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Anatomy of outstanding article

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Article for Teach Secondary

Article for Teach Secondary

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  • 1. 10 SUBSCRIBE AT TEACHSECONDARY.COMHow can we be sure observers recognise great teaching and learning?According to David Didau, it’s up to the teacher to draw attention to it…The anatomy ofThe sad truth is that whilst observers see yourplanning, your interactions with a group ofstudents and, hopefully, the evidence of impactin your students’ books, this is often just the tipof the iceberg. Most of what goes into makingyour lessons finely crafted things of beauty is invisible: it’sknowledge of your students and the relationships you’velovingly established over months or years; the routinesyou’ve set up and the massively high expectations you’vecommunicated. Only we know how hard we’ve worked onthese things – and if we hope that an observer canextrapolate it all from the 20 minutes they spend in ourlesson, a brief conversation about targets, and a flickthrough a few books, then we could well leave ourselvesopen to disappointment. Instead we need to ensure that anobserver knows all these things by taking the opportunity topoint them out.Now, Ive always had high expectations of myself, and onthose occasions where my lessons have been judged to beless than outstanding Ive indulged in recrimination andself-doubt to the point of obsession. Being consideredoutstanding at what I do for a living is a matter ofprofessional pride. Its also a question of credibility; howcan I expect to be taken seriously when observing others if Icant cut the mustard myself? Its all very well writing abook called The Perfect (Ofsted) English Lesson, but it doesrather set you up for a fall.So, to say there was some pressure to perform when mynew head asked to observe my Year 11 class is something ofan understatement.We were studying Steinbecks classic, Of Mice and Men,and in the previous lesson we had started exploringcharacterisation. I put the class into home/expert groupsand used Question Formulation Technique to get them togenerate questions about the various characters in thenovel. After going through the process they ended up with ashort list of 3 ‘good’ questions, which we would revisit andrefine next time.So, when planning for the observed lesson I needed toDAVIDDIDAUHASBEENTEACHINGSINCE2000,HASLEDASUCCESSFULENGLISHFACULTYANDHASJUSTTAKENUPANEWPOSTASDIRECTOROFENGLISHANDLITERACY.HEBLOGSABOUTLEARNINGATLEARNINGSPY.CO.UKANDWRITESIRREGULARLYFORTHEGUARDIANTEACHERNETWORK.ABOUTTHEAUTHORFIGURE1demonstrate that students had made progress from thatlesson to this.Here’s the lesson I planned: (Fig.1) I worked out that inorder to get the individual writing done there wouldnt betime for students to select their own quotations form thetext so I stuck a selection of juicy quotes up around theroom on what I call my ‘Stuck Stations’. These alsocontained a model response on Slim – a character theywould not be writing about this lesson.In order to build a bit of anticipation I pumped out JoanJetts Bad Reputation as students came in and directedtheir attention to the question on the board: (Fig.2)As they were thinking, I nobbled a student, Arran, to lethim know that hed be leading the feedback on this taskusing the clarify, probe, recommend questions stems. Thisgave me time to take the register and chat about thecontext of the lesson to the head and the subjectcoordinator for English who were both observing.I always make it absolutely clear to any observer that theyare witnessing outstanding teaching and learning andensure they see those parts of the iceberg lying beneaththe surface of the lesson. I point out why each individualis making ‘rapid and sustained progress over time’ anddirect them to particular students and their books.The best lessons just seem to ‘flow’ with studentsexperiencing an appropriate level of challenge and stress.However, this is hard to judge and we may need to ‘takethe temperature’ of our lessons to ensure we’ve pitched itright. Get students to explain where they are on this chart:(Fig.3)You can then make micro adjustments to the levels ofstress or challenge to make certain that students aredisplaying appropriate levels of ‘enthusiasm,participation & commitment’.After a brief discussion about the learning outcome andwhat would be expected, I asked students to select onequestion from their shortlist, which they felt would enablethem to meet the outcome. We then used the DeeperQuestioning Grid: (Fig.4) to refine the question so that itGood lessons are all alike; every outstandinglesson is outstanding in its own way”LEO TOLSTOY (AND DAVID DIDAU)
  • 2. was suitably challenging.This was the part of thelesson I was most pleasedwith, and the students allwanted to pushthemselves to create themost challengingquestion. Also, it wasreally clear to see theprogress they weremaking from thequestions they’d comeup with in theprevious lesson.Questioning is anessential part of teachingand wonderfulopportunity fordeveloping students’ oracy. It can be hugely impressive toinclude a hinge question mid way through your lesson but youshould ensure that your questioning seeks to clarify, probe orget students to recommend. Even better, you can get thestudents themselves to do this while you sit back and pointout the ‘engagement, courtesy, collaboration & cooperation’ toyour observer.Next I got the students to select a suitable quotation fromthose Id prepared earlier and gave them ten minutes to ZoomIn and Out in response. I made a point of saying that I wantedthem to take a risk and write something I would findsurprising or interesting. Normally Id write my responsealongside the students but I wanted to keep myself free tomonitor what they were doing and talk to the observers aboutwhat was going on. I overheard the head say how much he wasenjoying the lesson: always a good sign!It’s important to leave yourself free to observe what’s goingon. I always have a block of Post-its on which I scribblecomments. If students are working in groups I’ll leave theseon their table to discuss; if they’re working individually I’llpop it on their work and stand back. This is a great way toshow how your interventions are ‘sharply focused and timely’and is clear evidence of ‘frequent and high quality feedback’to add to all the wonderful examples of ‘systematic andaccurate assessment’ in their books. If a particular studentdoesn’t appear to beas engaged as you’dexpect, point themout to your observerand tell their story.Show them how muchprogress they’ve madeover time andcontextualise theirparticular issues.Obviously, this willdepend on yourstudents’ ‘resilience,confidence & independence’ and this too all needspointing out.As the students were finishing off their answers I gave outhighlighters and asked them to make sure they had proofreadtheir work. This done, I got them to highlight where they hadtaken a risk or written something they were particularlyproud of. Then they explained how their work met thelearning outcome before swapping with a partner for somequick peer assessment.Through your observation of the students’ learning andyour temperature taking you are in a position to take someexciting and fairly safe risks. Explain to the observer thatbecause you’ve noticed x you’re going to do y. You mightadjust time limits to increase or decrease stress or shift theemphasis of questioning to raise or lower challenge. Youmight move students around or throw particular studentssome curves. The point is that while these things mightnot work, the observer will be interested and engaged in yourexperimentation, as you’ll have explored the reasoning first.Not everything you do will work, but if your thinking isoutstanding and clearly articulated then it’s almostimpossible for an observer to disagree with you. At anyrate, the onus will be on them to explain clearly andprecisely exactly why you’re not outstanding: if they fail todo this, challenge them politely but assertively by layingout the evidence that your have both understood and metthe criteria.I toddled off for some feedback at break and was delighted(and not a little relieved) to find the Head agreed; the lessonwas judged outstanding across the board.SUBSCRIBE AT TEACHSECONDARY.COM 11OPINION | DAVID DIDAUEVALUTING OTHERS’ RESPONSES:Clarify – What do you mean by...?Probe – Tell me more about...?Recommend – Which answer do youthink is the best?WHOWOULDMAKETHEBESTU.S.PRESIDENT?CHALLENGELOWTOHIGHSTRESSHIGH TO LOWANXIETY FLOWINERTIA APATHYFig.1Fig.2Fig.4QUESTIONGRIDIS?/DOES?PRESENTDID?PASTCAN?POSSIBILITYCOULD?PROBABILTYWILL?PREDICTIONMIGHT?IMAGINATIONWHAT?EVENTWHERE?PLACEWHEN?TIMEWHO?PERSONWHY?REASONHOW?MEANINGFIRSTSECONDJOURNEYTODEEPERQUESTIONINGIMPROVINGYOUR QUESTIONS:Pick a ‘first’ word, then a‘second’ word to designbetter questionsFig.3FINDMOREOUTSTANDINGLESSONADVICEINDAVIDDIDAU’SBOOK,THEPERFECTOFSTEDENGLISHLESSON(INDEPENDENTTHINKINGPRESS,£9.99)ADDITIONALRESOURCES

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