pupils to deepen their learning e.g. discuss the use of the river Taff during the industrial revolution.

Therefore, when introducing a topic for the first time, you should ask the pupils what they already know. This becomes your starting point (think kwl grid),

The above example is from @TwinklCymru

From this, direct learning will take place in order to provide the pupils with the information that they require but the dynamic learning will then take place with a task or a project leading to research, discussion, effective questioning etc.

All of this does require planning and an understanding of what you are learning as well as the flexibility to adapt according to how the lesson develops. Questioning, is a crucial part of a wonderful lesson and often an area that isn’t fully considered when planning. Five really useful questions will have more impact than twenty questions that basically ask the same thing. A while ago, I was asked to observe questioning on a learning walk and I was amazed to find that certain teachers have a bias to one side of the class, others only ask closed questions and some found the balance between open and closed questioning techniques.

3) L: Learning. The key question a teacher should ask,

What impact is the teaching having on the learning outcomes?

If you are teaching a number of facts to the pupils, how much retention do they have of the facts? If their retention isn’t great, is it that the lesson might not have been as good as you had hoped? Is it that a revisit is required to build on the learning experience?

This is therefore the direction of travel i.e. if you are teaching the history of Cardiff Castle, what have they learnt? This then resets the direction of the next lesson and thus your planning adapts according to the knowledge gained by the class.

Although this sounds very simple, it is based on the foundations of assessment for learning. Consider for a minute feedback. What is the purpose of feedback? If it is simply to state right or wrong then that should be sufficient however effective feedback provides the pupil with an understanding of how to improve. Learning through mistakes allows pupils to take risk in their learning. The confidence to discover the answer comes from the classroom environment especially from teacher/pupil interaction.

We all learn differently, we all learn in a unique style. Discovering how we learn can often be a personal journey. The most important point is that we learn.

Very often the best teachers are continually learning. This doesn’t mean that they forget everything that they have learnt and know what works. It simply implies that we are continually adapting our teaching techniques or building on our knowledge in a certain area.

Learning has been explained by many books but for a teacher the key is to know your pupils, understand the aim of the lesson, adapt their teaching techniques, involve pupils in their learning and create an environment that allows pupils to learn from their mistakes.

4) T: Time to reflect.

Many people are fully aware of the constraints of time in a school. Time seems to be the enemy of the classroom yet it is only by allowing time to reflect on our teaching and pupil’s learning, that we can truly build on prior knowledge.

A plenary shouldn’t be ignored but it doesn’t have to happen at the end of a lesson. It can be a part of the lesson as a snapshot to understand how well the learning is being developed.

Reflection should not be seen as a tool of accountability. Often School Inspectors have asked, how did you think the lesson went? It has often felt like a loaded question where a wrong or a right answer, could mean the difference in the grade for a lesson. Perhaps we should take time to reflect on the question and realise it is an essential element of self-reflection. Perhaps all aspects of a lesson went well and you should allow yourself to celebrate. Sometimes, lessons don’t go according to plan. In one of my worse observed lessons, I had over thought the whole process, an inflexible lesson plan had led to too many factors going wrong. Even today, I remember how I felt but I allowed myself to reflect on my teaching and consider my mistakes and how I could improve.

Time to reflect is crucial. Providing the opportunity for pupils to reflect is necessary for them to go on a learning journey. When we don’t provide time to reflect, we remain on a treadmill that doesn’t seem to have any opportunity to escape.

For our own well-being as teachers and for the well-being of the students, we must know ourselves, know our class, realise what we are teaching and allow for the learning journey to take place.

This brings me back to SALT. Easy to remember, perhaps over simplified for many readers however it is a reflection of my own learning journey as a teacher and answers what seemed a very simple question, ‘how do I teach?’

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