At the Cramlington Learning Festival I talked, albeit briefly. about the need to recognise and promote the role of the expert in the teaching profession. Here are the slides – CLV Festival 2013 (NXPowerLite) I chose this topic because in our school system I see more and more instances of opinion masquerading as insight, novices positioning themselves as experts and collectively we, our schools and our students suffer in consequence..
The slides ought to speak for themselves but to paraphrase my argument it’s down to the profession to wrestle back the influence in shaping thinking, particularly around what constitutes great learning and teaching in our schools. I argue elsewhere that the ‘Novices’, the ‘OFSTED Whisperers’, the ‘Evidencing Soothsayers’ and the ‘Policy Pedants’ will rob us of our profession.
When you watch an expert teacher working you see the artistry of teaching underpinned by the science of learning. It’s the culmination of years of reflective practice, bench marked against the best and tested in differing challenging contexts.
My experience tells me that expertise needs to be tested in different contexts; experts deploy a range of strategies and can do so under duress. The expert teacher has spent years improving and adjusting what he or she does so that there is no unfamiliar.
When we filmed the Step Up lessons we saw expert teachers close up. What quickly became obvious was there was no one way – the teachers adapted their interventions to the context. Some were directive, others less so; some focused on specific outcomes, others more on developing skills and understanding of learning processes. So we had a matrix – Teacher to Learner on the horizontal axis, Outcome to Process along the vertical. It looks like this Matrix. Experts excel in any of the four quadrants. Here are a selection of excerpts which illustrate each quadrant on the matrix. Fuller versions are all available on Step Up.
An example of a Teacher and Process emphasis can be seen in Craig Stuart’s maths lesson. In this short preview to the lesson Craig explains how the approach is to isolate the big questions in maths which will tap into the learners’ innate curiosity to know more about the world around them. Craig Stuart Outstanding Lesson (1) Craig directs and orchestrates the learning, although pupils have limited autonomy, through his skillful use of challenging questions Craig ensures everyone is stretched .
Some teachers set up learning challenges which deliberately positioned content understanding within the skills development of the learners and then nudged pupils through the process in an indirect way. What followed was a Learner and Process emphasis. Learner autonomy was high, outcomes uncertain. Darren Mead Outstanding Lesson (2) In this short excerpt Darren is conducting a review with Year Seven students engaged in a species diversity project on behalf of a local farmer. This lesson shows an ‘expert’ science teacher interleaving learning interventions without being consciously aware of doing so.
One of the more exacting challenges for any teacher is to achieve quality learning outcomes without being directive. David Gray explains how he use learning conversations and choices of ‘route’ to help year 7 maths students direct their own progress towards agreed levels. Here we see a Learner and Outcome approach David Gray Outstanding Lesson which is engaging and brilliantly differentiated.
It may seem that a teacher directed learning experience towards a given outcome is the everyday work of the full-time classroom teacher. It would be understandable to see this quadrant as the least challenging. In this lesson Charlotte has brought the topic to life using a memorable Teacher and Outcome approach. Charlotte Murray Outstanding Lesson (1)
Expert teachers have years of accumulated experience focusing and refining their professional skills. Novices just don’t get it! Experts in all fields retrieve information holistically, focus attention on what matters and make successive and rapid decisions about appropriate interventions. Our profession needs experts; we should celebrate and cherish our best teachers as our collective futures depend upon them.