6 elements of great teaching

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"You’re a teacher. You know how to help people learn hard stuff. Do that."

Professor Rob Coe

Teaching can be, without a doubt, a complicated business.

Defining effective teaching is not straightforward and there are many facets to it that combine to make great learning happen.

Since its publication in 2014, research published by the Sutton Trust outlining the key elements of effective teaching has been downloaded over 100,000 times.

Summarising the key points of a 57 page document will, of course, fail to convey the sophistication of the research, but here are the 6 key practices which the report suggests are signatures of good-quality teaching.

  1. Content knowledge
    This is when teachers have a deep knowledge of the subject that they teach and can communicate content effectively to their students.
    As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.
    There is strong evidence of the impact this has on student outcomes.

  2. Quality of instruction
    There is also strong evidence of the impact the quality of instruction can have on learning.
    This includes teachers being skilled in effective questioning and use of assessment. Good teachers also deploy techniques such as reviewing previous learning, and giving adequate time for children to practice, meaning skills are embedded securely. When done well, teachers scaffold students learning by progressively introducing new skills and knowledge.

  3. Teaching climate
    The quality of the teaching and learning relationships between teachers and students is also very important.
    Good teaching creates a climate that is constantly demands more, and pushes students to succeed. A good teaching climate challenges students, develops a sense of competence, attributes success to effort rather than ability, and values resilience to failure.
    The study found moderate evidence that the teaching climate in the classroom impacts student outcomes.

  4. Classroom management
    There is moderate evidence of the impact on students learning of: efficient use of lesson time; co-ordinating classroom resources and space; and managing students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced.
    These factors are perhaps the necessary conditions for good learning, but are not sufficient on their own. A well-ordered classroom with an ineffective lesson will not have a large impact.

  5. Teacher beliefs
    There is some evidence to show the reasons why teachers adopt particular practices, and the purposes or goals that they have for their students is also important.
    For example, research indicates that primary school teachers’ beliefs about the nature of mathematics and their theories about how children learn – and their role in that learning – are more important to student outcomes than the level of mathematics qualification the teacher holds.

  6. Professional behaviours
    Developing professional skills and practice, participating in professional development, supporting colleagues and the broader role of liaising and communicating with parents also have a part to play in effective teaching.
    There is some evidence to show this has an impact on student outcomes.

What doesn’t work is important too

The report also identifies less successful aspects of effective teaching. The list of ‘what doesn’t work’ includes strategies such as using praise lavishly; grouping learners by ability; the employment of re-reading and repetition; and teaching to a learner’s preferred learning style.

It stands to reason that teachers would wish each of their lessons to exhibit excellence when it comes to subject knowledge, classroom management, climate and relationships with pupils.

It also makes sense that if we think about whether what we do is effective, as well as recognising what isn’t, we can continually improve our professional teaching practice.

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