Edu-Quote: Graham Nuthall on Adapting our Teaching #1

In The Confident Teacher by Alex Quigley5 Comments



I am writing a series of short posts that quote directly from educators who have inspired my thinking about education and more. Here is the first edu-quote for your reading pleasure.

In this edu-quote Graham Nuthall captures the brilliant complexity of learning and teaching. It makes me consider what I do in the classroom and what methods I undertake to reflect on my practice:

“In my experience, teaching is about sensitivity and adaptation. It is about adjusting to the here-and-now circumstances of particular students. It is about making moment-by moment decisions as a lesson or activity progresses. Things that interest some students do not interest others. Things that work one day may not work the next day. What can be done quickly with one group has to be taken very slowly with another group. What one student finds easy to understand may confuse another student. In order to navigate the complexity of the circumstances in which a teacher works, it is not possible to follow a recipe. As a teacher, you make adaptations. You must. The important question is: what adaptations do you make. You can do it by a kind of blind trial and error, but it would be much better if you knew what kinds of adaptations were needed, and why.”
(P15, Graham Nuthall, ‘The Hidden Lives of learners’)


  1. Ouch – one of the few people I know who have read Nuthall, well done you!

    The most impressive aspect of Nuthall’s work is its timeless nature; captured (I write from memory) over 30+ years of classroom observations in the modern era, when teachers have been talking about achievement and learning and progress and stuff.
    And in the immensity of its archive, one is humbled. My take: “It matters not a stuff how brilliant you are and engaging the material, youf is youf, and immediacies will result. If a teacher really thinks they are in charge of their lesson, think again, as the learners in their classroom bring their own issues and needs to the classroom, and continue to address them, whatever the teacher thinks”.

    After Nuthall dies, John Hattie et all pick up on his work, industrialise it and by that process, mix in a whole bunch of mate-studies, start publishing, monetise and start their world tour. Hattie moves from NZ to Oz, and… I think we lose the essence of truth in GN’s writing.

    My first 2 copies were bought from NZFER, but I now see he is available on Amazon at £17. In a read of 200+ pages, there are no silver bullets, and nothing to do on Monday. So spend the money, read it properly, internalise it and like a good wine, know it has done you good, even though you can’t use it again.

    Except to counter blog and play games.

  2. Wasn’t aware of this book but sounds very wise. The thing is that most of us classroom teachers don’t really have time to reflect enough on what we do in lessons and how children learn as we’re on the treadmill of examination preparation, report writing etc. I’m at the end of my career in teaching, having once been a Head of English. I still love my job, take pride in my successes and stay awake at night mentally planning lessons or strategies for more tricky pupils. But the amount of time I am prepared to devote to reading about teaching at this stage is limited: I’d rather read fiction. And I have no remaining goals career wise. When I was an enthusiastic HoD, I recall despairing of dinosaurs like me. I see you are writing a book for new English teachers. How about some advice for older English teachers in your posts? How do you encourage your older colleagues to maintain motivation and avoid cynicism at the end of a career?

    1. Author

      A great experienced college I worked with before she retired had an I relentless focus on her students. If it wasn’t about her teachig & helping those students then she ignored it. She retained her enthusiasm by seeing through the fresh eyes of her students and believing in what literature could do in opening up the heart and the mind.

      I only hope I retain the view of working with children – if it slips it will be my duty to leave.

  3. I discovered Nutthall seven years ago. Breath of fresh air, yet still grounded in the establishment. I commend this post and the responses and replies. Refreshing. Just because a teacher is teaching, does not mean that students are learning. Should be national policy mantra.

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