Saturday, March 2, 2019


OFSTED recently published a report on what works in schools. Some of the ideas were relevant only to the U.K., but other ideas can be used here. They studied schools in a few different ways, looking at types of teaching that's most effective and what else really matters in a school.

Some obvious findings:
"teachers need solid knowledge and understanding of the subject(s) they teach. . . . where direct measures of teacher subject knowledge are used, the evidence is much more positive. . . . There is also evidence that teachers’ content knowledge affects their teaching practices. Baumert et al (2010) found that teachers with greater content knowledge have higher levels of pedagogical content knowledge, which itself leads to greater attention to cognitive activation (developing pupils’ conceptual knowledge through, for example, summarising and questioning strategies) in their teaching" (9-10). 

On my "Annual Learning Plan" document, when it asks about what professional learning we're doing, I always respond that I'm reading in my area of study. They seem to want me to respond, however, about things like Inquiry-Based Learning. We're guided to spend our free time learning about poorly-researched teaching models instead of honing our skills and knowledge in our field of study.

Some strategies we harp have found to be lacking:
"In-class differentiation, through providing differentiated teaching, activities or resources, has generally not been shown to have much impact on pupils’ attainment. In Scheerens and Bosker’s (1997) meta-analysis of school effectiveness research, for example, this factor showed no or a very weak relationship with pupils’ outcomes. Hattie (2009) likewise found the effect of differentiation to be among the weakest in his influential work on ‘Visible Learning’" (14). 
And, in case any still believe in them, "it should be clearly stated that there is no evidence that pupils have distinct and identifiable learning styles (Pashler, 2008; Willingham, 2010). Trying to design tasks with this misconception in mind will increase teachers’ workload but is very unlikely to improve learning" (14).

It's not enough to just teach critical thinking, as a few educators have tried to convince me. My argument for teaching content is to imagine the next generation having no idea when WWII started or why. We can think critically about a topic without first understanding the ins and outs of the issues - the content. And that requires some memorization:
 "Learning is at least in part defined as a change in long-term memory. As Sweller et al (2011) have pointed out, ‘if nothing in the long-term memory has been altered, nothing has been learned’, although there are, of course, other aspects to learning. It is, therefore, important that we use approaches that help pupils to integrate new knowledge into the long-term memory and make enduring connections that foster understanding" (15).
Many of us are getting better at coaching kids in how to study:
"It is, for example, becoming increasingly clear that using spaced or distributed practice, where knowledge is rehearsed for short periods over a longer period of time, is more effective than so-called massed practice, where we study more intensively for a shorter period of time. It is therefore good practice to block learning and repeat practice over time, as this leads to better long-term retention of knowledge (Rohrer & Taylor, 2006; Rawson & Kintsch, 2005). A related practice is interleaving. Traditionally, most schools use blocking, where practice of particular knowledge happens in blocks (e.g. AAABBBCCC). In interleaving, we instead mix practice of A, B and C (e.g. ABCABCABC). There is growing evidence that this can improve retention, and research in mathematics is particularly promising (Richland et al, 2005; Rohrer et al, 2015). Retrieval practice needs to occur a reasonable time after the topic has been initially taught and needs ideally to take the form of testing knowledge, either by the teacher (for example questioning using flash cards, a test or getting pupils to write a concept map) or through pupil self-testing. It is important that feedback on accuracy is provided either by the teacher or by the pupil checking accuracy for themselves" (16).
We focus more on formative assessment now, which typically means providing feedback without a mark on it for the benefit of further learning before any evaluating occurs. We used to call it "process work." But some are going the distance, the entire semester, without providing any grades. The report says,
"formative assessment, like most other educational interventions, will not always work for all pupils, and not all studies find positive effects (Bennett, 2011). This is partly because implementation can vary widely, not least as there are a lot of misinterpretations of what formative assessment means. In order for it to have a positive impact, two conditions need to be met:  pupils are given advice on how to improve  pupils act on that advice by using the materials provided by the teacher, going to the teacher for help, or working with other pupils" (18). 
From a parent's point of view, one key to using formative assessment well is in the timing of feedback. A student can complete several quizzes on a topic in preparation for a test, but if they don't have any of them returned before the test date, it can provoke much anxiety around how much they actually know the night before the big test. And without any indication of evaluation of formative work, they end up feeling lost with respect to their ability to grasp the concepts. The final evaluation can feel entirely out-of-the-blue.

I tend to evaluate everything, but in a weighted way, so early work counts for very little, but it still counts. And then students have a sense of what parts of the curriculum they're understanding clearly, and which parts need further attention.
 "There is a popular misconception that testing and quizzing are detrimental to learners and should be replaced exclusively by formative assessment. This is a mistake, as use of low-stakes testing can contribute to learning in valuable ways. The importance of retrieval practice has been demonstrated (Barenberg, Roeder & Dutke, 2018), and this research shows strong evidence for the testing effect, that is, the positive impact of the mental process of learners working to recall knowledge they have previously learned. . . . In the best cases, schools used ongoing assessment to check pupils’ understanding of the main curriculum elements. They then responded appropriately through adapting their teaching. There was an expectation that the information captured from assessment was to be used for identifying gaps in pupils’ knowledge, skills and depth of understanding, and to inform and improve future curriculum design" (18).
The effect of expectations has been known for years, but now we're privy to student transcripts before the start of each course. This can have a detrimental effect on struggling students,
"High expectations and a positive climate characterised by respectful interactions are two strongly supported elements of educational effectiveness. . . . At the start of the school year, teachers were provided with a list of pupils who were said to be expected to bloom intellectually in the coming years on the basis of a test, but who in fact did not differ from their peers at baseline. Pupils were retested on three occasions during that school year and during the following year. Results indicated that ‘bloomers’ gained more in IQ than did control group children" (23). 
And then there's the on-going problem of getting the kids in the building regularly, and this isn't the first I've heard about the need to develop a stronger connection between high school and the larger world:
"There is a clear link between attendance and attainment. . . . In terms of ways of improving attendance, the strongest evidence appears to be around providing clear pathways from education to next steps such as higher education or employment and providing a high-quality curriculum and teaching experience. . . . Work with parents is particularly helpful in primary and early years (Taylor, 2012) (24). . . . . one methodologically strong study using a longitudinal dataset for primary school pupils in Philadelphia shows not only that tardiness has a negative impact on the attainment of the tardy pupil, but also that there is an overall effect of peer tardiness on the attainment of pupils in the class (Gottfried, 2014)" (25).
And then they write about the need for a strong and consistent vision in the school, in which everyone feels connected and the people in the building are positive in regular encounters with students. I've seen the difference it makes when administrators are in the halls, greeting students by name. Unfortunately many are too busy now, ensconced in more mundane and bureaucratic duties: "The main factors related to prevalence of bullying appear to be associated with school and classroom culture. Cook et al (2010), in their metaanalysis, suggest that bullying is more prevalent in ‘schools with a negative atmosphere’, while a recent large-scale study in Colorado found perceptions of a negative school climate" (28).

Finally, then there's the push towards developing resilience in our charges. It appears we have little effect, but what we can work on is helping kids find a place they belong in the building:
"Most recent interest has been on the extent to which schools can foster resilience as a disposition. Here there is, however, relatively limited evidence of a school effect, with school factors explaining 3% of the variance in resilience between pupils in one of the few studies to have looked at this (Gutman & Feinstein, 2008). The school factors that seem to make a difference within this limited amount of variance are ensuring that pupils achieve academically, or in areas such as sports or arts (Hill et al, 2007). . . . The main school-level predictors of health outcomes are pupils’ levels of engagement with education and the perceived quality of pupil–parent relationships. . . . Schochet et al (2006) meanwhile found a significant relationship between adolescents’ feelings of belonging in school and their mental health. . . . school climate appears to be the predominant factor, with connectedness to the school, a respectful and warm climate, positive relationships between pupils and teachers and between pupils, consistency and use of routines, and low levels of disruption and conflict found to promote well-being. . . . Generally, this research points to a clear correlation between education, typically defined by highest qualification achieved or number of years spent in education, and attitudes. . . . If these activities and development are to have a positive effect, it is important that they are not limited to pupils studying politics or associated subjects, as sometimes appears to be the case. . . .  In drawing together research across these aspects of personal development, it appears that it is not so much individual actions of the school, but attention to climate and culture that matter. School climates that are supportive and nurturing, while also promoting discipline and boundaries, and that actively nurture belonging to school and pupil involvement, show widespread benefits" (30-32).
I've had a few discussions with students after the intro "Get Involved" assembly, and many have raised the point that the push to for them to join a team or club can result in many feeling even more isolated or 'weird' for not wanting to be a joiner. In order to be even more inclusive, to create a respectful and warm climate, it appears we also need to encourage people to be okay with finding a corner of the building where they can read or watch videos. Are world is geared towards the extroverts, and that sometimes leaves out a good quarter of the student body. That's always clear to me during that one PD Day each year that focuses on teacher wellness, where we're forced to do some stress relieving activity, but it must be in a group, regardless how we're wired. Going for a walk on your own just to hear yourself think isn't allowed. Curious.

A warm climate doesn't have to include team affiliations. Just knowing student names and talking in the hallway can go a long way in making people feel a part of the school. Since they find that "well-coordinated whole-school approaches are most likely to have an impact, while uncoordinated small-scale interventions are not" (32), it would appear those special coloured-shirt wearing days might do little towards reducing problems if students don't feel like they belong there in general.

1 comment:

Owen Gray said...

I'd only add one thing, Marie. Students should know you're on their side. That doesn't mean you'll cook the books. But it does mean they know you really do want them to succeed.