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1. Teacher Behavior And Student Achievement
One empirical approach to developing information about eﬀective teaching involves documenting relationships between classroom processes (especially teacher behaviors) and student outcomes (especially adjusted gains on standardized achievement tests). Such process–outcome research has identiﬁed some of the classroom management and instructional behaviors associated with achievement gains.
2. Process–Outcome Research
Classroom teaching is diﬃcult to study because it is a multifaceted professional practice that takes place in a complex and evolving interpersonal context. Nevertheless, research on teaching has begun to establish a knowledge base capable of informing teachers’ planning and decision making. Especially relevant ﬁndings come from studies designed to identify relationships between classroom processes (what the teacher and students do in the classroom) and student outcomes (changes in students’ knowledge, skills and dispositions that represent progress towards instructional goals). Two forms of process–outcome research that became prominent during the 1970s were school-eﬀects research and teacher-eﬀects research.
Teacher eﬀects research (reviewed in Brophy and Good 1986) identiﬁed teacher behaviors and patterns of teacher–student interaction associated with student achievement gains. Such research initially was limited to correlational studies and focused mostly on basic skills instruction in the early grades. However, eventually it encompassed a wider range of grade levels and subject areas and included experimental veriﬁcation of some of the causal hypotheses suggested by its correlational ﬁndings. Some conclusions established through this research are:
(a) Teachers make a diﬀerence. Some teachers reliably elicit greater gains than others, because of diﬀerences in how they teach.
(b) Teacher expectations role deﬁnitions sense of eﬃcacy. Teachers who elicit strong achievement gains accept responsibility for doing so. They believe that their students are capable of learning and that they (the teachers) are capable of teaching them successfully. If students do not learn something the ﬁrst time, they teach it again, and if the regular curriculum materials do not do the job, they ﬁnd or develop others that will.
(c) Exposure to academic content and opportunity to learn. Teachers who elicit greater achievement gains allocate most of the available time for activities designed to accomplish instructional goals. They do not schedule many activities that serve little or no curricular purpose.
(d) Classroom management and organization. These teachers establish their classrooms as eﬀective learning environments and gain the cooperation of their students. They minimize the time spent getting organized, making transitions, or dealing with behavior problems, and maximize the degree to which students are engaged in ongoing academic activities.
(e) Active teaching. Rather than depend solely on curriculum materials as content sources, these teachers interpret and elaborate the content for students and stimulate them to react to it during interactive discourse. They do not merely maximize ‘time on task;’ most of their time is spent actively instructing their students during interactive lessons featuring teacher– student discourse, so their students do not spend much time working silently on assignments.
(f) A supportive learning environment. Despite their strong academic focus, these teachers maintain pleasant, friendly classrooms and are perceived by their students as enthusiastic, supportive instructors.
In addition to these more generic ﬁndings, teacher eﬀects research has contributed knowledge about qualitative aspects of instructional methods and classroom processes. Research on teachers’ lectures and demonstrations has veriﬁed the importance of delivering these presentations with enthusiasm and organizing their content so as to maximize their clarity and ‘learner friendliness.’ Various studies have shown the value of pacing, gestures, and other oral communication skills; avoiding vagueness, ambiguity, and discontinuity; beginning with advance organizers or previews that include general principles, outlines, or questions that establish a learning orientation; brieﬂy describing the objectives and alerting students to new or key concepts; presenting new information with reference to what students already know about the topic; proceeding in small steps, sequenced in ways that are easy to follow; eliciting student responses regularly to stimulate active learning and ensuring that each step is mastered before moving to the next; ﬁnishing with a review of main points, stressing general integrative concepts; and following up with questions or assignments that require students to encode the material in their own words and apply or extend it to new contexts.
Research on teacher–student interaction processes has identiﬁed important dimensions of interactive discourse that need to be adjusted to the instructional goals, the students, and various context factors. The diﬃculty levels of questions need to be suited to the students’ levels of ability and prior knowledge. The forms and cognitive levels of the questions need to be suited to the instructional goals. Primarily closed-ended and factual questions might be appropriate when teachers are assessing prior knowledge or reviewing new learning, but most instructional goals require more emphasis on open-ended questions that call for students to apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate what they are learning. Questions should be addressed to the class as a whole rather than to an individual designated in advance. This encourages all of the students, not just the one who eventually is called on, to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to each question. Another important dimension is wait time. After posing a question, teachers need to pause to allow students time to process the question and at least begin to formulate responses, especially if the question is complicated or high in cognitive level of response demand.
When teachers have posed a question and elicited an answer, follow-up options include providing immediate feedback about correctness, praising or criticizing the answer, asking other students to comment on it or suggest alternatives, accepting it and moving on, or probing to elicit more information When the student answers incorrectly or is unable to respond, follow up options include repeating the question, providing clues or rephrasing the question, shifting to a lower level question, giving the answer, or redirecting the question to the class. Teacher eﬀects research has not produced ﬁndings indicating consistent relationships between these follow-up alternatives and student achievement gain, probably because optimal teacher response varies with the nature and goals of the instruction. These response options are worth considering in planning recitation and discussion activities, however, particularly in determining when and why it makes sense to terminate an interaction with the original respondent by giving the answer or calling on someone else versus sustaining the interaction by repeating or rephrasing the question or giving clues. Sustaining is often desirable as a way to scaﬀold thinking and develop conﬁdence, especially in reticent or self-doubting students. However, teachers often feel the need to terminate and move on owing to time pressures or growing restlessness among onlooker students.
Teacher eﬀects researchers have not had much to say about desirable activities and assignments, except for studies relating homework practices to student achievement gains. Findings have been equivocal for the elementary grades, but tend to show positive relationships between assignment of homework and achievement gain in the secondary grades. However, Cooper (1989) cautioned that attention is needed to qualitative aspects of homework such as the goal relevance and pedagogical value of the assignments, the degree to which they are suited to students’ prior knowledge, how homework performance ﬁgures into overall grading, and the degree to which the teacher does not merely assign homework but reviews it promptly, gives feedback and requires correction of omissions or mistakes.
Research on learning tasks suggests that assignments should be varied and interesting enough to motivate student engagement, new or challenging enough to constitute meaningful learning rather than pointless busy work, and yet easy enough to allow students to achieve high rates of success if they invest reasonable eﬀort. The eﬀectiveness of assignments is enhanced when teachers explain the work and go over practice examples with students before releasing them to work independently, then circulate to monitor progress and provide help when needed.
Research on strategy teaching indicates that general learning and study skills as well as domain-speciﬁc skills (such as constructing meaning from text, solving mathematical problems, or reasoning scientiﬁcally) are learned best if taught as strategies to be brought to bear purposefully and implemented with metacognitive awareness and self-regulation. Many students do not develop eﬀective learning and problem-solving strategies on their own but can acquire them through explicit instruction that includes not only demonstrations of and opportunities to apply the strategy but also explanations of when and why it is used.
Research on cooperative learning indicates that collaborative work in pairs or small groups is associated with a variety of positive aﬀective outcomes. If the cooperative learning combines group goals with individual accountability, it may enhance student achievement gains as well.
3. Research On Teaching For Understanding And Use Of Knowledge
Early process–outcome research focused on important but very basic aspects of teaching that did not include the more subtle ﬁne points that distinguish the most outstanding teachers. Also, most of this research relied on standardized tests as the outcome measure, which meant that it assessed mastery of relatively isolated knowledge items and skill components without assessing students’ understanding of networks of subjectmatter content or ability to use this information in authentic application situations. During the 1980s a newer kind of research emerged that emphasizes teaching for understanding and use of knowledge. It focuses on particular curriculum units or even individual lessons, taking into account the teacher’s instructional goals and assessing student learning accordingly. This research indicates that clear explanations and modeling from the teacher are important, but so are opportunities to answer questions about the content, discuss its meanings and implications, or apply it in authentic problem-solving or decision-making contexts. Increasingly, research is pointing to thoughtful discussion, and not just teacher lecturing or student recitation, as characteristic of the classroom discourse involved in teaching for understanding.
Researchers have also begun to stress the complementary changes in teacher and student roles that should occur as learning progresses. Early in the process, the teacher assumes most of the responsibility for structuring and managing learning activities and provides students with a great deal of information, explanation, modeling and cueing. As students develop expertise, however, they can begin regulating their own learning by asking questions and by working on increasingly complex applications with increasing degrees of autonomy. The teacher still provides task simpliﬁcation, coaching, and other scaﬀolding needed to assist students with challenges that they are not yet ready to handle on their own, but this assistance is gradually reduced in response to gradual increases in student readiness to engage in independent and self-regulated learning.
Research on teaching school subjects for understanding and use of knowledge supports the following principles, which might be considered components in a model or theory describing good subject-matter teaching:
(a) The curriculum is designed to equip students with knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions that they will ﬁnd useful both inside and outside of school.
(b) Instructional goals emphasize developing student expertise within an application context and with emphasis on conceptual understanding of knowledge and self-regulated use of skills.
(c) The curriculum balances breadth with depth by addressing limited content but developing this content suﬃciently to foster conceptual understanding.
(d) The content is organized around a limited set of powerful ideas.
(e) The teacher’s role is not just to present in- formation but also to scaﬀold and respond to students’ learning eﬀorts.
(f) The students’ role is not just to absorb or copy input but also to actively make sense and construct meaning.
(g) Students’ prior knowledge about the topic is elicited and used as a starting place for instruction, which both builds on accurate knowledge and stimulates conceptual change if necessary.
(h) Activities and assignments feature authentic tasks that call for problem solving or critical thinking, not just memory or reproduction.
(i) Higher order thinking skills are not taught as a separate skills curriculum but instead are developed in the process of teaching subject-matter knowledge within application contexts that call for students to relate what they are learning to their lives outside of school.
(j) The teacher creates a social environment in the classroom that could be described as a learning community featuring discourse or dialogue designed to promote understanding.
Embedded in this approach to teaching is the notion of ‘complete’ lessons that are carried through to include higher-order applications of content. This implies the need to limit the breadth of content addressed in order to allow for more in-depth teaching of the content that is included. It also implies the need to structure a great deal of thoughtful discourse. Instead of rapid-ﬁre questioning and short answers, there is sustained examination of a small number of related topics, in which students are invited to develop explanations, make predictions, debate alternative approaches to problems, or otherwise consider the content’s implications or applications. Some of the questions admit to a range of defensible answers, and some invite discussion or debate (e.g., concerning the relative merits of alternative suggestions for solving problems).
Enthusiasm for recent ﬁndings needs to be tempered by some important qualiﬁcations and cautions. First, the research base on teaching for understanding is still quite thin, and few studies have included both comparison groups and systematic measurement of student outcomes. Also, some of the best known and most widely respected innovations, such as Reciprocal Teaching, have produced mixed rather than uniformly positive results. Finally, like the process–outcome research that preceded it, this more recent research has ﬁnessed basic curricular issues (i.e., identifying the most important content to teach) rather than addressed them. Process–outcome research did it by using standardized tests as the criteria for learning. More recent research has equated the teaching of school subjects with enculturation into the academic disciplines. This leads to problematic curricular decisions, because the school curriculum should reﬂect deliberations about what constitutes basic knowledge that all citizens need to know. This knowledge should be consistent with disciplinary knowledge, but it should be selected, organized, and taught as general citizen education. Content does not necessarily belong in the school curriculum just because it is currently of interest to one of the disciplines.
The best teaching is adapted to the context, including instructional purposes and goals, the students, and the subject matter. Techniques associated with active teaching or strategy instruction are most relevant when the context calls for presenting new information, modeling skills or coaching students as they attempt to implement new learning Techniques associated with teaching for understanding are most relevant when one wishes to develop understanding and appreciation of networks of knowledge through shared construction and negotiation of meanings and implications. The principle of transferring responsibility for managing learning from the teacher to the students applies to all teaching contexts, but determining exactly how to apply it (how much modeling, explanation, coaching, and other scaﬀolding to provide, and how quickly to fade this support) takes experience with the content and the students. As research on teaching progresses, more is being learned about the complexities involved in adapting instruction to students and contexts.
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