Our Checklist for Great Teaching – how does it fit with The Sutton Report?

[by Roger Loxley]

The recent flurry of blogs as a result of the CEM/Sutton Trust report on what makes a good lesson prompts me to think about how that applies to us at RGS.


It’s not rocket science (apologies to Physicists) nor does it require a massive shift in attitude and approach, but it is a lot of common sense backed by some fairly well-thought of research. It debunks some of the approaches that had gained momentum on the back of little more than fashion.

It also made me think about what we’ve been saying for the past few years and how close we are to what Rob Coe and others now reckon is good practice.

Key aspects that come out of the report for me are quoted as follows:
• “Effective questioning and use of assessment by teachers”.
• “Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding)”.
• “Creating a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising students’ self-worth”.
• “Attributing student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure (grit)”.
• “Behaviours exhibited by teachers such as reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues, and liaising and communicating with parents”.

On reading these I was immediately reminded of the work we did here a few years ago when drawing up our lists of what makes an excellent lesson and the ten features of an excellent teacher.
How closely do these tie in with the report?

Well, quite closely actually. Here are the aspects of an excellent lesson that we came up with:

An excellent lesson exhibits the following characteristics:
1. All students in the class are challenged and supported and make good progress, especially those at the ends of the ability spectrum or with particular needs; a lot of ground is covered but stragglers are not left by the wayside. The lesson has real pace.
2. Enthusiasm and enjoyment pervade the lesson – both from students and teacher. There is a buzz in the classroom.
3. The lesson is exciting and interesting, all contribute in some form and all are on-task. The teacher demonstrates excellent subject knowledge and the ability to respond well to students’ questions. Everyone is challenged.
4. Teaching methods are very well matched to the content (subject and school) and the learners. The lesson relates to students’ experiences and uses plenty of real, practical examples that students can connect with. There is plenty of creativity.
5. Progress is checked regularly by both teacher and students. Both are assessing their attainment, progress and understanding and students know how to use that information to move forward. The lesson ends with reflection on progress and understanding.
6. All students know how to improve as a result of regular and consistent feedback. There is a positive and encouraging atmosphere.
7. Links are made between aspects of the curriculum, both within the subject and beyond. Content is connected.
8. The classroom is a lively and exciting place with plenty of differing stimuli (aural and visual) that students can draw on as resources to support their learning. It is stimulating.
9. There is good interaction between the teacher and the students that produces a real atmosphere of enthusiasm and enjoyment.
10. A willingness by the teacher to try and deliver the content a little bit differently. There is evidence of innovation in the construction and design of the lesson and a variety of approaches are used over the course of a week, say.

As we said at the time, not all lessons will exhibit all of these qualities all of the time but these do match the Sutton Trust report quite well.

We pick out subject knowledge, challenge, support, assessing progress, giving feedback and reflection – all of which are in the report as being effective. We aim to provide enthusiastic classrooms, encouragement, good interactions and reflection on our own practice (and sharing good ideas). Again, all of these are supported by the report.

Our great teacher’s checklist is:


If your answer to a question is Yes, ask yourself: “Could I do still more/even better?”
If your answer is No, ask yourself:
• “Why not?”
• “What am I going to do about it?”
• “What is my department going to do about it?”
• “What do I need school to do about it?”

1. Lesson structure and planning
a) Is every lesson fully planned and structured?
b) Conversely, do I allow students/myself to take the lesson constructively off in other directions, when opportunities for deeper learning takes occur?
2. Classroom practice
a) Am I mobile around the classroom when students are working, engaging with individuals and checking/deepening understanding?
b) Am I constantly checking that every member of the class is engaged and on task?
3. Sharing good practice
a) Am I discussing pedagogy (ie practice and quality of teaching – the how, not the what, of teaching) within my department at least once a week?
b) Am I discussing pedagogy with colleagues outside the department at least once a week?
c) Am I sharing my bright ideas with colleagues, and borrowing theirs?
4. Pastoral focus
a) Do I evaluate or plan my pastoral work as tutor or class teacher/form supervisor?
b) When I am being “subject teacher”, do I remember the pastoral aspects of my role?
5. Evaluation and exam (re-)planning
a) Do I evaluate how a lesson went, and make a note of how to do it (even) better next time?
b) When planning my lessons, do I think about how I could do that topic differently or better this time round?
c) Do my students arrive at my lesson eager to know what I am going to hit them with this lesson?
d) In the last few minutes of a lesson, do I summarise and/or check the level
Researching and keeping [my teaching, not my subject knowledge!] up to date
6. Have I read/do I use any of the books below (or others) that will help me find
new classroom strategies to vary the approach; warm students up;
• The Teachers’ Toolkit
• Rocket Up Your Class
• How To Be A Brilliant Teacher
• The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook
7. Renewing approaches and materials
a) Am I teaching topics in a different way from how I taught them three years ago?
b) Am I using worksheets that am less than two years old?
c) Am I satisfied that a worksheet is the best way to tackle that topic?
d) Am I using resources (IT, video, textbooks, other equipment and facilities) in the most original, effective and inspiring way I can?
8. Maintaining students’ interest
a) Am I providing the ‘fizz, buzz and pace’ of the RGS Outstanding Lesson in every lesson I teach?
b) If I am doing a bit of the syllabus that’s dull but necessary, am I doing all I can to make it interesting?
9. Feedback to students
a) Do my students know how they are doing and what they can do to improve?
10. Continuous improvement
a) Am I a more effective and inspiring teacher than I was three years ago?
b) How do I know?

Again, these reflect well the content of the report and the recommendations.

So, I would encourage all of us to revisit these two lists and think about how far we’ve come since we drew these up back in 2012. We’re not too radical and “out there” at all in what we’re trying to do. It’s recognised as good practice and the evidence I see as I go round classrooms is that this is really happening.

Keep it going!


One response to “Our Checklist for Great Teaching – how does it fit with The Sutton Report?

  1. Pingback: Sutton Trust Report 2014 coverage. | @mrocallaghan_edu·

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