Illuminate your practice by identifying what not to do

27th July 2018 at 00:00
By eliminating unnecessary, time-consuming tasks, you can concentrate on the most effective ways to support your students – and protect your own wellbeing, write Lee Elliot Major and Steve Higgins

Evidence-led teachers must ask at least three questions: if something does not directly contribute to the quality of teaching and learning interactions, is it needed? Do you have evidence that the activity you are undertaking impacts on pupil progress? And could there be equally effective approaches that take less time?

Marking of students’ work should focus on quality not quantity. There is little justification for time-consuming approaches such as triple marking. In general, teachers need to consider how their marking contributes to timely, focused feedback for pupils, which is then acted upon. Less can be more: comment on fundamental misunderstandings rather than careless mistakes; comments accepted and used by pupils are more powerful than grades.

When producing lesson plans, the evidence-led teacher should ask: who are they for and do they justify the time spent? Too often plans are designed for “box-ticking” paper trails rather than enlivening classroom activity.

Collaboration is key

It’s tempting to seek the perfect plan when what matters most is how you adapt your teaching practice on the go. Try collaborating with colleagues to develop joint schemes of work. Focus on the quality of task design. Planning for learning is more important than planning for accountability.

Data-strewn Excel spreadsheets, meanwhile, can assume an authentic aura of authority, but offer only indicative, partial pictures of the lives of pupils. They are only as good as the quality of their data. Many schools have become data-rich but evidence-poor. Remember you can only measure some things. Agree a school-wide policy on the use and limitations of data. Make it school policy to consider the opportunity cost of all required planning and assessment. Does assessment tracking improve outcomes, or are you simply watching inevitable progress: watching the grass grow or feeding, weeding and watering?

Solace will come only with self-discipline: for your own wellbeing and the good of pupils you probably shouldn’t be spending more than 10 hours a week on the workload sins outlined above. As the poet William Blake said: “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

Lee Elliot Major is chief executive of the Sutton Trust and Steve Higgins is a professor of education at Durham University. They authored the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, now the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit

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