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Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

Searching for 1% improvements to teaching and learning!

My throat strained under the excessive screaming and my arms pumped with wild hysteria as I cheered the GB cycling team on to gold at the 2012 Olympic games, but what impressed me the most was the behind the scenes dedication and determination to achieving excellence. 

We have since discovered the secrets to the GB cycling team’s tally of gold medals. It began with a commitment to embed marginal gains theory into every aspect of the GB team’s performance. In short, marginal gains were Sir David Brailsford’s ambition to focus on the small changes in cycling performance that would lead to greater overall excellence and therefore winning.

But can the same concept apply to teaching and the pedagogical approaches we use for learning?

If you categorise every aspect of teaching and learning, you would swiftly have a list of points as long as the hippodrome cycling track! So where to begin? Developing a list of pedagogical approaches most meaningful to learning and determining how your teaching practice fares against each outcome is a daunting prospect and one difficult to quantify. I have deliberated this challenge and developed a model based on marginal gains theory. We can use this model to enhance our pedagogical approaches that lead to transformational learning.

• Evidence – The list of pedagogical approaches fundamental to learning is endless, but which of them are scientifically proven to work? Without strong evidence that these pedagogical approaches support learning to the highest possible standard, you could be trying to change and improve the wrong approaches to learning. I recently investigated which revision strategies actual work to aid learning. I quickly discovered that of the ten most used strategies only two of them actually work, so why not focus on developing, improving and refining the revision strategies scientifically proven to work? So I did and produced a short video and series of resources to help my students.

• Model effective practice – If you are looking to improve an area of your teaching, chances are you need to know what to get better at for the benefit of learning and what you are working towards. So ask yourself, does the wheel really need re-inventing? Or do you need to make slight modifications to the wheel to improve its overall performance? Look towards and connect with other teachers, not necessarily in your own school, that are demonstrating excellent teaching and learning. Share best practices and embed what works into your pedagogical approaches to learning.

• Focus – Follow One Course Until Success, but you can’t achieve that without clarity of vision; which pedagogical approach do you want to improve and therefore achieve? As teachers we do not work in a silo, we have a team to work with on a daily basis, so re-enforce the purpose of the pedagogical approach for learning with your students. If they don’t buy into the learning then the impact will be significantly less. Sir Chris Hoy understood with complete clarity his role within the GB team, to win; and those of his support staff, to help him win! On a daily basis you lead and work with a team of students, so build and foster relationships and above all clarify how you will work together to achieve their success.

• Reflect – Did it work, did it not? The latter is often a better scenario because it forces us to identify and clarify alongside our vision what went wrong, what can be improved and with frequent nudges you can make a greater shift over time. I’m ten years down the teaching line and I am still adapting, pivoting and refining. I can’t control every element, but I can try my hardest to be the best at what I am, and that is an inspirer of minds, a provocateur for learning.

• Refine to excellence – Develop your suite of scientifically proven pedagogical approaches that work. Make changes that improve and drive learning and then repeat the process.

Using John Hattie’s top 11, of 138 influences on student achievement, could provide the basis for selecting which pedagogical approach is going to have the greatest impact on overall teaching and learning. Applying each approach against my process model, should provide you with the basis of a system to achieve your own gold medal level of teaching and learning excellence. A great example of marginal gains in action is discussed on episode 21 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, with Educating Essex start Headteacher Vic Goddard.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ltp0Zd73Vcc]

Episode take-aways:

• Strategies that lead to willing parent engagement and participation

• Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

• Allowing young people to fail in order to progress

If you enjoyed this article please pay the knowledge forward and share with your community!


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