To be highly effective, keep what you do simple.
Every lesson of mine looks like this. Recap. I tell them something new. Check whether they got it. They practise it.
You certainly couldn’t say that at the beginning of my career. I’d throw in a diamond nine here, a treasure hunt there, a collective memory activity, a game of bingo, a team relay, an interactive whiteboard tool, a YouTube video clip and finish off with the newest tech engagement strategy I’d found through Twitter.
Highly effective? No chance. If we want to be great, we need to keep it simple.
Mastering the art and craft of explaining, checking, and setting practice
With deliberate, focused practice over many years, I hope I have the potential to become masterful at explaining, checking and setting effective practice. My laser like focus on these areas means I stand a much greater chance of mastery than if I bounced from fad to fad.
It’s like the difference between competing in javelin and the decathlon. No ones saying it’s easy to win a gold medal in either. But the best javelin throwers in the world are the ones who just do javelin – not 9 other disciplines too. The less our attention is split, the better. As Dylan Wiliam puts it: stop doing so many good things.
Surface level versus deep level
If we constantly change the surface level features of our teaching, it’s difficult to focus on the deeper elements. It’s like playing “spot the difference” where the size, colour and of the cartoon has changed, as well as the extra button on the man’s jacket.
Keeping almost everything constant means I can isolate the variables and reflect effectively. My reflections move beyond comments on the nature of the activity. I drill down to the nitty gritty. Did adding that analogy add value or confusion to my explanation? Should I have addressed that misconception explicitly?
Children like consistency
Won’t the children be unengaged? Won’t they get bored?
We can forget that a child’s school day is far more varied than our own. While our timetable looks like maths, maths, maths, free, maths, theirs has a smorgasbord of subjects. Even when every teacher teaches the same way every lesson, they experience 6 different things that day. It’s inevitable, just from the differences in subject content. More discussion in English; maps out in Geography; sketching in Art.
When we’re constantly trying new things, we make it harder for children to master our subject. Not only do they need to wrap their head round simultaneous equations, but also the rules of the snazzy new maths Articulate-cum-Pictionary group activity. It’s like the teacher isolating the variables when reflecting. The less that changes, the easier it is to focus on what matters.
Whatever your foci are, just have some. Decide what makes great teaching for you, in your context, with your content. And focus on that. Repeat it. Reflect on it. Refine it. Master it.
Keep it simple, stupid.