The course I was taking was being facilitated by Match Education. They have developed a rubric based on a clear vision of what effective instruction looks like, which they use in order to support teachers, through a coaching model, by identifying barriers to learning and using the rubric to identify the areas in which teachers need to make changes in order to improve the effectiveness of their teaching (measured by what students know and can do as a result of their teaching).
Underpinning their vision for effective teaching (which boiled down can be summed up as rigorous practice and feedback) are two principles of learning laid out by cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham in his book Why Students Don't Like School.
- Memory is the residue of thought (the more time you spend thinking about something the more likely you are to commit it to memory and understand it. Therefore the more students are practicing a set of coherently aligned thinking tasks the more likely they will be able to remember, understand and do what it is they have been learning
- Learning is memory in disguise - what we normally describe as learning is really just our memory at work. So again, the more students practice, the more they remember, the more they learn.
One of the discussions that was started on the class discussion board was about the Danielson Framework for Teaching, which many schools in the US (and the school I have been based at for my research into professional development and its role in lasting school improvement) use as a rubric to support teacher development. The discussion focused on how this could be used in a coaching situation, as we had witnessed on the course.
Now, although the Danielson Framework is 'a research-based set of components of instruction, grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching...to be used as the foundation for professional conversations among practitioners as they seek to enhance their skill in the complex task of teaching', the difficulty I, and others in the class, observed was that it is hard to use as a tool for classroom-based observation and coaching. (It's not to say that, with the right training in its use, it is not a highly effective tool for professional development, teacher evaluation and for the improvement of teaching). The reasons for this were that it is teacher-facing (focused on what the teacher's actions) rather than student-facing (focused on what the students are learning as a result of the teacher's actions) and that it is just too complex.
However, given that our schools are using it, and not wanting to create yet another tool for teachers to get their heads around, we decided to look into developing a framework and a rubric that was based on the Domains and components of effective teaching outlined in the Danielson Framework, but that could be more easily used in a classroom-based coaching situation. This involved making it more student-facing and boiling it down a little, without losing the thoroughness in terms of being able to impact student learning. A few of us around the world are going to try it out in classrooms and see how it works.
The whole process has drawn my attention to a couple of important things related to developing a clear instructional vision.
- Not enough schools currently have a clear instructional vision or set of guiding principles explicitly articulated and the focus of their professional development.
- Creating it should probably be a collaborative exercise done among teachers themselves, in schools or school networks. I read an interesting account of this process in one group of schools here, which discusses the process a district went through in creating its own shared agreement on what effective teaching looks like. It discusses the outcomes - a set of five domains researched, debated and developed among their group - but also the importance of the process on the teachers own and collective development.
There are a couple of other parts of having a clear instructional vision. The first is a set of core beliefs that underpin your vision. Creating a definition of effective teaching requires having a set of core beliefs that inform that vision. The second is, once you've established a vision, adopting a set of school-wide high impact teaching strategies (I'm calling these HITS) that help achieve the vision. But more on those later.