Learning is more popular than teaching!

And the results are in! For every 10 mentions of “learning” in current writings, there are only 6 mentions of teaching. This wonderful result is brought to you by the Google NGram Viewer:

This graph shows learning (in red) overtaking teaching (in blue) by 1960, although from 1880 to 1960 it was teaching in the lead. Click the graph for the full details.

However, the politically correct may be disappointed that “teaching and learning” is far more popular than the newer “learning and teaching”…

Now who said that data couldn’t be fun?

Measures of effective teaching

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation is conducting research in to measuring and improving the effectiveness of teachers. They recently released some early findings which show:

  • First, in every grade and subject we studied, a teacher’s past success in raising student achievement on state tests (that is, his or her value-added) is one of the strongest predictors of his or her ability to do so again.
  • Second, the teachers with the highest value-added scores on state tests also tend to help students understand math concepts or demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.
  • Third, the average student knows effective teaching when he or she experiences it.
  • Fourth, valid feedback need not be limited to test scores alone. By combining different sources of data, it is possible to provide diagnostic, targeted feedback to teachers who are eager to improve.

One of their key findings is that student feedback is critical. They have some very interesting tables of results showing the difference in responses from students in schools at the 25th percentile and students at the 75th percentile, and the results are compelling.

What are the key points here?

  • Create an environment where teachers are free to innovate and eager to improve, without fear of retribution.
  • Listen to the student voice – sample regularly and analyse the data, both at class level and school-wide.
  • Assessment data is a key element of showing effective teaching. Teachers who produce better achievement tend to score better on all measures of teacher performance.

How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better

In November, McKinsey produced a new report analysing the most improved school systems in the world. This fascinating document goes through some of the key markers on the journey from fair, through good, then great, and finally reaching outstanding. What were their key points about data?

Firstly, they noted that there were six common themes in all improving systems:

“The cross-stage interventions comprise a group of six actions that occur with equal frequency across all performance stages, but manifest differently in each one. These six interventions are: revising the curriculum and standards, ensuring an appropriate reward and remunerations structure for teachers and principals, building the technical skills of teachers and principals, assessing students, establishing data systems, and facilitating improvement through the introduction of policy documents and education laws.”

Systems moving from “poor” to “fair” used data in a very driven way:

“The system sets minimum proficiency targets for schools/students, frequent student learning assessments (linked to lesson objectives, every 3-4 weeks), and data processes to monitor progress”

Those moving from “fair” to “good” focused more on holding schools to account for each student, and for cohorts.

“The system establishes student assessments and school inspections to create reliable data on performance and to hold schools accountable for improvement. The system uses this data to identify and tackle specific areas (e.g., subjects, grades, gender) with lagging performance”

When moving from “good” to “great” schools were encouraged to let data filter down to practitioners, and ensure every teacher was fully involved in tracking and evaluating progress.

“Instructional coaches work with teachers to strengthen their skills in areas such as lesson planning, student data analysis, and in-class pedagogy. The systems cultivates ownership in schools for improvement through introducing self-evaluation for schools and making performance data more available”

And finally, from “great” to “outstanding”…

“The system sponsors and identifies examples of innovative practices in schools (teaching and learning practice, parent/community involvement practices, etc.) and then
develops mechanisms to shares these innovations across all school”

Clearly the Labour government concerned itself mainly with perceived pockets of “poor” teaching, and acted centrally to raise these to “fair”. Sadly, this process also served as a drag on those already good schools. In some senses the new government is now focussing on these schools and freeing them up with the academies program. However, good LEAs have always been good at identifying and sharing good practice, and it doesn’t yet seem entirely clear what is going to replace this. In addition, the current government is still wedded very firmly to centralised prescriptive testing regimes, whereas the top school systems have allowed professionals leeway to judge their own standards.
So as a school leader what is the message here?

  • Ensure regular collective tracking and monitoring of students, with regular moderation of these processes.
  • Set suitably challenging individual and cohort targets (e.g. with FFT, RAISEonline, etc)
  • Conduct regular, in-depth analysis of internal tracking, including breaking down by characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, deprivation, cognitive ability, etc. as well as a thorough ‘post-mortem’ after exam results.
  • Leaders and senior teachers should sit with middle managers and class teachers to discuss their understanding and use of internal school tracking. This should be an opportunity to identify areas of strength and innovation.
  • A culture of openness and sharing needs to be fostered. Every teacher should be encouraged to visit other lessons, both within the school and in other schools, and to discuss ideas with their colleagues. Share good practice, and foster a culture of innovation.

This sounds likely truly informed education.

Fixed Mindsets

Carol Dweck claims that teachers commonly induce a fixed mindset within students that causes them to believe that they cannot become any smarter than they are, and that it is not worth the effort to try to do so.

She goes on to state that by re-training children that the brain is like a muscle then it can transform their approach to education, and that you can change them in to much more reflective, persevering, engaged students.

It’s a delicious thought, and it seems remarkably easy (albeit expensive if you sign up to her Brainology course) so I am definitely going to try it with my Year 9 Maths set, one of whom recently told me “Sir, you say we can be the best in school, but we’re set 4. If you want to teach the best, go and teach set 1″.

Watch this space – can it work?

Some great books

I have spent my summer reading management books, such as Good to GreatLinchpinsMultipliers, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here’s a selection of their recommendations:

  1. Lead with questions, let others come to the important conclusions first, and give your own wisdom sparingly.
  2. Have a core belief, and a key aim, and inspire your team with a lofty goal and high expectations
  3. Create a team that can fix problems and improve itself without you.
  4. Encourage your team to be creative and improve itself, to try new things all the time, relish mistakes as opportunities to learn and encourage people to take risks.

I don’t really believe that a teacher does all of these things. We impose our rules and our logic for using them. We value correctness and punish errors. Our system tells them to acheive their target grade in order to pass the exam (hardly inspiring stuff). We make our students rely on our own marking and on our help, and we tell them how we want them to learn.

Is there a better way?