top of page

Can Codifying Teaching Really Improve Teachers?

Can Codifying Teaching Really Improve Teachers? - Aidan Severs Consulting

Can we really codify teaching, simplifying it into a set of easy-to-follow steps? Is it possible to see a video, a diagram or read about a routine, and then enact that in the classroom in a such a way that a particular outcome is guaranteed? Even if we practise it outside of the classroom first in some kind of simulation, can we be sure that those actions are going to have the desired results?

Is it a case of becoming an expert, aiming for the hallowed 10,000 hours of practice in order to ensure that,  if we follow the right processes when stepping foot in the classroom, success will be ours?

During the last 10 years there seems to have been a rise in publications and resources that provide routines and processes which, whilst never going so far as to promise 100% exact outcomes, sell teaching as something more akin to a scientific process.

It's come hand-in-hand with the introduction of CPD approaches such as coaching and deliberate practice, providing school leaders and coaches with a bank of resources to use with their colleagues: watch this video and have a go at this; practise this three-step process in this training session.

And it makes sense in a way. There is something simple about teaching, but it's incredibly complex too. It is desirable to break down these complexities for those who are learning the ropes, and even for those who've been doing the job for years.

Learning to Teach: Kind or Wicked?

In his book, 'Range', as David Epstein shares the work of psychologist Robin Hogarth he writes about kind and wicked learning environments. Kind learning environments are predictable - learning to play chess, or a sport. In kind learning environments there are a small number of influencing factors, a relatively small number of repeating patterns and feedback is in-built, meaning you constantly re-adjust what you do based on what has happened.

In his own words, David describes wicked learning environments as where "the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or both."

Although it may be useful to some extent to codify teaching and then practice what has been encoded, I suspect this only goes so far in developing teachers who make a real difference in the classroom.

Kinder Teacher Learning Environments

David Epstein, in referring to one experiment, points us towards something that might help us with how we help teachers to improve: "They made a wicked learning environment, one with no automatic feedback, a little more kind by creating rigorous feedback at every opportunity."

Now, I believe this is one of the positives of developments in approaches to CPD over the last few years, particulary where a cycle of lesson observation and coaching is involved. The focus of these approaches is the provision of and response to feedback. Obviously, this feedback could fall into either or both of traps outlines above - it can be delayed and/or inaccurate. However, when it's timely and accurate (much to say on this that can't be said here), the presence of feedback makes the wicked learning environment of teaching that little bit kinder.

Another Approach To CPD

Later in the book he goes on to share that "In wicked domains that lack automatic feedback, experience alone does not improve performance. Effective habits of mind are more important, and they can be developed."

What is teaching if it's not responding to the ever-changing needs of the children in front of you, adapting what you had planned to help them make their next steps of progress? And if that is what teaching's all about, surely CPD should focus on effective habits of mind which prepare and allow teachers to respond and adapt?

Yes, giving them the tools to respond and adapt with are important - part of the puzzle for sure - but I suspect there is more to it than that.

Effective Habits of Mind for Teachers

The right application and deployment of those is key: having the ability to discern when to try something, and when not to; posessing the reasoning processes necessary for identifying the many, many influencing factors that contribute to any given moment in the classroom; even knowing that trial and error is often the way in the classroom. These are habits of mind.

Being reflective in an ongoing manner, always trying to discern whether or not something worked; avoiding sunk-cost thinking and being ready to jetison aspects of a lesson that are causing issues; being willing to strip away the fancy-pants approaches and getting down to the bare bones of what needs to be taught and how it needs to be taught. These are habits of mind, and I don't see these codified in teaching manuals - primarily because they can't be, but they are what makes the difference.

Again I will say that the above habits of mind couldn't stand alone without knowledge of some of the more codifiable processes involved in teaching, however they do need to be taught. In the experiment referenced by Epstein even just one of hour of training on particular habits improved participants' ability.

Should we stop trying to codify teaching practices? No, I don't think so. But, following the step-by-step routines that we find in books and videos probably shouldn't be the only thing we do. Helping teachers to develop those habits of mind that focus on adapting and responding in the classroom are surely key to successful teaching too.

If you would like Aidan to come and work with you on the pedagogy in your organisation, or the teachers who work there, please use the contact details on this page, or use the link below:

45 views0 comments


Untitled design.png

ANYBODY can talk to Aidan and get his help.

SUBSCRIBE to learn

Receive my best posts on curriculum, pedagogy and leadership, delivered to your inbox, free with no strings attached!

JOIN ME on socials

  • - Aidan Severs Consulting Education Consultant
  • - Aidan Severs Consulting Education Consultant
  • Instagram - Aidan Severs Consulting Education Consultant
  • Facebook - Aidan Severs Consulting Education Consultant

WELCOME from Aidan

Aidan Severs Consulting Education Consultant

You've found my blog! Thanks for reading. You're serious about enriching your pupils' lives and there's plenty to help you do that here. Browse away and if you need some help, feel free to get in touch!

bottom of page