Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step Guides to Instructional Coaching is a glossy collection of 50 strategies for enhancing teaching and learning. It’s from John Catt Publications, authored by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli (see here and here for my previous reviews of John Catt Pub books).
The pokes-out-of-my-khaki-shorts-lower-pocket-by-about-6cm sized handbook packs tons into 160 pages. The resources in divided into three main sections:
Why? Explains the purpose of the guide and introduces key ideas that underpin the strategies outlined in the next section.
What? A series of broad ranging and evidence-informed strategies. These have been organized into the following categories, each including between 6-10 techniques:
- Behaviour and relationships
- Curriculum planning
- Explaining and modelling
- Questioning and feedback
- Practice and retrieval
- ‘Mode B Teaching’
That last category is taken from one of Sherrington’s previous resources. I’ll explain in a bit.
How? This section offers guidance for teachers on how to implement the strategies, how to use the resource for CPD, and some general tips for teacher development.
The Why? Section
I’ll focus a bit on this as it’s important for the rest of the book.
This section begins with a rationale for this ‘compilation of the best of the profession’s practices’ (pg 10). The authors explain that teachers can get stuck in cycles of forgetting and rediscovering useful strategies, so it’s worth curating them. They explain how each strategy has been explained in a five-step sequence of actions, although they stress the importance of context and adaptation.
The central idea when introducing strategies is ‘a hub-model’. That is, the five-step sequence is a context-free version of an effective strategy which is to be adapted to context rather than simply adopted. I really like this idea, which promotes ‘shared understanding of the central model’, although it does assume that the central model in each case is highly valid as a reference point. I couldn’t find a bit in the intro where the authors state whether the book is geared more towards EYFS, primary or secondary teachers. Unless that is stated somewhere (it might be), there is an assumption that this is a ‘catch-all’ resource, and I know it is used as such in some contexts as an instructional coaching manual. However, huge chunks of the book would likely be less relevant to, say, EYFS specialists. Before a context-free reference point can be provided, perhaps it’s better to signpost within which broader stage of formal schooling the strategies might be most relevant to.
(I’m not supposed to end sentences with ‘to’, am I?)
There are a few sections which aim to justify the design of the book. The strongest justifications are offered for the extensive use of line drawings as visual models throughout. Arguments include that verbal descriptions alone can be vague, videos too detailed, but text and images together provide greater clarification. Something surely neglected in this resource was quality control of images. There’s no doubt that most images are aesthetically pleasing, but they are inconsistent when it comes to meeting their original purpose – to add clarity. They range from being needlessly complex…
To doing a fairly good job of reinforcing a message in the text…
To mildly amusing…
To Christine Nuttall’s illustrator revisited (they’re the images I like the most!)
To just… I don’t know… soldiers from Toy Story disturbing your planning?
The trouble with the frequent ambiguity is that I tended to spend too long trying to work out how the images related the text, and less time on processing the information. The authors mention how the design takes into account working memory constraints by providing only the most necessary content in ‘left-to-right flowcharts for a familiar reading habit’. But then they fill the book with esoteric or redundant images which pile on extraneous load. Don’t get me wrong, at times the images are highly effective. At others, well, this is easily the biggest area for development with this resource. That’s highly subjective though – looks like the Amazon reviewers love them!
Anyway, the rest of the Why? Section is an enjoyable and informative overview of some key principles of effective coaching and teaching. They include a summary of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, key points from Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’, the five key strategies for formative assessment from Leahy et al, and more. Useful stuff.
The What? Section
Despite the issues with design at times, this section of the book is really (really!) good. As mentioned, there are 50 strategies across various sections, all of which follow this familiar layout across one spread:
There’s loads of advice packed into two pages. The importance of each strategy is outlined and the content within each step in the flowchart is informative and concise.
I found that every subsection of strategies had plenty of useful content for me. The questioning and feedback section was particularly useful for two reasons. One, I thought the sequences for ‘probing questions’ and ‘process questions’ were really good and are strategies I can instantly apply in my practice. Two, because the five-step sequences for certain strategies such as ‘cold calling’ and ‘checking for understanding’ were somewhat problematic from an EAL perspective. This is not a criticism – it highlights the value in this ‘hub model’. We can all recognize areas in which sharing our understanding can help adapt these strategies to better suit our context. It’s quite empowering to feel that. Equally, there are strategies I read (a lot of those in the Behaviour and Relationships section, eeek) where I felt much more of a novice. I’d imagine being more of the ‘stick to the central model!’ type teacher here, and would benefit from dialogue with colleagues to help improve my practice.
Here’s a snapshot of some strategies covered in the book (about half):
Loads covered in each section.
Regarding assumptions that the central model is valid as a reference point… I’ll just leave this ‘Deliberate Vocabulary Development’ strategy here… *adds image, takes cover behind a tower of Frank Boers’ research*
The strategies are ‘deliberately generic and context-free’, but that shouldn’t be synonymous with ‘questionable’.
The ‘Mode B Teaching’ section is kind of an outlier in the What? section. To me, it’s there to:
- shoehorn in some *perhaps* less favourable approaches to hint at coverage (homework as guided study, enquiry projects)
- appear more student-centred and add ‘voice and choice’ (collaborative learning, open response tasks) because there are a lot of more teacher-led strategies in the book.
- find a place for oracy strategies which for me could/should be drawn out into a separate section and expanded.
It feels like this section should be either expanded, honed or cut. It doesn’t do enough to highlight how teachers can ‘add depth and variety of practice activities’.
Overall though, this is an excellent section that I’ll be revisiting often.
The How? Section
This section focuses on how to use Walkthrus for teacher development. It includes some really useful sequences which aim to embed a culture of CPD. One is a useful model for approaching each walkthru: ADAPT (Attempt, Develop, Adapt, Practice, Test). There are also tips on observation techniques (using three point communication), dialogic coaching methods, self-reflection and CPD cycles. There is an important (and at times surprisingly overlooked!) reminder in the section on CPD cycles to identify priorities based on learner needs. It’s natural (as I did earlier in this review) to highlight areas of development for our teaching practice, but imperative that the strategies we focus on developing have the most impact for our learners. I’m so guilty of ignoring this at times in my own professional development.
Overall, this section is a very useful addition which offers principled guidance on going from simply experimenting with a few ideas to embedding strategies that can (may!) enhance learning.
This is a super resource that serves many purposes. It’s a great bank of strategies for developing core teaching skills. It’s a useful grounding in (some of) what’s currently considered ‘good practice’. It’s a springboard for further research, a handbook full of things to ponder in your down time, a guide-on-the-side (as there’s a clear practitioner’s voice throughout the resource), and would be a great reference tool for CPD programmes – especially higher up the school. The strategies are wide-ranging, and yes, the authors *perhaps* cherry pick ‘evidence’ at times for what is considered effective practice. Don’t we all…
In my opinion, the images really let this book down at times. Even so, it’s a tenner very well spent.
(all images are (C) John Catt)
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