WHAT MAKES GREAT TEACHING AND LEARNING? A DISCUSSION PAPER ABOUT INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH APPLIED TO VOCATIONAL CONTEXTS

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1 WHAT MAKES GREAT TEACHING AND LEARNING? A DISCUSSION PAPER ABOUT INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH APPLIED TO VOCATIONAL CONTEXTS Background Good teaching is the core driver of high quality learning. Linked with strong assessment, relevant work experience/internships and assignments, and effective information advice and guidance, good teaching drives success. In October 2014, the Sutton Trust published a review of the research into What Makes Great Teaching? The paper draws on a wide range of international research (originating from the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong). This short paper summarises the issues raised in the original document, but also considers to how it might be interpreted or applied in the context of vocational learning, students of post- school age, and the vocational emphasis of work undertaken by colleges and adult learning providers. 1 So what does make great teaching? Research starts from the important notion that great teaching can only be great teaching if it results in great student achievement using outcomes that matter to students future success. In a teaching context, the impact measures for this might be interpreted as seeking to maximize four elements - pace of the lesson, the quality of engagement, stretch and challenge and skills/knowledge attained in the lesson. Interpreting outcomes that matter to students future success in a vocational context usually means the knowledge, skills, experience and qualifications which achieve progression either to: a paid career which relates to the programme which has been studied enable advancement at work study at more advanced levels of education and training, ultimately in order to access a paid (or better- paid career), but in some cases just to improve capability in English and maths start up a business related to what has been learned There are six components of great teaching, with different degrees of assurance in terms of the evidence base. The six points are: content knowledge and the skills displayed in the classroom (both with a strong evidence base) classroom climate and classroom management (with a moderate evidence base) teacher beliefs and professional behaviours (with some evidence) Each of these is considered in turn: 1

2 A Content Knowledge (strong evidence) The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach and when teachers knowledge falls below a certain level, it is a significant impediment to learning In the context of colleges it is reasonable to interpret this in four ways: Strong up- to- date content knowledge an in- depth understanding of how the content is currently applied in a work context (which is most cases would assume practical experience of being employed in the sector concerned), and the ability to design learning in a way which is relevant to the students being taught. the skills to assess how much students have learned In addition to these, good teachers are able to identify the elements which students are likely to find difficult, and to focus accordingly on the best ways to teach particularly complex or tricky areas. B Quality of practical teaching skills (strong evidence) Research into teaching and learning focuses on the importance of effective questioning and use of assessment. It also highlights the need to review previous learning, providing model responses, and the skills of scaffolding whereby new learning is introduced progressively, and only when it is clear that students have fully understood earlier stages does the material ramp up in complexity. C Classroom Climate (moderate evidence) Cutting through the jargon here, there are some components of climate which resound very clearly with the world of vocational learning. These are: The quality of interactions between teachers and students - which means that the relationship between the two should not make either party anxious about questions. With students, feeling comfortable (with both peers and their teacher) to express the view that something is not understood or not clear, or asking about how concepts are applied in the workplace. With teachers, this might include using more in- depth questions designed to challenge more able students. Creating a positive environment for learning which might include valuing effort (rather than ability), helping students develop resilience encouraging learning from failure, and other skills such as adaptability and dealing with ambiguity. D Classroom management (moderate evidence) These may be hygiene factors (ie, they need to be in place to ensure outstanding teaching takes place, but they don t in themselves make a direct contribution). Classroom management includes managing lesson time effectively to ensure that students are constantly engaged and progressively learning, managing behaviour (with consistency in applying rules and procedures), and organising the room space/s and resources to best effect. 2

3 E Teacher beliefs (some evidence) In the context of vocational learning and professional teachers, this suggests that teaching is not about simply applying a generic set of classroom tools and techniques, and assuming that these can be applied to any given situation. The real challenge is about not being wedded to a single approach, but developing an in- depth understanding of which techniques work best in teaching particular concepts and skills (and presumably building on an accurate analysis of the particular group of students and their responses). It also requires teachers to judge carefully about which technique to use when. One of the best examples to illustrate this point is Maths. The best Maths teachers start with high expectations everyone can become numerate, and they challenge students to do better. Less effective Maths teachers push facts, use standard methods without considering if there are better ones, and teach areas of Maths discretely from each other. The best teachers also know how to use technology effectively in the context of their expertise including when and how to use flipped and other forms of blended learning. There is also an interesting debate about class sizes. Research points to the fact that it is not about whether individual, small- group instruction or large class sizes are best or better than any other. It is much more about the quality of thought and effort which goes into the design of the learning process. F Professional behaviours (some evidence) Great teaching is maintaining a long- term professional commitment, motivation and personal development. There is a common misconception that teachers improve over their first 3-5 years in the job and then plateau. By participating in professional development activities, advancing their own professional practice (which might mean updating with employers) working closely with colleagues teaching the same areas, teachers can continue to improve throughout their professional career. Other evidence about learning effectiveness: Five points made through research into cognitive psychology (which hit the international press) are: Varying the context of learning and the types of task improves later retention, even though it may make learning harder in the short- term. Spreading out time spent reviewing or practising (with gaps in between to allow forgetting) leads to greater long- term retention. Learning in a single block improves short- term learning, but interleaving learning with other tasks improves long- term retention. Generating answers, looking up information yourself, and completing tests leads to better long- term recall than learning via presentations. Techniques such as highlighting important portions of text- to- be- learned, using keywords to trigger learning, restudying text again after an initial reading are all regarded as low utility when it comes to effective learning. 3

4 Ineffective practices from the research with relevance to vocational learning are: Too much praise. Praise can be positive and affirming. However, lavishing students with too much praise can be harmful to learning, and observers may conclude that teachers have low expectations of students. This is particularly damaging where teachers feel they are being encouraging and protective with low- attaining students. If teachers want students to learn new ideas, knowledge or methods, then they need to teach them directly. Discovery learning should be used in situations where students are building new understanding, or applying concepts which have already been introduced. Focusing on motivation rather than content for low attaining students. The evidence is, focus on content which they find relevant motivation and confidence come with success. For example, there is little point in reinforcing workplace standards and getting students to turn up on time if there is subsequently nothing to do when they arrive in class. Finding what interests students, discussing their preferred method of learning, and making a success of these is far more likely to produce long- term motivation. Learning styles. There are no benefits to focusing on a particular learning style in the belief that it is a student s preferred method of learning. Most people use different learning styles in different situations/subjects and do not benefit from material being primarily presented in one or more of what is seen as their preferred learning style. 2 Frameworks and tools to help capture great teaching? There are six approaches to assessing the quality of teachers, and the research recommends that no one method should be used in isolation. For three approaches, classroom observations, value- added models and student ratings, there is moderate evidence in signalling effectiveness. Three others managers judgements (ie, judgements not backed by direct evidence such as observation), teachers own self- assessment, and analysis of documents such as assignments and lesson plans are not great at signalling effective teaching unless they are combined with other approaches. A Classroom Observations: A number of measures need to be in place to ensure a good system of classroom observations. These will come as no surprise. They are: Clarity on the purpose of the observation. Is it about improving practice (formative assessment intended to improve practice identified as low stakes ), or summative (with consequences attached ie, high stakes )? This affects how the process is viewed. There is some evidence which suggests that trying to combine the two does not work. Teachers whose work can be improved but are feeling at risk may understandably be inclined to hide, rather than confront their problems. 4

5 Challenge is provided to the process (ie, through paired observations, external experts, moderation of grades and comments). Observers are all trained in assessing learning and in giving effective feedback. Peer assistance is deployed using expert teachers as mentors, particularly for new teachers Feedback is factual and delivered quickly after the observation. B Value Added Models: Systems which measure inputs and outputs, and set targets to ensure that students achieve better outputs than the average would predict are now used as an official published measure in English education. Success depends on the validity of the input/output measures, and the strength of the sample size used to generate the benchmark data. C Student Ratings: Students are multiple observers who draw on the experience of many lessons. Their lack of training might be compensated in their ability to identify how much they are learning from the chosen teaching approach, and their view of the classroom climate. This evidence, whether through surveys or face- to- face discussions is valuable, but much depends on the depth and clarity of the questions asked, and whether evaluation of scores and comments is reported at a level where action can be taken. Focus groups of students where the agenda is teaching and learning, but where students are drawn into a discussion rather than faced with a pre- set list of questions (ie, focusing on the students agenda rather than on the interviewer s agenda), bring a rich seam of information to the evaluation process. One might also argue that indirect measures related to the quality of teaching (particularly data on student punctuality, attendance (overall and by subject, module completion, and retention). To some extent these external measures may counterbalance direct measures (which only take account of the students who are present). 3 So what are the implications for professional development and improving the quality of teaching, and how might this be applied in a practical situation? In the context of vocation learning, this suggests focusing on professional development in three distinct aspects: Individual subject and sector knowledge (specific, current, timely, forward- looking), which in the case of degree programmes would include research; In- depth understanding of how students learn, the areas students are likely to find challenging, and how to plan teaching and learning activities to achieve the right outcomes; The practical skills of delivering effective teaching and learning. Breaking this down further, these three areas can be used, which can be used to guide the teaching performance, and identify areas for improvement and professional development. The matrix can also be used at team level as an evaluation tool to drive judgements about self- assessment. 5

6 For example: Subject and sector knowledge Directly relevant academic and/or vocational qualifications Knowledge (and preferably recent experience) of its workplace application An understanding of future sub- sector developments, skills requirements and its impact on outcomes Related knowledge (for example, English, Maths skills) Delivering outcomes through excellent teaching Effective planning of learning which drives pace and meet students needs The skills to assess student progress in line with the qualification standards. Knowledge of specific techniques which promote rapid and effective teaching and learning in the subject concerned. Effective use of data and how it improves planning, monitoring and assessment of learning The quality of enabling skills for practical teaching Effective and dynamic communication and presentation skills. Listening, questioning techniques, giving feedback, coaching skills Ability to use IT effectively for planning learning, producing materials, assessment and feedback Classroom management, student behaviour to promote active learning, and which encourage high levels of punctuality/attendance 6

7 IMPACT- LED LESSON EVALUATION MODEL MAXIMISING LEARNING Optimal Pace - every moment of the time is used to best effect (for example): There is very good initial planning of the lesson content, timings and teaching methods which takes account of students and their individual needs. Students arrive on time and are well prepared. There is very good management of planned activities and individual students by the teacher. Clear explanations (instructions, direction and timings) are provided for all activities, which focuses students on what is expected of them. Full Engagement: students concentrate and achieve all of the time (for example): standards attained optimal pace full engagement Teachers demonstrate appropriate subject knowledge and link the application of knowledge, where relevant, to future employment. Teaching methods are used which are effective, and which provide variety to result in full engagement of students. There is effective management of individual students during the lesson. There are very high levels of attendance and punctuality. Skillful listening, questioning, persuading, influencing techniques are demonstrated by the teacher. Challenge and independence: all students work to their potential taking account of their individual strengths, characteristics and starting points (for example): challenge and independence The teacher sets high expectations which motivate all students to work to the best of their ability. The teacher demonstrates strong knowledge of individual students, their targets (where appropriate) and students are clear what they need to do to improve. Appropriate techniques are used to challenge students to achieve at higher levels. There is encouragement for students to think for themselves, and where appropriate to extend learning through research, practice and development outside of the lesson. Excellent, Good, Satisfactory Not yet Satisfactory, Weak Standards attained standards displayed by students in relation to expectations are outstanding (for example): The level of knowledge and skills demonstrated by staff (and by students) during the lesson are excellent. Students demonstrate that they understand what has been taught and can apply the content to new situations. Learning points are checked and reinforced at appropriate points by the teacher. Reinforcement of commercial practice benefits students understanding of standards required. On leaving the class, students are clear on what has been achieved during the lesson and any areas for improvement or further development. 1

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