Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What works in schools: Best Evidence Synthesis

Published waaaay back in 2003, the BES on Quality Teaching for Diverse Students remains a go-to document for effective pedagogy in the mixed-level classroom. Adrienne Alton-Lee and her team conducted a meta-study of research into what works in schools and their findings can be reduced down to: quality teaching makes the difference. Defining what constitutes 'quality teaching' takes up the remainder of the study. Read the 15 page executive summary for a cheat sheet on how super teachers are created.

These are her findings, in order of effect size:

1. Quality teaching is focused on raising student achievement (including social outcomes), and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for diverse learnersTeaching should be about learning and achievement. Set and maintain high expectations of what students are capable of.
2. Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communitiesLearning is a social activity and we learn best when in a caring community. Communities give care and support to learners.
3. Effective links are created between school cultural contexts and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised to facilitate learningAcknowledge who students are and let them bring this to the classroom. Use it for learning.
4. Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processesKnow how learning occurs in the brain, but also know that every brain is different. Account for this.
5. Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficientGive learning time to occur. Use the students' timeframe, not yours.
6. Multiple task contexts support learning cyclesUse a range of different approaches and arrangements: theory & practical; abstract & real world; individual, group and whole class. 
7. Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design and teaching are effectively aligned Everything in the organisation should be geared towards giving teachers and students what they need to learn.
8. Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagementGive specific, effective, appropriate feedback that helps students to learn better.
9. Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourseTeaching should encourage students not only to learn, but to become better learners.
10. Teachers and students engage constructively in goal-oriented assessmentTeachers and students should all what is being assessed and how it will be assessed. Assessment should impact positively on student motivation.

The other fascinating (and scary) piece of information in the executive summary is this:
"Quality teaching is identified as a key influence on high quality outcomes for diverse students. The evidence reveals that up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes, while up to almost 21%, but generally less, is attributable to school level variables."
In short, the difference between the most and least effective teacher in a school is far greater than the most and least effective schools. I say this is scary because it means that schools leaders are far, far more important than a Ministry of Education in having an impact on student achievement.

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