This is an attempt to codify how teacher educators and facilitators can use practice in teacher training. It derives from the Teacher Squared conference, hosted at Relay Graduate School of Education and collates what I learned from the Teach Like a Champion Practice Perfect workshop and three years designing and leading practice-based training.
The idea is to provide a framework for trainers designing sessions, and a menu for facilitators. I’ve put explanatory notes on terms used below, as well as links to other posts on practice-based training, but if you don’t believe practice is essential in teacher training, I recommend skipping here straight away. (You can click on the tables for larger versions, or download them as slides here). All this said, this is a fairly tentative draft, and critique would be most welcome.
1) What kind of practice?
This is a framework for selecting from the types of practice available to training designers. It builds on an continuum designed by Dr Brent Maddin, who highlights the lack of agreement on what practice for teaching looks like. The framework defines five types of practice, setting out the advantages and disadvantages of each for different skills. We can imagine the actual lesson sitting in a sixth column, to the right.
The table highlights that:
- Scrimmage is not practice, as Doug Lemov, Katie Yezzi and Erica Woolway emphasise in Practice Perfect. As soon as you get into the complications of scrimmage, the deliberate element of practice – distorting reality to improve some aspect of performance – is lost and with it, the chance to get better. (I would describe most microteaching in teacher training as scrimmaging).
- Practice works by breaking down actions in improvable parts: so row 6 shows how this can work. When teachers are succeeding, we can add challenges. When they struggle, we simplify.
2) How do we facilitate practice?
This is a menu of actions facilitators can take to make practice run well. Without the essentials, along the top row, it is unlikely that a practice session will have its desired effect. The other three rows are possible actions which I have used or seen used to good effect, creating the emotional comfort needed for practice, ensuring practice functions well, and super-modelling by explicitly referring to effective teacher actions used during sessions. Since these terms are often a shorthand, I have explained the majority of them at the end of this post (and am happy to explain others if they are unclear).
A huge part of building comfort and facilitating effective practice activities is in the sequencing. Starting with the simplest of activities: standing to say your vision to one peer, for example, eases participants in to practice gently, laying the ground for more challenging practice in front of a greater number of peers.
3) How do we sequence practice?
Sharing an earlier draft, I was asked how this works as a sequence. This shows how I have sequenced basic classroom management, with each practice activity numbered 1-10.
This would be about four hours training. The table only shows how I would sequence practice activities: the session as a whole would include videos of good practice, discussion of the ethical aspects of classroom management and reflection.
The table highlights a couple of important principles:
- Challenge increases gradually, but scrimmages which replicate the classroom (10) are delayed as long as possible. The deliberate practice needed to change behaviour is almost impossible under the pressure of teaching: I would not expect anyone to learn anything in 10, it’s more a chance to perform and for leaders to see whether the training has worked.
- In the same vein, individual practice is less useful than practising with a peer, simply because it is so hard to concentrate on both teaching and evaluating teaching simultaneously. It remains an option, just not one I would usually seek to exercise.
Further reading and notes
These blogs might be useful companion pieces, describing how I:
Plan practice-based training
Create a culture of practice
Make feedback work in practice
Build sessions around practice (and why it matters)
Notes on Table 1
Anonymous Individual Correction, e.g. “We’re just waiting for one person to close their book” (see Teach Like a Champion).
Turns at practice (see Practice Perfect)
Scope to concentrate.
Duck, duck, goose
Activity practising non-verbal reminders to students while teaching (in this case while ‘teaching’ ‘Duck, duck, goose’).
If participants struggle
This is an attempt to show how, when you struggle with a teaching action, you break it down, perhaps sequentially (realising there’s a problem in a lesson so rehearsing your next, realising a problem in rehearsal so moving to scrimmage) or perhaps skipping steps (realising your explanation of a concept was wildly unclear so going all the way back to scripting your explanation).
Visualising what you’re going to do in a given situation and how you’ll react (more here).
Positive Group Correction, e.g. “I can see almost everybody has started writing” (see Teach Like a Champion).
Preparing lines you might use (and replies to possible responses). There is no suggestion you could dream of scripting out all of a conversation (still less a lesson).
Strong voice lay-up drill
Practice drill for tone and body language (see Practice Perfect).
Half-crouching to speak with an individual student at their desk, while also scanning the room (term stolen from Teach Like a Champion).
Notes on Table 2
Introducing session & idea of practice
Both the Relay and Teach Like a Champion teams design seating plans so that the people you are with on the first day are people with whom you may have something in common, as a way to create connections.
Who are you missing?
Brent Maddin asked us who we were giving up time with to be there that day. This seemed a good way both to recognise this and an imperative to use the time wisely.
What is the problem?
This year with Teach for Sweden I discussed the situation in Swedish schools far more extensively as a way to frame and justify what I wished to teach trainees (blog follows).
Ensuring participants understand why practice matters (see here for how I did this last year).
Why these practices?
With limited time, an explanation for why the particular practices you intend to teach are the most important.
This year with Teach for Sweden I put the four key aspects of teaching I wanted to work on as the points of a compass, more in another blog to come.
Value continuum on principles
Where the practices or principles of a practice may be subject to debate, a value continuum (‘stand on the line to show how much you agree/disagree that teachers should…’) to surface these issues early.
Cold-calling based on achievements
Another technique of Maddin’s: celebrating participants’ achievements and a way to get to know one another, asking participants to write one thing about ourselves on an index card and cold-calling using it.
Modelling giving, receiving, acting on feedback
Every step of getting adults (and students) to do this well is hard. More on how I try to do so here.
Make the practice more challenging if participants master it swiftly.
Mentally simulate what the practice will look like if done well (more here).
Glossary of terms
I’ve not done this, nor seen it done, but it strikes me that training using a variety of technical or shorthand terms would be made more legible for participants through the provision of a glossary. I’ll try this soon.
Establish who will go first
This saves time and awkwardness and can be done in nice/simple/get-to-know-you ways, like ‘Who had the longest journey to get here?’, ‘Who has the longest hair?’, ‘Who has the smallest shoe size?’
Limits to students’ roles
Perhaps the single biggest thing undermining practice is the temptation to overact the role of students: this immediately demolishes the comfort and the function of the drill. Emphasising that students are to do as they are asked to do (or that just one student is to avoid doing so, and in what way) is critical to making drills work.
Value of practice over talking; using extra time to practice
Emphasising that the merit is in the practice (and that that stimulates better reflection) and that if a group finish, the best thing to do is to have another round of practice.
Feedback cheat sheet
Providing example feedback on things participants are most likely to see needing work and on how to give that feedback, to ensure the feedback participants receive is clear and helpful.
Batch feedback (on drill, on skill, on feedback)
Points from the session leader for the whole group, on the skill being practised, the conduct of the drill or the conduct of the feedback.
Call shots (feedback)
It struck me at Relay that, having received feedback from a peer and a session leader, I was already overwhelmed by things to concentrate on. Fifteen seconds to choose which feedback to act on and call the shot, telling fellow participants what I intended to do, might have helped here.
Asking participants to record the feedback they have received as a way to lock it in: I began doing this this summer but will be doing so more intentionally in future.
Theorising from practice
Practice is not opposed to theory: practices derive from theories, but the end of a session may also be a chance to return to and revise our understanding of a theory: ‘How does this three step model seem to work when you try to use it?’