Teacher effects on learners' attainment

"If you get one of the best teachers you will learn in 6 months what the average teacher would take a year to teach you.  If you get one of the worst, that same learning will take you two years - that's a four fold difference in the speed of learning between the most and least effective teachers" - Dylan Wiliam (2007)

There have been 3 generations of research into the effectiveness of schools:


" teachers are actually pretty bad.  You don't really learn to teach at all well until you're six or seven years into the profession.  And...the amount of value added by teachers carries on increasing for about twenty years.  Basically almost all teachers are almost useless when they start and you're halfway decent by the time you finish.  There's nothing harder than teaching" - Wiliam (2007)

So, according to Wiliam, where have some teachers gone wrong?

The problem is that much pedagogy is based on the idea that errors are random, and that learning is based on the process of forming links between stimuli and responses.  It is often thought that if a pupil isn't understanding something properly then it is because these links are not strong enough yet.  This results in the teacher simply repeating the concept but louder and slower, which may be useful for some kinds of rote learning, for example times tables, but not for most aspects of learning.

Wiliam (2007) states that research on learning styles is useless because it is impossible for teachers to cater for each individual's specific needs.  Plus, they don't have to because as stated above learners are very similar.  It is more important that teachers vary their style so that all learners are put out of their own comfort zone at some points in order to offer them more insight into a concept. It is important for the pupil to have a balance between being in and out of their comfort zone so that they are challenged and motivated in their learning.

It is important for teachers to focus on creating effective learning environments which can facilitate students in their learning process.  The two key features are that they promote engagement and are well-regulated

Engagement:  In class, some children are constantly putting up their hands to answer as many questions as they can, whilst others remain quiet and do not attempt to answer any, and even try to avoid doing so.  The former group are constantly increasing their IQ whilst the latter are missing out, widening the gap between the high achievers and the low achievers.  Teachers should be encouraging all pupils to join in and become engaged in the lesson.

So, effective, engaged learning environments should be high in cognitive load for the students, everyone should be included and participation should be compulsory.

Regulation:  Teachers need to use assessments which can support and monitor learning by keeping track of students' progress.  This is where formative feedback is important.  Because learning is so unpredictable, it is important to constantly monitor progress to check which what has worked and what has not.  The most effective use of formative feedback is to not simply correct the students' wrong answers, but instead to make them aware of which action to take to remedy their mistakes.

Formative assessment can mean a 75% increase in the speed of learning

Technology can be used to collect responses from the whole class to ensure that all students are engaged and can also be used to monitor their progress and gain formative feedback to identify areas of weakness.  This allows teaching strategies to be updated constantly and in real time for students.



So to summarise, teachers have the most effect on student attainment than any other factor.  Many teachers do not utilise the most effective methods of teaching and so in order to improve their style they need to vary their methods, not to cater for every individual's needs but in order that all learners will have to leave their comfort zone at points to gain more insight into concepts.  They also need to create effective learning environments which encourage student engagement and to gain formative feedback to help monitor students' progress and to adapt any ineffective strategies.  Finally, technology should not be used as a substitute but as a means to aid in the delivery of the lesson and in the collecting of formative feedback.

Main reference: if you only want to read one thing, the best to look at is Dylan Wiliam's (2007) Keynote to ALT-C conference which can be found in the reference list for this course.  There is a video link to the conference as well as the slides and the transcript.  This is where most of the information for this wiki came from.

Further reading

For evidence on teacher effects, see for example Wright, S.P., Horn, S.P. & Sanders, W. L. (1997) Teacher and classroom context effects on student achievement: Implications for teacher evaluation.  Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 11, 57-67.

For reviews of the effectivess of formative assessment, see for example Black, P & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning.  Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 5 (1), 7-61.