Evidence on the effectiveness of teacher training: Is there any?

My initial search for evidence on this particular topic was disappointing.  Considering the importance of education from both a political and social perspective I had expected my search to provide a large amount of articles on this area of research.  Due to the lack of empirical evidence in educational journals I contacted Professor Norman Reid, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Educational Studies.  In a personal correspondance Professor Reid advised that "It is always assumed that teacher training is 'good' and makes a difference.  I know of little evidence to support this......I think your proposed study is extremely worthwhile.  Maybe any answers might frighten our political masters."

                                                     Learning Theories

After meeting with Professor Reid my attention was directed more towards the different learning theories adopted by teachers and educational institutions. Early on education was promoted by a more teacher-centered or transmissive mode of instruction.  Students were seen as more passive recipients of knowledge, with emphasis on replicating existing knowledge rather than constructing new knowledge. 

A more recent view concerns a more constructivist perspective towards teaching, this assumes a more student-centered process that invloves interaction with peers, and learning strategies that promote more reflection and reasoning.  The curriculum laid down by external bodies still has to be taught, but it does not confine a teacher to method of teaching.  A constructivist teacher is more concerened with students' understanding the reason 'why', trying to construct knowledge in a way that enables the student to apply what is learned effectivey and to real life situations.

                                                      From training to teaching

Although contructivist approaches to teaching and learning are recommended by educational reformers, findings on teachers beliefs and prior learning experiences demonstrate there are inconsistencies between the two.  The recommendation is to work with teachers to try and bring both the constructivist approach and teachers beliefs more in line, but how difficult is that task?

There are many factors that hinder the way teachers would like to teach, the different learning speeds of individuals, class size, disruptive pupils.  Combined with external funding pressures and time pressures on delivering the full national curriculum requirements.  This latter problem can be seen in England at the moment, teachers are complaining of the time spent revising for SAT exams, involving more rote learning and recognizing answers for these tests rather than focusing on a conceptual understanding of the topic.  In Vygotskian terms comprehension is the key, any learning activity carried out by a teacher which does not encourage comprehension are ultimately without purpose.

Research into professional development for teachers has shown that although the theory of constructivism is recieved well by teachers the practical application to the classroom is not as straight forward as they would like.  To avoid a purely transmissive classroom structure there has to be some engagement and discussion between teacher, students and peers.  This may work in smaller, higher achieveing classes that you may encounter in high school for those students pusing a Higher qualification, but this may not be so easy to apply to larger classes with different levels of achievement, and more chance of disruption.  Some teachers find it difficult to change their own behaviours in the classroom, so although the concept is welcomed, trying to teach in a constructivist way can be difficult to do.


The limited evidence on the effectiveness of teacher training is surprising, the pressures on schools to produce high achievers is a concern for politicians, parents, and employers.  Without sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of teacher training the responsibility placed on school teachers seems at the very least, unfair.  Research investigating the differences between classroom assistants who have not recieved training, and in-service teachers who have completed their training is warrented.

                                                     Further Reading

  http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.gla.ac.uk/stable/1085493   Prawat, R.S. (1992). Teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning: A constructivist perspective.  American Journal of Education 100(3), 354-395. This article is lengthy but gives a great insight into how difficult it can be for teachers to adopt a constructivist perspective to teaching and the reasons why, and provides good background on the theory itself.

 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0742-051X(94)90010-8 Keiny, S. (1994). Constructivism and Teachers' Professional Development. Teaching and Teacher Education 10(2), 157-167.  This article demonstrates the requirement for continued development of teacher education, adopting the constructivist approach.  The author provides a method on how to 'teach teachers to teach'.