Task 10: Powerful Classrooms

Leadership with education

1.1 WATCH this TED talk by Christopher Edmin entitled ‘Teach Teachers How to Create Magic’.

[Teach Teachers How to Create Magic]

1.2 READ this paper from Alan H. Schoenfeld entitled ‘What Makes for Powerful Classrooms, and How Can We Support Teachers in Creating Them? A Story of Research and Practice, Productively Intertwined.’  [Focus on ‘Case 3’ (Page 3 onwards) and the Tables and Figures outlining the TRU model]

1.3 WRITE a 500 word think-piece summing up your thoughts on the article and video, and post it below. You may wish to consider:

  • What is your opinion of the recommendations put forth in both the article and the video?
  • What connections did the video and article make with your past experiences and with other big ideas we’ve explored?

[1.4] BONUS Check out Dan Meyer’s 3-Act Maths lesson ideas

17 thoughts on “Task 10: Powerful Classrooms

  1. Christopher Emdin delves into the delights of rich engagement, highlighting places where people feel that they are lifted up in a magical ecosystem with no barriers and full immersion – perhaps not peak experiences, but experiences where the internal monologue is often silent, with minds totally focussed without effort in on the experience of content and presence. There is often, in my experience, a fine line between being open to clever rhetorical engagement in a subject in which one gets immersed and being subject to undesirable manipulation, but within a trusted professional context, there may be occasional room for such an approach, ever mindful to ensure that learning is the focus, not entertainment, nor self-promotion. Yet, Emdin is right in my view that there can be places for this ‘magic’ in the classroom, that it can be taught, by immersion and experience, albeit, in my view, with only very occasional use of the dizzy heights of searing rhetoric. I am not convinced, however, that learning would be improved with a sustained level of such ‘magic’ without the base factors leading to effective learning being a key part of the classroom already.
    Schoenfeld sets out that many people have lots of opinions about ‘good teaching’ in maths (and other) classroom, often with little evidence. He then sets out five dimensions of mathematically powerful classrooms. Compared to Emdin, Schoenfeld has scoped out a thorough and quality research based analysis of his subject, where it is clear that the desired outcome is student attainment through understanding of content.
    My sense of the history of education research is that it is a still a largely growing field, and there are a large number of people – educators, parents, observers – with opinions, some contradictory. It would be very helpful to have a more simple summary of practical help for teachers, summarising key research of the best type. ‘Best’ here, of course, is open to interpretation, yet whilst awareness of education research is important, for a teacher effectively to function within a living organisation that is a school, one would best be armed with practical rubrics, as a part of a whole school approach, providing consistency of learning approach to students. This is not to say that professional acumen is to be removed, but rather a recognition that educators seldom, if ever, function within the more atomised context that perhaps would be best described as individualised tutoring. I am taken with cognitive load theory, and its current application by current notable practitioners, such as Dani Quinn, the head of mathematics at the Michaela Community School, who mesmerised me at a recent Complete Mathematics conference I attended. Mesmerised me, I might add, without any of the searing rhetoric that Emdin seems to favour, simply because the content and her presentation of it was the clear, precise outline of how a cognitive load theory-based approach to whole school mathematics education may be simplified into practical rubrics.
    Learn, practice, reflect, and repeat. This is my favoured recipe, coupled with the observation that if one cannot summarise for practical reference the output of what is in essence a practical and human endeavour, then this may indicate that one does not have the instinct for operating within the messy and thickly contextual environments within which schools and the people within exist.

    Emdin, C (2013) “Teach Teachers How to Create Magic” Available at https://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_emdin_teach_teachers_how_to_create_magic?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare [Accessed 17 March 2019]
    Schoenfeld, A (2014) “What Makes for Powerful Classrooms, and How Can We Support Teachers in Creating Them?” Educational Researcher, vol 43, no 8, pp 404-412

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John,

      Thanks for your post.

      Your reflection on the value of research and the inherent difficulties in communicating it to teachers is a key issue we face today. I think the likes of Willingham and Peps McCrea are trying to bridge this gap but it can be a challenge to condense arguments into accessible texts or presentations. Dani Quinn is a good person to draw inspiration from.

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “Compared to Emdin, Schoenfeld has scoped out a thorough and quality research based analysis of his subject, where it is clear that the desired outcome is student attainment through understanding of content.” Plenty have opinions on what and how we should teach but we need to separate the worthwhile recommendations from those that may not have been researched rigorously.


  2. Powerful classrooms
    Christopher Erndin makes a stirring case for the need for magic in the classroom. This magic it turns out is the skill to communicate and to do it well. I agree there are many people out there who possess this skill but don’t teach. There’s always that someone who can make the ordinary extraordinary. My dad is one of these people; he’s like a magnet that others are drawn too. He comes across as someone with a lot of self confidence and charisma but in truth he’s a bit of a loner. If I asked him to say what he does and to break it down, I know he won’t be able to but for others it is a skill they have learnt. Christopher Erndin says that his students watch rap concerts, having not watched one this feels quiet extreme. The hair dressers, barbers, estate agents, some local trades people have this skill of drawing you in and delivering the punch line. I think some of the ‘magic’ comes in the confidence of what you are delivering; knowing what you have to say and how you are going to deliver it gives you that assurance, the ability to relax and enjoy yourself. I realize this isn’t always the case some people know there discipline extremely well but fail to communicate it. Understanding who we are trying to communicate with and what we want them to remember is important, not getting side tracked and keeping the end goal in mind. Engagement from our target audience is obviously important and our ability to reflect. It makes me think of the street performers at Covent Garden. Why do we wait and watch for so long? What do they do to draw us in and keep us there?
    Alan Schoenlfeld looks at how we access mathematical content in the classroom. He talks about recognizing who’s accessing and when. I’m sure it will be different times for different students but taking the time to reflect on who and how is important. Planning for those who struggle to engage, taking the access to meaningful participation was a phase I liked, taking the time to look for those opportunities to grow students learning through their participation in the lesson. Again Covent Garden street performers will have audience participation; they look for the right person to help entertain. Are we looking for the right student to respond and grow or are we taking the easy option and choosing the students who already know. To be honest I found his essay difficult to access for many reasons which is slightly ironic.
    I think that in all we do to educate I want to be thinking about my student’s needs and how to the best of my abilities I can meet them. I look forward to learning from my peers as I have this year and by continuing to reflect and read about good practice to learn to make my classroom a place where magic happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ann,

      Thanks for your post.

      Your discussion on the impact of personality is an interesting aspect to consider and definitely warrants further analysis. Drawing your audience in through passion and power of personality seems to be quite important but how can we measure that or prove it? John Hattie’s book, ‘Visible Learning’, details some of the characteristics of effective teachers on page 117 and outlines how research evidence was gathered systematically to analyse such characteristics.

      Keep reflecting on what makes a difference in the classroom from your experiences and utilise the literature to guide you so that you know what you are looking for.


  3. Reflection on “Task 10: Powerful Classrooms”
    Edmin in his TED talk ‘Teach Teachers How to Create Magic’ stresses why it is important for teachers to have basic skills such as communication, ability to connect with children on their level of understanding, pay attention and listen to them. In other words, Edmin emphasises on people’s skills. He gave examples of professionals, who have good communications skills such as barbers, priests and rappers and suggest that teachers need to watch these professionals and learn the communications skills form them.
    Coincidentally, after watching Edmin’s TED talk, I had the appointment with the hairdresser. I never met with this hairdresser before. So, I decided to observe her way of communication. By the end of my hair cut the hairdresser discovered half of my life story: She knew what I work, where I work, how long I have been working on my current job. She discovered ages and gender of my children and what my children are studying. She even asked me about my mum and her age and how often I visit her. She found out about rest of my family from other sides of the globe. She even asked me where my family usually go for summer holidays.
    I also found out about the hairdresser; it was not one-sided communication. After leaving the school, she went into hairdressing, and after decades of working in professional salons, she decided to open her own salon from her place.
    Now reflecting on this experience made me realise that I wasn’t hesitating to pass her my personal information because she was friendly. She opened her door with a big smile on her face, even before I bell her door and she waited for me while I was parking front of her house. Same time she was professional and reconfirmed the price with me before she started the haircut.
    I learned from this experience that if we prospective teachers and teachers use common sense, basic skills of communication- kind, a good listener- be friendly with children but same time keep the professional values; then we also can create magic. The magic of connecting and engaging the student in their learning and most importantly in the real world.
    Schoenfeld provides a rubric, called the Teaching for Robust Understanding of Mathematics (or TRU Math). The five dimension of Mathematically powerful classroom includes. The mathematics: How do mathematical ideas from this unit/course development in this lesson/lesson sequence? Cognitive demand: What opportunities do students have to make their own sense of mathematical ideas? Access to mathematical content: Who does and does not participate in the mathematical work of the class, and how? Agency, authority, and identity: What opportunities do students have to explain their own and respond to each other’s mathematical ideas?Uses of assessment: What do we know about each student’s current mathematical thinking, and how can we build on it.
    The five dimensions Schoenfeld identifies are crucial, however using and applying these skills as a trainee teacher not easy, but continue to develop with experience and dedication.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hairdressers often have that magic! If they do not connect with people, they will not make money, is this similar to a teacher not connecting with their students= no progress taking place?


    2. Shahida,

      Thanks for your post.

      Your reflection on the importance of communication was interesting. It would be good to reflect on how expert teachers put that into practice and observe their approaches.

      Try to analyse the arguments made a little more. For instance, what evidence did Edmin use to supplement his arguments? What evidence did Schoenfeld use? Plenty of people will tell you how you should teach but how will you decide whom to believe?


  4. And for my next trick…

    Christopher Erndin reminds me of a lot of people I used to know or talk to when I lived in the states, and not because he is American but because of charisma and how he engages, and that certainly helps to emphasise his position on that learning to teach should be more than just material knowledge and competency. He believes there should be the chance to learn how to have the “magic” that some people have within their engagement and communication abilities. We’ve all had a teacher who we just connected with and their demeanour/charisma helped us better comprehend what was being taught, but at the same time that may not have worked for every student in that class and you may have had multiple teachers with all different “magic”. I agree that having this “magic” as a teacher will mostly help with the connection to students but I don’t believe it can be taught to all hopeful teachers. Some people have this talent and it is a lot like leadership, it comes in different packages and can have different effects, but not everyone has it and it cannot be taught comprehensively. It has to be discovered within someone. Especially as it is so dependent on the factors that make a classroom, who are the students, where do they come from, what interests them, how do they take to adults, how do I attain their respect etc. He exemplifies this with his examples of the African American students he teaches with his comparisons of barbershops and rap music (said with the most respect intended).
    As you all know I love to relate these teaching ideologies to sports, and this one is a direct comparison to being a coach/ manager of a sporting team. Pundits and supporters always talk about impact and influence a manager can have on the team. Will they motivate, will they earn the respect of the changing room, do they have the character to run and control that team? Debates that are no different to a classroom. Each is to their own with what they think is right or wrong, with tactics, mentality, habits, techniques but it is up to that person to successfully pass on their knowledge and the plans. Teaching is the same and that “magic” comes in all different sizes and packages and has to be expressed in a way that does not steal away from content or myth students understanding.
    The passage from Alan Schoenfeld is similar in idea but more focused on the student understanding and how to better this. Although I think that is certainly the more important focus over having the magic, the way he discusses it is far too complex and wordy than necessary in my opinion. He seems to have turned something that should be simply said and understood as, students are all different and understand in different ways and we have to make sure we connect to all and understand how each learns and understands at different rates, into a full scientific experiment that in honesty comes out with an yes for an answer, rather than open ended to something that is so personal and specialised to each individual case, person, classroom, and school. Personally I feel that what I have learned from personal experiences, communication of others and their experiences, all the passages, videos, and readings we have gone through this past year only emphasise the fact of how personable the task of being a teacher is over the idea of it being a job with one successful way of accomplishing that job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rickie,

      Thanks for your post.

      Your last statement is quite a valid point. There is no one de-contextualised approach to teaching which is successful no matter what – you need to adjust to the nature of the group of people you are teaching and the setting that that occurs within (amongst other variables). I think Schoenfeld is trying to determine key principles we can use to guide our teaching rather than a specific recipe. The more we can investigate and prove/disprove the value of such principles, the closer we will get to consistent effective teaching.

      I liked your analogy of the impact of a manager. I think there is no specific personality or approach that is bound to be successful – Bill Shankly and Brian Clough weren’t universally liked by their players, whereas Jurgen Klopp most likely is loved by all. Some of them live by stats, some detest them. However, I think we would be able to determine some key principles which underpin effective practice by all of them and this would be useful guidance for beginning managers.


  5. Christopher Edmin’s passion for teaching is obvious and as a former teacher he’s obviously aware of the purpose and demands of the profession. I appreciate his desire to capture the hearts and minds of students – especially those lacking in direction and appropriate role models, and I don’t underestimate the value of interpersonal skills, but by promoting just one aspect of teaching – presentation – he seems to ignore the main objective.

    We teach so that our children will learn. Research is meant to help us understand how to best achieve this and while current thinking may have been built up from ‘age old’ theories and ‘dead education professors’ it is an actively growing and developing body of knowledge.

    And it’s not just expert advice. His assertion that the best teachers he knew were unqualified barbers etc. minimises the importance of actual subject knowledge. If you don’t know anything are you best placed to facilitate learning in others?

    We are not all Preachers, rappers or barbers – nor would we wish to be. Good teaching is about so much more than inspirational speaking. Such an attitude could be seriously demotivating to the potentially exceptional teacher with more of an inclination for enthusing in their subject and their students than loud and repetitive rhetoric. There are many ways to inspire, different ways to communicate – and we must bear in mind that one person’s inspirational speaker is another person’s irritating shouty person! I’m in the latter group when it comes to ‘Pentecostal pedagogy’.

    Schoenfeld is at the opposite end of the scale. I don’t mean in terms of delivery – although his drier and more formal writing style does contrasts starkly with Edmin’s flamboyant speech. I mean in terms of content. While Edmin makes his expansive claims without drawing upon scientific backing or proof, Schoenfeld has spent decades building upon empirical research. Not in a theoretical vacuum, but, as he puts it, but in a ‘productive synergy’ with actual teaching and learning.

    It seems to me that his ‘five dimensions of mathematically powerful classrooms’ incorporate many of the ideas we have been thinking about. For example, stage 1: the mathematics– he’s looking to foster a relationship with mathematics that is way beyond the ‘impoverished version’ of the subject that Boaler warned about in ‘The Elephant in the Classroom’. And stage 2: Cognitive Demand – seems to incorporate cognitive load theory, ideas about relational/instrumental understanding as well as use of techniques such as scaffolding.

    I’m very interested to see these ideas brought together into a tangible model with practical application. He knits together what sometimes seems like a detached set of theoretical concepts into a real world whole. But knowing what we are aiming for as teachers and how the research backs it all up is only the first step, by then asking how teachers can achieve these ideals in practice and offering tools designed to scaffold them in their delivery he usefully brings the research/practice cycle full circle.

    While I’d personally benefit from some presentation skills at this stage of my teaching, I think I have to find my own path – I could not go in everyday and ‘act’ like a preacher, or even an extrovert! The only two things I can say for sure is that experience will improve my ‘performance’ and rapping wouldn’t suit me. I’m infinitely more likely to draw upon the practical help offered by the likes of Swann or Schoenfeld.

    TED Talks (2013) Teach Teachers Hoe to Create Magic [online] Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_emdin_teach_teachers_how_to_create_magic?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread [Accessed 23rd April 2018)]

    Schoenfeld, A (2014) ‘What Makes for Powerful Classrooms, and How Can We Support Teachers in Creating Them? A Story of Research and Practice, Productively Intertwined.’ [Available online accessed 23 April 2018] Educational Researcher, Vol. 43 No. 8, pp. 404 –412

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karen: “and we must bear in mind that one person’s inspirational speaker is another person’s irritating shouty person! ” Isnt this true!


    2. Karen,

      Thanks for your post.

      This was well written and cogently argued. I particularly liked how you compared and contrasted the arguments being made while also interjecting some of your own views.

      I must admit that I laughed when I read “one person’s inspirational speaker is another person’s irritating shouty person!” I think I’m in the same camp as you when it comes to these people. I think you’re right in suggesting that Schoenfeld’s theory would be more effective if we had a clearer pathway for putting it into practice. There is more info here that might be useful: http://map.mathshell.org/trumath.php and this rubric might assist in conceptualising the guidance outlined http://map.mathshell.org/trumath/tru_math_rubric_alpha_20140731.pdf


  6. Can you teach magic?

    In his ted talk Christopher Edmin discusses the need to teach teachers how to create magic in the classroom. He touches on the irony of how teachers are taught to teach, compared to how they need to teach. He feels that the good teachers “are far removed from classrooms” and often don’t have a degree in teaching.

    Having had experience of working in school with a mixture of qualified and unqualified teachers myself for many years I do agree with some of his statements as I would say that as an observer it is very hard to tell the difference between a teacher who has QTS and one who doesn’t. I feel that some teachers are just far better at engaging a class than others, despite qualifications held. This is not to say that I do not feel that the training received during a QTS or PGCE courses will help improve the understanding of the pedagogy behind teaching and the understanding of standards, as I feel I have learned so much in just the short time I have been on this course. I’m simply pointing out that the fundamentals, or the “magic skills that you need to engage a student” aren’t always learned during teacher training, these skills are often learnt through life; as Christopher pointed out “in barber shops, rap concerts etc”. Christopher is adamant that these magic skills can be taught by going out and getting life experiences in such named places. I’m not so sure about this idea at all, I can’t say id be thrilled with having to go to a rap concert as part of my teacher training! Saying that I have spent many hours in hair salons and barber shops whilst I was assessing apprentices in their workplace, so maybe I’d be let off on that one!

    I hate to say it, having spent a lot of time studying growth mindset, but I can’t help but feeling that you either have that extra magic that Christopher speaks of, or you don’t and only life experience has the ability to change this. I’m almost uncomfortable even writing that, but in my years of training hairdressers I noticed that the ones who became successful were the ones who could engage in a conversation and build a rapport with their clients, despite how skilled their hairdressing was. I spent years studying the difference between the popular stylists and the not so popular. It wasn’t their skills that set them apart, it was their people skills. I feel this is similar with teachers. Having observed many teachers at work, Ive noticed it’s a similar trait that defines how well a teacher can engage a class and hence encourage learning to take place.

    I’m not saying a teacher must stand and entertain in order to engage the class, but there is certainly an argument for the rapport between the class and the teacher directly correlating to the level of engagement from the class that occurs. I am not sure if teacher training can teach a teacher how to engage with a class? I feel this magic is perhaps learned with experience, both in life and in the classroom. I’m sorry to appear fixed on this, but in my opinion, you can have a top degree, know the curriculum like the back of your hand, know every theory on pedagogy, assessment and behaviour for learning, but if you can’t engage with people in general, you will struggle for engagement and thus learning to take place in your classroom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found this quote on a TedTalk link: “Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.'” A rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.”
      Maybe I have got it wrong, but is the above the answer to why some teachers dont have this “magic” ?


    2. Donna,

      Thanks for your post.

      You’ve made an interesting argument about personality and the impact it has on relationships in the classroom. I think that some people can build these relationships much more easily than others but that does not necessarily fully determine the quality of teaching or learning which takes place. It is also the case that some take time to grow into their roles while others can adjust much more quickly. I agree that it is important to develop this aspect and that actually caring about your pupils is vital to establish trust and aid an effective learning environment.


  7. Teach Teachers How to Create Magic is the first ted talk I’ve 100% agreed with and even discussed a similar point with Ricky earlier in the year suggesting a public speaking module in our current course which I think would be very helpful as for the video most of the things he suggested were rather American things so doing them in the UK would be difficult but the underlined point is a great one. Being able to engage an audience (class) is as fundamental as knowing how to teach algebra as a maths teacher, I know half the students will always pay attention but that is not enough, maybe you’ll never get everyone’s attention in every single class but you can get very close if you observe how others do it so effectively the only thing is at these events the audiences are there through their own free will so they are likely to be more engaged anyway but never the less the better a teacher can talk and gain a classes attention through the way they talk the better. Personally I feel I can do this in certain situations, on a sports field I can instantly command the attention of all 50 off my teammates, I just need to learn the equivalent of doing it in a class (I probably would have to swear less in front of the kids compared to my team).
    In my opinion a powerful classroom is created when you create a decent relationship with your students learning how they learn best and the developing your lessons from there. I don’t think there is a universal “powerful classroom” blueprint rather 5 points that show a successful classroom. Just because your maths is strong, you have cognitive demand, your give the children the correct identity and authority in your class, have amazing access to content and you use assessment perfectly doesn’t to me mean you have a strong classroom because you could not understand that a lot of your students don’t understand and you move on to fast. So I guess of the 5 the most important to me is Agency, authority and identity. This is the students ability to interject in lessons, explain themselves and make mathematical argument, without this students could get lost in a class too difficult for them or find everything to easy, it becomes a lot easier and fluid for this if you already have a good relationship with students making the feel confident around each other by encouraging them to ask questions and suggest ideas around each other, this will make the mre comfortable about doing so in the future.
    Both of these articles bring up good points about how you conduct a classroom and also slightly contradict as one is a pure article on how to teach and the other states that this isn’t how things should be done and practical things need to be viewed as much as articles need to be read but they both clearly show the importance of being active about becoming a better teacher looking to better yourself will be key to become a long term great teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe,

      Thanks for your post.

      I think you’ve made a good argument as to why your ‘performance’ in the classroom is so important, and I’d agree that knowing all the various nuances of teaching mathematics may be useless if you can’t engage the pupils effectively. I think different teachers have various ways to achieve this but I’d agree that training on how to engage an audience would be of benefit. There will be sessions linked to this next year during your course.

      ‘I probably would have to swear less in front of the kids compared to my team’ – probably.


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