The first comes from an interview in the American Psychological Association with psychologist Daniel Willingham, PhD who has a new book coming out called, "Raising Readers in the Age of Distraction."
The interview, though, was about education and teachers and what works. I do not think that anything he says will come as ANY surprise to teachers. I find it all basic, reasonable and, as he says, common sense.
The truth is that most teachers in my experience really have a lot of
common sense. There are ideas that are peddled to them that are wrong,
but most teachers are pretty skeptical of them. They're in the classroom
every day, so they have a sense of what works and what doesn't work
On evidence-based techniques for the classroom:
One reason is that what works in the lab doesn't always work in the classroom. In the laboratory, we're typically looking at one or two variables at a time, whereas in the classroom, there are lots of variables, all of which can affect learning simultaneously.
Another big piece of the problem is that in education, there is no one who is translating what the research really means for the classroom. If you're a physician, for example, there are institutions that publish reliable, periodic summaries about what's new in medicine. In education, we don't have that at all. Teachers and administrators have to fend for themselves and judge whether or not something that claims to be research-based really is.
In consequence, it's kind of a free-for-all right now. People are selling books, professional development, curricula and instructional materials, claiming that they are backed by science and it's up to teachers and administrators to figure out whether or not there's legitimacy to these claims. Who has the time?
What Matters in the Classroom?
The big piece is that curriculum matters a lot. You have to have a
curriculum that challenges kids and is sequenced in a sensible way.
The amount of time students spend on tasks also matters. People
shouldn't be surprised that in international tests U.S. kids do OK on
science in fourth grade, but then as they get older they don't do as
well on science compared with their international peers. It happens
because we don't spend very much time on science in this country.
The third big component I would point to is teacher skill. It's easier
for students to learn from someone with whom they feel an emotional
connection, someone who believes in them and is on their side.
Understanding what it is that motivates his or her students is also part
of teacher skill, and within that, the ability to set tasks for
students that are both engaging and substantive. An engaging task is
going to be one that is just a little bit beyond their reach, so to
understand that, you need to know where they are now. And that brings up
another aspect of skill, which is being able to do some amount of
differentiation and recognizing that students come into class with
different levels of preparation.
Use of Technology
What we know best is that simply buying a lot of technology like laptops
or interactive white boards doesn't work. Teachers need ideas about how
to exploit these tools in the classroom. There will always be a few
teachers who are willing to spend a lot of their evenings and weekends
trying to figure out what to do with that technology, and some of them
will come up with really cool ideas, but most don't have the resources
to do that.
On Reaching Struggling Students
Every child, no matter how far behind they are, can catch up, but it
takes a lot of persistence on the part of the student. Once you have a
child who starts to conclude that school is not for them because they're
not succeeding — and this is happening today in third grade or even
earlier — then you have an enormous motivation problem. There are good
data that in early elementary school, the relationship between student
and teacher is enormously important, and that kids will learn more from
teachers whom they really like. That doesn't go away as kids get older,
and it becomes more important for kids who are struggling academically.
This is something people point to as potentially missing from
technology: You don't have this personal relationship. So, we want to
make sure that a technology-enabled classroom also fosters a personal
relationship with the teacher. The person who has the best chance of
persuading a struggling student to really try and to believe in
themselves is someone he or she feels close to and has a good