What makes effective learning?

We have spent a lot of time this year looking at what makes effective teaching. This is certainly something we have embraced in the Geography department with us often asking the question “Is this an effective and efficient way to do this? Is there another way?”.

When it comes to learning, there is always a problem that it can’t be seen. We can’t tell if someone is learning something through observation, but only over time through careful testing. The things we do observe are what Professor Robert Coe terms “poor proxies for learning” and include:


As it is impossible to see learning taking place we have to be very clear on the components of a lesson that will be effective in making sure that pupils are making progress.

In our department’s CPL session this week we looked at different things that could make up part of a lesson. Many of them were things that teachers were once expected to do, some were things that are considered to be good practice now and that we, as a college, have discussed in various training sessions and pillar groups.

We looked at each idea in turn and discussed two things;

  1. Is it effective for learning?
  2. Is it something we frequently do?

We placed them on a matrix and this is what we came up with.

Dept Components

The Geography department’s view on the components of an excellent lesson

This was a way of recording our collective thinking as a group and a way of triggering some excellent conversations about teaching and learning (What makes homework effective or not effective? If something isn’t efficient is it still effective? Can we make this thing more effective or is it something we should move away from?).

It will be interesting to see how our department’s view shifts over the course of the next year.

I was asked how my own matrix would look different to that of the department so I completed it solo and challenged others to do the same.

ENS Components

My own view on the components of an excellent lesson

I have saved the pro-forma for the activity here and you might like to give it a go either with your collaboration team, with your department or on your own. It is a great way to reflect on your practice.

Components of an excellent lesson The Components of Excellent Lessons

Some thoughts to consider

  1. How would your view of what makes an effective lesson differ from ours?
  2. Would you expect to see big differences between subjects?
  3. Are there things that you do which you don’t think are effective? What would happen if you stopped doing them?
  4. How have your ideas on what makes effective learning changed over the course of your time as a teacher?

Mark Enser



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