I’ll start with my two principles of teaching:
- Have your students learned what you wanted them to learn?
- How could you improve on this, so more of the students learn more of what you wanted them to learn?
Integral to these principles is assessment. I’m going to explain how assessment is a central tenet of how to teach.
I have been influenced by professional writing on education, in an effort to improve my teaching I look to good ideas from this writing that I can use in my lessons. For example, I have decided to use more ‘direct instruction’ in my recently; I have been explaining and modelling much more in my lessons than I used to.
How can I decide whether this has been a good way for me to teach? Previously I have described the ‘mindlessness’ of looking to students’ ‘engagement’ in the lesson as a proxy for whether they have learned anything (there have been more yawns in my lessons recently, but I’m not going to fall into the trap of letting that influence how I teach).
The best way to ascertain whether this was a good way to teach is to test the students. Daisy Christodoulou has written extensively and brilliantly on ways to assess, and one of the ideas that she advocates: the judicious use of multiple choice questions (MCQs), is one that I and some of my colleagues have found to be very effective. I have started using MCQs during each lesson to give me feedback as to what the students do and don’t know, and so I can be responsive in my teaching. And I have used MCQs as a formative test halfway through a lesson sequence to influence how I teach the rest of the sequence. One conclusion I have reached from this increase in my testing of students is that they are learning a lot less in my lessons than I had previously thought. I would say this is an example of me making progress as a teacher.
As a contrast, I will describe the way that I taught a class in my training year. I was very excited and enthusiastic about teaching and had lots of ideas that I wanted to try out with the class. Midway through the year, some of the class were ‘engaged’ and some weren’t and I felt the dominant experience of the students was one of confusion. The teacher whose class it was decided to take back the reigns for a couple of lessons. One of the things he did was give them a test, a past SATs test. The students of this top set Year 7 class all did extremely well in this test, exceeding their targets. This had nothing to do with my teaching, I was just lucky with the class that I had been given.
I will finish by producing a schema that generalises the points I have made: