Sunday, September 20, 2015

The final distraction: "fixing" the teachers

This is the final post based on John Hattie's The Politics of Distraction that was published this summer.  Since it would seem that it is not useful to focus on fixing parents, the schools, the students or the programme, it would seem that the most productive way to increase student achievement would be to focus on the teachers.  In fact Hattie argues that teaching standards to need to be raised - however he cautions several "fixes" that make little impact on teacher effectiveness.

Teacher education - at present this is based on an apprenticeship model, with some instruction taking place in universities and some practice taking place as a trainee teacher is placed in a school.  Studies show that teacher education programmes have the lowest impact on student achievement since the greatest learning is not during teacher education programmes but takes place during the first year of full-time classroom teaching.  Most new teachers admit they were not well prepared for their role in the classroom.  Hattie suggests it may be useful to introduce a 2-year "registrar" position (at ASB we do this and call them "novice teachers") where the focus is on helping these teachers to transition into the teaching profession.

Performance pay - I have worked a two schools that tried to introduce this (both I believe failed).  Hattie also writes that it is difficult to find a performance pay model that has made a difference to student learning, instead pointing out that it tends to lead to greater stress and less enthusiasm for teaching.  He suggests introducing increased pay for increased expertise, for example becoming a coach, where the responsibility is to improve the skills of other teachers.  One advantage of this would be that teachers do not have to leave the classroom and enter the world of school administration in order to earn higher salaries.

Technology - Last week's report by the OECD, which was publicised widely in the press, pointed to the fact that technology is no "magic bullet" where student learning is concerned.  Although reading the headlines it would seem that the report was anti-technology, closer reading of the report shows that it is actually saying that technology is an amplifier - it certainly can amplify great teaching, and at the same time it can amplify poor teaching too - basically technology can't replace poor teaching, though "if used appropriately, technology can, and often does, make learning more engaging and it has the power to transform educational environments."  The real problem is that technology is often simply used as a substitute for what was already being done.  We need to change our teaching methods in order for technology to be transformative.

Teaching Assistants - As mentioned in a previous post, reducing class sizes without a change of pedagogy does not lead to improved student learning.  The same is true with simply adding more adults into the classroom.  Most of the time teacher aides are not trained educators, yet Hattie points out they are often employed to work with the most needy students - which can actually lead to these students, who are most in need to teacher expertise, to make even less progress.  This is because aides are more likely to prompt students, to provide them with answers, and to be more concerned with task completion.

Hattie argues that we do need to improve teacher standards, but writes:
Teachers cannot do it on their own: they need support, they need to collaborate with others in and across schools, they need to develop expertise, and they need excellent school leaders.  Further, supportive and great systems are needed to support and nurture great leaders.
There are things that can make a huge difference to  student achievement, and I'll be writing about these in an upcoming post.

Photo Credit: Twin Work & Volunteer via Compfight cc

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