Tips for Teachers: 35. Engagement and Proxies for Learning

May 21, 2024 | Blogs

Tips for Teachers: 35. Engagement and Proxies for Learning

May 21, 2024 | Blogs

Professor Rob Coe asserts that as teachers we sometimes confuse pupil engagement as learning. He discusses a number of ‘poor proxies’ for learning which are easily observed, but not really about learning. 

They are: 

  • The pupils are busy, lots of work is completed. 
  • The classroom is ordered, calm and pupils are behaving well. 
  • The pupils are happy, appear interested and say they enjoyed the lesson. 
  • The curriculum has been ‘covered’. 
  • The teacher enjoyed the lesson and had fun. 
  • Pupils have supplied the correct answers to questions (at least some). 

Of course, these behaviours are desirable: we would normally want these all to be true. We certainly do not want the pupils to be unhappy, feel unsafe or to misbehave. Also, happy teachers are a good thing! But these behaviours can fool us into thinking that the pupils understand what they are doing and can remember and apply it later. 

Poor proxies for learning are indeed related to learning but they are not learning in themselves. Well-ordered and calm classrooms with pupils behaving does necessarily mean pupils are learning and thinking hard about their learning. 

‘If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned’ (Sweller et al. 2011). 

Pupils (at least some) may well have provided correct answers even if they haven’t really understood, may have already known the content and answer, will have forgotten by tomorrow or next week or were not able to reproduce without support or prompts.  

Reflecting, discussing and considering the poor proxies for learning prompts us to look and think more deeply about whether learning has actually happened rather than using the visible elements to assume that is has taken place.  

‘A better proxy for learning? Learning happens when people have to think hard.’ (Robert Coe, 2015) 

David Didau believes and has stated on numerous occasions that learning is invisible. Well, other people’s that is. So how do we know if learning has taken place and pupils are thinking hard about their learning and knowledge?  

Consider when and how you plan your lessons to ensure your pupils think hard through: 

  • pitching to the top and scaffolding for other learners;  
  • regularly check for understanding;  
  • teaching the content in small steps and check after each step;  
  • making links to prior learning and future learning;  
  • showing how knowledge from areas of the curriculum links together; 
  • use cold calling; 
  • use wait time / thinking time before choosing a pupil to answer; 
  • use higher order questions; 
  • space study, learning and practice.

This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer. 

Have you read our other blogs in this series?

Click here to read them.

Getting help – get in touch

If you have any questions or would like to speak to us, we’d love to hear from you – click to book a free online session.

Learn More About Our Product

Schoolaspect is designed to make your life easier. With our intuitive interface, you can save time and effort. Find out more about how our software can help you get the job done faster, better, and smarter!