Let Me Be The Judge Of That

Judge Your Own Teacing
Judge Your Own Teacing

Why wait to be told you need to change your practice, when you can do it yourself?

For generations of teachers, the three yearly lesson observations have been stressful, confusing and unproductive. I have done my share of observations, piling feedback upon advice upon opinion. I hope much of what I said was true, but I doubt much of it was helpful.

And all along I believed that teachers only develop when they develop themselves. However, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of your own teaching. If you prefer to take responsibility for your own development, I have some advice.

I recommend starting with evidence that doesn’t move – your students’ work and your marking. There is no shortage of research evidence on the impact of feedback (see here and here). I have pulled this advice together to make a marking MOT sheet (here – please feel free to use. I’d be grateful for feedback).

Next, think about your students’ progress. It’s no good making judgements on the quality of each individual lesson if you don’t know whether your students are learning anything. I wrote a blog on quick and simple proxies for progress (here). You need to do a couple of quick assessments to see what has been learnt. If they aren’t learning, teach differently.

If you are still keen to get feedback on your actual teaching style, it’s time to ask the experts. Obviously I mean your students. Your kids know pretty much what you do well; they are usually honest and fair. More honest than you might like, but fair. I’ve used the Gates Foundation’s MET Project questions (here) and found them useful.

I’ve never found videoing lessons any use (who can stand watching themselves closely for an hour?) Supportive peer observations are often brilliant, but who’s got the time? I suppose you could ask your headteacher too. It’s their school after all.

I believe that teacher professionalism demands that teachers take control of their own self assessment and development. I hate to see intelligent, thoughtful professionals waiting to be told whether they are successful or not, as though an observation were some kind of roulette game. If you don’t know for certain whether your teaching is effective, work it out for yourself.

Good luck!



A Pocketful of Proxies

Measuring progress within a course.
Measuring progress within a course.

Progress is in the air. If we could measure progress before it was too late, we could be far clearer about what works in the classroom. I’ve been reading (again) Daniel T WIllingham’s book Why Children Don’t Like Schools: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Dont-Students-Like-School/dp/047059196X which has a great final chapter on improving teaching. He describes how difficult it is to measure the effects different teaching strategies have. Daisy Christodoulou’s summary of the recent Sutton Trust review on teaching:  https://thewingtoheaven.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/new-report-by-the-sutton-trust-what-makes-great-teaching/ also refers to the importance of proxies for measuring progress.

So I thought I could start the ball rolling with my proxies for progress.

KIRF Quizes

KIRFs (Key instant recall facts) are the facts that make comprehension possible. If they come rapidly to mind, your learners will perform well in an exam. I split the KIRF quizz progress proxy into short term and long term recall. Short term can be at the end of a lesson, the start of the next lesson, the end of the week etc. It only tests the KIRFs covered in that period. The long-term KIRFs are a mixture of everything covered so far. How often you assess these will depend on your subject, but fortnightly/monthly seems reasonable.

Reading Comprehension

In August, I wrote a blog about assessing reading comprehension (what part don’t you get?) Reading comprehension is well correlated to exam performance, so an improvement of reading comprehension should be a good proxy for progress.  The reading assessment I adapted was designed to be diagnostic. If used several times across a year it will show development across skills affecting a reader’s ability to interpret texts. The teacher can explicitly teach any of these skills and check for progress.

Past Paper Questions

Surely the gold standard of showing progress is performance in past papers? Well, I would have thought so too, but experience suggests they are not perfect predictors. Given how time consuming mock tests are both in terms of marking and then, just when you have no time or energy left, for gaps analysis, I suggest using selected past paper questions more frequently as a more useful proxy. They show immediate progress within a lesson and careful selection of questions can also demonstrate progress over time if students are able to answer questions months after studying a topic.

Written Explanations

Writing is a great way to record understanding. Unlike a conversation, it is permanent and can be examined in detail. The difficulty is showing progress when two writing topics are different; the quality of writing can be compared (effective use of vocabulary, structure and connectives such as ‘therefore’ and ‘because’), but comparing the understanding of two separate topics, for example food webs and terminal velocity is not straightforward. However, if you are happy to repeat the same written task several times over the duration of the course, or a very similar task, progress can easily be monitored. For example, there is a common GCSE physics question on terminal velocity. Spreading these written tasks out over the course will give a clear indicator of the progress in understanding.

In summary, measuring progress demands a little bit of planning: you need to show before and after. Quick tests show whether your students have really learnt what you believe they have and spaced tests show whether they have retained it. Quizzes are great for key recall facts, but other assessments are useful for understanding. All of these proxies are achievable, but might not be relevant for your class or subject. This blog is intended to give a few ideas. Measuring progress might be the silver bullet we need to improve the quality of teaching and learning. It’s worth a try.


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