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Effective Teaching: The Central Issues

Introduction The importance of teaching, and of how teachers teach in their classrooms, is being recognised as of key importance in many ways. It is clear that teaching their classes is the most important thing that teachers do, an importance that is recognised in contemporary educational policies in the United Kingdom concerning teachers workload that are aimed at making it easier for teachers to teach well. It is shown in the increased involvement of government in actually trying to determine how teachers teach, either through more prescriptive approaches such as the UK Governments Literacy, Numeracy and Key Stage Three Strategies, or through more indirect influence through intervention in professional training and professional development. It is also shown in the attention that UK researchers are now giving to teaching as an area of study, after a historical focus that had been much more on the schools that children attended, in which the teaching level of the classroom and the behaviours that go on within it are being charted (Campbell et al., 2004 and Gipps, McCallum and Hargreaves, 2001 are good recent examples).

The UK Research Base Given the centrality and importance of teaching in schools and colleges and given the recent revival of interest in it, the surprising thing is that the UK historically has had a very small research base in this area.

In the United States there was an extensive literature available by the late 1980s, generated by the process-product paradigm that focussed on the impact of observable teacher behaviours (see review in Borich, 1996). Literally thousands of articles, books and chapters appeared from within this paradigm, yet in the UK no such movement occurred, with perhaps only four or five major research studies emerging in the last thirty years. We now deal with these studies in some detail.

Early attempts to relate achievement gain to the broad educational philosophies and practices of primary school teachers rated as progressive or traditional generated rather little success (Bennett, 1976) and were widely criticised. Whilst in this work progressive teachers had lower achievement gains, interestingly the teacher with what could be called structured, consistent progressivism as a philosophy / practice generated the highest learning gain. In any case, the amount of variation in student achievement explained by variation in teachers teaching style was small.

The next major British research was the notable ORACLE secondary school study, which involved a process-product orientation similar to the American research (Galton, 1987). Teachers labelled as Class Enquirers generated the greatest gains in the areas of mathematics and language, but this finding did not extend to reading. By contrast, the group of Individual Monitoring teachers made amongst the least progress. It is important to note that the more successful Class Enquirers group utilised four times as much time in whole class interactive teaching as the Individual Monitors (Croll, 1996). Further analyses correlated the academic gain made by the different classes with different patterns of class/teacher interactions, finding a moderate positive (0.29) correlation between whole class and small group interaction and childrens progress, showing as Croll (1996) notes a positive association of progress and non-individualised interaction. Croll (1996) also notes two dangers in any rapid translation of ORACLE findings into recommended practice that the whole class interactive teachers differed in ways other than in their class teaching techniques, and that teachers utilising other teaching styles (the Infrequent Changers) which did not have high levels of whole class interaction also scored above average in gain.

The ORACLE study also looked at the childrens time on task (or academically engaged time) and found that whole class interaction was positively associated with high levels of time on task, with the Class Enquirers having average time on task from their students 10% higher than other teachers. The PACE study (Pollard et al., 1994) also notes high levels of whole class interaction to be correlated with high pupil task engagement.

Further analyses by one of the ORACLE authors (Croll and Moses, 1988) shows a high positive correlation between time in whole class interaction and time on task. Time in group based interaction showed no such association. The whole class interactive effect also applied to types of learning other than in whole class sessions, with childrens time on task also higher in the sections of the lesson when they were working on their own.

Another British study was that of Peter Mortimore and colleagues (1988), who collected an immensely rich database of information on children, their classrooms, their primary schools and their individual background

characteristics, utilising a cohort of children followed through the four years of British junior school education. Generally, Mortimore found, as had Galton in secondary schools, that teachers were spending much more time

communicating with individual children than they were doing whole class teaching or facilitating collaborative groupwork. effective teacher characteristics were: teachers having responsibility for ordering activities during the day for pupils, i.e. structured teaching; pupils having some responsibility for their work and independence within these sessions; teachers covering only one curriculum area at a time; high levels of interaction with the whole class; teachers providing ample, challenging work; high levels of pupil involvement in tasks; a positive atmosphere in the classroom; teachers showing high levels of praise and encouragement. At classroom level the

Mortimore and his colleagues also showed that teachers who spent a lot of time with individual pupils were using most of the time in routine, (i.e. nonwork), matters and there was less use of higher order questioning, while teachers who used class discussions as a teaching strategy tended to make rather more use of higher order communication.

Mortimore concluded that the classroom factors contributing to effective student outcomes were structured sessions, intellectually challenging teaching, a work orientated environment, communication between teachers and pupils, and a limited focus within the sessions.

A further, fourth study conducted by Tizard (1988) found low teacher expectations of a sample of inner city children, with higher expectations on the part of the individual teachers being associated with a wider range of curriculum and learning experiences. There was a wide variation in the

curriculum coverage of different teachers, which affected pupil progress, and much of the school day was spent on non-work activities. Indeed less than half the day, 46%, was devoted to learning activities in the classroom. Children were engaged in their tasks only 61% of the time.

Although it is not research based, as were the above studies, material from OFSTED has also addressed issues of teacher effectiveness. Their report, Primary Matters (OFSTED, 1995), outlined a number of general teacher / teaching factors appearing to be associated with positive outcomes in general: good subject knowledge; good questioning skills; an emphasis upon instruction; a balance of grouping strategies; clear objectives; good time management; effective planning; good classroom organisation; effective use of other adults in the classroom.

The Neglect Of The Teacher The very small amount of British research into teacher effectiveness is clearly marked and a brief explanation of this neglect might be helpful here. Partly, it may reflect the historical belief that teaching was more like a creative

subject than a scientific technology of practice that could be learned, in which case there was little point in studying it because teaching reflected the influence of things deep down in the psyches and constitutions of teachers that determined whether they were effective or not, just like the quality of the work that the artist produces reflects his or her deep structure.

Maybe historically more than in contemporary times, the view had also prevailed, taken from the arguments of some right wing commentators, that teaching was something quite simple, which only needed the same traits of hard work, enthusiasm and personal organisation as shown by effective people in other careers to make an impact.

The absence of data that could be used to look at the effects of teaching in the UK an absence certainly remedied in recent years! may have had the effect of making researchers unwilling to research on the teachers within schools, and stick to the whole school level that was reflected in the examination league tables of things like GCSEs and A levels. Before the arrival of the SATs, the end of Key Stage tests now given at ages 7, 11 and 14 and indeed given at other ages if particular schools have opted for this, researchers had to collect their own data on the achievements of children to judge which teachers were more effective in adding value, which made the research large scale and expensive in terms of the labour required.

The sheer micropolitical difficulties of conducting research in classrooms probably also had an effect. It took perhaps twenty years for the issue of differences in secondary schools levels of effectiveness to be openly acknowledged amongst politicians, public and professionals (Teddlie and Reynolds, 2000), and the issue of the differences between individual teachers in their effectiveness rather than individual schools is one even more fraught with problems. It strikes at the heart of issues to do with individual

professional accountability. It makes professionals vulnerable since they are judged as individuals, rather than as a group, which is what happens if their school is evaluated. The outside interventions by politicians and others in this area, about whether teachers need to be fired in large numbers or monitored

more closely by the state for example, have made the profession even more concerned about research in this area and the threat it poses, or is seen to pose.

The nature of British academic life itself has probably also had an effect in reducing the volume of research in this area, seen in the absence of the strong communities of psychologically oriented researchers into learning and instruction that have been central in the educational research communities of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and the Scandinavian countries. Maybe, also, the traditions in the UK of employing as educational researchers those who have already teaching experience, rather than those who may have studied Education as an academic subject as in many continental societies, has had the effect of reducing the critical urge to find out about the nature of teaching and its effects.

Lastly, it is likely that the very success of the UK school effectiveness paradigm may have discouraged the development of a teacher-based focus. In the USA and UK in the 1960s and 1970s there was a pronounced pessimism about the prospects of education systems contributing to a fairer world, as shown in the phrase that education cannot compensate for society (Bernstein, 1968). Research evidence suggested that, after all other

influences had been controlled out, the effects of individual schools were minimal, as seen in the Coleman et al. (1966) and Jencks et al. (1972) reports. The effects of educational expansion, educational change and

educational innovation were all seen as minimal (Reynolds, 1999).

These factors generated, initially in the United States and then worldwide, an international research community in School Effectiveness that rejected these views and purported to show that, to use its mantra, schools make a difference, yet the focus on only the school was taken not from any logical assessment of its importance compared to that of the teacher, but merely from the focus of the original critics of educational reform. School

effectiveness, then, locked itself into a mindset of concern with the school rather than with the teacher with which, with the notable exceptions of

Creemers (1994), Teddlie and Stringfield (1993) and Mortimore (1988), it stayed until the late 1990s.

The Costs Of Neglect By contrast to virtually all industralised other countries, then, the UK has had a very restricted focus on teachers and the qualities that make them effective in adding value, by comparison with schools and the qualities that by contrast help them add value. This relative ignorance of teachers, of

teaching and of teaching related issues in the UK may be costly, since the research that has been done since the arrival of the new statistical multi-level methods in the mid-1980s into the contribution of the different factors of LEAs, schools, teachers and indeed the pupils themselves to their educational achievements has suggested that the behaviours of teachers in classrooms is the most important factor of all.

One of the earliest attempts to look at this was by Fitzgibbon (1996), who reported on the considerable range of variation in the small groups of teachers in secondary schools that were formed into Departments, with the range within schools in terms of the effectiveness of the Departments being three or four times bigger than the value added differences between the overall results of whole schools.

More recently, Muijs and Reynolds (2000) looked at the progress of a large sample of children in over thirty primary schools using mathematics achievement tests to measure the differences between pupils, their teachers and their schools. When sophisticated statistical analyses were employed, the pupils and their background and prior achievement explained a great deal of the variation, but approximately a quarter of the variation between pupils was generated by schools and teachers. Approximately 80% of this latter, was locatable as being teacher generated.

If, as seems likely, the large number of policies in British education directed at changing or improving schools reflected the research which focussed almost exclusively on schools rather than on teachers, then the fact that the teaching

of teachers is more important than the operation of schools suggests an urgent need for more teacher/teaching related interventions.

A further cost of the neglect of teaching and teacher effectiveness in the UK is that there is no national awareness of the range of differences between teachers and no national set of policies that are designed to specifically address this issue, other than the rather bizarre occasional pronouncements of some educational commentators and politicians to sack the worst teachers. Certainly, there is range in the effectiveness of teachers the Muijs and Reynolds (2000) study noted earlier found that there was a difference of over 20 mathematics points that resulted from being taught by the most effective and least effective teachers in the sample of primary schools mentioned earlier.

The factors responsible for this variation in teachers individual performance would seem to be the following: individual variation in teacher competence that is not sufficiently reduced by initial training or subsequent CPD; unreliable implementation of national strategies, school improvement programmes and the like in which the gap between the floor of less competent teachers and the ceiling of more competent teachers widens as the programmes maximise pre-existing variation; the effects of recent increased pressures in education leading to enhanced difficulties in coping for the less competent teachers, whilst the more competent thrive on chaos, generating enhanced

differentiation between professionals.

Interestingly, the school effectiveness knowledge base suggests that the schools that are consistent outperformers are intolerant of large negatives, reduce variation in teacher performance and are reliable and consistent. It is more ineffective schools that show the largest range of within school variation (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000).

Interestingly also, the school improvement knowledge base suggests that gains vary more within improvement projects than between them, and that schools achieve greater gain by pursuing any project thoroughly rather than by choosing one project rather than another, the fidelity of implementation issue (Hopkins & Reynolds, 2001).

Barriers to dealing with this within school variation may also be the following:

weak school management that finds it hard to confront the issue and to develop mechanisms to learn from best practice; false modesty on the part of effective teachers/Departments, perhaps associated with a belief system that does not reward helping other practitioners who are less effective because this would mean marking the less effective out and labelling them;

small schools in which the range may be less and therefore more difficult to use, and the one/two person Departments that may make performance evaluation by subject a highly personal activity;

the absence of systems to buddy the less good with the more effective, because of the intense micro-political issues in this area; budget / time constraints that make it difficult to create these skill sharing systems since they require time, space and buy out of teaching for observation / debriefing etc;

the difficulty of separating out the personal reasons for some teachers/Departments more effective practice from the methods that are being used, since all factors appear confounded with each other;

the difficulty in secondary schools of getting Departments to see any utility in swapping practice when the subject cultures of Departments are so strong (its not like that in art);

the practice of using exceptional individuals to be the models for others when the exceptional may be often idiosyncratic and utilising their character as much as any distinctive methods. The exceptional may be so far in advance of the remainder of the staff in a school that they cannot be imitated.

In addition to our inability to focus upon within school variation, other costs of the neglect of teaching in the UK are considerable:

in the absence of a considerable body of knowledge from the research community, much use has been made of the definitions of what effective teachers do as judged by OFSTED, the General Teaching Council and / or the Department for Education and Skills itself, yet these judgements are not research based and may be open to political manipulation;

the absence of a discourse concerning teachers and teaching means that highly effective programmes from other countries that have generated teaching based interventions (e.g. the Success For All model of Slavin, 1996) have not rooted well in the United Kingdom educational context because their commitment to the instructional or teaching level is not well understood;

the poverty of the teaching effectiveness literature makes it hard to conceptualise, describe and understand the effective teaching practices from other countries that have been attracting increased interest in United Kingdom schools (Reynolds and Farrell, 1996). The difficulty of getting professional agreement on what was meant by the whole class interactive teaching which was introduced as part of the English National Numeracy Strategy makes this point sharply (Department for Education and Employment, 1998);

the absence of clear descriptions of what effective teachers do means that professional discussions, and their political equivalents, are often rooted in out of date debates that only continue because the evidence is not there to sweep them away. The continued fascination with

whether teachers are progressive or traditional (as in the Bennett, 1976 study), continues, despite the fact that the style of teaching is probably of much less importance than whether or not the teachers are behaviourally effective or not.

The final cost of the absence of a knowledge base upon effective teaching practices in the UK is probably our inability to focus the teaching profession upon educational matters. Teachers focal concerns are widely agreed to be the curriculum area (s) that they focus upon (especially for secondary teachers) and the methods of teaching that they use, but national debate upon education tends to focus upon the school level which has become the policy-makers obsessive focus. However, it is questionable whether the use of the level of the school can motivate teachers to take part in educational debate, or more generally motivate them to potentiate their contribution to maximising students educational outcomes. The school level is not focussed upon pedagogy or curriculum rather, it is a managerial, administrative level that may only be of interest and relevance to those who ultimately wish to be promoted away from the classroom.

It may be, then, that the development of a discourse about teaching and particularly about teaching and learning would generate enhanced teacher interest and teacher enthusiasm, particularly in the case of the teachers in those institutions that have not been affected by the current range of school level initiatives and which lie at the ineffective end of the spectrum (Reynolds, 1991, 1996). Helping to develop this discourse and debate is

precisely why we have written this book.