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Inside Teaching : April 2010
Inside Teaching | April 2010 PROFESSION 18 the emphasis on practices, grounds effectiveness firmly in practice – in the structured, rules-based, routinised or choreographed behaviours of teachers. The massive Project Follow Through study, funded by the US federal government from 1967 until 1995, for example, found that structured teacher- directed methods result in consistently stronger student learning gains than those obtained from student-directed or constructivist methods. The late Ken Rowe, in his study of the Working Out What Works Training and Resource Manual, reported likewise. In his examination of literacy and numeracy intervention programs and teaching strategies, he found that initial direct instruction improves student learning. ‘What made the difference to students’ learning and achievement progress..? Simply,’ Rowe concluded, ‘teachers in the intervention schools were taught how to teach.’ As Dinham points out in How to Get Your School Moving and Improving, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that effective teaching is not about following a proforma. Yes, the behaviours of novices tend to be rule governed. Sure, novices need structure, Dinham observes, but experts or masters need autonomy, and find rules and structure inhibiting. In their investigation of the successful teaching methodologies used by teachers of the New South Wales Higher School Certificate, Dinham and his research colleagues Paul Ayres and Wayne Sawyer, in fact, found that effective teachers employ a whole range of strategies, but, ‘The key common factor was an emphasis on having students think, solve problems and apply knowledge. These teachers consciously built understanding and connected students’ work to previous work, work that was yet to come, and events in the broader environment. Frequent assessment and quality feedback were hallmarks of these teachers.’ Interestingly, Dinham, Ayres and Sawyer found that effective teachers did things like using closed questions – and you thought that was a no-no? ‘These teachers used different forms of questioning depending on the stage of the lesson,’ Dinham explains, ‘and whether the teacher was teaching the whole class or if students were working alone and in small groups. Teachers tended to use closed questions when talking to the whole group and at the beginning and end of lessons to link, revise and test understanding. This also occurred at certain break points in lessons when students were moving from one activity to the next.’ Measuring teacher effectiveness: student test scores or rigorous standards? Okay, quality teachers are a central input that we can actually influence, so how do we best identify quality? Moves to measure teacher effectiveness here in Australia typically focus either on value- added measures of student achievement on external tests or on knowledge and skills-based or standards-based schemes, with recognition in terms of professional certification. According to Lawrence Ingvarson, a Principal Research Fellow and formerly Research Director of the Teaching and Learning Program at ACER, value-added approaches face ongoing concerns about their validity, and they rarely last. The main problems when you measure teacher quality in terms of student achievement, says Ingvarson, are the non-random assignment of students, the effects of other teachers and the effects of student characteristics, even when controlled, as well as the effects of school policies, the non- random assignment of teachers and the appropriateness of outcome measures for the students and curriculum taught. ‘Recent research also indicates that estimates of a teacher’s effectiveness vary significantly from year to year,’ says Ingvarson, ‘also throwing doubt on the accuracy of value-added schemes.’ Standards, on the other hand, cover the full range of what good teachers are expected to know and be able to do, and that’s why they provide a valid basis on which to assess a teacher’s knowledge and skill, Ingvarson says. ‘Well-written and detailed professional standards give teachers long-term direction in planning their professional learning and clarify the nature of the expertise that the profession expects its members to gain with experience,’ he says. When it was finally made public in August last year, the cautious Rewarding Quality Teaching report by a team led by Alison Gaines for the consultancy firm Gerard Daniels, broadly supported a standards-based model rather than a student test-score model to improve teacher quality. As the report notes, schemes that tie the performance-based pay of teachers to student test scores ‘build on the idea that growth in student performance is a strong indicator of teaching quality, and that it is the indicator for which it is worth paying.., (but) it makes no sense to pay for students’ average performance – because the quality of teaching explains only 30 per cent of the variance in students’ test scores.’ That appears to be a reference to Hattie’s finding that teachers account for about 30 per cent of the variance of student achievement. The Rewarding Quality Teaching report concludes that: • a performance management system should underpin a performance culture in teacher employment • employers should ‘embrace differential remuneration for teachers who are assessed as high performers,’ and • success will depend on the quality of the teacher assessment process, and