For the past eight months or so I have been researching and writing a book on teaching. Yes, I have far too much time on my hands and yes, I need to get out significantly more. Having spent the last few months apparently married to a laptop, writing into the dead of the night, I now fully intend to!
The book started as a project after reading ‘In Praise of Slow’ by Carl Honore, a fascinating read about the various benefits of slowing down our busy and frantic lives. Given the significant demands on the time of a teacher, I thought it would be interesting to apply the ‘slow’ approach to various elements of classroom life and how we manage the stress of teaching. By some miracle a publisher was interested in the concept and ‘Slow Teaching’: A guide to finding calm, organisation and impact in the classroom’ will be published in February of next year.
Working with Zoe Taylor on the Teacher Advocates group has been a great way to share some of the aspects that I have been looking at and for pinching some brilliant ideas! A brief introduction to five things that I have found most interesting when applying a slower approach to the classroom:
There are so many occasions in which we are asked to repeat ourselves in the classroom. Slowing down how we communicate at the front of the room can be very powerful in ensuring that our students’ focus carefully on what we are saying. When trying to explain difficult concepts it is also powerful to drop the pace. By avoiding the temptation to speak quickly at the front of the room we also begin to have more reserves and energy in the long teaching days.
We ask hundreds of questions throughout our working weeks, and it is one of the aspects in which speed inevitably starts to dominate. Slowing down questioning can be very useful in improving the quality of answers we can elicit from students. Pausing to give thinking time before pouncing on the first student to give an answer means that all students are required to think and rehearse an answer.
Calm consistency in the classroom fully embraces a slow and measured approach to dealing with behaviour issues. Reacting emotionally and quickly can often result in situations rapidly escalating. With more difficult students I have found the slow and clear approach to explaining why their behaviour is not what is expected will soon have them back on side and refocused.
One of the most interesting aspects of researching the book has been reading lots about memory and how to best teach for retention. A more strategic and thoughtful vision of planning may appear an obvious aspect of teaching, but often because of our busy schedules we plan quickly and with limited vision for the future. To help our students remember information, introducing low stakes testing and interleaving practice periodically in units of work can have real impact. Allowing ourselves the time to look at the year as a whole and how we can
The desire to sprint through a set of books is completely understandable; they tend to be quickly replaced with the next gigantic pile. The race marking strategy, however, does little for the learning of our students and does little to inform future planning. Slow marking might mean marking less, but it ensures that the marking is of value in terms of moving student learning forward. It involves much more reflection about the comments that will be left for students and how they might be interpreted and much more on what students will do as a result of feedback.
Writing this has made me realise that the book could have been remarkably shorter! If any of this strikes a cord or you would like to talk more about life in the teacher tortoise lane, now I no longer have a book to write I can be found doing something very slowly in Inspire Five.