The Expert Moves of a Confident Teacher

We know that teachers around the world experience many more similarities than differences in their experience of teaching children. Some classrooms are packed with technology and are fortuitously situated in brilliant new building designs, whereas other classrooms can be barely called a room fit for learning.

No matter the setting, learning happens.

Earlier, in Chapter 4, the notion of expertise was explored, alongside the attendant ‘moves’ of expert teachers. Barak Rosenshine, educational psychologist and researcher from the University of Illinois (and former teacher of US History), has  distilled his forty years of studying teacher improvement into what he has described as his ‘principles of instruction’. I can find no better description of the moves of an expert teacher:

  • Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  • Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.
  • Limit the amount of material students receive at one time.
  • Give clear and detailed instructions and explanations.
  • Ask a large number of questions and check for understanding.
  • Provide a high level of active practice for all students.
  • Guide students as they begin to practice.
  • Think aloud and model steps.
  • Provide models of worked-out problems.
  • Ask students to explain what they have learned.
  • Check the responses from all students.
  • Provide systematic feedback and corrections.
  • Use more time to provide explanations.
  • Provide many examples.
  • Reteach material when necessary.
  • Prepare students when they begin independent practice.
So here is our checklist – we can now all go home and rest easy.

We all follow those teaching principles don’t we?

Of course, there are a few problems with this seemingly simple solution. First, we are likely to suffer from what Professor Rob Coe calls the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ problem. Like ‘motherhood and apple pie’, we can all agree with Rosenshine’s principles; yet, we too easily agree, assuming that we do all of these things, so these principles become everything to all people, actually resulting in few of us faithfully enacting them at all.

We follow these principles, right?

Only, what do we mean by practice? What is a clear and detailed explanation?

If we are to become truly confident teachers then we should dig beneath the surface of the checklist and immerse ourselves in the evidence that purports to describe great teaching, before then applying it with good judgement to our classroom context. We can then combine such evidence with our craft knowledge and our unique understanding of our own students. Such knowledge combined creates a sort of alchemy where learning happens – with this knowledge and understanding we can grow our confidence in our practice in the classroom.
So what best practice do we need to know?
Being a confident teacher means that excellent knowledge of our particular subject, or subjects, is essential. Yet, crucially, being a confident mathematician does not make you a great teacher of mathematics. If it did, we could simply filter out teaching candidates by their university degree class and be done with it. We know that this isn’t the case in reality.

Teaching no doubt requires deep subject knowledge, but great learning relies upon the unique alchemy of the teacher/student relationship. Wedded to this, we need to understand how students best learn that subject. Expert teachers work hard at adapting the materials at hand, proving they are flexible to the needs of the students in front of them, ceaselessly making subtle judgements and asking important questions, such as:

  • What prior knowledge do my students possess?
  • What are the best analogies to help explain a topic?
  • What are the common misconceptions for this topic?
  • What methods best erase those misconceptions?
  • What questions will prove their understanding and elicit deeper learning?

Lee Shulman puts it nicely when he reverses the ignorant nonsense about teachers are those that cannot ‘do’, with his sage aphorism, quoting Aristotle, that ‘those who can, do; those who understand, teach’. It takes a great deal of understanding to marry subject knowledge, the knowledge of how to communicate it, with a refined grasp of how students learn it.

In reality, there is a lot that we need to understand before we can achieve the degree of confidence exemplified by the teacher expert.


If your want to know about Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction‘ read this excellent American Educator article – HERE and this excellent UNESCO pamphlet on the Principles HERE

If this extract from the book piqued your interest, do consider grabbing a copy for yourself. 

The following is an extract from my book, published by Routledge in May of this year, entitled ‘The Confident Teacher‘. You can grab a copy HERE and HERE. This section is from the penultimate section on confident teaching and learning – surveying the ‘expert moves’ of the confident teacher. 


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