You open the email outlining the schedule for the Learning Walk Week, or even worse you receive the call that the inspectors will be in imminently. You start to plan one lesson. 6 engaging activities, with 15 different levels of challenge which are all colour coded and given ‘cute’ names to make it appear even more entertaining for your students. You’ve got minimal teacher talk to allow for student-led learning and when you meticulously map out the minutes for each activity you decide you can squeeze in an exam question and even some peer assessment too. That one lesson has taken 5 hours to plan and then when you actually deliver it for ‘your observation’ you only get through half of the planned activities, partly because the “all-singing, all-dancing” lesson has left the students in a whirlwind of confusion. But what if we could teach with nobody watching? How would we plan our lessons if the only observer in the room was our students? The answer according to Mark Esner, is simple…...simplicity!
The first Learning Lunch of the new academic year saw colleagues once again sharing ideas and best practice in a way that allows us to further engage our students and provide them with wonderful learning experiences. The lunch, led by Vicki Rotheram, introduced us to snippets from Mark Esner’s book, Teach Like Nobody’s Watching: The essential guide to effective and efficient teaching. Vicki’s presentation focussed on 4 key areas needed in a lesson; Recap, Input, Application and Feedback. She discussed with colleagues about the vital role that schemas play for both the teacher and the student. Schemas develop over time through learning and experience. They are a web of information, a filing system of the mind, and it is these schemas that need activating in every lesson in order to build on our knowledge, hence the importance of recapping. We also need to transfer our knowledge from our own schemas to our students and according to Esner we should be planning for less activity and more for memorable instruction or delivery-Explain, Apply, Explain, Practise. As Vicki explained in her presentation, our input, our subject knowledge is “immeasurably precious”. With regards to the application of knowledge or skill, clear explicit outcomes are the key to success, a final goal for students to be working to and one effective tool Vicki spoke about was live modelling. This allows students to see the process behind the final product and the steps needed to take in order to achieve it. And finally feedback. If you asked any teacher, they would probably say this was their least favourite part of their day to day experiences and workload and yet the one we would all agree leads to significant improvements in learning. Therefore we need to be smarter! And Vicki shared different strategies for ‘smart marking’ including using a sample of work to identify common misconceptions within a class which students can then use to identify in their own work, effectively allowing for students to mark their own work!
Staff were engaged whilst discussing the sacred cows of teaching, all of which Esner disputes in his book. What I think staff were in agreement with is that there is a time and place for everything. Sometimes teacher talk is the best way. Imparting our knowledge to our students. However, I would argue that teacher talk is even more enhanced when you incorporate effective questioning that allows for open conversation and exploration and for students to recap on prior knowledge. Different activities and teaching styles will vary day to day depending on the nature of the task and the students in front of you. What we need to always remember in every lesson is that the most important observers in the room are the students themselves!
There was a fantastic turn out from staff ranging from those working in Early Years all the way up to Key Stage 5, once again highlighting that the best resource we have available to ourselves in terms of improving our teaching practice is each other! Thank you once again to Vicki for such a great start to the Learning Lunch CPD programme, just one source of the continued professional development available to us at Shrewsbury Riverside. We look forward to inviting you all to the next Learning Lunch scheduled for the 2nd November, which will be led by Steve Jackman with a focus on engaging students through EdTech.
About the author: Rebecca Pitts is a teacher of Psychology and History and Assistant Head of Year 11 at Shrewsbury International School (Riverside) in Bangkok. When not teaching she loves to travel and explore this amazing part of the world. She along with Julie Rawley are the lead teachers who oversee the Learning Lunch CPD programme.