think teaching and learning 12021-03-03T11:17:11+00:00

Teaching and Learning #1

James Wright

It is no coincidence that my think piece follows that of Charlie’s on the curriculum. The curriculum leads teaching and learning. After we have reflected on, and as we are shaping, our curriculum, we need to ask ourselves: “How do we teach it?” In answering this question, our understanding of what effective teaching and learning are may need to change.

Giving our pupils access to ‘the best that has been thought and said’ (making them the best historians, mathematicians and musicians that they can be, for example) will put demands on our teaching time as we will have more, and more demanding, content through which to get. Therefore, to be effective and efficient, our teaching will have to be both knowledge-first and responsive. In this think piece, I’m going to concentrate on knowledge-first teaching. In my next think piece, I will concentrate on responsive teaching.

What is knowledge-first teaching and learning?

• We are the experts in our chosen fields; therefore, we should share our knowledge first before we expect our pupils to have an informed opinion about a complex moral issue, for example. There is a strong relationship between teachers’ subject knowledge and pupils’ progress – the more you know and share, the more they know. Knowledge-first teaching may require more talking by teacher: introducing academic content, asking questions and giving live feedback.
• Neither knowledge nor skills should be taught in isolation. Building on our work on success criteria, what we want our pupils to know, not what we want our pupils to do should be the basic question we ask ourselves as we plan and deliver lessons or, more appropriately, learning episodes (learning is hard and messy, it does not fit neatly into 50-minute lessons).
• We should plan and deliver lessons which help our pupils to embed what we want them to know (e.g. key concepts) in their long-term memory.
• Our value of commitment, doing what it takes for as long as it takes, means that, while we may follow a scheme of work, we should not be slaves to it. We must ensure that our pupils understand key concepts before we move on.
• Connections between existing knowledge and new knowledge should be made explicitly. We should provide overviews and reviews of the ‘big’ questions we seek to answer in lessons and over time.

The more you know and share, the more they know

What knowledge-first teaching and learning isn’t…

• Lecturing at length.
• Getting pupils to memorise lots of facts and doing nothing with those facts. It’s knowledge-first not knowledge-only.
• About engagement (as such). Busy or apparently motivated pupils are not necessarily learning.
• Throwing the baby out with the bath water. We’ve all got our own ‘Teacher Toolkits’ – we should select and use the tools in them when it’s appropriate to do so.
• Worrying about pupils’ learning styles and, therefore, creating lots of distinct tasks for lots of pupils.
• Setting lower expectations for particular pupils.

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