Important Reading on Teaching and Outcomes

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 with kids.

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 relationship with.


Anonymous said…
This is kind of the whole point of John Hattie's work. He explicitly measures the statistical effect of different pedagogical moves. Seattle Public Schools would do well empower educators to make good use of his research.


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