Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with a new group of unqualified, practicing teachers. It’s fascinating to hear about some of the things they’ve been indoctrinated with from others – those that did their teacher training many years ago.
Over a series of sessions, I’ve dispelled several myths about things they think they need to do and asked them to question their current practice. It’s not that this practice is necessarily wrong or ineffective, but the view of a ‘model lesson’ is, in my opinion. I’m going to explore some of these myths in this post and hopefully reassure readers that you don’t need to do any of them:
1. You don’t need to… start all lessons with a ‘starter activity’.
While it might be beneficial to grab the attention of the learners, a lesson needn’t start with an activity that has little relevance to the content. If you’re going to use one, I’d suggest a quick recap quiz for retrieval practice and initial assessment. Having said this, sometimes you might just fire straight in with the main body of the lesson and that’s fine, there isn’t a ‘right’ way to do this.
2. You don’t need to… write your learning objectives on the board.
It’s so frustrating that people think this makes a difference to the learners. Often the language used on the board is written in learner unfriendly, educational jargon. In most cases it is important to share the intentions with learners, so that they know what they’re doing and why, but sometimes you might reveal the intention as the lesson progresses. Whether you write down, tell learners or mime it, it doesn’t matter. Having said this, I often write intentions on the board so that learners have a point of reference should they wish to clarify what they’re aiming for, but I normally write this in the form of a question.
3. You don’t need to… make your learning activities fun, engaging and relevant to learner interests.
Two of my favourite quotes: ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ (Coe, 2014) and ‘memory is the residue of thought’ (Willingham, 2009) should be considered here. All learning activities should give the learner the opportunity to think about the content. If fun, engagement and interest is a byproduct, then fine, but we should ensure that the focus is on content first. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, though some methods have, through research, demonstrated to be more effective than others (see here and here).
4. You don’t need to… worry about having enough time to teach the qualification.
This is something I hear a lot of, particularly in recent years where the guided learning hours of qualifications are being stripped back and every minute of a teacher’s contract is accounted for. For a start, you’re probably spending too much time on writing lesson objectives, doing starters and fun activities where the learners aren’t actually learning. If 5 mins are wasted in each lesson doing this and the learner has 12 lessons per week for 36 weeks, my maths says that’s 36 lost hours that I’ve just found you. In reality though, we are time short, so let’s not waste the precious time we have on nonsensical, ineffective tick box exercises.
5. You don’t need to… develop learners’ English, maths, soft skills etc in every lesson.
Whilst I am a huge advocate of developing literacy and numeracy through subject lessons, I don’t believe this should be at the expense of the content. I also don’t think we should force something in to ‘tick a box’. Natural opportunities should be taken and opportunities to develop the skills around the subject should be considered where appropriate. For example, if an learner uses subject specific terminology incorrectly, I would look to explore their understanding of the term and help them to put the word into context through use of a glossary.
6. You don’t need to… have a lesson plan.
Of course, you’d be foolish to think that you can teach without some sort of a plan, but you certainly don’t need to complete a particular lesson plan template. I’ve seen people plan to the exact minute in their lessons, but if learners don’t get something, rather than moving on because it is 9:23 and your plan says that you should be giving learners an activity, stop, and respond to what the learners need. Having a broad aim, an idea of how you’ll achieve it and how you’ll monitor learner progress towards it will allow for a more responsive approach to the learners – you might even be able to squeeze all of this information onto your fag packet.
7. You don’t need to… do what’s always been done.
New teachers, old teachers, teachers with no label – there’s an obsession with doing things how it has always been done. You pick up a new unit to teach, so follow the scheme that was planned by the teacher who did it in 2007, because that’s how its always been done. You include a learning styles inventory within your induction period and write the results on the group profile with no intention of using them, because, that’s how its always been done. Hey you that is nodding your head to this! Take control of this situation and your professionalism.
There’s probably many more myths that I dispel in every session, but these are a few that I have and will continue to challenge. You don’t need to do any of the above and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but equally, if you want to do them, then that’s your call.