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To be a good teacher… be a good learner

The Sutton Trust have recently published a report on ‘What makes great teaching?’ which includes a section on seven ‘great’ teaching methods that research shows are not so effective. You can read a short summary on this blog. There are some thought-provoking challenges to what many educational professionals would consider good practice included in the list.

On first reading, I was a little put out by some of their points, finding myself thinking “But I found that to be effective with 8A” in an outraged internal voice. Their first point about the use of praise striking a particularly discordant note. After a second reading, I found more to agree with, such as point 6 exploring the lack of evidence around ‘teaching to a learner’s preferred learning style’. A learning theory that never quite fitted my personal experience of learning or of teaching.

Pondering the list and the question of ‘What makes great teaching?’ I am left with two main thoughts. First, I think what makes great teaching could include some or all of the methods from the Sutton Trust’s list. Or none. That great teaching is incredibly difficult to pin-point. It is about experience, self-reflection, relationships, hard-work, stubbornness, time-management, organisation, a sense of humour. I could go on. But it does not have to be about these things. There are phenomenal teachers who are rubbish at organisation and those who appear to have no humour at all. Great teaching means using methods that work for you and for your students. These will be different over time and depend on who you are teaching, what and when. Much of what makes great teaching is near impossible to qualify. My second, perhaps contradictory, thought is that there is a need for more evidence-based research in education precisely because it is so difficult to pin down ‘What makes great teaching?’. Until we can dispel some of the too-long-held beliefs and practices we will continue to let some children down. Just because many of the traits and techniques of great teachers cannot be measured does not mean we should not try and measure the effectiveness of the rest.

I see that the real value to a report like this one is that it makes you stop and think and re-evaluate some of your ideas about what works in the classroom. So, my experience and feeling that praise works as a teaching method can be enhanced by reading about the use of praise and knowing that you should spend more time praising effort rather than achievement or ability. An area I might never have bothered to investigate without a report like this to point me in that direction. I think, in order to be good teachers we should probably try and remain good learners.

What do you think about the Sutton Trust’s list – are you a big fan of any of the seven methods that they say don’t work? What do you think makes great teaching and why? And what has made you stop and re-think how you teach?

Here at Think Global we believe in people making up their own minds on big global issues but giving them the information gathering and interrogation skills they need to do this. Whatever your teaching preferences, you can find a huge range of resources to support your and your students’ understanding of international issues on the Global Dimension website.

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