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“What Makes Great Teaching” Seems Like An Excellent Report – With One Exception

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Teaching The Teachers is the headline of a fairly in-depth article published by The Economist today. It’s about…teacher preparation, and it has a fair amount of good info in it, though they fall for some questionable claims by school reformers (see The Best Posts Debunking The Myth Of “Five Great Teachers In A Row”).

The most interesting part of the article, I thought, was a reference to a study completed two years ago by The Sutton Trust, a fairly well-respected organization in Great Britain. They reviewed “200 pieces of research). It’s titled What makes great teaching?

Here’s how they summarize its findings:

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:

  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment

Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:

  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material

Common practices which are not supported by evidence include:

  • using praise lavishly
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves
  • grouping students by ability
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”

It seems like a very useful report.

I have a problem with one of their findings, though – their contention that it’s bad practice to “allow learners to discover key ideas by themselves.”

Actually, I don’t really dispute the finding itself. In fact, I agree with it.

However, as I’ve written before, I think criticizing it is a red herring.

Apart from the widely criticized Sugata Mitra (see The Best Posts & Videos About Sugata Mitra & His Education Ideas), I don’t hear anybody pushing that strategy.

Instead, what I hear about a lot, and what I support, is called “assisted discovery learning” with teacher guidance, which plenty of research does support (see Is This The Most Important Research Study Of The Year? Maybe and “Should students discover their own math lessons?”).

It seems to me that proponents of direct instruction (see The Best Posts Questioning If Direct Instruction Is “Clearly Superior”), in their ardor to prove their point, just lump all alternatives into this teacher-free discovery method that nobody really uses.

So, apart from that issue, I think the report is a solid one, and I’m adding it to The “Best” Lists Of Recommendations About What “Effective” Teachers Do.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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