Teachers train their critical thinking skills every time they take a red pen to a piece of work. Maybe that’s why there is a resistance to implementing new teaching methods suggested at teacher training sessions. It is probably a tautology to say that ‘teachers are busy’ but it is true. Teachers learn how to teach in the crucible of a classroom and there just is no time to read all the educational research. Especially when what they have learned ‘works for them’.
Educational policies are so rarely evidence driven. John Hattie (my new academic crush), took millions of educational studies and put them on the same scale so they can be compared. The truth is, almost everything ‘works’. Some interventions have an incredible impact but teachers usually spend the most time discussing and implementing the interventions that make the least difference.
Here is a run-down of the top three things you can do in your classroom to make the most impact on learning
- Encourage mistakes. Failure is a natural part of learning. Students need to feel secure enough to try without needing to be perfect first time. I like to model this when I (inevitably) make mistakes in the classroom. I don’t try to hide my errors: I admit to them without embarrassment. It’s a culture shock for the students for sure but this is a real ‘show don’t tell’ type of thing.
- Give real feedback about performance of the task. Not just from the teacher to the student. But student to student, book to student, parent to student, student to teacher. I got the warm-and-fuzzies when my student wrote comments on each other’s wiki projects like “I love your explanations but I think you need more diagrams” for homework. The ‘emotions tree’ works well as a quick self-reflection for students at the end of a lesson.
- Encourage questions. Students need to ask questions of themselves and each other, not just pose or answer them for teachers. If a student asks me a meaty question, instead of getting stuck in and fielding it, I ask if anyone else knows or can start to work it out. Once, I listened to my class while they worked and made a note of their questions. Most of them were procedural (Do I put this here? What colour should this text be?) but they also asked each other things like “Is THIS the independent variable?” “Why on EARTH did our results come out like this?” It was bittersweet: of course I wanted to be the one to answer their questions but it was so great to hear them answer each other.