Thursday, 29 May 2014

Outstanding Vs Lazy Teaching

There are many blog posts, tick lists and books that will tell you how to achieve an 'outstanding' grade in an observation.  Just Google it.  I've taught lessons using that guidance and achieved the Holy Grail grade of lesson observation.  I've also taught lessons totally different to said formula and achieved grades much less than 'outstanding'.  However, whenever I follow the outstanding steps, I feel like a bit of a cheat.  This leads to me going against the formula, taking a risk, trying something new and....falling flat of my face with a lesser grading! (Read my post about observations and grades here).

Last week, when deliberating with how to teach my class of 8-9 year-olds how to tell the time, I ripped the 'outstanding' formula to shreds, threw it on the ground and stomped on it but it was still a successful lesson. It wasn't observed and I'm not going to grade it but I know it was a success because every child in my class is better at telling the time than they were at the beginning of the lesson. (They also enjoyed the lesson a huge amount but I know that doesn't count for much nowadays!)  

Instead of following the 'outstanding' formula, I went more down the 'lazy' route!  Last year, I read and reread The Lazy Teacher's Handbook which encourages "teachers to teach less so that children learn more".  So, with the theories from that book in mind, I set about planning a lesson to help my class learn to tell the time.

In this post, Michael argues that testing children can be good when it's used in a formative way by teachers.  I wholly agree and so did a quick ten-question test to assess where my children were at in their journey of learning to tell the time before using the results to plan the lesson.  The test results told me two things.  Firstly, there were 6 children in my class who fully understood how to tell the time on an analogue clock.  Secondly, I needed to differentiate at least 10 ways to accommodate the next steps of all the other children in my class. 

First thought: Arrrrghhhh! 10 way differentiation.

Second thought: Lazy Teaching.

I used the tests to group the children according to the simplest skill they didn't know: o'clocks, half pasts, quarters to and past etc.  Next, I create Ten Steps To Tell the Time:

  1. I can find o’clock times.
  2. I can find half past times.
  3. I can find quarter past times.
  4. I can find quarter to times.
  5. I can find 5s past.
  6. I can find 5s to.
  7. I can find 5s to and past.
  8. I can find times later and earlier than other times.
  9. I can use a digital clock.
  10. I can convert to the 24 hour clock.

The aim was to get as many children to step seven as possible using those who could tell the time as my Teaching Assistants. Children used the results of their test to highlight the ones they could do and then I handed the buck over to them. I had prepared packs of resources for each step; there were blank clock faces, physical clocks, toy clocks, practice worksheets and tests. Each child had to ensure they worked on the next step, practised it and then tested their knowledge. Using the six children as TAs meant there were eight 'experts' in the room to help with the challenge of differentiation.

The atmosphere in the room was electric. Everyone was busy and everyone engaged. Some expert children were teaching whole tables, others were working with individuals. The adults in the room made ourselves useful too, providing help where necessary. The 'TAs' relished the opportunity to help their friends learn and the other children were much more willing to ask them for help than the adults. In the hour lesson, I did no whole-class teaching. I simply outlined what would happen in the lesson and what children needed to do. They took to the challenge better than I'd expected and loved how different their learning felt. Because of the ten steps, their learning was crystal clear. They felt they were making progress and were proud of what they'd learned.

My only worry during the lesson was the children acting as TAs. What were they getting out of it? I know the age-old saying "you understand 95% of what you teach someone else" and I realised how much better I understand things now that I'm having to teach them. However, early on in the lesson my worries disappeared as one of those children asked, "Mrs P, how do I help her understand why it's quarter past and to?". I was able to explain to her about the secret of teaching - questioning. We discussed fractions and she then questioned her pupil about fractions. In the process, both the TA child and her pupil gained a greater understanding of time.

I have no idea what OfSTEd grade this lesson would have achieved but, the truth is, I don't really care. In that moment and at that time I did what I thought was best for those children and, as it turns out, it was a resounding success. I saw the lesson as a win-win-win lesson. The children could tell the time better, the 'TAs' gained confidence and understanding and, in all of it, I didn't have to do a huge amount (plus the resources are still there for our next 'time' session).

The truth is that teachers are not and cannot be 'lazy'. It's not in the nature of the job or our personalities. However I could have made this lesson a lot harder for myself by trying to follow the 'outstanding teaching/learning' articles. How would the outcomes have changed? I don't know for sure but I imagine I would have been a worn out, stressed teacher trying to ensure 10 groups of children made progress towards their next step. By handing the control over to them, I made my job easier and, as it turned out, they enjoyed it more. At the core of the lesson was still the learning but instead of it being my job to make it happen, it was the pupils'.

UPDATE May 2015 - I have started using the Time Teller of the Day idea. Read about it in this blog post.


  1. Love it. Independant learning definately a plus with OFsted.
    Will try this tomorrow.

  2. This is great, really want to try it this week.

  3. Hi
    Love your ideas.
    Do you have a copy of your time assessment and, if so, please could we have a copy of it?
    Thanks Cheryl


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