31 oct. 2014

What makes great teaching?

Many popular teaching practices are ineffective, warns new Sutton Trust report:

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 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.
  7. Being active, rather than listening passively, helps you remember This claim is commonly presented in the form of a ‘learning pyramid’ which shows precise percentages of material that will be retained when different levels of activity are employed. These percentages have no empirical basis and are pure fiction.

What makes great teaching?
Review of the underpinning research
Robert Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major
October 2014