I’ve been reading into the difference between novices and experts in different domains. Most of my reading has been about students but I found this fascinating paper via Harry Fletcher-Wood that I thought people might be interested in.

Borko & Livingston, Cognition and Improvisation: Differences in Mathematics Instruction by Expert and Novice Teachers, 1989

The authors observed a very small sample of teachers in two groups; experts and novices. They recorded an extensive level of detail in terms of their observations and provided a conceptual model to explain the differences. No doubt experienced teacher trainers will already be familiar with these observations but I’ve summarised them here for anyone interested:

  Expert Novice
Planning Multi-levelled planning: Yearly planning establishes general content, curriculum sequence and constructing a timeline. No planning at this level
  Unit planning is the next planning level and then determines specific timelines for topics and if changes from last year are necessary No planning at this level. Inability to predict where students would find difficulty.
  Details of instruction level: carried out shortly before the actual event, think about most effective introduction and communication of problems, example and problem selection Overwhelming majority of planning is short-term prior to their arrival in the classroom.
  Rough idea of how long things should take and speed up or down dependent on kids Very difficult to establish a priori how long things will take
  Focus on explanation and examples over activities and formats Similar, but only through sense of inadequacy – expression of desire to try different examples and activities but lack of confidence.
  Number of sections covered in a particular lesson is highly variable  
  Notes are checked just prior to instruction  
  Final decisions about examples and problems are made during teaching Examples and problems constitute a major part of planning. Spend time working out the problem solutions as part of planning.
  Planning often occurs informally and not written down e.g. while driving to work, listening to the radio or shaving. Formal planning involving extensive time spent planning mental scripts. Extensive thinking about how to introduce topics and concepts. Rehearsal of scripts during informal time.
  No formal lesson plans. Mental plan involving lesson components and content, but timing, pacing and exact number of problems dealt with in lesson time. Very similar for the novices
    Anxiety about preparing for all eventualities in advance to minimise need for improvisation
  Make priority decisions about content Find making priority decisions very difficult – lack of knowledge about what to include and what not to include
Interactive teaching Skilful at keeping lesson on track Carefully planned explanations derailed by student questions. Effective at responding to timing and pacing changes.
  Use of student questions as springboard Prefer to curtail student questions and just use the teacher’s explanation
  Generation or location of effective problems and examples when necessary  
  Effective use of specific problems to derive general principles and concepts Did not draw out links between different topics
Post-lesson reflections Very concise and focussed Much greater variety of events and concerns discussed. Distinct lack of focus.
  Most expressed thoughts were about student understanding of material Varied responses in terms of student understanding. Expressed thoughts about own lack of knowledge.
  Little mention of student behaviour Only one teacher mentioned this, though all had experienced situations that warranted discussion
  Little mention of student affect Extensive discussion of student participation
  Discussed specific events only when they had an impact on accomplishment of instructional goals  
  Very little assessment of their own teaching effectiveness Extensive discussion of their own teaching effectiveness.

This ties quite well with my experience of observing expert teachers as well as changes in my practice as I spend more time at the chalk-face. It’s a bit difficult to extrapolate from the descriptive to the prescriptive; i.e. to ask if this tells us anything about what student teachers should be doing in order to become more expert. I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

It also relates to something I have been discussing on twitter in terms of an effective way to plan learning sequences:


There are quite a few advantages of planning like this and I’ve been trying really hard to move away from the arbitrary 1 hour lesson plan and more towards thinking about how learning should be sequenced over time.

Both of the above also relate to something I’ve been banging on about for a while: teaching should be content led not resource led. The first thing in our minds should be what we are going to teach. Unfortunately too many times I have gone into the departmental drive, had a nosey around the powerpoints and various activities and based my lesson on some cool resource that I find, not the actual content that needs to be taught. Though I’d like to think I’m alone in doing this I’m pretty sure I’m not!

I don’t use these documents extensively, but I wish I had the time to do so. They’re a great way to make the tacit explicit.

As ever, I’ll reference the fact that the activities of master teachers have been well documented by Rosenshine and Doug Lemov and those are great resources to use.