Outstanding Teaching Notes

For NQTs, or any curious educators, who Google ‘what makes outstanding teaching’ there are now an overwhelming number of blog posts, tweets, research articles, slide packs and resources to choose from. Making sense of these ideas, relating them you your own context and applying the principles successfully is quite a challenge.

I have always found it hard to justify the use of the word ‘outstanding’ in terms of teacher training programmes. Graduates who have spent as little as 35 days in a classroom, of which they may only have taught for 21, are already under pressure to hit the outstanding descriptors.

A useful piece of advice I had was to take these ideas and tips and look for ways that you could: achieve consistency of principle, while applying variation in practice. 

Mark Burns – Outstanding Teaching

I was lucky enough to attend one of Mark’s INSET sessions. It inspired me to go back and review the content of our ITT training sessions and NQT induction to make sure that we were giving appropriate guidance on the brain science that aids learning.

Mark talked of the principle of how it is so important to make learners feel safe (building rapport). This can vary in practice through the provision of team building activities, personal shield designs reflecting pupil interests, phone calls home to recognise achievement and behaviour, specific praise when something is done well, use of touch to affirm praise… anything that you do as a teacher to build that relationship.

Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like! Rita Pierson

This relationship building allows children to leave reptilian state and access their limbic system. Another way that children can be encouraged to feel calm and secure is to establish clear routines (mantras can help). This could be supplemented with the use of visual timetables. Often these are seen as an SEN resource or for younger children, but they are just as valid for all pupils. If they clearly communicate what is going to happen and help to add recognisable structure, then why not use them in a way that suits your pupils?

This can be developed with the use of music to help cue certain behaviours. In our EYFS setting the ‘Mission Impossible’ tune just has to start playing and the children know:

  • it is tidy up time
  • how long they have to perform the task
  • the teacher won’t have to say a word!

Teaching Strategies

I’ve got an answer, where’s the question?

At odds with the advice above is the notion that starting every lesson in the same way is tedious. Could we not get pupils actively moving and engaged at the earliest possible point? This is where is is hardest for NQTs and trainees… first you say establish routines and mantras, next you tell me that my lessons are boring as they all start in the same way.

The skill is to recognise what start/opener is appropriate to what you want to achieve and how will the activity you have planned help to move the pupils forward.

One idea is that – possibly related to the topic – pupils come in and are given a card that has an answer or question. They have to try and find the matching answer. Winner is first group to collect all their answers.

Another is pre teaching. Could the most able pupils be given a heads up on the task and some time prior to the lesson so that they can just come in from break or lunch adn get started? That way the teacher can focus their attention on the other 22-24 pupils in the class, less if there is a TA as well who can also take a group.

Similarly it can give some less confident pupils a huge boost if they are given some 1-1 or small group time before the lesson. Teach them the phoneme/grapheme so that they can get involved confidently when it is introduced to the other pupils.


I have advocated a move away from prescribed homework for a number of reasons:

  • parents may not feel confident in the methods used to be able to support their child appropriately
  • not all pupils have the same access to resources, support, internet or work space at home
  • home can be a very busy place with: family time, clubs… homework can be the straw that breaks the parents’ back
  • teachers can get swamped with 60 books to mark on a Monday morning… and the homework books need attention as the parents want to know any work completed is properly valued.

However pupils may want to complete some work at home. Aspirational parents will probably demand it! To encourage reading, spelling and practising mental maths skills, teachers could have a loyalty card system for those who complete voluntary homework activities. I have introduced a few ideas to support this:

These can be one way of systematically tackling any cultural gaps and helping to broaden pupils

Real life grids

When doing coordinates, seat the children in rows/columns and ask real life questions.

  • Can all the pupils on line x = 4 stand up?
  • Could the pupils at (3,4) put their hands on their head?

The Eureka Moment

There is some contention that you must only teach strategies and methods that conform to a whole school calculation policy. However there should be moments when you just amaze the children and inspire their curiosity. Give them some questions from the 11x table and challenge them to see how quickly they can solve them. Then you have a go…

Here’s the secret:

To multiply any two-digit number by 11, simply add the digits of the number together and then put this sum between the original two digits. For example, to quickly find the answer to 11 x 53, start by adding the two digits of the number 53 together to get 5+3=8. Next, put this new number between the original two digits to get 583. That’s the answer!

So then challenge them with: 34 x 11, 42 x 11, 24 x 11 and see how well they can complete them now!


Split class in half. Group A – have 30 seconds to memorise combination: 194510662014

Group B – then have 30 seconds to memorise 1945. 1066. 2014

Which group is the most successful? Why is that? What implications are there?

Peer Checking

The teacher has two teddy bears – TRex means the children have no capital letters. The rat means there are no full stops. Puts them on the desk and then walks away. Children then have to peer assess to see who has missed out the punctuation marks.

Question Tokens

The children all start in credit – 500 points. If they ask nonsense question they lose 100 from their score. However, ask a quality insightful question then they earn 100 points! This might stop questions like: can I go to the toilet; where are the pencils; can I have a tissue; is it lunchtime yet?

Learning Grids

The grids can be used to revise a topic. For instance on a 3×3, or 4×3 or 6×6 (whatever size grid works) you can place key terms or ideas from the topic. The children roll two dice (preferably foam) and then plot the co-ordinates. Whatever they land on they have to explain to their partner, or link the two terms. It is very open ended and can be adapted to how it best fits your class/topic.

They can also be used to help revise their writing at the end of a piece. If you were looking at a specific genre then you could have a grid with some key vocabulary or features. The pupil rolls the dice and then looks to see if they have included them, or if they could improve a sentence by using one of the ideas from the grid.

A blog post was written about these here: click for the post. There are some more ideas here: click for post 2

Breaking reliance on the teacher

One issue that teachers can face is what to do when the pupils complete task, or become stuck. If there aren’t well taught techniques – that ideally every teacher develops – then you can end up with: pupils sitting there doing nothing, the teacher trapped behind a line of pupils at their desk, low level disruption while the pupils wait for help.

If the pupils are coached to develop their strategies over time, this can become a strength of the school. Every class to come up with a display/poster

We’re effective learners.When we’re stuck we…

  1. Try a different a way of solving the problem
  2. Ask someone for help
  3. Try again
  4. Ask questions
  5. Look at what we have done, could it be better
  6. Read it again
  7. Look at a textbook, dictionary
  8. Highlight key words
  9. Try a different question
  10. Break it into chunks
  11. Listen to others
  12. Ask ourselves what we need to work it out

Have a display ‘The Stuck Board’ with top tips on what to do if the pupils become stuck. Have the rule of 3 B4 Me, so that pupils don’t just call for the teacher or teaching assistant at the first sign of difficulty. Create a ‘help desk’ in every classroom: highlighters, whiteboards, dictionaries, 100squares, rulers, thesaurus etc.

Recognise the pupils who do use the 3 clear steps so that more are encouraged to be independent.

More ideas

Check out Mark’s website: http://www.malit.org.uk/education-consultants/mark-burns/

Teaching Backwards: http://www.malit.org.uk/videos-mark-burns/

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