Why aren’t we supposed to teach anymore?

Teacher committing the cardinal sin of teaching from the front

I read this comment on the Guardian Teacher Network recently in response to a post from Ross McGill on the wonderfully named, teacher lead questioning strategy he calls Pose Pause Pounce Bounce:

This sounds great, but it also sounds rather like the kind of whole-class question-and-answer session I recently ran during an OfSTED visit, and got bollocked in the feedback because although they said they could see I’d done hands down, targeted questions, great development of ideas, vocabulary, good relationships, blah blah, my teaching was still apparently rubbish because it involved me at the front directing things for the whole 25 minutes (gasp) the inspector was there.

I gather that actually teaching is now a hanging offence, which is odd, because I thought it was why I was paid all this money. Apparently I should have got them into groups. Again. Because this is the only way that learning can ever, ever, take place. (They’d actually been in pairs the lesson before and were going to be in groups in the second part of the inspected lesson, as my plan showed, but this didn’t seem to mitigate the sentence).

In his response Ross says:

Stay well-away from a whole 25 minutes of teacher-led questioning, even just 10 minutes! Remember, unfortunately, that an Ofsted (sole) inspector, is only one opinion….and one opinion alone. We all interpret standards and guidance in our own way and although their judgements can make or break our career, any robust support system and self-validation/observation schedule led by your (great?) SLT team would be enough to enable you moving from good to outstanding.

And this got me thinking. Why is it that Ofsted are so against teachers talking? I know that the key to a good lesson observation is showing that pupils are making progress in the 25 minutes we have available to us and that one way we can demonstrate this progress is by shutting the hell up and letting the kids do some work. But before this can happen they need some teaching don’t they?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for constructivism. I love students working collaboratively in carefully constructed groups on carefully constructed challenges that allow them to deepen their understanding of a topic by getting the hands dirty with the filthy stuff of learning. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes, even regularly, I don’t think we need to do a spot of direct instruction.

When I began my career direct instruction was all the rage. As a trainee I was exhorted to share objectives, provide exemplars, model tasks and success criteria and then let the students get on with it. At the end said objectives are reviewed, future planning is informed and everyone goes home happy. This was what we used to call the three, the four (now five?) part lesson. Starter, main course and pudding.

I remember getting very excited the first time I wrote an objective on the board and students gazed in bewildered wonder at it this mysterious collection of words. Boy was I cutting edge! The old lags would shake their heads and mutter about this new fangled nonsense never catching on before pulling on their faded corduroy jackets and shambling into their classrooms.

I get that things move on. I really do. I have embraced progressive teaching methods whole-heartedly and am a convert to the cause. But I don’t why direct instruction is now considered not just passe, but actively bad for kids. Prof Hattie has found that after formative assessment, it has the greatest effect size of all teacher interventions and as such is the most efficient method of transmitting knowledge to youngsters. He describes it thus: “In a nutshell: The teacher decides the learning intentions and success criteria, makes them transparent to the students, demonstrates them by modelling, evaluates if they understand what they have been told by checking for understanding, and re-telling them what they have told by tying it all together with closure.” Teaching like this will considerably increase students chances of passing those pesky GCSEs. Fact. Even Dylan Wiliam wants direct instruction to form part of his five key strategies (see point 2).

I’m happy to agree that this is not he be all and end all of education and that there are all sorts of other things we should be doing other than getting kids to pass exams but do Ofsted? Surely they’re all about attainment and data and levels of progress. You’d think direct instruction was right up their alley. After all, it’s the best way to get what they seem to want.

So why do we have to hide the fact that we teach? Why has it become a ‘hanging offence’?

16 Responses to Why aren’t we supposed to teach anymore?

  1. Shanti Lall says:

    Ha! I replied to that comment of McGill’s on the Guardian site re. even 10 mins teaching from the front being a no-no. I didn’t like the rigidity and certainty of his comment.

    • learningspy says:

      Oh ho! So that was you was it? Yes, the idea of 10 mins teacher lead activity being verboten is chilling. Not sure we can blame Ross entirely though; he is just passing on Ofsted’s message. Bizarre isn’t it?

  2. Darren Mead says:

    Hi David,

    A couple of things spring to mind. Most importantly I’m a fan and owner of said corduroy jacket.

    You have succinctly summed up Hatties definition of direct teaching, its not just a teacher telling, but involves the students having a chance to learn something and then demonstrate that they have learned it. So that a teacher can evaluate. This all provides the information that informs what to “retell” and if your clever “how” to retell it. Its very student centred.

    As for Ofsted, best to attach a copy of Marzano or Hattie effect size for each strategy used i guess, as I am led to believe they may not be up to date with current research.


  3. steven beercock says:

    I totally agree with you. Anyone who does not, inspectors included, might want to read this paper:
    Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not
    Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,
    Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and
    Inquiry-Based Teaching

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  6. Ross says:

    Hi everyone. What are we discussing?
    Ross – @TeacherToolkit

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  12. elizabet says:

    Teachers are not the only ones just leaving teaching my son has had to leave his pcge course after an attack from a male pupil , my son was removed from his placement and deserted by his unni for three months with ont being offered any support not even another school the stress of not being able to move forward made him ill , so the lack of support at such an early stage did little to help , and he is not the only one to suffer this .
    so it begs the question if you get no support early on you are not going to get it once qualified.

  13. […] Which is fine when the ideas are sensible. Not so much when they’re not. […]

  14. […] This is not to say that there is not a tme and a place for ‘teacher talk’: there absolutely is. Whenever we want students to learn large amounts of information the most effective and efficient tactic can be the ‘traditional’ approach of direction instruction. For those wanting to find out more, I’ve written about it here. […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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