What doesn’t make great teaching

What Makes Great Teaching, the title of a new report from Durham’s School of Education, could be re-titled “what doesn’t make great teaching.” Some of the techniques like lavishing praise, as I’ve mentioned before, are not good (click here).

In fact the report finds that criticising a student’s work or failing them can be beneficial by making the student realise they are capable of better work.

The report is a “starter kit” to enable thinking about what makes for effective teaching. The report’s key points are¹:

Six key factors that contribute to good teaching are identified. The two factors with the strongest evidence in improving student outcomes are:

• Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students’ learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.

• Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

The other four elements of effective teaching have fair to moderate evidence showing a positive impact on results. They are: classroom climate which includes the quality of interaction between teachers and students as well as teacher expectations; classroom management which includes efficient use of lesson time and managing behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced; teachers’ beliefs, the reasons why they adopt particular practices and their theories about learning; and professional behaviours which relates to professional development, supporting colleagues, and communicating with parents.

The seven examples of strategies unsupported by evidence are:
1.Using praise lavishly For low-attaining students praise that is meant to be encouraging and protective can actually convey a message of low expectations. The evidence shows children whose failure generates sympathy are more likely to attribute it to lack of ability than those who are presented with anger.

2. Allowing learners to discover key ideas for themselves Enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.

3. Grouping students by ability Evidence on the effects of grouping by ability, either by allocating students to different classes, or to within-class groups, suggests that it makes very little difference to learning outcomes. It can result in teachers failing to accommodate different needs within an ability group and over-playing differences between groups, going too fast with the high-ability groups and too slow with the low.

4. Encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas Testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches to memorisation than re-reading or highlighting.

5. Addressing low confidence and aspirations before teaching content Attempts to enhance motivation prior to teaching content are unlikely to succeed and even if they do the impact on subsequent learning is close to zero. If the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure starting to get them to succeed through learning content will improve motivation and confidence.

6. Presenting information to students in their preferred learning style Despite a recent survey showing over 90% of teachers believe individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, the psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits to this method.

¹ You should find some grammatical errors in this lengthy quote; they are not mine but belong to the educators at Durham! I’ve corrected some.

Further Information: Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring

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