By placing the learning first in this phrase we are making an important distinction. As John Hattie says in Visible Learning for Teachers,"learning occurs when learning is the explicit and transparent goal." I am sure that all of us if we are honest will admit that there have been occasions in our teaching career when the learning was relegated as the goal behind other issues such as curriculum coverage, producing a product for a deadline or simply containing a lively class on a wet November afternoon. Too often as well teacher appraisal focuses on teaching with little reference to student learning.
I therefore propose four steps that need to be thought about to ensure that lessons focus on student learning.
Step one: of ensuring that learning is constantly the focus of the teacher is for the teacher to always be asking themselves what are students learning here? This vitally important question reflects something that my colleague Marina Gijzen said to me when I told her the title of this blog post, "the teaching might be irrelevant but the teacher is not."
Step two: Teachers need to have a mindset that enables them to adapt their pedagogy in the light of the evidence that they are constantly gathering about student learning. If a student is not developing the desired skills and knowledge when it is delivered in a particular way, the chances are that delivering it in exactly the same way on countless occasions will have no better impact. Of course, if we don't know what the desired learning is, it is hard to assess if it is occurring leading to: Step three: There should be clarity for both students and teachers about what the expected learning is. The dialogue within the classroom should be about "what we are learning" not "what we are doing". All too often students (and indeed sometimes teachers) have great clarity about what they are doing- the page of a mathematics book, building a tower, writing a story etc. but little idea about what they are learning. Unless students are explicitly aware of what they are learning, they are unlikely to retain and transfer that knowledge to new situations.
Step four:When it comes to learning, less is often more. Curriculum needs to be based around key learning outcomes that are generative in nature in that allow students to develop more and deeper knowledge from them. The Teaching for Understanding movement coming out of Project Zero at Harvard has been influential in espousing this.
By ensuring that clearly articulated and appropriately challenging learning is the focus for every student in every classroom we can ensure that, to contradict my own title, teaching remains highly relevant as a means to achieving student learning. Teaching disassociated from learning is a dangerous irrelevance.