Book Review: Making Every Lesson Count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning
If we are to make every lesson count, what simple and manageable actions have the greatest impact on learning?
Before sitting down to review this book, I had just met with the senior leaders in a school to discuss a middle leadership professional learning program. As I walked around the school, I was initially amazed at the progressive building design, the open classroom spaces, break out spaces, funky and moveable furniture, whiteboard desks and up-to-date technology. Yet what really struck me was the configuration of the desks. It was as though I had entered a time warp and had returned to my secondary school in the 70s. The desks were in single rows all facing toward the front of the room – the only thing missing was the elevated teacher’s platform (for those of you born in the 60s!). Now, I could have felt dismayed, but this wasn’t the first time I had observed this same scenario. But I am an optimist by nature, and have come to the conclusion that as teachers we really do want to do what is best for our students’ learning. It doesn’t make sense that by simply changing the building design and configuration of the furniture we will automatically change our pedagogical practice to suit. Like students, we need time to understand the pedagogical thinking behind furniture and building design, to rethink our current practice, to learn new and effective strategies – and then have the time to experiment, to make mistakes and to adjust, so that we can optimise student learning.
But where are the road maps to help us navigate the confusing, often over-complicated plethora of educational research that describes what successful classroom practice looks like?
Making Every Lesson Count provides one such roadmap. The authors state from the outset that they do not believe in silver bullets or pretend to provide simplistic answers to every dilemma teachers face on a day-to-day basis. Instead, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, as classroom practitioners themselves, offer a coherent ethos and six evidence-informed pedagogical principles that cut to the core of successful teaching and learning – challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, feedback and questioning. Their response to the fast-paced, headlong pursuit of fashionable pedagogical trends as described above, is to return to our fundamental responsibility – that of giving all students the chance to be excellent through a culture of artisanship. All students are then viewed as apprentice artisans genuinely learning their craft through great teaching that presents challenge, encouragement during inevitable setbacks, deliberate practice of essential skills, modelling alternative strategies when confronted with problems and focused feedback to improve, which ultimately leads students toward independence and mastery.
The book will be immensely useful to all teachers at all stages in their development, in particular for those driven by a vision to keep learning and improving so that every lesson counts for all students. As experienced teachers, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, live and breathe what they discuss within the book. They incorporate their own practice and examples from case study schools in their relentless quest to ensure all young people in the building can grow, flourish and achieve things that they once thought were impossible.
Teachers, like all artisans, need time to continually hone their practice, to experiment, to try new ideas, to make mistakes, and to learn and try again if we are to authentically lead the learning in our classrooms. Making Every Lesson Count outlines a roadmap for teachers to do just that, with the majority of the book dedicated to sharing the planning, delivery and assessment strategies that bring the six principles that underlie effective teaching to life.
Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls