Thursday, January 9, 2014

All you need is a pulse

I believe that one of the most important aspects of student learning (and therefore success) in any classroom is the relationship between the students and the teacher. This is therefore one of my highest priorities every year - and I also believe that it is one of my biggest strengths as a teacher. A combination of knowing where students need to go with their learning, and allowing them the freedom to explore their own passions is important. I also believe that some of the best learning occurs when teachers are students and the students are teachers (the empathy facet of understanding). For this to successfully occur it is important to develop a culture of respect, trust and collaboration amongst the students and teachers.

Once in an interview I was asked to identify three things that need to occur for successful learning to take place. There are many, many factors that influence learning but I finally settled on the new three Rs. The '3Rs' was a popular acronym when I was in Primary School - Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (see what they did there?). While these are all important literacies to develop, and their associated skills give students access to conceptual understandings, in isolation they don't necessarily always guarantee successful learning. So for that short meeting I coined the 'New 3Rs' - Respect, Risk-Taking and Reflection. Respect goes both ways. More successful learning will occur if the teacher respects the perspectives, backgrounds, learning styles and competencies of his or her students, and students should return that respect to their teacher. If students don't feel as though they are in an environment where they are free to take risks and try new things then the learning will suffer. This is a key element of inquiry teaching practice and it also applies to teachers as employees as well. Finally, we learn by trying or doing something and then reflecting on the experience before trying again. When we learn there is constant evaluation happening and in a variety of forms. So these were the three things that I highlighted at the time.

This brings me to the point of this post. John Hattie once stated: 'All you need to enhance achievement is a pulse. Everything works.' Hattie's seminal work on the influences on student learning analysed thousands of pieces of work in order to find out what it is that really makes a difference to learning in the classroom. His point was that there is an abundance of research about what makes a difference in classrooms - and everything makes some impact. Therefore, anyone can make a convincing argument, with data in order to support their claim. An example of this might be someone who wants to mandate one hour of homework per night in grade three. They could point to the fact that doing this much homework will improve student learning (and it will). Unfortunately for some, homework can also reinforce that they cannot learn independently, can undermine motivation and can internalise incorrect routines and strategies. So which side do we take? According to Hattie, homework has an impact of 0.29 on student achievement (the figure in Elementary school is 0.15). To put that in context, 0.40 is the benchmark for a years learning. Any initiative that produces a result above that is considered to be worth doing while those that fall below that mark need further consideration. Hattie's work enables us to see which are the things that we definitely should be doing, and which ones we should think twice about. This not only has implications for teachers and their students, but also for teacher training and development.

For a description of the top 10 influences on student achievement - check out this glossary.

So almost anything we do as teachers can have a positive impact on student learning and achievement. What is important for teachers is to understand the impact that we're having on our students and choose the practices that encourage the most growth.

Photo Credit: AMagill via Compfight cc

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