Thursday, 12 November 2015

(Perhaps) The best way to be evidence-based is not to read the research.

There are two approaches to the idea of teachers using research.

Teacher as researcher

This implies you will need to:
  • do some training to learn how to do research.
  • read a lot of research papers, follow references and interpret data etc
  • carry out research in your classroom.
While some teachers may want to do this, there are problems with this approach:

  • It takes a lot of time.
  • You need to be able to understand the language used in academic papers.
  • You may become selective, finding only research that agrees with you own ideas.
  • You may believe that your small piece of research is valid and claim some expertise.

Teacher using research.

This is much simpler.  We acknowledge that we have little time and lack the skills to compare research papers etc.

  • Use meta-studies and research reviews written by professional researchers.  These look at all the evidence available and create an average or summary of the evidence.
  • Pick methods which, on balance have been shown to be most effective.
  • Choose one or two and practice with them.

EBTN approach

This is the approach suggested by EBTN.  About 20 methods have already been shown to be very effective and, since it takes 6 months to 2 yrs to hone your skills with one new method, there are readily-available ways to improve your students' learning which should keep you busy for a few years without having to read any research.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

(Perhaps) The best way to improve your OFSTED grade is to ignore their advice.

When we get inspected, they give us both a grade and some advice on how to improve.

We get the impression that, if we follow the advice, the next time we are inspected, we should get a better grade. But what is the evidence? 

We downloaded dozens of Inspection Reports and found that the overall grade is almost always the same as the 'Outcome for learners/students'. This means that the best way to improve your grade is to improve the learning. At EBTN, we can demonstrate that the best way to do that is to develop staff-skills in using some evidence-based methods. 

The stress caused by inspection is not directly caused by OFSTED - it is created by school-staff trying to work out how to implement the advice and creating myths and rules in the process.

(We also noticed that the grade given for 'Leadership/management' is almost always the same as the overall grade, but, can it really be that all schools which are well managed have good learning? )
The EBTN message is clear: develop staff-skills and ignore* the inspection teaching/learning advice.  When the learning improves, so will the inspection-grade.

(*If the advice relates to a legal requirement, like safety, don't ignore that!)

Is 'teacher subject knowledge' important?

On Hattie's list, 'Teacher Subject Knowledge' ranks very low - Effect-size 0.09 - almost at the bottom of the list. (See under 'Evidence' tab).

However, this report 'What makes great teaching?' by eminent researchers including Robert Coe and Steve Higgins has been reported as showing that it is top of the list for effectiveness.

Is this contradictory research?  A closer look shows they are talking about different things.  

Hattie is talking about knowledge over and above that needed for the course, for instance, that the teacher has a PhD or industry-experience in the subject.  This has little effect on the quality of learning. (Some experts baffle their students.)

Coe is talking about the material you are teaching.  Here (obviously!) if you don't know the material well, your students' learning suffers.  They use the term 'Content knowledge' (see quote below) which refers not just to the content itself, but also: 
  • knowing the subject well enough to explain it in different ways
  • being able to answer student's questions
  • understanding the difficulties they commonly have in grasping this knowledge 
  • etc

So, no conflict - just another example, perhaps, of how the teaching profession does not yet agree on the technical language it uses to describe things!

(Pedagogical) Content knowledge
A number of studies have found a relationship between measures of a teacher’s
knowledge of the content they are teaching and the gains made by their students.
It seems intuitively obvious that ‘Teachers cannot help children learn things they
themselves do not understand’ (Ball, 1991, p5). However, the search for a
relationship between characteristics such as academic qualifications or general
ability and student performance has been rather disappointing: correlations are
typically very small or non-existent (Rockoff et al, 2011).

Monday, 9 November 2015

(Perhaps) Most of what you know about education is right.

There are a number of popular books about education which, while their contents contain valuable evidence and insights, their titles seem to suggest that teachers are mistaken or ineffective or slaves of politically correct ideas.

  • What if everything you knew about education was wrong? David Didau.
  • Seven Myths About Education. Daisy Christodoulou
  • Teacher Proof. Tom Bennett
  • Why Don't Students Like School? Daniel T. Willingham
That's not to say that these books are not valuable. Knowledge of myths is important: some of those they point to are already on our 'myths' page. Much of Willingham's book tells us a lot about the brain and learning, Tom Bennett has established ResearchEd.

The problem is: most students do like school, most students are able to read and write properly, most teaching is effective, most of what teachers know is not wrong. We need to try not to perpetuate the myth that schools and teachers are 'failing'.

EBTN has compiled much of the evidence about what does work in education. You can find much of it on the website.

Does teaching fit the evidence?

When we compare what effective teachers actually do in their classrooms with what the evidence shows would be effective, we see that they are already doing much of what the evidence shows works well.

Under the 'evidence' tab you will see that effective teaching includes:

  • checking and linking to prior knowledge
  • giving the big-picture as well as the detail
  • using a variety of senses to present new information
  • setting challenging tasks
  • giving feedback
  • repetition
There is scarcely a classroom where this does not happen to some extent. The evidence suggests that, if we want to improve learning, we don't need to throw out what we do, we just need to make small changes by practicing with methods which have been shown to be more effective.

Making teaching 'professional'

Teaching needs to become intellectually professional - building a shared body of knowledge based on careful research and classroom testing. We need to get away from gurus, ministers with 'solutions', journalists looking for a story, cure-all solutions and publicity-seeking titles.

Sure there are myths a plenty, but, even by OFSTED (UK inspection) standards, at least 50% of teachers are good or outstanding. Let's honour these skills and expertise and stop belittling the profession.