What Makes Great Teaching?

A new report just published by the Sutton Trust and Durham University, which asks what constitutes good pedagogy, what frameworks or tools could help capture it, and how could this promote better learning, seems to be causing quite a stir (but then when did a report about education not?). The full report is available here [pdf].

Although focused exclusively on teaching and learning in schools, it raises some questions that may be interesting for members of the HEAT network and that we might want to return to in future discussions.

The Guardian summarizes some of the central findings from the report:

The study suggests that some schools and teachers continue using methods that cause little or no improvement in student progress, and instead rely on anecdotal evidence to back fashionable techniques such as “discovery learning,” where pupils are meant to uncover key ideas for themselves, or “learning styles,” which claims children can be divided into those who learn best through sight, sound or movement.

Instead, more traditional styles that reward effort, use class time efficiently and insist on clear rules to manage pupil behaviour, are more likely to succeed, according to the report – touching on a raw nerve within the British teaching profession, which has seen vigorous debates between “progressive” and “traditional” best practice.

This summary itself was criticized by commentators ‘below the line’, including one Guardian contributor who responds:

A lot of conservative education traditionalists are already putting their spin in this, but they are wrong. They have no idea about what constitutes good teaching either.

Indeed this report trashes one of their main beliefs about education; that streaming or setting is effective. Here this report is clear that streaming and setting, two of the cornerstones of conservative traditionalist education policies, are ineffective.

Quite how the Guardian’s Twitter team can paint this as supporting traditionalist teaching methods, when the thing it most clearly states, is that most people, including the traditionalists, don’t know what constitutes effective teaching.

The important implication from this is that the judgements on most teachers’ effectiveness made by senior management and Ofsted, are likely to be highly unreliable.

The Guardian also has some follow-up responses from teachers here.

The BBC report focuses on how the report calls into question the idea that praising students is necessarily an effective teaching practice:

Teachers who give struggling pupils “lavish praise” could make them even less likely to succeed, research into classroom tactics has suggested…

Although teachers want to encourage underachieving pupils by giving them praise, this can have a negative impact on them, the study concluded.

It warned that research shows that if children’s failure brings them sympathy they are more likely to associate that approval with underachievement…

In contrast, it said that pupils who are “presented with anger” will not have such a positive association with performing badly.

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