One Minute Learning

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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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Do we appreciate how much happens in a school classroom at any given time?

This week, I visited a series of classrooms in an inner-city school in London. In one classroom, I saw how much teaching and learning can happen in one minute …

The more I see, the more I know …

I’ve been working in school classrooms for thirty years. Over the last 15 years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by education research which has guided me over the latter 15 years of my career.

As I spend more and more time reading research and translating those findings for teachers, I spend countless hours creating resources to interpret ‘how best’ to bring the theory to life. Over the last eight years, I’ve become deeply fascinated by neuroeducation – the cognitive science, psychology and physiology of how we learn.

The more I learn, the more I see how complex the classroom really is, and how skilled teachers ‘make it look easy.’

Having a deeper understanding of learning, and how learning happens, I now realise how foolish I (once) was to make a reliable judgement of what is happening in a classroom at a given moment; I have become increasingly reluctant to make any informal or formal evaluation on the teaching and learning happening in the classroom.

For many reasons.

Even as a school leader/observer, I am a visitor; it’s a snapshot scenario.

The Hawthorne Effect is also at play – how someone adjusts their behaviour when being watched – and knowing much more about ‘how working memory operates’, every classroom worldwide will have many students unable to recall when questioned. Sometimes we see learning as observers, often, we don’t.

We all frequently forget, make mistakes and suffer from cognitive load.

I was only there for one minute …

With all of the above in mind, one classroom visit stands out. I was only there for one minute, but I believe I could write a book describing the complexities of everything I saw happening in this micro-moment.

The lesson was a low-ability, year seven mathematics lesson.

The teacher had created a safe environment. I knew this because the students were engaged, positive and responsive to the teacher’s instructions. To do this takes time; enabling students to take risks and make mistakes; a space for students to learn and have conversations about their understanding, building on the previous lesson to develop further.

I know this has taked many months, and possibly years of practice.

The teacher was also scaffolding the learning, giving them the appropriate support to tackle the problems. Behind the scenes, this would include corridor conversations, previous interactions, phonecalls, positive and negative feedback and motivational conversations and comments to name a few.

They engaged the students, making the lesson relevant to their own experiences, making use of formative assessment to check on how their students were progressing. Of course, there were one or two things that could have been refined, but who doesn’t have something to improve in the classroom?

At the same time the school leader and I were present in the classroom, a learning support assistant was working with a student. Then another adult knocked on the door, entered the classroom, and asked if a student could leave the classroom to attend an intervention.

In those short 60-90 seconds, my mind was buzzing, observing every dynamic taking place my eyes and ears could consume. There are pupils answering questions, responding to one another, raising their hand, fiddling with pens, daydreaming out of the window and everything else that happens in our classrooms, up and down the country.

This is the reality of our classrooms.

They are busy, complex spaces. Evaluating how learning happens takes a lifetime of wisdom …

We would do well to keep celebrating the hard work that all our teachers do; to highlight the important work they do for our young people and the local communities.

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