Friday, February 03, 2012

What really improves children's learning?

I just read an article in the Teacher Network blog of The Guardian written by Dr. Elliot Major (February, 2) and he really “hits the nail on the head” on some interesting issues, related to children’s learning improvement.
Some points have surprised me:

  • “Forget about smaller class sizes and other education myths. Reducing class sizes has in fact little impact on learning, unless pupils to teacher ratios are dramatically reduced”.
  • “Teaching assistants add zero to the attainment of children: billions of pounds of public money is currently spent on a workforce that has no discernible effect on school results”.
  • “Ability grouping in class has little impact on overall results: the gains of children in high ability groups are outweighed by the losses of those in low ability groups”.
  • “Homework during primary school has little or no impact on attainment”.

He proposes a method for improving based on the Reflective Practice model of peer-to-peer tutoring and “learning to learn” (metacognitive) strategies: “The point is not to tell teachers what to do, but to get them to think about the research evidence, and make informed judgments about what to pilot in their own school”.

If you ask teachers, many of them agree about what are the most likely reforms for to improve results: smaller class sizes; new types of schools; new head teachers; more homework; more teaching assistants; more money for schools for all of the above… But Dr. Elliot argues that “by far the best hope for better results is to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. What matters most is the interaction between teacher and pupil”. Teachers should get “effective feedback for shifting fundamentally how teachers approach their work in the classroom - understanding where their pupils are in relation to learning goals, adapting their teaching in response, and planning how to plug the learning gaps”.

Prof Higgins (Durham University) coins the "Bananarama principle": "It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it, that's what gets results". This simple point is often lost in education, as it is often the hardest challenge of all.

"The hope is that teachers in future will have their eyes on the evidence. Only then will we have a chance to deliver the rising results we all yearn for".

Read the complete article at the Teacher Network blog. The Guardian.

Read more about Professor Steve Higgins Pupil Premium Toolkit. Published by the Sutton Trust, "this is a Which style guide showing schools which broad approaches work best at improving attainment of pupils. It is aimed at poorer pupils who will attract the Premium funding, but most of the findings apply universally to all children".

• Dr Lee Elliot Major is Director for Research and Policy at the Sutton Trust, and chair of the evaluation advisory panel for the Education Endowment Foundation.

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