We must support teachers to apply evidence in practice

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The increasing demands for evidence-based training and CPD must be welcomed, but teachers still need to be supported to apply the evidence in their classroom practice. Dr Joanna Goodman explains.

For far too long, teachers’ CPD and subsequent practice has followed various fads and trends that, on the surface, seemed attractive to implement and try as part of classroom practice. The appeal of many myths has been based on the premise that relatively simple and easy lists of strategies, if followed, could lead to big learning gains and improved pupil engagement.

Although these approaches promised research-based foundations on, for example, learning styles or how the brain works, the real fact remains that many of these myths often lack clear scientific proof. Often, these quick-fix fads have been sold to the profession as short-cuts to improvement based on snippets of inconclusive or out-of-context research.

Moreover, these unproven myths have not only contributed to a stream of ineffective classroom practices, they have also simplified some of the neurological research findings for the purpose of appeal on popular psychology grounds that vowed instant success. 

Another reason why these myths can be so damaging, is that teachers have come to expect ready-made lists of effective strategies that they can follow in class and, in some cases, this has led to a tick-list teaching-style with little reflection about what really leads to improved learning.

In contrast, substantive evidence-based research into better teaching and learning that results in improved learning progress cannot be reduced to tick-lists and is characterised by an approach-style methodology being used as part of the teaching and learning processes.

I feel that teachers need some help in distinguishing between solid, evidence-based research into what strategies, if consistently applied, really bring learning gains, and myths that result in seemingly quick-fixes but have little to do with developing essential pupil learning autonomy for long-term success. It is also critical to emphasise the need for deeper reflection and honest self-evaluation of teachers’ own practices so robust research-based evidence is seen in terms of an “approach”, rather than a list of ritualised classroom strategies.

Investment in high-quality CPD for teachers based on solid academic research findings into what really works in education (and there is enough evidence-based research out there now) is absolutely key if we are to improve everyday classroom practice.

When it comes to research-based evidence, it seems appropriate to mention the research into Assessment for Learning (AfL) as an example of a wide evidence-based study into improving learning outcomes. Despite the effectiveness of an AfL approach based on the evidence of an “effect size” between 0.4 to 0.7 (one of the biggest found in educational interventions, Black and Wiliam,1998, and backed up by Prof John Hattie’s research into effectiveness of classroom interventions), this approach to better teaching and learning can be still poorly understood by teachers and policy-makers, who seem to be conditioned into thinking that “assessment” can be only reflected quantitatively, rather than qualitatively during the process, and ultimately leading to improved standards that can be demonstrated in quantitative, as well as qualitative, values.

Seemingly, this lack of an in-depth grasp of what AfL means in practice, highlights the need for teachers’ greater awareness of robust, research-based evidence so they can make more informed choices regarding their most effective practices in class leading to improvement and learning sustainability. High-quality, evidence-based training is crucial to institutional learning and CPD for improved standards in teaching and learning.

  • Dr Joanna Goodman has a doctorate in education from King’s College London. She has curriculum and assessment expertise and is a director of Cromwell Consulting.

References
  • Black, P. and Wiliam D. (1998). Inside the Black Box. London: NferNelson.
  • Hattie, J. and Yates, G. (2014). Visible Learning and Science of How We Learn. Oxon: Routledge.


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