Module

3: What makes classroom practice effective?

Introduction

Welcome to module 3: What makes classroom practice effective?

In this module, you will hear Claire Stoneman talking about the features of effective classroom practice and why they are so important. You will explore the features in detail and have time to plan them into your sequences of lessons.

The module is divided into five sessions:

Through engaging with this online content, you will also prepare for discussions with your mentor and training sessions led by your school.

What makes classroom practice effective?

Effective classroom practice is made up of many components. It’s partly what makes teaching so challenging – there are many components to consider at one given time during a lesson and they are all inextricably linked and intertwined.

Listen to Claire Stoneman, educational writer and former deputy head, talk about the features of effective classroom practice and consider the following questions. Record your response in your notepad.

  • Why is effective classroom practice challenging and how can you develop yours?
  • Why is curriculum knowledge at the heart of effective teaching?
What makes classroom practice effective? – Claire Stoneman

Video transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome to the module which really is about the nuts and bolts of planning what we do in our classrooms, day-in day-out. As Mark Enser says, ‘teaching is, at its heart, simple’.

There are many things that may on the surface seem simple and straightforward and that you need to know and practice as a novice teacher. We’ll take you through them in this module. These elements of lessons may seem simple but doing these seemingly simple, straightforward things well is complex. But that’s part of the intellectual joy and challenge of being a teacher.

Teaching, as explored in the module ‘How do pupils learn?’, is joyful in its complexity and challenge. Our profession is one of intellectual intricacy underpinned by what can look stunningly simple, but to master these elements of teaching takes practice, questioning and dollops more practice. As novice teachers, and indeed as any teacher, we can’t think of the nuts and bolts of lessons as separate to the curriculum. It’s impossible. They’re inextricably linked and the subject that we teach has to be prioritised. We need to continually read around the subject. We shouldn’t get hung up on divvying up our lessons into specific little chunks of time because, as Stewart Locke says, ‘it’s not really possible to talk about how to teach something independently of what it is you are teaching’. When you’re planning a lesson, start with, what do you want the children to learn, know, understand? What’s the best way of them learning that? Even if I talk about English lessons, that’s quite generic. Do I mean English language or literature or linguistics? There are so many variables and complexities.

When I’m planning lessons on Macbeth, for example, I’m probably going to teach those lessons differently to how I teach First World War poetry. So when planning lessons, think of it as holding hands with the curriculum and then guiding that curriculum by the hand into your classroom. One simply cannot exist without the other.

Whilst we’ll take you through different composite elements of lessons, this isn’t to suggests that these different elements should be present every lesson. You, with guidance from your mentor, will decide how long it will take for your pupils to meet an objective or less than question. In doing so you will have all these ingredients present, but they might not fit neatly into one lesson but rather over a series of lessons. You may well knit between each of them, they don’t have to necessarily follow a linear path. Questioning and checking for understanding for example is likely to be present frequently at different points throughout lessons. And again, thinking this through with the subject you’re teaching in mind is all part of what makes our profession a jubilant intellectual challenge in its oxymoronic simplicity and complexity.

As Claire Stoneman mentions, teaching is intellectually challenging and complex, but effective teaching can transform pupils’ knowledge, capabilities and beliefs about learning. Therefore, it is important that you are reflective and continually seek to develop and enhance your teaching.

Principles of instruction

‘You haven’t taught if pupils haven’t learnt.’

This is one of Zig Engelmann’s more famous quotes which highlights that the goal of teaching is to support pupils to learn and build their mental models over time. Research shows that quality of instruction is one of the most significant factors in facilitating this (Coe, 2014). Instruction includes many elements of classroom practice such as reviewing previous learning, progressively introducing new learning using modelling and scaffolds, questioning and assessing learning, and providing pupils with adequate practice time to securely embed it.

As instruction is made up of so many components that happen interchangeably throughout learning, it can be very challenging to do well. In addition, as you will have explored in module two, there are cognitive limitations that can interfere with learning such as having a limited working memory and experiencing working memory overload. Therefore, it is vital that your instruction is structured in a way that supports pupils to understand and learn new material.

Many of the features included throughout this module stem from the enlightening, research-informed work of Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. He explored the research base for features of good teaching and outlined 10 principles that form part of effective instruction. If you are unfamiliar with this research, it would be worth finding time to read through his Principles of Instruction as it underpins good teaching practice and much of the content within this module.

The features of effective teaching that this module aims to explore are:

  • Review of previous learning
  • Teaching information and modelling processes in small steps, allowing for practice after each step
  • Checking for understanding at every stage of learning
  • Scaffolding practice to enable learners to gradually become more independent as they begin to build and strengthen their mental models

These elements are part of an iterative process that should be continuous throughout instruction in response to the pupils’ learning.

This module will support you to structure your teaching in a way that will enhance pupil learning.

The components of classroom practice that you will explore have been broken down into sections. You can explore each feature separately, but it is important to note they are not a checklist to be included in every lesson in a specific order. They are interdependent and should be used interchangeably throughout a lesson where appropriate.

Sometimes certain features may not be present at all during a lesson. It will depend on the learning focus you have set and the sequence of lessons that it is placed within.

Related ECF strands

Classroom practice

4.1 Effective teaching can transform pupils’ knowledge, capabilities and beliefs about learning.