Tuesday, November 09, 2004

It's the teachers stupid!

Recently Ministry officials, from the Minister down, have been talking up the importance of the teacher in a child's learning. I guess we should be thankful that such a simple idea has made it's way through the confusion of curriculum, assessment and compliance demands that have exercised their minds the past decades, killing in the process the very teachers that they now applaud.

In New Zealand we can be thankful for the acceptance of this simple idea to the work of John Hattie from Auckland University's School of Education. We now hear claims, ranging from 60 to 40%, that the variance of student achievement is due to the individual teacher, and that the concern now is the differences within a school rather than between schools.

Many parents and creative teachers have always known what research is now telling us. Parents always remember a great teacher, and if they are lucky more than one. They remember a teacher who turned them on to an area of learning they thought beyond them, or a teacher who made them feel worthwhile. No one remembers a good school system, curriculum or textbook.

How to measure a teachers impact is a tricky question but Hattie has confirmed common sense ( which it seems hasn't been so common lately) that it is to do with relationships between the learner and teacher, the importance of having high expectations and having teachers who do whatever it takes to help a student learn.

None of this is to do with the 'magic bullets' that the Ministry has imposed the past decades - complicated curriculums, confusing assessment requirements, performance management systems, strategy plans etc.

Assessment of learning depends on the kind of learner you want to produce. If you want students to achieve on standardized tests it is reasonably easy but if you want them to be able to think in creative ways about solving problems then this is a more difficult task, and changes as well what an effective teachers is.

Although a creative teacher learner relationship depends, to some degree on personal chemistry ( some would say emotional intelligence), you can certainly teach how to organize a class, how to value student voice and interests, how to set goals and how to stick to them and to appreciate the importance of focused feedback. This is all about the 'artistry' of teaching. It is about seeing the teacher as a learning 'coach' always coming alongside the learner to provide positive feed back and feed-forward. This is the essence of a great teacher.

As John Hattie's research tells us, it is the 'interface between teacher and students that really matters.' He agrees that the number one thing, by a comfortable margin, is feedback. Feedback means providing specific information about tasks, 'specifically each child needs to know where they are going, how they are going and where to next'. He advises parents to check on their children's books to see how much written feedback is learning specific. He continues that what students need is, 'Challenge, challenge, challenge and the skills to learn by making errors.'

Another vital area highlighted by John Hattie's research is the ambiance of the classroom which he states, can make a dramatic difference to appreciating that, 'learning is a good thing, learning is a powerful thing'. A further factor is the need for 'high support and encouragement' from the home. It is important that students see that their parents do care.

It all seems pretty obvious but better late than never! Now what we want is for the Ministry to provide 'high encouragement and support' to recognise the magic of creative teachers and to see it is made full use of. This has not been the case for the past few decades!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As Homer Simpson would Say 'doh'.

Pretty obvious stuff but at least the ministry know about the importance of the teacher - now!