Geoff Petty is an expert on teaching methods and the author of Teaching Today and Evidence-Based Teaching. In this article, he shares his five methods to improve teaching.
There is no such thing as perfect teaching – but is always possible to improve.
Throughout my career, I have studied the reviews of research on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) methods and techniques, which show that improving teaching and learning is simple to describe, though hard to do: put teachers in charge of their learning, ensure they are supported and motivated, and give them the space to experiment with new ideas.
Follow these five steps below, and you’ll soon see the difference in both teachers and learners.
Professionals tend to be motivated by relevance. We like to decide what the problems are, and we want learning or training that addresses this. Like all adult learners, teachers need to be in charge of the objectives of their learning. By doing an analysis of our training needs, teachers can focus on the challenges they face with their own teaching, or their students face with their learning. This then gives a relevant problem for the teacher to address in their CPD.
Once a teacher has identified the problem(s), they can undergo the relevant learning or training to learn how to tackle it. They might read about methods that address their issues for example. If the identified problem is department or institution-wide, the entire teaching staff can undergo similar reading or training, to help improve teaching across the institution.
Once the teacher has completed the relevant learning or training, they will need to put it into practice. They will have to try out their new approach in small ways, and adapt to its outcomes. According to research, it takes five trials to find out if a method is going to work, and a further 20 trials before the method is used about 80% effectively (Joyce and Showers, 2002).
Research suggests that teachers benefit from regular support meetings with colleagues as they try to improve their teaching. Within this community, a teacher can talk openly about how their experiment is going. The group can offer feedback and discuss ways the teacher could overcome any difficulties. The teacher then improves their trials, and the reflective active learning cycle repeats: Do, Review, Learn, Apply. This not only encourages staff to experiment, but it creates lots of learning, as well as a positive buzz for change. This is called ‘Supported Experiments’.
At the end of the year, the teacher can report on their experiments and share their successful strategies with colleagues, thus benefitting the entire institution. The best methods could be made available to all teachers and implemented widely. It’s important that these changes are also monitored and supported, so they make a sufficient difference to students.
Although these five steps might sound like a lot of effort, it is practically the only way that has been proven to improve teaching (Timperley, 2007). We know teaching has more effect on learner achievement than any other factor we can change, so to raise achievement (and to essentially be good teachers), we must take an in-depth look at how we teach, and how our students learn, to change it for the better.
To find out more about Geoff Petty’s work, visit: www.geoffpetty.com
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