The statistics make sobering reading. Research reported here found that, “on average, teachers believed 49% of… neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.” A recent survey reported here found that 90% of teachers in several countries agreed that individuals learn better in their preferred learning style despite there being “no convincing evidence.” (Read an excellent article by Daniel Willingham and Tom Bennett in the TES here on learning styles and other myths in education.) Conversely Dunlosky points out here that “some effective techniques are underutilized – many teachers do not learn about them.”
I was one of the 90% until reading this blog from @headguruteacher – a revivifying pedagogical update. Why? Lack of time and information.
Here are 8 catch-up pedagogies every teacher should know:
1. Think ‘fluent mastery’ not ‘rapid progress’
Bjork points out here that performance can be an “unreliable indicator” of learning because the ‘constant cues’ given by similar tasks blocked together in a predictable context with immediate feedback create the ‘illusion of fluency’. Tim Oates’ curriculum reform emphasises “deep learning” over “undue pace.” In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine advocates ‘mastery learning,’ building automatic fluency in key concepts: “the most effective teachers… began their lessons with a five-to-eight minute review of previously covered material [and taught in] small steps (i.e., by combining short presentations with supervised student practice)… giving sufficient practice on each part before proceeding to the next step” and re-teaching material when necessary. Engelmann suggests that just 15% of a lesson should be new content, the rest being review of, or slight expansions on, previous content.
Myth: Keven Bartle explains the myth of progress in lessons here
Strategies: Avoid Professor Coe’s ‘Poor Proxies for Learning:’
- Students are busy: lots of (written) work is done
- Students are engaged, interested, motivated
- Students are getting attention: feedback, explanations
- Classroom is ordered, calm, under control
- Curriculum has been ‘covered’
- (At least some) students have supplied correct answers (whether or not they understood or could reproduce them independently)
2. Knowledge matters
The Sutton Trust Report states that, “the most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach [and]…understand the ways students think about the content.” Rosenshine found that “one characteristic of effective teachers is their ability to anticipate students’ errors.”
Deep knowledge is vital to achievement. Hirsch argues that, “breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control [including socio-economic status] that contributes most to academic achievement… Imparting broad knowledge to all children is the single most effective way to narrow the gap between demographic groups through schooling.” Young argues here that all students are entitled to ‘powerful knowledge’: “the best that has been thought and said.”
Deep knowledge is also vital to memorising and thinking. Willingham argues that a memory replete with facts learns better than one without, and reasons that it “makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content.”
Myth: knowledge and understanding are ‘lower order’ @Webs of Substance here
Strategies: Stretch and Challenge curriculum mapping @Love Learning Ideas here
3. Expect excellence from all
Think in terms of expected learning gains:
- What deep understanding or technical proficiency will students gain mastery of?
- What will excellence look like?
Myth: Shaun Allison writes here that ‘all, most, some’ learning objectives “stifle aspirations of what students can achieve.” He suggests a single, challenging objective for all students with appropriate scaffolding.
Strategies: @Headguruteacher explains here how to ‘Define the Butterfly’
4. Learning should be guided
The Sutton Trust Report recommends “reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students [and] progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding)” as elements of high quality instruction.
Rosenshine emphasises clear, detailed instructions and a range of explanations: “the most successful teachers… spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions… Teachers who spent more time in guided practice…also had students who were more engaged during individual work.”
Myth: Students can find out for themselves with teachers as facilitators: Kirschner, Sweller and Clark argue here, that “based on our current knowledge of human cognitive architecture, minimally guided instruction is likely to be ineffective…When dealing with novel information, learners should be explicitly shown what to do and how to do it.”
They criticise problem-solving as requiring, “limited working memory… to be used for activities that are unrelated to learning” and recommend worked examples, models and process worksheets which reduce working memory load and “direct attention to learning the essential relations between problem-solving moves.”
Strategies: 17 Principles of Effective Instruction here
5. Learning should be difficult
“Learning happens when people have to think hard…It helps teachers to ask questions like, ‘Where in this lesson will students have to think hard?” [Coe]
Willingham points out here that memory is the residue of thought, “Your memory is not a product of what you want to remember… it’s a product of what you think about,” therefore the goal of lessons is thinking about meaning: “Sometimes learning is not fun. Instead, it is just hard work; it is deliberate practice; it is simply doing some things many times over” [Hattie].
Bjork’s counter-intuitive finding here is that ‘desirable difficulties’ which make short-term performance harder, cause better long-term learning. These include:
- Varying the conditions of practice rather than keeping them constant and predictable
- Spacing practice sessions with gaps to allow forgetting. Bjork argues that “forgetting… creates the opportunity to reach additional levels of learning.”
- Interleaving rather than blocking topics
- Using retrieval quizzes to test recall
- Reducing feedback
Myth: Learners choose the most effective learning methods. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark found that: “Less able learners who choose less guided approaches tend to like the experience even though they learn less from it.” In comparison, task-specific learning strategies embedded in instructional presentations“require explicit, attention-driven effort on the part of the learners and so tend not to be liked, even though they are helpful to learning.” Conversely, “Higher aptitude students who chose highly structured approaches tended to like them but achieve at a lower level…[because they] have acquired implicit, task-specific learning strategies that are more effective for them than those embedded in the structured versions of the course…[but] believe that they will achieve the required learning with a minimum of effort.”
Strategies: Planning Schedule Audit to plan for ‘desirable difficulties’ @Love Learning Ideas here
6. Deliberate practice makes mastery
The Sutton Trust Report recommends, “Giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely” as an element of high quality instruction. Nuthall suggests that practice of new learning should be spaced over at least three occasions, and Engelmann argues that practice should be five times longer than teachers expect. This ‘overlearning’ creates fluent, automatic understanding and transfers learning to the long-term memory.
Rosenshine found that “the most effective teachers… understood the importance of [guided and independent] practice…It is not enough simply to present students with new material, because the material will be forgotten unless there is sufficient rehearsal.” His research also suggested that the optimal success rate in practice was 80%: students were learning but still challenged.
Myth: the most effective learning is based on ‘doing’ here
Strategies: Independent Learning Skills Log here
7. Testing as Learning
“As learning occurs so does forgetting” [Nuthall], therefore “the aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned” [Kirschner, Sweller and Clark.] Willingham suggests that information should be ‘overlearned’ by 20%.
Dunlosky’s research here suggests that the following methods retrieve memory most effectively:
- Practice Testing improves memory retrieval and has “sizeable benefits” when frequent, spaced and with feedback. Testing is “not merely a tool for assessing learning but also a tool for enhancing learning” – more effective than re-study or concept mapping [Karpicke] here
- Distributed practice forces students to think harder and works best “when the lag between sessions [is] approximately 10-20% of the desired retention interval”
- Interleaved practice strengthens memory retrieval
- Elaborative interrogation enhances learning by integrating new information with prior knowledge
- Self-explanation helps students understand processes
Myth: Summarising, highlighting and re-reading are highly effective learning strategies
Strategies: How to pass exams assembly @Love Learning Ideas here
8. Question don’t ‘progress check’
The Sutton Trust Report recommends “effective questioning” as an element of high quality instruction. Effective questions require all students to process and rehearse material, and allow teachers to check for understanding and provide feedback and corrections. Rosenshine criticised, “the least effective teachers [who] asked only nine questions in a 40-minute period.” Multi-choice hinge questions can encourage students to process: why are responses correct or incorrect?
Myth: closed questions are less effective. Andy Tharby explains here how closed questions can be used for retrieval, assessment, fine analysis, focused research, thinking and modelling.
Strategies: how to use hinge questions @Improving Teaching here