What makes good practice?

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
In a 45-strong Nicaraguan class of 12 and 13-year-olds, five students stand at the front of the classroom holding posters about the local history projects they have been doing in groups. They take it in turn to summarise their ideas.

The teacher, a young male, comments on their presentations. Sitting at the back of the room is an older woman, a nun (the deputy head). After a time she interrupts the discussion to suggest to the teacher that he was perhaps placing too much emphasis on the ways in which the groups had been working. More attention needed to be given, she argued, to the actual content of the group discussions. They discussed this point across the room and, eventually, the teacher drew some of the students into a consideration of the deputy head's point.

No one found these discussions disturbing. Indeed, they seemed to be rather taken for granted.

Later I was told that this type of interaction is part of the school's overall strategy for encouraging improvements in teaching. Each week the deputy head holds a meeting of staff to discuss improving classroom practice.

Our school improvement work in England suggests changes of practice, particularly among more experienced teachers, are unlikely to occur without some exposure to what teaching actually looks like when it is being done differently, and assistance from someone who can help teachers understand the difference between what they are doing and what they aspire to do.

Such problems need to be solved at the individual level before the organisational level. There is evidence that increasing collegiality without some more specific attention to change at the individual level can simply result in teachers coming together to reinforce existing practices rather than confronting difficulties they face in different ways.

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