23 Jun 2018

Responsive Teaching – A brief review

Responsive Teaching – A brief review

Last term, Harry Fletcher-Wood from the Institute for Teaching spoke at our Sandringham Research School training event about feedback. Harry provided delegates with a fascinating exposition about effective feedback strategies and got us thinking about conditions – from curriculum design to planning – that need to be in place for feedback to improve learning. And so I was really pleased to see Harry’s new book Responsive Teaching land on my door mat. Responsive Teaching manages to covey clear coherent arguments, supported by a rich range of research evidence from the fields of cognitive science and assessment, in a remarkably accessible format.

So, what did I enjoy about this book? I found the first couple of sections about planning really helpful. Harry makes a clear distinction between the planning required for a unit of work compared to that required for a lesson. For example, Harry makes the case that carefully planning a unit is an important investment of teachers’ time. In particular, identifying and planning for likely student misconceptions and connections between topics can effectively support student learning. Throughout the book, Harry is fastidious in providing the reader with subject specific examples to illustrate each principle. For example, the following table from a history unit helps readers to understand Harry’s ideas about unit planning.

Harry’s advice about lesson planning was different. Marshalling evidence from Daniel Willingham, Rob Coe and John Sweller, he makes a persuasive argument about the importance of designing lessons with students’ thinking in mind. Planning overly fun, complicated and elaborate tasks can risk distracting students from the topic at hand, inhibiting learning.

I also enjoyed the section of the book about assessing students’ thinking. It can be all too easy to rely on our keenest students’ answers as a barometer for all students in our classes. Harry provides us with research about teachers’ tendencies to give more support and encouragement to their most able students. Evidence relating to such unconscious biases can be uncomfortable reading for teachers but serves to persuade the reader of the value of carefully seeking all students’ thoughts. Key strategies are suggested including hinge questions and exit tickets. Harry’s experience as a teacher is helpful here – he is mindful of teacher workload and considers the time and effectiveness of each strategy.

A third aspect of the book I enjoyed was the final section on making the ideas in the book a reality in school. It can be easy to get excited about new ideas in education but the hard work starts when we try to incorporate them into our practice. The overwhelming power of our own signature styles, a heavy workload and lack of time can conspire to maintain our status quo as teachers. Recognising this, Harry draws on research from behavioural science to offer teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders suggestions about how to embed change sustainably.

I would heartily recommend this book to all teachers, from those new to the profession as well as more experienced colleagues.