Have you and your colleagues ever been told by an administrator that test scores need to be improved because current results aren’t good enough? Afterward, did you find yourself thinking there is nothing that can be done without support from parents, or that today’s kids just aren’t motivated enough? Or perhaps you told yourself that kids seem to have a sense of entitlement; that they believe they shouldn’t need to work so hard to get what they want.
These are common frustrations we hear from educators around the country, and those attitudes are in some ways valid. However, instead of finding reasons why student performance on assessments cannot be improved, we as teachers need to focus on what we can control.
In his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie reported findings from a study conducted to determine which variables have the greatest effect on student learning. While the study found things teachers cannot change in a student’s learning behavior, there was evidence teachers can have a positive effect by focusing on student responses they are able to influence through good teaching techniques and demeanors. Below are three of Hattie’s suggestions:
Student Self-Reported Grades
Hattie found the most effective strategy teachers can include in their lessons is self-reporting grades. In that technique students identify how they expect to do on their work. He found that when students predict how they will do on an upcoming assessment or project, they will try to do better than their prediction. Further, when students actually perform better than they thought, their confidence is heightened. An extension of this approach is to have students evaluate the quality of their learning at the end of the day. Another valuable review and retention activity is to have students write questions about the content of a day’s lesson, to be saved and asked the following day.
Some of Hattie’s findings are not directly related to teaching methods. He also found that a student’s perception of teacher credibility has a big effect on how much they learn. Interestingly, Hattie found that a teacher’s in-depth knowledge of subject content had little effect on student learning, which means deep subject expertise is not necessary to make a profound effect on student perceptions and academic growth. What does impress students and cause them to learn more completely are (1) the appearance of being highly organized, (2) articulate speaking skills, and (3) regularly moving around the room to answer questions or clear up confusion.
A recurring idea throughout Visible Learning for Teachers is that educators overuse lecture as a teaching strategy. On average, teachers talk for approximately 70 to 80% of the time. This is not an effective strategy, especially for at-risk students. Providing brief nuggets of information followed by discussion prompts are more effective methods for getting ideas across. Breaking classes into small groups of three or four gives every student a chance to participate in the conversation. Then the larger class comes back together to share their groups’ thoughts and ideas.
Being an effective teacher is not a simple task because it takes time and thorough thought and reflection. It is easy to become defensive about our instructional practices, which is understandable because we genuinely work hard to meet student needs. Keep an open mind and try including one or more of these strategies in your instructional planning to get the biggest bang for your buck. You may begin to see improvement in those test scores your administrator keeps reminding you about.