Evidence on pedagogy – ‘10 things every teacher educator should know’
How can teacher educators engage trainees with the vast amount of pedagogical evidence and research out there? The third instalment of our '10 things every teacher educator should know' series explores how helping trainees develop their pedagogy is at the heart of our teacher education.
It's 2011 and, as a new teacher, my approach to lesson planning involves finding activities to keep my pupils busy and engaged for the timetabled hour. Back then, I had little knowledge of the evidence of good pedagogy, or how having a grasp of it could help me improve my practice.
When I compare this experience to that of a current trainee on Teach First's Training Programme – who already knows the basics of evidence-informed practice before they’ve even set foot in a classroom – it’s reassuring to see how much things have changed in just a few years. In turn, this reflects the importance of teacher educators themselves also having an in-depth grasp of the ‘best bets’ for effective classroom practice.
At Teach First, we’re committed to building a fair education for all by recruiting and developing great teachers to work in schools facing the biggest challenges. One way we support our trainees to become the best teachers for their pupils, and as quickly as possible, is by developing their knowledge of evidence-informed practice right from the off. So here’s how we approach this at Teach First.
Before September: key examples of evidence-informed practice introduced
Even before our trainees have met their pupils, they’re introduced to Rosenshine’s ten ‘Principles of Instruction’ during their five-week intensive Summer Institute training. These principles are based on research from cognitive science, as well as leading teachers. The lesson plan that trainees complete during their Summer Institute training supports these principles.
We also teach trainees about the Six Strategies for Effective Learning from The Learning Scientists. These include ‘dual coding’, ‘retrieval practice’ and ‘interleaving’, and encourages them to plan lessons using these strategies where appropriate.
Finally, Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (TLAC) is a key resource for our trainees. This is the bedrock of our Summer Institute curriculum, benefitting the trainees’ classroom management, assessment and planning so they’re ready to begin teaching with confidence in September.
One of the 30 TLAC techniques we introduce during Summer Institute is the Cold Call. This is an inclusive way to check pupils’ understanding, replacing the traditional ‘hands up’ approach of accepting answers from pupils. We explain the key features of the technique, watch videos of teachers using it and give trainees time to practice it in a low-stakes environment with their peers. Trainees can then use the technique with pupils as part of their initial school placement period, which takes place during Summer Institute, and receive feedback from school mentors and teacher educators. It’s always encouraging to see our trainees using this technique effectively as a direct result of our Summer Institute training.
The early introduction of these principles and techniques serves as a crucial basis for common language to discuss teaching with our trainees throughout our Training Programme.
Ongoing training throughout PGDE
We introduce trainees to 'What Makes Great Teaching' [download PDF] in the very first module of their PGDE. This outlines six components of good quality teaching, as well as several practices considered ‘ineffective'. The findings are well supported by research and, as the authors describe, "may be seen as offering at least a 'starter kit' for thinking about effective pedagogy."
As our trainees move through the PGDE, their required reading goes beyond the classroom to include the context in which they teach, collaboration in education and extending their impact by influencing others. They also continue to receive subject- or phase-specific training from our university partners. In addition, we encourage our trainees to engage with research using our own guidance on 'putting evidence to work', so they become 'intelligent consumers of research' in the context of their role as early-career teachers. By developing their own professional scepticism, they’ll continue to use evidence-informed practice throughout their careers.
Many early-career teachers find it challenging to introduce new information in a way that won't overwhelm pupils' working memories. It can often be tricky for them to work out what went wrong in certain lessons, and they may reach the mistaken conclusion that 'pupils hate my subject!' or 'pupils switch off after my explanation because they're bored.'
In these scenarios, teacher educators can remind trainees of the findings from cognitive science on working memory and share papers like Peps Mccrea's 'Learning: What is it and how might we catalyse it?', which includes practical suggestions such as 'Identify and prioritise the 2-3 things you want your pupils to be thinking about at any one time'.
This approach helps teachers to think ahead to best manage their pupils' cognitive load. For example, in a recent French lesson, a trainee chose to revise their approach to teaching the past tense by using vocabulary her pupils were already familiar with. This meant their pupils were able to focus on learning the past tense, rather than having to simultaneously learn new vocabulary.
At the start of their second terms in teaching, many of my current trainees were beginning to tackle formative assessment on a more systematic basis (having made great progress with classroom management in their first term). I shared Harry Fletcher-Wood and Dylan Wiliam's work on hinge questions with the group and found it had a transformative effect on their planning, teaching and assessing of learning. This led to better outcomes for their classes.
For example, in a lesson on reverse percentages, one maths trainee included a multiple choice hinge question to check whether pupils were ready to move on to independent practice. By implementing this approach, she could allow pupils who’d mastered the process to move on, while addressing specific difficulties pupils who were tripped up by the misconceptions she’d anticipated.
Not only did the research on hinge questions give us a common language in which to discuss the area for development, but trainees could also see the rationale behind it and explore methods of implementing the practice into their own teaching.
Further reading and resources
While there isn’t one clear and agreed model of what good teaching is, there’s loads of great literature out there that we use as conversation starters with our trainees. When providing lesson feedback to support them to continually improve their teaching, we often point them to a blog post, a podcast or a specific TLAC technique to back-up what we’re saying with expert evidence. Here are some examples we often refer our trainees to:
- 'Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom' by Daniel Wallingham
- 'Memorable Teaching' by Peps McCrea
Research and blog posts
- Daisy Christodoulou's 'Minding the Knowledge Gap: The Importance of Content in Student Learning'
- 'The Science of Learning' series from the Deans for Impact
- Daniel Willingham on prevalent misconceptions in education
About this series
At Teach First we’re continually reviewing our practice and learning from research and other organisations. We want your views and feedback: What do you agree with? Is there anything you disagree with? What have we missed? Let us know on twitter – you can chat to our teacher education leads @FayeCraster and @Reuben_Moore (and we’re on @TeachFirst)