‘World’s best teacher’ warns on too much testing

The BBC is reporting that the “world’s best teacher” says that a culture of excessive testing can damage standards and “decimate morale” among teachers.

Nancie Atwell, a US teacher who won the Global Teacher Prize earlier this year, was visiting a school in London…

On her visit to Capital City Academy in Willesden, north-west London, she said part of the prize had been spent on fixing the school boilers.

Ms Atwell was demonstrating her award-winning teaching skills in an English lesson to a class of 12 and 13-year-olds, with Schools Minister Nick Gibb watching.

Softly spoken and fastidiously polite to the pupils, sitting in a circle around her, she taught a lesson about two poems. She also told them that her own pupils called her by her first name.

“I’ve been teaching a long time and something I’ve learnt is, almost the softer you are, the more attentive they are.”

If there were behaviour problems, she said: “I would go to that student and say, ‘What’s the problem. You need to engage with this, stop talking.’ I’m strict. I’ve also got what they call ‘the look’… they fear it.

“The answer to almost every issue in the classroom is to talk to the kids about what’s going on.”

In terms of what made a great teacher, she said: “It’s not my personality, it’s not my intuition, it’s what I know about professional methods.”

She emphasised the importance of applying the lessons of research about what worked in the classroom.

Ms Atwell was awarded her prize at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, with former US President Bill Clinton on stage…

Ms Atwell said the prize, funded by the Varkey Foundation, was an important recognition of the “life-changing” potential of teaching.

But she warned against education systems moving to what she thought was an over-prescriptive curriculum.

Such an approach would limit children’s range of reading, she warned, so that they would spend too long focusing on a small number of texts in order to pass tests.

“Parents are recognising that their children are being tested rather than taught,” she said of US schools.

She criticised the move in the United States towards a “common core” curriculum, which she said “inhibits teachers’ creativity”.

For teachers, she said an excessive focus on testing and a curriculum based on passing a test was “de-professionalising” teaching…

But she emphasised how much could be achieved by teachers when they were able to engage with students and develop their creativity and writing skills.

Mr Gibb, observing from the back of the class, said he supported Ms Atwell “in her drive to highlight the importance of literacy and to help spread the love of reading around the world”…

More at: ‘World’s best teacher’ warns on too much testing


Some fascinating comments from Nancie Atwell on teaching, testing and more. 

Interesting insights into the US system too.

Your thoughts and reactions? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Overseas, Policy and Teaching.


  1. gordon_brough

    SchoolsImprove ‘World’s best teacher’ ??? OMG I can teach cats to juggle! How do I know if they can juggle? #timetoputlearningfirst

  2. Dai_James1942

    SchoolsImprove That will be the teacher’s version of what’s going on, but for 20 years tchrs disinformed by their History Lessons.

  3. TW

    The Home Secretary should deport this woman as a menace to public order.  Don’t want any of this professional knowledge stuff challenging the bright ideas of our super-smart MPs like Nick.

  4. wasateacher

    I realise that this is a report but it would seem that Nick Gibb totally misunderstood what she was saying.  I wonder why.

  5. Nairb1

    Maybe he didn’t. Maybe ‘de-professionalising teaching’ is exactly what he’s after. Remove any notion of teaching as a profession and then anyone can teach and that’s cheap … no training costs to worry about, lower pay, more profits.

  6. Nairb1

    Maybe he didn’t. Maybe ‘de-professionalising teaching’ is exactly what he’s after. Remove any notion of teaching as a profession and then anyone can teach and that’s cheap … no training costs to worry about, lower pay, more profits.

  7. TW

    Of course he didn’t misunderstand it.  He was doing what politicians do i.e. ignoring everything he doesn’t like but pretending to be agreeing and positive by focussing on one tiny little bit he doesn’t mind.

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