The less teachers talk, the more pupils learn @jackiebeere @teachertoolkit

A couple of years ago @jackiebeere came to do a presentation at my school, this was soon after her book ‘the perfect Ofsted lesson’ came out.  I’m not on commission….but since it is a great read you can get it from the link here:

One piece of advice that she gave was to try to aim for a teacher input of 20% and a pupil engagement of 80%. Many of you will have heard of the 80/20 split in many different situations,  “It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population.

It was after Jackie’s presentation that I started to look at the clock in my room, so many times I have been guilty of standing there…..leaning on my whiteboard….and talking for up to 20 minutes – before I would unleash the pupils to actively learn.  I am even more ashamed that I am a Design and Technology, a teacher of a practical subject, where all the pupils say to me is ‘can we just get on with it Sir?’  Once a pupil even turned his stool round to face me, stretched his legs and leaned back to rest on his table, when I asked him why he was sat like that, he replied ‘I’m just getting comfy Sir before you start!’  Whilst this pupil was being polite (I think), it did make me realise that things have got to change and I need to reconsider my approach to the way I deliver my lessons.

I am going to list a few practical ways that I have adopted to ensure that the pupils do more work than me in the lesson, not only do I think the pupils are learning more, but I feel that I have more time in my lessons to speak to the pupils on a one-to-one basis, more time to assess their work with them and to ask really focussed questions that are pitched to the correct level of their ability….ensuring that each pupil is challenged.

  1. I use Solo Taxonomy in many of my lessons, I split the levels on learning/understanding into the five  Solo structures.  I write the different levels of learning/understanding on five post-it notes and stick each note in an envelope.  I have lots of envelops with the pictures of the Solo Structures on the front. (Go on twitter and search #Soloarmy for examples).  I then hand the envelopes out to various pupils as they come into my room, the lesson then starts with them opening the envelopes and reading out the differentiated learning objectives.  I use this envelop technique a lot, the pupils love opening them.  Sometimes they will contain instructions to share with their tables, instructions on how to peer assess, how to pack up work, sometimes I put instructions in so that the pupils lead a practical demonstration….rather than me. The envelopes could contain anything that you would normally stop a class for.  Do try it and comment on here what you have done with the envelopes!
  2. An amazing idea from @teachertoolkit – Homework.  Homework is often an issue.  Either because it is time consuming to think of what to set or time consuming explaining how to do it.  I think that if you add up the time a teacher spends setting homework and explaining it, over a day, a week, a month, a year….it would be a shocking amount of time that not only a class is stopped for, but how long they have stopped learning for.  @teachertoolkit came up with the idea of take-away homework.  I now have a take-away style homework menu up in my room with 50 different homeworks on.  I spent about 30 minutes making the poster (it can be found on my blog).  The pupils now just get given a time slot in the lesson where they go to the take-away and pick which one they want to use….they love it.  Now my whole class carry on working whilst each table simply goes over to the large A1 poster and picks a homework.  I usually write on my board, Table 1, 9.00 am, Table 2, 9.10 am etc. etc.
  3. On a laser cutter I made a class set of Red and Green discs, they look like poker chips from a casino, but are red on one side and green on the other.  The pupils simply have these in front of them and flip them back and forth during the lesson to show their understanding.  I always say that the discs are for them, rather than me.  If a pupil turns their disc to red, a pupil with a green chip must try and help them.  Again this is something that all pupils seem to like from Year 7 to 11.
  4. Exit cards are in a small box in the middle of the table (this is where I also keep the red/green chips), the pupils answer some simple questions on the cards and hand them to me as they leave.  I change the questions every few weeks to keep them interested.  Typical questions could be, ‘what have you learnt today?’ ‘have you enjoyed the lesson?’ ‘on a scale of 1 -10, were you challenged enough?’ ‘what do you think we will learn next lesson?’ I then use the feedback to inform the way I deliver my lesson next time.
  5. I have a Solo Taxonomy Continuum line on the wall in my classroom.  After the learning objectives have been read out, (by the pupils), I get the class to write their name on a post-it and stick it on the line.  During the lesson, without me saying so, they can go and move their post-it as they feel they make progress.  It is great to take a quick picture of the post-its on my phone at the start of the lesson, and then at the end.  I email the pictures from my phone to my work email and stick them on the interactive whiteboard for the class to see….whilst they fill out their exit tickets.  A great way to keep the class motivated by sharing the progress with them.

All these resources take a bit of time to make and set up, but once you get the pupils in a routine the lessons pretty much run themselves!  My last 6 lessons have been graded as outstanding, both by Ofsted and in school.  I truly believe that to be outstanding you need routines that the pupils know.  It would be a shambles if you had no routines that promoted learning through a teacher talking less, and then shocked the pupils by copying all the things I’ve written about here simply because you know you are being observed.  Forget observations, plan outstanding lessons for the pupils, get your routines right and let the pupils lead the learning.


Please comment on this blog if you have any other good tips for me to try, or if you use any of my ideas.


Thank you.



3 thoughts on “The less teachers talk, the more pupils learn @jackiebeere @teachertoolkit

  1. Robert tracey says:

    I see from the above article you use SOLO Taxonomy in your DT lessons. I am new to this and I sort of get it with theory lessons however I was wondering how you use it with practical lessons. Thanks for any help.

  2. Rashida says:

    Wow, wish I could come and observe a lesson. I am an NQT and feel a bit lost especially when delivering theory during a practical subject (I teach food tech and hospitality and catering) There is no other food teacher in the school and my timetable in crammed.
    I need to get up to speed on my pedagogy as I have had 2 years off after my GTP after having a baby. Could you recommend any good books please?

  3. John Donnelly says:

    Robert, for practical lessons the main solo structures can be used to: name tools, put tools to be used in the correct order, say when to stop using one tool and moving on to another (coping saw to rasp to file to glass paper etc etc), be able to apply the use of the tools to another use, to demonstrate how to use the tools and comment on hins and tips so the correc technique is used by others.

    Rashida, I would not suggest you read any books, the #100 ideas from @teachertoolkit is pretty good, but I would just stick to twitter and blogs rather than book – blogs stay up to date and are written everyday, I love books, but the interaction from a blog is better, and you can ask questions to the blogger (like this) :-).

    Thank you

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