Teaching = Common Sense?

Apparently research in teaching and learning is very important?

I read SOME of this research myself and SOMETIMES I get some good ideas to try in the classroom. Most of the time though I find myself thinking about the reasons behind why this research has been done? I have been working in education for over 11 years and the thing that strikes me more and more is that teaching is not rocket science, it does not need all this research, it just comes down to common sense approaches!

THIS is where I would expect SOME people in teaching to get a little cheesed of at me. The reason is that I think SOME teachers suffer from a lack of confidence and SOME teachers need research to hang their hat on. To know they are doing what has been proved to work. I do understand this thought process to an extent, especially with how SOME teachers get treated. What I truly believe though is the thing that works best is a common sense approach.

My recent read has been ‘Leading’ by Sir Alex Ferguson. While reading it I have trying to think about how this translates into being a school leader and into teaching. I found several fantastic examples of his common sense approach that can translate into education but many of these may be for another blog. In one chapter he talks about all the research and data that is compiled about football (the professional game) and footballers (the people). He discusses how they did research in Japan about what a goalkeeper could do when he/she is facing a penalty, in order to increase their chances of saving it. The outcome of this research is for the goalkeeper to stand still and the majority of kicks will come straight at you. Sir Alex argues that he has known this since he was a player in the 1960’s and asked why did this research need to be done. I would echo this view. In my younger days I played as a Goalkeeper at a very good level. That is exactly what I did in doing the same thing every time. It was about working the percentages and the saves stacked in my favour over the course of hundreds of matches that I played in.

How does this translate to teaching? Teaching is about doing the basic things right, doing them well, doing them the same way and doing them all the time! In effect playing the percentage game. It doesn’t matter how much research is done into what works best with learners, the basics will always be the same and as far as I can see it is all common sense.

These are some of those common sense approaches (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Have high expectations delivered consistently.
  2. Always go with your gut feeling when dealing with situations or approaches in the classroom. 9 times out of 10 it will be right!
  3. Always praise when it is appropriate and give constructive advice/marking to improve when it is appropriate ONLY. Find out regularly (To understand what regular means see point 2) where the learner is in their learning and identify how they should improve. This will help them to believe they can achieve better than they thought possible!
  4. Never give too many instructions… its tends to confuse!
  5. Always listen and observe the learners. Find out what makes them tick and engage them through their own interests and adapt the learning to what they perceive as important in their lives and for their future.
  6. Stick to ONLY what you have to teach to get the learner to make progress and the best grade they possibly can. It breaks my heart to say this, as it is not what I came into teaching to do, but make sure they get every ounce of knowledge needed for that important exam. After all, the teacher will be held to account for results in the current climate (NOTE: Hopefully the education climate will change for the better so that the test will not become the only measure. Until then however its common sense for a teacher to do this… at least if they want a life and be seen as successful!).
  7. Treat the learner with respect and they will repay that respect. There isn’t a teacher who has gained good grades from learners where there was not a mutual respect that has been built.

Again it is not exhaustive list of common sense approaches that will be used by teachers, but I think it demonstrates my point. No amount of research will ever tell us what we don’t already know deep down or what we could share as teachers. It also does not matter if you are a progressive teacher, traditional teacher and somewhere in between. The fact is that the common sense approaches are the basics and if they are done well, success will come whatever teaching style you adopt.

I have recently had the pleasure in returning to teaching and work again with young people through some consultancy employment that I am doing with a school. We are aiming to improve the attainment of year 11 learners for the progress 8 measure. In a specific qualification we have circa 70% of learners with A* and A grades and the vast majority of the rest of the learners have achieved their best grade through this qualification.

THIS is how the common sense approaches have enabled the team that I work with to improve the chances of gaining these ‘Outstanding’ results for the learners.