If you were never observed teaching what would you do differently? If there were no learning walks, no performance management, even no exams – would your methods change?
This is the question I have racing around my head having read the first few chapters of the excellent book “Cleverlands” by Lucy Crehan. In this book the author considers those countries around the world who consistently have excellent education outcomes and asks what we can learn from their example.
The first country she considers is Finland and the findings are fascinating, and I would urge you to read the book to learn more, but one part really stuck out. Teachers in Finland have a huge amount of autonomy. They can teach in any style they like, there are no lesson observations, no inspections, there aren’t even exams – everything is assessed by the teacher until the age of 18. You might expect then to see a wide range of different teaching styles with some embracing group work and project based learning and others a more didactic style of “just tell them”. This though isn’t the case. Research by the University of East Anglia found that almost all lessons followed the same format.
Review, teach, practice, repeat.
I was educated in the 1980s and 1990s and started teaching in the early 2000s. Across these last four decades this style of teaching has been by far the most common. This is despite the idea that some kind of progressive mafia held sway most of this time. Almost all lessons I have taught, seen and experienced have involved:
- Review the last lesson and go over any homework.
- The teacher talks to the class, uses some questioning and delivers “content”.
- The class practice these new skills or appylying this knowledge.
This isn’t necessarily what was delivered in CPD or held up as best practice. Sometimes teachers would pull out something flashy involving thinking hats for a lesson oberservation or following a course but day in, day out, this is what I have seen, done and experienced. There is a reason for this. It works. It doesn’t involve any fads whether from the hard progressive or hard traditional wings of the profession. Real teaching (as opposed to the teaching that is discussed) that goes on in the tens of thousands of classrooms every day hasn’t really changed.
In Finland all teachers are trained to a Masters level and are expected to carry out their own individual research thesis before qualifying. They perhaps have a better understanding of what works and why than many teachers around the world and yet instinctively we seem to have reached a common pedagogy. This seems to be a natural style of teaching.
It is how we teach if no one is watching.