Effective TeachingTrying to deduce what makes effective teaching may seem like an impossible job. For years I was convinced that there was no "right" way, and it was very much down to the discretion of the individual teacher. However, whilst I believe there are no definitive answers to questions such as "what is the best way to introduce fractions", I am starting to believe that there are several key principles that make the teaching of maths in general effective, based around what we have learned about how students think in the Cognitive Science section.
Research Paper Title: Principles of Instruction
Author(s): Barak Rosenshine
I absolutely love this paper. It presents 10 research-based principles from cognitive science and studies of master teachers, together with practical strategies for classroom implementation. The 10 principles are all based around the model of Explicit Instruction that will be the focus of the next section, and sound so simple when you see them written down:
1) Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
2) Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step
3) Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students
4) Provide models.
5) Guide students practice.
6) Check for student understanding.
7) Obtain a high success rate.
8) Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
9) Require and monitor independent practice.
10) Engage students in weekly and monthly review.
For me, this is the structure of a very well planned lesson, encompassing aspects of spacing, retrieval, worked examples, modelling, formative assessment and problem solving, all of which will be discussed in greater detail further on this page. For each element there are links to further research to support the author's claim.
My favourite quote:
Education involves helping a novice develop strong, readily accessible background knowledge. It's important that background knowledge be readily accessible, and this occurs when knowledge is well rehearsed and tied to other knowledge. The most effective teachers ensured that their students efficiently acquired, rehearsed, and connected background knowledge by providing a good deal of instructional support. They provided this support by teaching new material in manageable amounts, modeling, guiding student practice, helping students when they made errors, and providing for sufficient practice and review. Many of these teachers also went on to experiential, hands-on activities, but they always did the experiential activities after, not before, the basic material was learned.
Research Paper Title: What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research
Author(s): Robert Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major
This report from CEM, Durham University and the Sutton Trust seeks to answer the simple, but unsurprisingly complex, question of "What makes good teaching?". The authors outline six common components of good teaching and rank them by how strong the evidence is in showing that focusing on them can improve student outcomes. The six components are:
1) Content knowledge (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
2) Quality of instruction (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)
3) Classroom climate (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
4) Classroom management (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)
5) Teacher beliefs (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)
6) Professional behaviours (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)
Each of these is worthy of further discussion, but I want to focus on the first two. There are two aspects to content knowledge. Firstly, teacher need to have a strong, connected understanding of the material being taught. But in addition to this, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind non-standard methods, and identify typical misconceptions students have. We have all seen great mathematicians who do not make good teachers as they lack the second of these aspects, but likewise there is no getting around the fact that to be a good maths teacher you need to know your maths. Quality of Instruction concerns the best way to communicate knowledge to students. I can do little better than to quote the report itself: Quality of instruction is at the heart of all frameworks of teaching effectiveness. Key elements such as effective questioning and use of assessment are found in all of them. Specific practices like the need to review previous learning, provide models for the kinds of responses students are required to produce, provide adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and scaffold new learning are also elements of high quality instruction. To me, this seems like a model of effective explicit instruction.
My favourite quote:
There is some evidence that an understanding of what constitutes effective pedagogy – the method and practice of teaching – may not be so widely shared, and even where it is widely shared it may not actually be right. Hence it is necessary to clarify what is known about effective pedagogy before we can think about how to promote it. Unless we do that there is a real danger that we end up promoting teaching practices that are no more – and perhaps less – effective than those currently used.
Research Paper Title: What works best: Evidence-based practices to help improve NSW student performance
Author(s): Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
Another superb attempt to categorise the practices that are likely to improve student learning. For each one we get a summary of why it matters, what the evidence says, and practical; implications for teachers. The seven areas identified are:
1. High expectations
2. Explicit teaching
3. Effective feedback
4. Use of data to inform practice
5. Classroom management
Again, it is interesting to note the inclusion of explicit teaching, but no mention of discovery/inquiry based learning.
My favourite quote:
These themes offer helpful ways of thinking about aspects of teaching practice but they are not discrete. Rather, they overlap and connect with one another in complex ways. For example, providing timely and effective feedback to students is another element of explicit teaching – two of the more effective types of feedback direct students’ attention to the task at hand and to the way in which they are processing that task. Similarly, being explicit about the learning goals of a lesson and the criteria for success gives high expectations a concrete form, which students can understand and aim for. Wellbeing and quality teaching are mutually reinforcing – if students with high levels of general wellbeing are more likely to be engaged productively with learning, it is also true that improving intellectual engagement can improve wellbeing