Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Making the biggest difference

Every teacher wants to make a difference, but with so many ideas and strategies coming in and out of vogue a question often asked is what makes the biggest difference to students' success.  Educational researchers such as Marzano and Hattie have reviewed data from hundreds of studies and they agree that the following are the most important:
  • A clear focus - students do better when teachers are clear about what they are learning and when this new learning is challenging compared to where they currently are.  Both agree that the goals need to be shared with the students.
  • Direct instruction - Marzano believes the most important factor in student success is to explicitly teach the things that students need to learn and showing students what they need to be able to do.
  • Engagement with the content - both Hattie and Marzano agree that students need to link what they are learning with their prior knowledge.  Both felt that teacher questions, note taking and using manipulatives were valuable here, but only for surface engagement.  For deep understanding, using graphic organizers to show how the new material is organized is more effective.
  • Feedback - letting students know what is good and bad in their work and how they can improve.  Interestingly struggling students need immediate feedback whereas the more successful students do better when feedback is delayed.
  • Multiple exposure - combined with rehearsal and review of what has previously been learnt.  Practice is seen as being really important here.
  • Application of knowledge beyond the particular topic - so that students come to generalize their learning.  One aspect of application is problem-solving for real-world issues.
  • Collaboration - when students work together they achieve better results.  However both Hattie and Marzano believe groups should be small and that this cooperative work needs to be well structured (so students need to be taught how to work in groups).
  • Self-efficacy - students who believe they can master new learning are likely to be able to do so.  This fits in with Carol Dweck's work on growth mindsets.  Teachers can encourage this through sparing praise (too much send the message that you value mediocrity).  As students belief in themselves is reflected in their achievements, this in turn leads to them being more self-efficacious.  
No great surprises here, though I was curious to see the value of direct instruction, since much of what we do in the PYP is inquiry-based.  I was especially curious to read this article because after Christmas I'm mentoring a new teacher at ASB and I'm thinking that each of these areas could provide a great area for observation and subsequent discussion about what I noticed.  

Photo Credit: duane.schoon Flickr via Compfight cc

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