‘Heads On’ Teaching — Not as lazy as it looks

5 year old teaching us Tai Chi

I have spent the beginning of the week visiting classrooms, reflecting on the teacher as facilitator, and developing the idea of ‘Heads On’ teaching (as originally thought up here).

I feel here that I should outline some of the characteristics of (good) ‘Heads On’ teaching.

  1. The teacher is generating interest, setting things up, overseeing the task, keeping learners on task, monitoring, giving feedback, facilitating sharing and peer feedback.
  2. Teacher instructions are expressed clearly and simply. Learners understand what they need to do.
  3. The learners are the focal point of the lesson.
  4. Learners are working collaboratively in groups, or alone.
  5. The teacher may appear to be sitting back or invisible in the classroom.
  6. The lesson is rich language, content and skills development.
  7. Learners are feeding back to each other, improving each others’ ideas.
  8. The teacher is feeding back, making learners’ ideas and end product better.
  9. The teacher talks very little, but what s/he says is crucially important. Everything that the teacher says is focused on the facilitation of the class, of building the group dynamic, and on making the learners better.
  10. The teacher is constantly thinking.

When observing teachers through the ‘Heads On’ lens, I attempted to make notes under the following headings:

What is the teacher doing?

What are the learners doing?

What is being learned?

Watching a particularly ‘Heads On’ lesson this week, I felt that these questions underestimated the role of the teacher. As stated above, the teacher may not look busy, in fact the ‘Heads On’ teacher may appear lazy, distant, removed from the class. As I was watching learners immersed in a highly collaborative task, using language, developing co-operative and drama skills, I began to reflect on the teacher’s role, and I realised that my questions were missing a key heading:

What is the teacher thinking?

I am not sure if this is the ‘right’ question, but it is an interesting one to consider. ‘Head On’ teachers are thinking all of the time. Beneath their cool, calm exterior, they are making decisions about what they can do to maximise learning. They are working very very hard.

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