In teaching, there is often a tension between a desire for simplicity in communicating recommendations of effective teaching and acceptance of the complexity of implementation in the diverse and dynamic contexts of our classes.
Balancing the Art and the Science of teaching can be a substantial challenge. The Science tells us that there are some evidence based techniques that have a greater than normal chance of having substantial impact on students learning outcomes, however there is often great subtlety and counter-intuition in what it is that makes these strategies effective. The Art tells us that may of the skills of the craft often develop in a piecemeal fashion, passed-on from colleage-to-colleage, interpreted, and then adapted to the specific context that teachers find themselves in as they manage the dynamic complexities of the operational necessities of their ongoing practice and emerging student needs, or are lost to the abyss of the ‘too hard basket’ or worse: ‘I tried it once and it didn’t work!’.
How can we support teachers to develop a continuously refined repertoire of strategies that suit their context without jeopardising the critical features of those strategies that ensure their effectiveness?
Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli’s “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching” offers one attractive and innovative approach to addressing this teacher development challenge…
In their, “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli have developed a book that covers a great deal knowledge and recommendations for developing teacher practice but they manage to do it in a way that does not feel overwhelming – it even ‘feels’ like a small book.
WalkThrus use both words and static images. Their design is based on clear decisions about what matters and what should be left out. As a result, they make teaching know-how as accessible – and attractive – as possible. They shorten the route to understanding.page 12, “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli (2020)
The book is the first in a series, with a second (blue) book already published and a third (green) book currently planned, aimed at weaving together the multiple threads of instructional coaching, cognitive science, and graphic design. This first set includes 50 ‘WalkThru strategies’ (brief visually scaffolded 5-step guides to effective teaching techniques) and is presented in three major sections:
- Why? Visual Guides for Teacher Development
- What? Strategies for Effective Teaching & Learning
- How? Implementing Teacher Development
Why? Visual Guides for Teacher Development
Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli identify two main problems and two main solutions to the challenge of needing to curate teaching techniques:
- Problem 1: Professional Amnesia
Evidence-based strategies are easily lost in the fog of fads that come and go, and that teachers can become demoralised by the frustration of needing to re-discover the useful gems from the recurring swings and roundabouts)
- Problem 2: Lethal Mutation coined by Dylan Wiliam
When teachers adopt, adapt and pass on what works for them, the procedures evolve so much that they can drift away from the key aspects that make the techniques effective – c/f Scott Snook’s (2000) “practical drift” theory, e.g., here)
- Solution 1: The Checklist Manifesto popularised by Atul Gawande
‘Star-quality’ (the essential steps of effective practice) can be identified and codified so that it can, in principal, be explicitly communicated and implemented by any individual – not just the ‘star’ practitioners
- Solution 2: The Context-free Hub Model
Identifying the essential features of each technique and placing them at the centre of teachers of diverse subjects and ages rather than relying on a linear sequence of interpretations and reinterpretations from teacher to teacher
Two other ideas that resonate throughout the approach take here include retrieval practice and dual coding. By repeating exposure of the reader to common themes, they support the act of trying to recall information without having it in front of you. By consistently linking simplified visual exemplars with explicit verbal explanations, they support the making and reinforcing of multiple connections between related concepts. In addition to these ideas, they recognise the influence of a range of ‘big ideas’ in education theory and research including, those that emphasise applications of cognitive science to teaching and learning, such as is exemplified through Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (Tom Sherrington’s ordering):
- Present new material using small steps
- Provide models
- Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks
- Ask questions
- Check for student understanding
- Guide student practice
- Obtain a high success rate
- Independent practice
- Daily review
- Weekly & monthly practice
With this analysis in mind, Sherrington and Cavilglioli have developed the approach of communicating effective teaching strategies through a visual verbal technique that they call a “WalkThru”. The essential components of a ‘WalkThru include:
- A short, meaningful, and memorable descriptive title of a well-established evidence-based technique
- A paragraph outlining the rational, justifications and considerations for each strategy
- A sequence of five steps that identify the sequential and necessary aspects for implementation
- Each of these 5 steps includes;
- A visual model that reduces complexity through stylised line-drawings that highlight essential features of each step with minimal text
- A paragraph describing what is essential to each step and explaining why it works and any considerations that may be needed for specific contexts
The following image shows an example for the visual component of the five-step procedure for “Cold Calling” from the Questioning and Feedback theme:
Each page also has ‘breadcrumb’-like textual links that contextualise where the specific ‘WalkThru’ fits in with the others within the theme and other features of the book, including a persistent reminder to Attempt, Develop, Adapt, Practice & Test the implementation of each strategy.
What? Strategies for Effective Teaching & Learning
The bulk of the book is comprised of six subsections of WalkThrus for strategies related to the main themes that they identify for effective teacher practice: Behaviour & Relationships, Curriculum Planning, Explaining & Modelling, Questioning & Feedback, Practice & Retrieval, and, Mode B Teaching.
|Themes||Features of Strategies within each theme||Examples|
|Behaviour & Relationships||Establish classroom conditions essential for effective learning||Establish Expectations,|
|Curriculum Planning||Create a coherent, well-sequenced knowledge-rich curriculum||Sequence Small Steps, |
Pitch it Up,
|Explaining & Modelling||Make sense of complex ideas to support students in building secure schema||Worked Examples,|
|Questioning & Feedback||Use responsive teaching methods to check students’ understanding and move them forward||Cold Calling,|
Check for Understanding,
Feedback as Actions
|Practice & Retrieval||Building secure long-term memory and fluency||Quizzing,|
|Mode B Teaching||Deliver a range of learning experiences to deepen and extend learning||Collaborative Learning|
Selection and Organisation of Strategies
Even in just providing this thematic clustering of strategies, Sherrington and Cavilglioli have simplified much of the process of teasing out the various threads that make teacher practice complex and teacher development such a challenge. This has been done somewhat at the expense of acknowledging the connections between some of these themes and the often multiple purposes that some strategies can effectively simultaneously serve (e.g., some of the more obviously fruitful applications of Questioning & Feedback strategies to supporting both Behaviour & Relationships as well as Practice & Retrieval). It is also, not always clear why some strategies have been included in this limited list while others have been omitted. While Sherrington and Cavilglioli have at least two further collections (one already release another panned), some of the strategies presented in their second (blue) book may have deserved greater prominence by being included in the first (yellow). Some of those that do appear in the second, which to my mind deserved to have been in the first include, “Getting Lessons Started”, “Learning Objective vs Tasks“, and “Success Criteria” to name a few. While this may be just a difference of opinion, it does point to the potential for a more explicit organising principle for the inclusion of some strategies over others that is not clear from the text. Having said this, the strategies include here offer any teacher a valuable source of recommendations for reflection and inclusion in their practice. To get a better idea of how these WalkThrus are designed, I will briefly review one of these WalkThrus from the Behaviour & Relationships theme.
A sample WalkThru: ‘Signal, Pause, Insist’
I have selected the ‘Signal, Pause, Insist‘ strategy WalkThru to illustrate some of the key features of the WlakThrus in general, partly because it is very generally applicable and partly because I believe it is one of their most effectively communicated examples. As with all WalkThrus, this one begin with an overview as follows:
This is one of the most important routines in teaching because it is one teachers will use several times a lesson. Too often teachers over-rely on their voices to talk over the noise of a chatting class in order to gain attention. This can be difficult and hard to sustain. It can also run counter to the ideal of creating a calm learning environment to rely on raised voices. A simple signal-pause-insist routine allows teachers to move from one lesson to another calmly and efficiently. Everyone talking ➙ Signal, pause, insist ➙ Everyone listening. The more precise and consistent you are in giving the signal and insisting on the response, the more embedded it becomes.page 40 “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli (2020)
The five steps for this example ‘Signal, Pause, Insist’ strategy WalkThru, each of which is displayed in the book so that they are aligned neatly underneath its corresponding image, are shown below:
1) Choose a signal: Select a clear and easily reproduced signal. This might be: a raised hand, “3-2-1 and listening” to enter and move between tasks, two sharp claps, using a small bell, It doesn’t matter as long as it can be used freely and repeatedly.page 40-41 “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli (2020)
2) Rehearse the Signal: Introduce the signal to each class soon after meeting them. Practise the process of stopping and starting an activity using the signal. Make it clear what the signal is and what you want them to do on hearing it.
3) Give the Signal: When you want to move from student activity to teacher input, stop what you are doing and give the agreed signal. Stand facing the class, scanning the room to make eye contact with everyone.
4) Pause: Give students a short moment to adjust; it’s not instantaneous. Wait without speaking to allow this transition to happen naturally. Hold eye contact all the time. When ready, affirm their positive response with a simple “thank you”.
5) Insist: Before moving on be sure that everyone has given you the agreed response. If you can’t get a 100% response through body language and eye contact, use low level reminders. You might need a more-strict response or to rehearse the signal for attention routine again.
For more detail and ideas of how this links with other strategies see TeacherHead’s – Everyday Routines. Classroom dialogue and behaviour management, hand-in-hand.
Communication and Design
The consistency of presentation of these WalkThrus makes it easy to quickly identify the key features of each strategy while also making it obvious where to access more detailed considerations. However it is a pity that there is only rarely explicit links to further information and/or references to relevant research. The choice of 5 stages for every WalkThru, similarly simplifies engagement with the key aspects of each strategy although sometime disproportionately emphasises (or de-emphasises) some stages over others. It is not always clear that some stages are central to a strategy while others are supportive to framing, implementing and/or developing the strategy more effectively. There is a clear emphasis on dual-coding theory as a rationale for the design and prominence of their simplified images, which take up almost half of the available space on each page. Many of these images have an obvious connection to the key feature of the stage that they relate to and which that they aim to highlight, often with great support from the brief title of the stage (e.g., “Pause”). At times, it can take some time, effort and scrutiny to identify the key elements being emphasised – but this is the point! While some of these strategies seem to resemble what teacher generally do, they idea here is to emphasis those aspects of practice that are easily overlooked or dismissed as less important in the flow of teacher’s busy schedules and operational necessities. Often, where the images are more subtle, the adjacent text provides ample indication of the relevant nuance being emphasised (e.g., the “body language and eye contact” in the “Insist” stage above).
How? Implementing Teacher Development
The final section includes a set of WalkThrus that are ostensibly focussed on supporting the implementation of WalkThrus as tools for teacher development. However, given that they range from general principles for making professional learning effective through to the tactics of instructional coaching, they offer useful guides for teacher development strategies beyond just WalkThrus. Central to these is the A|D|A|P|T strategy, which encourages teachers to attempt, develop, adapt, practice and test their implementations of new teaching approaches to the specific contexts of their own practice.
|It’s difficult to fully appreciate the meaning of a set of teaching ideas until you’ve enacted them in some form. This might be live in-situ or, at the very least, should be a detailed mental rehearsal. Modelling as a part of CPD can help get ideas off the page but there’s no real substitute for having a go.||In a real context – real students with specific curriculum material – a generic idea needs development either in terms of adding more fine-grained steps or adding in details that make it relevant for that class, that space and that curriculum.||Sometimes significant changes are needed for make an idea work in practice. Adaptions are bigger changes than in Develop. It might be necessary to reverse some steps or create multiple loops – or change more radically. It would be important to agree, record and communicate big changes so that shared understanding is retained across a team.||You are rarely good enough at something the first time you do it to evaluate the effectiveness of using that technique. Teaching better requires sustained practice over a period of time so that some of the elements can become more fluent and any context-specific issues ironed out. Once we have a reasonable level of confidence, we’re in a better position so evaluate how well the technique is working.||Perhaps the most important but also the most challenging recommendation in ADAPT is that teachers test the impact of any given strategy using some form of assessment or formalised evaluation. It’s not enough to base this on how it feels to you as the teacher; it has to be about how well the students are learning as a consequence- all of them, not just a few. Test is a reminder that we can’t just assume things are working well because we feel good about them.|
In addition to this novel contribution, Sherrington and Cavilglioli have included guides for teacher development strategies, including, Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching, protocols for Observations (both seen & ‘unseen’) and features of running effective Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Cycles (similar to PLC inquiry cycles here in Victoria). The final WalkThru, somewhat ironically, provides the clearest starting point for using WalkThrus, highlighting how important it is in Teacher Development to focus on how we can Solve the Learning Problem:
In designing the content for the Teaching WalkThrus, we have focussed on strategies that commonly offer solutions to tackling students’ learning problems. This emphasis can be a much more productive and health approach to focusing directly on teachers’ performance. In any class there will be students who find it more difficult than others, who do not score full marks on the assessments. What are the problems they experience? This is where to begin when looking for strategies.page 162 “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli (2020)
Beginning with a (1) Review of Student Performance to identify areas of success and greatest challenge for students to (2) Identify Precise Points Where Student Can Improve, which may include recall or understanding key concepts, fluency of their application, or simply understanding the instructions. It is only once the precise nature of the Learning Problem has been identified that we can begin to productively (3) Consider Strategies That Bridge These Gaps, and they offer the following links between student needs and strategic themes:
|Learning Problem||Strategic Themes (or Strategies)|
|Habits & Routines||Behaviour & Relationships|
|Fluency & Recall||Weekly & Monthly Routines|
|Understanding||Explaining & Modelling|
|Quality of Performance||Independent Practice|
While this is a oversimplification it is illustrative of the notion that it is the Learning Problem that comes first and the identification of potentially relevant teaching strategies that follow and not rather than just applying strategies for their own sake. Furthermore, it is not to suggest a criticism that the teacher has not included a strategy but it may be that, for some students, a particular strategy may need to be emphasised, revised or reinforced:
It is rarely the case of introducing anew element into a teacher’s practice. It is more likely to be a question of increasing the intensity, or teaching with more frequent cycles of feedback and improvement.163 “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching”, Tom Sherrington and Oliver Cavilglioli (2020)
From here, teachers can (4) Select WalkThrus Relevant to Delivering the Strategies (preferably one at a time and with support of Instructional Coaching or Unseen Observations if needed) and then (5) Apply the A|D|A|P|T Process.
This approach offers an empowering approach to teacher development in that it acknowledges that we can all benefit from reflecting on how we can refine our implementation of targeted teaching strategies selected by us to meat an identified need. This is essentially advocating for a more bottom-up (or side-by-side) approach to teacher development, such as is offered by instructional coaching and peer observation and feedback. As identified by Sherington in several of his blog posts on TeacherHead, more top-down observation and feedback models are fundamentally flawed in terms of their ability to have enduing and meaningful impact on teacher practice:
The problem with all these systems is that they are built on presumptions that are often just wrong:
– that the observer has insights of value by dint of their status in the hierarchyTime to replace ‘formal observation’ systems with Instructional Coaching for everyone #CPD – TeacherHead
– that their judgements and feedback are accurate, correctly identifying the factors that could be addressed or reinforced
– that, if conveyed to the teacher directly, the feedback will be absorbed and thus will improve quality in the long run
– that the judgements and feedback have some kind of status – power, meaning, weight – that a teachers’ self-evaluation doesn’t have.
– the frequency and depth of the top-down fly-by analysis and feedback is optimal for driving improvement.
He goes on to provide the antidote:
The observer and teacher, side by side, on a level, talking through the problems and actions associated with teaching the class in question. I would say that, as a minimum, all feedback from lesson observations should be communicated face to face with the fundamental principle that that it is the teacher’s meeting, for them, about their teaching and their students. They own it; they drive it – and, ideally, they record it. The feedback isn’t given and received – it is co-constructed and agreed.Time to replace ‘formal observation’ systems with Instructional Coaching for everyone #CPD – TeacherHead
With their book, “Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instruction Coaching”, Sherrington and Cavilglioli have provided a collection of essential tools that have been effectively packaged in an accessible toolkit to support teachers to build their collective efficacy while developing their practice in a continuous and responsive way.
In reflecting on this book, I find myself considering three different scales of potential impact to my teaching;
- Personal – Classroom Practice
- Interpersonal – Instructional Coaching
- Collective – Professional Learning Communities
Personal – Classroom Practice
I see myself using this book mostly in a very personal way to reflect on my implementation of strategies and to consider which strategies I may need to re-emphasise, refine or reinforce. There are many habits that form the art or craft of teaching that are often stubbornly resistant to modification because they feel essential to one’s practice – having been enacted so often, so effortlessly, and increasingly so mindlessly. The accessibility of the collection of strategies presented in these WalkThrus, along with the framing of them in the context of the A|D|A|P|T model of implementation encourages an non-threatening reminder to evaluate and review some of these concrete tools of the trade.
Being able to quickly identify that a particular way that I have been beginning my lessons relates strongly to the “Signal, Pause, Insist” strategy provides me with a framework for considering why it has been working well and suggests potentially fruitful avenues to consider refining my technique. Recently, in the early phase of my lessons, I have approached the centre of the class and reminded students that we like to start the lesson “Calm, Focused and Clear on what we are doing” usually with accompanied hand signals to indicate that it’s time to put away screens (fold hands to mimic laptop) and other distractions (hand in the air) and bring their attention to me (two fingers turned toward my eyes). Reflecting on this in light of the WalkThru, I notice that while I had implemented the “Rehearse The Signal” stage with some of my classes, I may have made some assumptions with other classes which may help explain the reduced efficacy in that class. Having since been explicit with that class about what I meant by “Calm, Focused and Clear” and unpacking and rehearsing the signals, has addressed the discrepancy that I had noticed.
In general, as with the Checklist Manifesto, these WalkThrus offer a efficient way of supporting Implementation Fidelity in the adaptation of generalised teaching strategies into specific contexts, by providing clear indicators of critical; features and their rationale, and prompts to included them effectively. I look forward to using these WalkThrus as a reflection tool to refine aspect of my practice when I notice the impact of normally effective strategies starting to drift.
Interpersonal – Instructional Coaching
While have not had an opportunity to use WalkThrus, explicitly in an Instructional Coaching setting, I suspect that it would provide strong hinge point for Three Point Communication: where the communication between the Coach and Coachee is shared through a visual focus to encourage discussions about teaching/behaviours rather than the teachers/personalities. Although I have not used this text in this way before, I have often used a simplified presentation of the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s “High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS)” to support this approach to instructional training.
In this context I have adapted the “This strategy is demonstrated when …” aspects of the HITS to show 4 key aspects of each on (the first 4 are shown below):
The advantage of the Teaching WalkThrus is that there are so many more specific strategies, displayed visually with a conveniently themed menu to support browsing for ideas to help teachers develop ownership of the interventions they will adopt and adapt!
Collective – Professional Learning Communities
Having been responsible for the implementation of the Professional Learning Communities model of Inquiry Cycle, Like, Sherrington and Cavigloli, I was keen to simplify the complexity of effective teacher practice while ensuring that the critical features where explicitly articulated and visually highlighted. While I’m happy to admit that my graphic design skills are not on a par with theirs, I have tried to convey the three key steps to the each of the stages of the PLC Inquiry Cycle so that teachers are not overwhelmed by the detail but are still guided toward implementation fidelity through the explicit titles and relatable icons.
This approach helps to acknowledge and highlight that despite the dynamic and complex nature of specific contexts of teacher practice there is great benefit to developing a shared understanding of a range of broadly applicable and highly effective strategies to teacher practice and development. I for one look forward to exploring how Teaching WalkThrus can help to continue this journey for myself and others.
- Time to replace ‘formal observation’ systems with Instructional Coaching for everyone #CPD – TeacherHead
- Five Steps Towards an Embedded Coaching and CPD Culture – TeacherHead
- the A|D|A|P|T strategy – TeacherHead
- Everyday Routines. Classroom dialogue and behaviour management, hand-in-hand – TeacherHead’s
- Checklist Manifesto popularised by Atul Gawande
- Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction
- Victorian Department of Education and Training’s “High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS)“
- Victorian Department of Education and Training’s “Professional Learning Communities (PLC)“