On Friday 31st October, The Sutton Trust published their most event research into what makes great teaching. The team, led by Professor Coe from Durham University, sought to identify particular teaching practices, approaches and techniques which had the most significant impact on student outcomes.
Quite simply they say:
We define effective teaching as that which leads to improved student achievement using outcomes that matter to their future success. Defining effective teaching is not easy. The research keeps coming back to this critical point: student progress is the yardstick by which teacher quality should be assessed. Ultimately, for a judgement about whether teaching is effective, to be seen as trustworthy, it must be checked against the progress being made by students.
The full report represents, on a number of levels, a challenge to aspects of progressive teaching methods. Many of the recent new practice orthodoxies, discovery learning, learning styles, active learning, are identified as having limited impact. While often maligned ‘traditional’ approaches such as the quality of direct instruction and subject knowledge are identified as having a significant impact on student outcomes
I strongly advise you read the full report, there are significant risks associated with taking a few headlines and developing any new pedagogical approach on these. However as a starting point the key teaching approaches identified as having the most significant impact were.
- (Pedagogical) content knowledge (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.
- Quality of instruction (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
Includes elements such as effective questioning and 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 elements of high quality instruction.
- Classroom climate (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
Covers quality of interactions between teachers and students, and teacher expectations: the need to create a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising students’ self-worth. It also involves attributing student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure
- Classroom management (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
A teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place. These environmental factors are necessary for good learning rather than its direct components.
- Teacher beliefs (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)
Why teachers adopt particular practices, the purposes they aim to achieve, their theories about what learning is and how it happens and their conceptual models of the nature and role of teaching in the learning process all seem to be important.
- Professional behaviours (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)
Behaviours exhibited by teachers such as reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues, and liaising and communicating with parents.
In addition the team evaluated the impact of number of teaching strategies which, while widely used, were identified as having little notable impact on learning, these were.
Use praise lavishly
Allow learners to discover key ideas for themselve
Group learners by ability
Encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas
Address issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content
Present information to learners in their preferred learning style
Ensure learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember
So what lessons can we draw for this? It would be foolish to career headlong into action without careful consideration of context. It is also dubious to expect a proscribed list of actions to provide a panacea to all our teaching desires. Having said this of many of the recommendations in the report seem eminently sensible. Summarised below are some early thoughts on how we can improve the quality of teaching at SGBIS.
Improving the quality of teaching
Raise awareness of educational research
Develop a robust professional learning culture
Provide opportunities to share best practice
Develop tools to enable systematic reflection and evaluation on the impact of teaching
Improving measurement of the quality of teaching
Triangulate data to measure effectiveness over time
Improve measurement tools enabling a wider input from both staff and students
I would be interested in any thoughts on this.