What makes an outstanding lesson?

Mike Gershon

31st March 2016 at 14:45

Author Mike Gershon explains how to be an Outstanding Teacher

Outstanding teaching comes in many guises. All of these connect through one central premise: that learning takes centre stage. An obvious point, but one which can quickly slip from the forefront of our minds as time constraints, curriculum demands and behaviour management compete for our attention.

So how do we keep learning centre stage? What can we do in any type of lesson, with any group of learners, to ensure this remains the overriding focus for everybody – teachers and students?

The first step is to plan your lesson from the student’s point of view.

Rather than letting the content take control of the lesson, ensure that the lesson is in control of the content. That means asking at every stage of your planning:

  • What will each learner in the class be doing here?
  • How challenging will this section be for different groups of learners?
  • Where are students going that they couldn’t go before?

This checklist gives you a framework for making sure all parts of your lesson are sculpted to meet the needs of your students. It makes your life easier further down the road, because you don’t need to do as much personalisation during the lesson itself.

With that said, a certain level of in-lesson differentiation is always necessary – and welcome.

Perhaps the best area for differentiation – and the most time-efficient – is the interactions between you and your students. Here, questioning dominates. Outstanding teaching therefore involves outstanding questioning.

You can use questioning to personalise your lessons in all sorts of ways. Through doing this, you keep learning front and centre – tailoring your interactions so they closely meet student needs.

One familiar tool you can use to do this is Bloom’s Taxonomy. With its delineation of mastery learning, the taxonomy provides the perfect framework for pitching questions at the right level for different students. To put it another way, the taxonomy is the number one tool for ensuring your questions are both accessible and sufficiently challenging.

Of course, whenever we ask a question in class we elicit information. This gives us an insight into students’ current knowledge and understanding. Even if a student does not – or cannot – answer, we gain information. And we can use this information to adapt, modify and tailor our teaching.

Looking for opportunities to elicit information means being aware of how important this is for the purposes of meeting student needs. One of the qualities of a good teacher is the ability to be flexible. Rather than just teaching what they have planned, they respond to what’s in front of them – using the information they elicit to do this.

Whole-class feedback techniques such as traffic lights, mini-whiteboards and hinge questions are all excellent strategies through which to achieve this goal.

In conclusion then, outstanding teachers are not identical, but they do share a family resemblance. That resemblance is their prioritisation of learning – while planning, while teaching and while marking. To learn how to be an outstanding teacher, and to gain insight into dozens more practical strategies, sign up to our Outstanding Teaching CPD course with Mike Gershon today.