How To Teach?

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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 do you teach your students?

Teaching is a complicated business, and it will come as no surprise, that there is no-single way to teach.

Teachers are still getting to grips with what the evidence says. We know ‘what works’ somewhere, may not work in another setting, yet the current debate of knowledge-rich curriculum; rigorous assessment; a longer school day and effective behaviour policies are all-well-and-good strategies to drive school improvement, but it is important that teachers do not allow politically-motivated organisations, OfSTED, your leadership or even your head of department for that matter, to tell teachers what teaching (preferences) or school structures work better than the other. You can even include this blog and my views too!

Everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere. – Dylan Wiliam

In my work in and around schools, observing and coaching 1000s of colleagues – call it action research if you will – these are my views on ‘how to teach?’ and how I do it in my classroom.


Yes, I’m just one of millions of examples around the world, so feel free to disregard my views too! n.b. it takes years to master teaching.

First, both progressive and traditional teaching styles are evident in schools where I have worked or have supported. They co-exist in my classroom and broadly, neither is no more prevalent than the other and each are advocated in many schools. It is vital that schools allow their teachers to teach freely. Note, some schools may advocate a particular style of teaching – that is entirely up to the headteacher.

Two years after removing lesson gradings and a reduction on formal observations, my current school has just achieved our highest results in our 130-year history! We do not advocate any particular method over any other. Our small marginal gains have nothing to do with the structure of being a single-status (converter) academy, or if a particular style of teaching prevails more than any other. It is merely down to teachers being confident to teach in a way that suits them and work best with the children in front of them. Of course, we evaluate teaching over time, we run diagnostic reports and survey the students. Examination results and department reviews offer a detailed insight in to the inner-workings of the department, and various ‘lenses’ are applied so that teachers within the department can identify gains for the year ahead.

I blog here to help reduce the (online) false-dichotomy, that one teaching method is any better than any other. If you are a teacher reading this, you will be increasingly aware that we are still unsure about how students learn, but are clear that teachers must be research-rich in order to teach better using evidence based methods.

So, to put the above and below into context, this is what I have done in my classroom for the past two decades – fads and gimmicks aside – and continue to do so to this day.

Knowledge and Skills:

  • In my lessons, students are clear about the knowledge they are learning and this is strengthened with subject-skills.
  • Student personal learning checklists are available; well-rounded and have a knowledge-specific curriculum pathway. We look at these once a week in class.
  • A drive on speaking and listening, reading and writing across the school is supported with me modelling – by example – in the classroom.
  • Students in my classroom begin to decode A-level and degree subject-specific words in their very first lesson.
  • Creativity is encouraged because students have the knowledge and skills to be able to do so.


  • I follow the school’s behaviour for learning policy so that I do not undermine my colleagues.
  • I have a no excuses policy in my classroom and every consequence has an action.
  • Students know how to behave. I remind them that they do know and they understand the boundaries.
  • I set and lead my own detentions as a classroom teacher.
  • Behaviour for learning and links across the curriculum feature heavily in student conversations, so that students are able to function and prosper in society, as well as in other subjects across the school.

Curriculum Delivery and Assessment:

  • Curriculum plans support teaching and learning and eliminates any need for daily lesson planning.
  • Student personal learning checklists are well-rounded and have a knowledge-specific curriculum to follow. We look at these once a week in class.
  • I often teach didactically, but due to the nature of my subject, students are required to work independently.
  • The quality of direct instruction and teacher-clarity is greater than anything else. This is why every lesson is teacher-led from the outset. Knowledge and skills are made explicit.
  • The quality of my language and literacy is vital when communicating to the class, but to be able to connect with my students, I re-shape playground language into vocabulary to support connections with students and subject content. For example, “butters” replaced with “aesthetics”.
  • In group discussions, students apply subject knowledge, discussing the benefits of anthropometric data and ergonomic designs in their hand-drawn design ideas.
  • In my lessons, students do not waste their time copying down learning objectives.
  • Only work that needs marking, is given any feedback; verbal being more frequent and targeted. You won’t see any verbal feedback stamps or paper-chasing for evidence.

Classroom Management:

  • In the classroom, all of my students arrive to the classroom with the correct equipment. There are consequences if they don’t!
  • I try to provide high-quality instruction techniques such as effective questioning and assessment.
  • Due to the nature of design technology, students are often forced into grouped tables due to the nature of the furniture.
  • Depending on the task, sometimes my students sit in rows.
  • They often work in silence, because practical lessons are often filled with ‘banging’ hammers. It’s useful for learning to create a climate for learning, whether this be loud or in silence.
  • When not working around tables and chairs, students are roaming around the classroom from machine, to tool and material. They move independently around the room, utilising the knowledge they have gained to select tools, materials and machinery.
  • They are often using ICT equipment to prepare, adapt, programme and code various pieces of software to support their classwork. Technology only features where it supports the learning.

Schools need to put more effort into evaluating what makes effective teaching. (Sutton Trust)

It would be very interesting to consider some of the following for progressive and traditional styles of teaching?

  • If a teaching style dominates, do these students achieve better results in a class than any other?
  • If a more dominant style is observed, are these teachers new to the profession, or more experienced?
  • How does a chosen style link to outcomes of performance appraisal?
  • How is behaviour managed in lessons that work in grouped or rowed seating plans?
  • Is reward or sanction more of a feature of any dominant style?
  • Does the teaching style match the teacher’s own experience of schooling?
  • Is a subject more likely to teach in the ‘traditional/progressive sense’?
  • Does the classroom infrastructure have any influence? e.g. facilities, layout.
  • Does the teaching style match the stereotype(s) of that subject and how it is typically delivered?
  • Most of all, does it matter?

This is how I teach my students.

How do you teach your students? Leave your comments below or write your own ‘how to teach?’


4 thoughts on “How To Teach?

  1. I am interested in your ‘Student personal learning checklists’ you mention that they are ‘well-rounded and have a knowledge-specific curriculum pathway’. I would be interested to know how specific these are. Are they selected by you for each student from a broad list that you have? Who designs the checklist? are they yours or faculty/school based? Do you review them one on one with the students? I like the idea in that it provides continuity and feedback but of course, time is always a limiting factor.

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