'Why I turned against my discovery training'

A teacher explains why he embraced direct instruction, a teaching method he once avoided

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Back in 2007, when I started my teacher training, there was no doubt about what constituted great teaching: students discovering through enquiry, being active learners, the teacher as facilitator and the class encouraged to be independent learners.

Lessons needed to be varied and the four-part lesson was all the rage. A starter to engage students in the bigger picture, an activation phase where students gained new knowledge or skills, a demonstration phase where they demonstrated that knowledge or skill and, finally, a consolidation phase where they reflected and reviewed their learning.

I lapped it all up and took it all in and, to a very great extent, agreed with and accepted that it was the right way to teach. Now, I’m not so sure at all.

The doubts began last year, when I began to recognise that the quality of teaching was now being judged not on a one-off performance but on progress over time. This would be measured using data that had been gathered from internal and external assessments.

Now this didn’t necessarily directly contradict the way that I was teaching lessons per se, but it did make me question the best way for students to achieve lesson objectives. When I say best, I mean the quickest and the most efficient way for them to learn. And that led me to a slightly unsettling discovery: instructional delivery might just be the best tool at our disposal.

Trust in your gut

My belief in this was solidified when I spent some time covering for a head of department in a school in Liverpool. When he told me to ask the Year 10 and 11 groups to take out their booklets and to engage in instructional delivery with them for an hour each lesson, I was taken aback. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy teaching this way, but because my gut was telling me that this wasn’t the right way to do things.

However, the day before I started, I observed this teacher take a lesson. It’s the first time I’ve really seen this method in action. Behaviour was excellent, students were asking and answering questions and a lot of content was covered. The teacher’s subject expertise was obvious and was being transferred onto the students. Nearly every lesson was the same.

I then realised that the departmental results were above national average and stable. This was in a school where a high proportion of students were disadvantaged.

As I started teaching, I tried to adopt his style. Teaching that way comes naturally to me, but I had to fight against my own deep-rooted prejudice and a feeling of guilt as students obediently turned over another page of their course workbook. “Why aren’t you differentiating? What happened to your plenary? When did students collaborate?” my inner voice was shouting.

Perhaps these questions were valid, but after a few days, I realised something: in embracing instructional delivery, you save huge amounts of time on planning and resourcing. And we know that time is the commodity most sought after by teachers. You, the teacher, turn into the most valuable resource once again.

Of course, the teacher’s subject knowledge has to be spot on, they need to be an accomplished orator and their ability to question effectively has to be polished. However, these are skills that the majority of teachers have from day one and many develop quickly.

Am I a complete convert? Not exactly, but one thing is for certain, instructional delivery, in one form or another, is making a comeback and I can now see why. After all, Jesus was an instructional deliverer and he didn’t do too badly at all.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory

This is an article from the 10 June edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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