Teaching in an Evidence Based Classroom

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Research for Learning CPD


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers work smarter not harder, using evidence based strategies in their classrooms?

This was a question I posed to 100 teachers in our school CPD session this week.

It is rare for any teacher to attend a one-off CPD event (in school), or attend training at a hotel for the day and take away something meaningful back into their classroom. And yet after 20+ years of teaching, I am (one of many) sources of evidence of this poor practice. I can count the most insightful and pragmatic one-off training days I have attended, on less than two hands! This is not acceptable.

So, why is this? Do CPD leaders fail to consolidate learning for their own staff? After all, we do know that the quality of CPD has only recently been questioned and good practice is only now coming to the fore.

What Works?

And how do we know?

Research from the Teacher Development Trust states;

  1. Duration and rhythm of effective CPD support requires a longer-term focus.
  2. Step away from a ‘one-size fits all’ approach so individual needs are carefully considered.
  3. Aligning professional development processes, content and activities
  4. Content of effective professional development should consider both subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy
  5. Effective CPD is associated with certain activities such as explicit discussions
  6. External input from providers/specialists must challenge orthodoxies within a school & provide diverse perspectives
  7. Empower teachers through collaboration and peer learning
  8. Powerful leadership is pivotal in defining staff opportunities and embedding cultural change. (Report)

In our staff CPD session, we gave our staff the time to discuss, embed and re-visit teaching and learning that would prove useful to them in their classrooms.

In recent years we have seen an unprecedented rise in our understanding of what works best in classrooms. Based on extensive worldwide research, teachers now have the information they need to understand which classroom interventions have the best ‘effect’.

Two or three years ago, I first attended a Research for Learning training day, looking at classroom strategies that work. It was so powerful, I vouched – despite my experience and warning signs – to bring in this work into tailored sessions at our school over a long period of time. This CPD amalgamates neatly in line with our Learning Policy and promises to be something we re-visit throughout 2016 as we look to develop a repertoire of (teaching) key strategies for all our teaching staff. This does not mean that all our teachers will be teaching in a particular way. It suggests that we want our teachers to develop a catalogue of classroom techniques we know work in the classroom; ensuring our students experience a degree of consistency and teaching prowess.


At the start of our CPD session, I reminded our staff of the following;

Over 16 months ago, we removed lesson grades because more and more evidence suggested the validity and reliability of lesson gradings were inaccurate. As a school, we stopped doing this in September 2014.

Following lesson gradings, we moved over to a model of ‘progress over time’ from a variety of reliable sources. I then asked;

  • What is a good teacher?
  • How do you know?
  • How do you evidence this?

This training session is here with a free-to-download presentation.

I then proceeded to explain that our Learning Policy looks to eradicate best practice; ask our staff to work smarter not harder, and that in time as our policy evolves, to enable students to make progress whilst making a sizeable impact to reduce teacher workload. No easy task, but we are on the move.

Research for Learning CPD

“Work smarter not harder.”

I then reminded our staff of our approach;

  • that there is no best way to teach our students.
  • there are no silver bullets and magic potions.
  • that it doesn’t matter who you are, that we should all look to be improving our classroom practice; even SLT stuck more in offices and playgrounds rather than in classrooms.

This is our common-sense approach to evidence-based teaching. Our recent book observations confirm what is best practice (or not) in our own school. Our reflections also confirm that there is no one-size-fits-all model to teaching and learning and with this, comes trust, empowerment and ownership of teaching and learning, assessment and classroom strategies that work for teachers with our students, in their classrooms.

I reminded teachers who have been working in the profession for 5 -10 years or more and asked them who could remember learning styles, brain gym and other notable myths gimmicks and fads. I highlighted the work we are already doing as a school, focusing on What Works? to ensure our teachers are working smarter, not harder with our students; using the strategies that we know will make an impact with our children. I explained that we should all be conscious of myths, gimmicks and fads. I used the opportunity to share Verbal Feedback Stamps and question what impact these can have on progress in a student’s book? Smarter not harder …

Research for Learning CPD

Finally, in the room we worked in faculties and departments so that teaching staff and learning support assistants can step away from a ‘one-size fits all’ approach so individual needs are carefully considered; particularly around tables. Aligning professional development processes with content to consider both subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy. Working with Steve Garnett and with his external input, we challenged orthodoxies within our school to help provide diverse perspectives. We were empowering teachers to collaborate using peer learning.

Our next stage is to develop our own key strategies as a school and enable teachers to teach according to their subject needs. We believe this is a common-sense approach to teaching and learning; top establish trust, growth and personal development.

Research for Learning CPD

Research for Learning CPD delivers on all aspects of classroom practice;

  • classroom interventions which have the biggest effect on achievement
  • practical examples of how each one can be delivered in the classroom
  • Focus only on the most secure evidence
  • Explore tried and tested strategies that REALLY work
Throughout the training we considered;
  • What is a ‘meta–analysis’ and an ‘effect size’?
  • What the research does and doesn’t say
  • Where does the research come from?
  • Why now?
Questions we asked included;
  • Feedback: what does and doesn’t work
  • Meta-cognition and self-regulation: is it really possible?
  • Homework or home learning?
  • Collaborative learning: working as a group or in a group?
And practical strategies we tested and discussed included;
  • Mastery learning: a bit too much Jedi?
  • Advanced reading techniques: the reading process
  • Digital technology: learning through ICT
  • Putting it all together

You can read the course details here.


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2 thoughts on “Teaching in an Evidence Based Classroom

  1. “Homework or home learning” is a particular interest of mine; I tend to think of ‘homework or work at home’ but I’m sure the difference is simply in the words… The who goal is to do things at home that MAKE SENSE TO THE LEARNER – not simply more repetitive work asigned by the teacher and too often more grading work for the teacher!

    The rediculousness of homework amazes me – and seems so obvious once I asked myself: “How might I consider ‘out of school’ time to the learners’ advantage?” Homework as a single TEACHER assignment to ALL students to improve learning for all is crazy. Teachers: “I am so busy but I’ve always assigned (and graded) homework for my students.” Students: “I didn’t understand it in class and still don’t; mom (or dad)…” Or “This is simply more of the same; I was helping friends in school because I understood it and now I have to do more of it at home if I want a good course grade.”

    How about we facilitate our students’ figuring out what they need to do and get teacher suggestions for ‘home learning / work at home’ instead…

  2. Another thought-provoking post, thank you.

    The question that this raised for me is, why do we still rely on disjointed Professional Development opportunities as a means of sourcing these ‘best practices’? Surely there must be a better way..

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