In a recent study by Professor John Hattie, of Auckland University, the most effective strategy for improving education appears to be raising the quality of student-teacher interaction. The study was based on 50,000 other studies covering all aspects of schooling across the world. Professor Hattie has produced a ranking system of most to least effective strategies. At the top comes:
1. Students assessing themselves
2. Students working at a level just beyond their current level (appropriate challenge)
3. Formative evaluation
4. Teachers reflecting on their own practice
Less effective interventions, those appearing lower down the list, include:
133. Student centered "open" classrooms
132. Giving students control over learning
131. Multi-age classes
The report seems to suggest that students, when given regular opportunities to reflect on their progress, develop a good understanding of what they need to do next and do not need excessive testing. Other strategies which seem to work well include teachers being clear about their expectations and "reciprocal" teaching - students taking turns to teach the class.
Issues like gender, television, class size and setting by ability appear to be less important in their effect. In an interview with the TES, Professor Hattie remarks "A teacher's job is not to make work easy. It is to make it difficult. If you are not challenged, you do not make mistakes. If you do not make mistakes, feedback is useless." This raises some interesting issues about the nature of challenge for individual students, the significance of mistakes in the learning process and the importance of personalised formative assessment.
Six years ago, I engaged an evaluator to follow a 3-year programme of community/school work I was running for English National Opera; I very much liked his definition of how we were using formative assessment, and how it is important across the curriculum:
'A central idea within current educational thinking in the UK focuses on the notion of ‘formative assessment’, where learners are themselves directly involved in defining and understanding how they make progress, and are assisted to do so by being presented with models of good practice which they adapt and develop for their own purposes. (This is in contrast to the ‘summative’ approach, in which learners -- or the adults responsible for them -- are told at intervals how their work measures up against a set of external criteria.) While both approaches are necessary, I consider that ENO Baylis practitioners have consistently used the ‘formative’ approach with great success.
There were numerous occasions during the residency when musicians or animateurs presented participants with the problem of working out what to do next. This was not an abnegation of responsibility, rather its opposite. Like all effective teachers, they were inviting those who were learning to help define and identify what it was they were hoping to learn; they were also (to quote from a current definition of formative assessment) ‘sharing learning goals with pupils; helping pupils to know and to recognise the standards to aim for; providing feedback which leads pupils to identify what they should do next to improve; having a commitment that every pupil can improve; involving both teacher and pupils reviewing and reflecting on pupils' performance and progress; involving pupils in self-assessment.’
Whether the ‘pupils’ on the ENO Baylis projects were children or adults, the process of learning about opera by taking part in it was of this character. The learners I have spoken to were clear about what they had learned and how they had done so. There were vivid moments within the rehearsals for South of the River when young participants were asked to take on responsibility for their performance: 'It’s up to you to start the scene going.’ Just as school students within Literacy classes are reminded to ‘Read like a writer and write like a reader,’ so performers were reminded to ‘Act like a spectator and watch like an actor’. This is to see one’s subject in the round, and is the very essence of education.'
I was very fortunate in my higher education; I left school at 16, but 8 years later was attracted to a BA course at the Polytechnis near where I lived, which was entitled 'Independent Study', where a student could define the subject, and the parameters of the subject, that they wanted to study. It was very early days for this type of learning, but for somebody like me who didn't achieve much at school it was a Godsend; I could study 'what I liked' and 'how I wanted to'. (It's interesting that the four stage process we had to use - goal-identification, planning, activity and review - are exactly those which the Arts Award imposes on learners.)
The four stage process of goal identification, planning, activity and review also feature in the Futurelab "Enquiring Minds" model which we are currently thinking about in the KS3 Future Foundations group.
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