Schoolzone blog: What makes great teaching (and what doesn't)

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3 Nov 2014

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What makes great teaching

The Sutton Trust conducts some great research and is marvellous at disseminating it. School leaders and politicians often use it to support or undermine any particular case they try to make, which means it must be trusted.

This latest report is a round up of various studies about what makes great teaching, which it defines as that which can be measured by improved student performance. The two factors having the best evidence that they work (note: not that they necessarily are the most important) are that:

  • the most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach and
  • high quality instruction, such as effective questioning and use of assessment by teachers; specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding).

So, knowing your stuff and being good at getting it over to learners: fairly obvious, one would think.

What doesn't

But the report goes on to identify some examples of classroom practice "whose use is not supported by research evidence":

  • Over-use of praise - eg where the work isn't really very good - this sets low expectations.
  • Allowing learners to discover key ideas for themselves - undermining initiatives to support independent learning perhaps. "Research evidence ...broadly favours direct instruction"
  • Grouping learners by ability (Michael Wilshaw and Nicky Morgan, please note): "makes very little difference to learning outcomes"
  • Encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas "testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches."
  • Presenting information to learners in their preferred learning style (eg visual, auditory or kinaesthetic) "the psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits".
  • Active learning: "Memory is the residue of thought so if you want students to remember something you have to get them to think about it," - it's not all about sorting cards and role play.

But before you change your teaching to lecturing to mixed ability groups, remember that variety is the spice of life!




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