CPD for science teachers – getting the right feedback

I know there are many different models to develop science teachers but below are a few tangible strategies that I have seen work best. They all rely on feedback. Great CPD has to start with science teachers getting feedback on their practice from their peers, experts and students. This feedback, if constructive, should then motivate self-improvement – we are ultimately responsible for developing ourselves, we just need some help in knowing how to do this.

1.  Complete past exam questions: feedback from an exam paper

I know this sounds a really uninspiring place to start, but completing a past exam paper can be some of the best subject PD you can get. Why? Well, it does a couple of things. Firstly, it helps new teachers to see exactly what aspects of cells, atoms, forces etc are going to be assessed. Secondly, the mark schemes help teachers develop subject knowledge as marking points describe a basic model of progression, braking complex ideas down into discrete steps. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the exam paper shows teachers what they do and do not know – this can be a powerful message that you need to improve your own subject knoweldge. It’s not OK not to know what you want your students to know, and to do nothing about it.

2. In lesson coaching: feedback from a more knowledgable other

Real time coaching in lessons can have a massive effect on teacher practice. In this scenario, one teacher provides specific feedback to the class teacher during the lesson. This feedback could be through hand signals (pointing where to stand), modelling (drawing a diagram on the board that supports the class teacher explanation), asking questions to help narrate next steps for the class teacher (Miss, where should we put the beakers?) or exposing student understanding (Miss, can I ask your students why plants respire? I’m really interested to see what they think).

For this to work well, the coach and class teacher must have established a good relationship before the lesson. Both have to be up for it. It always surprises me how well students accept having two teachers in their class, so real time coaching doesn’t need to undermine the class teacher if done well.

3. Practice practical work in department meetings: feedback from your team 

Every teacher loves a great demonstration. So every week start your department meeting with a practical demonstration. Each team member can take turns to demonstrate a practical to the team to get feedback. The only provisos are that: a) the demonstration must link to an upcoming unit of work and b) it must specifically target a misconception or help teach a difficult concept. Not only will these sessions provide feedback to teachers delivering and watching the session, it also creates a buzz in the science team as teachers engage with the aspects of their subject that they typically love.

4. Mark your books and set the right work: feedback from your students  

I know marking has a huge workload associated with it, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool in leveraging student and teacher progress. Now marking books per se will do absolutely nothing if not done well. But, if you mark the right piece of work, on an area that you have just taught, it has huge professionalising power. It will give you an insight into what your students actually think about a concept and reveal a whole host of misconceptions. It will show you how successful your teaching was. It will develop your subject knoweldge as you will engage with model answers and mark schemes. It will hopefully motivate you to ‘fix’ these gaps through effective re-teach and modification of teaching programmes. Now, I’m not so convinced in time spent setting individual targets, or the need to mark every book (there comes a point where marking more books yields no new information) but the feedback marking gives to teachers is definitely worth a little effort.

5. Whatever you give to students make sure you have completed it first: feedback from your task   

Whether you are using a whole-class practical, demonstration or using a worksheet, make sure you have completed the task yourself.  We have all found the ‘perfect’ activity only to find it bomb in the classroom because it was asking students to do things they didn’t know. But, if we complete the task beforehand, we are more able to see exactly what new knoweldge and prior knoweldge is required. We can then explicitly check that this has been built into our lesson or preparations before we deliver it.