The ‘practice’ of teaching

Fewer (activities); Deeper (learning); Better (student outcomes).

John Tomsett, Headteacher

This is not a blog post proper, just some notes on Hattie’s introduction to Visible Learning for Teachers. Hattie says what we all know: there is no scientific recipe for effective teaching and learning and “no set of principles that can be applied to all students”.

That said, I’ve been engaging in some gentle elbow-digging about Learning Styles again today. For those of you who haven’t read my views, I will summarise them by saying I think Learning Styles are deeply unhelpful. If anyone is interested in the dissenting view then please skim through Doug Wood’s blog here.

The point I wanted to make and that Hattie puts so eloquently is this:

[T]here are practices that we know are effective and many practices that we know are not. Theories have a purpose as tools for synthesizing notions, but too often teachers believe that theories dictate action, even when the evidence of impact does not support their particular theories (and then maintaining their theories becomes almost a religion). This rush by teachers to infer is a major obstacle to many students enhancing their learning. Instead, evidence of impact or not may mean that teachers need to modify or dramatically change their theories of action.”

Or, as Dylan Wiliam put it, we should stop teachers doing ‘good things‘. We all want to do good things because obviously no teacher is deliberately trying to be an obstacle to students’ learning, but without considering the impact of the way we teach we can waste time which could be spent doing better things.

It’s no good saying that what we do is better than nothing. Of course it is. Hattie says that we need to measure the effects of what we do against a ‘hinge point’ of 0.4. If a strategy has an effect size of at least 0.4 then it worth doing. We have no right to be routinely using methods that do not reach this hinge point. Ignorance is not can excuse either: it’s our professional duty to be aware of what works.

And that’s the point. It’s not that I think Learning Styles is utterly without benefit, (if it encourages varied teacher approaches to learning strategies) it’s just that there are many more useful things we can be spending our time practising.

And the argument that by catering to Learning Styles we are more in tune with our students’ needs? Hogwash! Hattie says, ‘labelling students in terms of how they (the teachers) think the students think, and thus overlooking the fact that students can change, can learn new ways of thinking’ is harmful. Case closed? I hope so.

For those who’ve already waded through Visible Learning, I can assure that the “for teachers” version is markedly more useful and I recommend you read it with alacrity.

5 thoughts on “The ‘practice’ of teaching

  1. Pingback: The Learning Spy - Deliberating about practice

  2. Let say my strategy has a success of 0.35 on Hattie’s scale. Let’s say I know there is a better strategy which requires 50% more effort/time/money from my side, in order to reach 0.45 . I’ll need to invest more while receiving no money and no recognition. I’ll also need to do it secretly (which is almost impossible) so my new strategy cannot be traced to some short range drop in assessments.
    Conclusion: The only teachers who may implement or trial new methods/strategies/techniques should be 5 years “old” in the same school. The problem is that the chance these teachers would do it – tends to 0.

  3. Andreas

    Hattie’s conclusion is that it’s only really worth trying to implement strategies that are above .4 anyway, so a gain of .35 would be considered ‘low’.

    Top of the list is feedback. Trouble is, research shows 70% of teacher feedback is not received. Conclusion: invest your time on implementing strategies to improve the dialogue between teachers and students.

  4. After the age of 12 there is almost no feedback between parents and children 🙂 so why would a math teacher be any more successful ? Well, there are special cases …
    Teachers’s feedback is unreliable because they don’t see the big picture so their good or bad experience is very localized. Teachers always report successes in public and failures in private so any statistics is not reliable. Teacher/students failures make juicy gossip in teacher’s room 🙂
    I would say that a good relationship with the parents, is beneficial up to the 6’th grade. After that, parents would, sometimes, side with child against the teacher if he thinks it’ll help him/her gain back closeness to the child. Very rarely may a teacher receive a direct, genuine feedback from a teenage student. The appreciation or lack of it between teacher and student, comes from the student’s success or lack of it with the teacher’s subject. If the student is unsuccessful (no matter who’s guilty) than the subject is not interesting, not useful, not cool, the teacher is bad, ugly ….
    Some students prefere down to Earth teachers, some would like a supermen, some want the teacher to make them feel good about themselves. The dialog may start only when the student received (at least partially) what he/she is looking for.

  5. A students’ preferences aren’t really relevant. Learning is very similar no matter who’s doing it.Not sure I understand you points about feedback between parents and teenagers. My point is that there are ways to successfully transmit feedback and that’s what we should be focussing on rather than making excuses about why we can’t.

    Thanks, David

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