What is teaching? What is quality teaching? Most adults have spent 11–12 years of their youthful lives in school watching teachers. Subsequently, they spent 4 more years watching decent and rotten university teachers. They think they can pick out the best; they have strong memories or traumas from the worst. This phenomenon has been termed “the apprenticeship of observation” (Lortie, 1975). Clearly, this knowledge is not enough to actually be a teacher.
Yet, after all of this time watching teachers teach, ask anyone on the street and they would be hard-pressed to define quality teaching. Even though I have studied language pedagogy and know many theories and practical ideas about teaching, I struggle to articulate the seemingly simple idea of good teaching to my colleagues and to my TESOL students.
But good news! Over the winter holidays, I was gallivanting around Europe with a PhD student at the University of New Castle. Julie is collecting data for her dissertation and introduced me to the Quality Teaching model. The University of New Castle, Australia, has a full-blown research institute birthed from their Department of Education which aims to “empower” teachers with the conceptual and practical tools for ongoing improvement. It honors the complexity of teaching and respects what teachers already know” (QT Classroom Practice Guide). I was pleased to discover how many of the ideas in the QT model resonated with ideas of language pedagogy that I already know. QT is designed for all subject areas, including language courses, in both secondary and university-level instruction.
Already I appreciate that this model acknowledges the art and craft of teaching and respects teachers’ knowledge of their work. This is an excellent, and supportive start. Too often professional development for teachers is a top-down model, telling teachers that they need the latest method or trick to improve their teaching. This model is clearly built on years of steady, valid research FOR and WITH real teachers in real classrooms.
The model is intensely comprehensive with three dimensions of teaching and 18 elements.
The three dimensions include the integrated, multimodal triangle of all classroom teaching, the teacher, the students, and the content. First, Intellectual quality of the lesson focuses on how teachers create lessons that ensure students’ brains are engaged in thinking deeply and critically about the subject. Second, a Quality Learning Environment is a positive classroom where learning is expected to be both challenging and positively supported. Third, Significance is teaching while acknowledging that the classroom is not the center of the universe; the subject matter must be relatable to all students’ contexts outside the classroom door while also honoring the rich experiences that each student brings to the learning space. Significance is what teachers do when they love students and when they aim to prepare them for life outside the classroom. These three dimensions are well articulated and hopeful.
I am eager to study this model a bit more. You can, too. Here is the link: https://qtacademy.edu.au/
Thanks to the University of New Castle, we have something new to learn in the new year.