Schoolzone blog: Chalk and talk is back!

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17 Nov 2014

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The chalk may be figurative, but it's the talking that counts, apparently.

Teachers need to be more "front of class" and less "touchy feely" (again, figuratively), according to Nick Gibb, who is reporting back from the first round of maths teacher visits to China. This also echoes the Southampton University study, published a few months ago, which compared teaching between schools in England and China and found that the Chinese spend over 70% of teaching time front of class, whereas here, it was only 24%.

These comparisons are nonsense, of course, since they isolate one feature and ascribe it with more influence than is reasonable. However, the Sutton Trust had something similar to say a few weeks ago: "Research evidence ...broadly favours direct instruction".

Meanwhile, the Education Endowment Toolkit (a much-overlooked resource, by the way) suggests that collaborative learning adds 5 months to students' progress. Obviously this isn't a feature of front of class teaching, so it appears to contradict the above - it's also based on "evidence found consistently for over 40 years" - across all subjects too, not just maths and science.

So, what to take from this? Well, how about: "don't be too afraid to chalk and talk but also remember that there are lots of other ways for children to learn". Bland as a recommendation, yes: and one that makes less interesting headlines (see this post's title), but perhaps the best way to treat Nick Gibb's exhortation to spend more time teaching the whole class at once.

There is though another aspect to this... teaching assistants. Front of class teaching obviously (mostly) needs less reliance on TAs. The coalition government have had this group in their sights since it came to power - immediately axing HTLA training, for example and reducing other supporting funding - recently it started a consultation on TA standards too. So, what's the verdict on the use of TAs? Well, the EEF toolkit gives them one month's worth of improved progress (not much for the high cost), while the IOE's DISS project said "Contrary to commonsense views about TA support (i.e. more adult support for those who need it most helps them to progress), we found that a negative relationship between the amount of TA support received and the progress made by pupils in mainstream primary and secondary schools".

So, perhaps we should look more carefully at the way we support some forms of classroom practice a little more carefully, starting by checking whether our assumptions about what makes good teaching are true.




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