Nuthall (2005) The Cultural Myths and Realities of Classroom Teaching

Nuthall narrates a forty-five year research journey which led him to believe that teachers (and students) lead a life of routines & myths…

Nuthall 1.png

What students learn depends on what they’ve experienced previously; and their exposure to the key ideas (at least three times, in different forms):

Nuthall 3.pngNuthall 4.png

If they are exposed to the ideas, ‘less’ and ‘more’ able students learn in identical ways…Nuthall 5.png

But a critical difference is that higher-attaining students create more opportunities to learn themselves; lower-attaining students depend more on teacher-designed activities.

Nuthall 6.png

Nuthall 7.png



Teachers’ evaluations of a lesson reflects students’ reactions; teachers focus on teaching, not learning.

Nuthall 8.png

Nuthall 9.png

Teachers develop rituals to manage the challenges of helping 30 students at once; teachers and students focus on keeping busy/getting stuff done.

Nuthall 2.png

Nuthall 10.png

And teachers know little about what students are learning (this is a massive call for the use of exit tickets and hinge questions, by my reading…)

Nuthall 11.png

Snippets are from the published version:

Nuthall. G. (2005). The Cultural Myths and Realities of Classroom Teaching and Learning: A Personal Journey. Teachers College Record Volume, 107(5), pp. 895–934 .

There’s a publicly-accessible earlier draft here.

One thought on “Nuthall (2005) The Cultural Myths and Realities of Classroom Teaching

  1. How do I know the students are understanding? I test them. Often.

    Regular small low stakes tests, (which I mark). Direct questions to students, not asking for answers but for explanations. Mid-topic tests. I go round and check their work.

    Some people mark their students’ homework.

    If kids have their heads down working quietly I assume they are on their phone, not that they are engaged. If they’re talking animatedly, it’s probably not Maths. Nodding heads remind me of bobble-head dolls, not students who understand.

    This is not some magic I have dreamed up. It is the stuff of traditional explicit instruction, and it works. Check regularly. Do not assume that they have much self-judgement about their level of competence. A nodding head and look of engagement means they are happy, not that they are learning.

    Moving to progressive teaching loses much of this. I dislike questions that don’t have one correct answer because they are impossible in a class situation for me and student to know if it was done correctly. A dogmatic dislike of tests is really a dislike of feedback. Thinking students can accurately judge their level of progress is a triumph of hope over experience.

    We’ve descended so far down the progressive route in fact that we are asking “how else can we understand?” when we’ve known for ages how we can check for understanding. By actually checking!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s