November 23, 2021

What is ‘Responsive Teaching’ and how does it improve learning?

The purpose of this blog is to explore what responsive teaching is, and how it can help pupils reach their potential. This blog will consider some of the latest research into effective teaching and learning, and how educational theory can be implemented in practice in the classroom to accelerate learning.

What is responsive teaching?

The EIF (2019) describes effective teaching by stating that, “achievement is likely to be maximised when teachers actively present material and structure it by: providing overviews and/or reviews of objectives; outlining the content to be covered; call attention and reviewing the knowledge components”. The EIF (2019) also goes onto state that in order to prepare children effectively for their subsequent learning, subject leaders need to identify the subject- specific knowledge and concepts that will transform children’s understanding.

Underpinning effective teaching is the need for teachers to be responsive; working to react to the minute-by-minute assessment information gathered and working to consolidate and expand children’s knowledge systematically. Responsive teaching is setting clear goals and planning learning carefully based on needs and current levels of understanding. It’s identifying what pupils have understood and where they are struggling.

Why do we need to build responsive teaching into our teaching toolkit? 

There were substantial drops in attainment between spring 2020 and 2021 across all subjects and year groups, more than twice the size of the drops seen at the end of autumn 2020. Grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) and maths showed the largest declines, with a three-month progress drop across all year groups. Also, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has stopped closing for the first time in a decade.

Teachers may need to assess which components of learning at each key stage/year have not been taught in depth and revisit these. This knowledge will allow you to plan your curriculum to revisit these. Sequencing in your curriculum will need to be adapted to account for where content has been missed. A key task for all teachers is to look for gaps and use responsive teaching to address these gaps.

Let’s now consider three things you can build into your teaching toolkit:

Firstly, we can consider Dual Coding. The theory for dual coding suggests that representing information both visually and verbally enhances learning and retrieval from memory. Oliver Caviglioli said, “When teachers make a verbal explanation, their students can suffer what is called the ‘transient information effect’. The words disappear and so the student has to try and keep them all in mind.” Therefore, dual coding is a strategy that will support responsive teaching. A practical quick win would be to look through your power points and teaching materials and consider if the addition of a visual image will help your learners to remember more of what they have seen.

Secondly, we need to consider Cognitive load theory. Cognitive load theory was recently described by Dylan Wiliam as “the single most important thing for teachers to know.” Cognitive load theory is at the forefront of thinking around effective instruction. Put simply, we are talking about giving small chunks of information to allow us to remember more. When we talk about cognitive load theory, one of the key things that teachers need to consider is the ‘Germane Load’. Germane Load is activities that directly facilitate learning; the more we can do of these, the more the pupil will remember. An example might be creating a flow chart to explain the key ideas. Put simply, it involves presenting information in a simple manner.

Oliver Caviglioli states that we can improve learning and memory in different contexts by using graphic organisers. He states that four types of graphic organiser exist, where information can either be defined or chunked, compared, sequenced or establish cause and effect relationships.

Research shows that we should reduce the amount of information that we give pupils in a lesson and that giving smaller chunks of knowledge are more effective in helping pupils retain learning. Germane Load can also be supported by using mnemonics and acronyms. These make things easier to remember.

Thirdly, we can build spaced or distributed practice into teaching. The EIF 2019 states: “It is becoming increasingly clear that using spaced or distributed practice, where knowledge is rehearsed for short periods over a longer period of time, is more effective than so-called massed practice, where we study more intensively for a shorter period of time. “There is growing evidence that spaced or distributed practice can improve retention.

What about responsive assessment? What does this involve? 

The Education Endowment Foundation highlight that giving high-quality, in-the-moment feedback on learning to enable learners to improve was found to help children make up to six months of additional progress. Using formative assessment has never been more important.

What now? Discuss with colleagues how you are using proven strategies that will accelerate learning. Next, identify any gaps in learning and adapt your sequencing appropriately.

Do you want to find out more about responsive teaching?

Join us on January 12th for a webinar led by Harry Fletcher Wood, where he will help teachers to identify who has understood what in the classroom, and how we can help pupils to improve.

Click here to learn more 


OFSTED. 2021. Retrieved November 2021, from Education Inspection Framework

Rising Stars and RS Assessment. 2021. Retrieved November 2021, from The impact of school closures on spring 2021 attainment 

OliCav. 2021. Retrieved November 2021, from Graphic Organisers

EEF. 2021. Retrieved November 2021, from Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning

Photo of Emma Adcock – VNET EDUCATION CIC

Director of Training and Research
November 2021

Do you want to find out more about responsive teaching? 

Join us on January 12th for a webinar led by Harry Fletcher Wood, where he will help teachers to identify who has understood what in the classroom, and how we can help pupils to improve.

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