When Oliver Caviglioli and I sat down to think about our Teaching WalkThrus project, an early consideration was the problem of “implementation” and the practices that surround it. It’s a common and highly problematic concept in CPD that teachers are meant to receive ideas through training that they then deliver; they implement. This leads to all kinds of issues with mutation and resistance as teachers are driven down a path that essentially amounts doing something somebody else is telling you to do.
This isn’t what teaching is like; it’s not how teachers improve. In his address to ResearchEd in Cardiff earlier this year, Dylan Wiliam suggested that the knowledge teachers have is like the knowledge you need to ride a bike: you can’t give someone that knowledge, you can only create conditions where they develop the knowledge themselves. This might include some theoretical instruction and some feedback, but the real learning comes from the practice; the experience of doing it.
With that in mind, we were keen to stress from the outset that our five-step WalkThrus were not instructions you must follow; a mandatory checklist. They are a reference point to create shared understanding – a kind of definition of what we mean when we refer to a concept or strategy; they are intended to provide a springboard from which teachers can develop their own practice in their context with their students teaching their subjects. This is where the A|D|A|P|T strategy comes in. We were quite pleased with this acronym! We emphasise this multiple times throughout our book, including it on every WalkThru spread, but we also believe is has value for any teaching idea.
Even this isn’t rigid. We were asked recently whether it was ok to adapt the ADAPT strategy! Of course it is… it’s just a guide to a way of thinking. We recommend it but it’s open to being adapted like everything else. So – what does it mean?
These images imagine Chloe looking at the WalkThru ‘Feedback as Actions’
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 signficant 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.
With the ADAPT approach at the core of our approach, we feel that we can support teachers to communicate about ideas that they share in common – using the materials we make as a reference point to ensure shared understanding is maintained – whilst giving the confidence to make them their own. This might be a useful approach to other sets of ideas that are brought in from the outside. Don’t make it feel weirdly subversive for teachers to adapt, tweak and re-arrange things – make that an explicit part of the process. Then teachers will be implementing their own ideas, not someone else’s – and that’s more likely to be something they sustain – so it’s more likely to work.