From the Center for American Progress: “What Do People Know About Excellent Teaching and Learning?”

This week, the Center for American Progress posted a piece by Ulrich Boser that examined whether Americans in general and parents in particular know what effective teaching practices look like.  In general, the answer is no.  And that has important ramifications for efforts to improve teaching and learning.  Below I have reproduced several excerpts from Boser’s piece.  But of course you should read the original.

It’s a set of questions that nags just about every parent with school-age kids: Does their child’s teacher employ good instructional practices? What are educators doing to help their kid learn? Is the school using effective programs and approaches?

There’s a problem, though, because it turns out that most people do not have a robust sense of what effective teaching looks like. Indeed, most Americans believe various myths about the nature of teaching and learning, and large swaths of the public support instructional practices that are ineffective or even hurtful to learning.

False beliefs about teaching and learning are a problem that goes far beyond the classroom. Myths about learning also prevent thoughtful efforts at school reform. For instance, if large segments of Americans believe in passive forms of learning, then they won’t support initiatives to make learning more active and engaged….

The public underestimates the amount of knowledge and practice that it takes to become an accomplished teacher. More than 40 percent of respondents believed that teachers don’t need to know a subject area such as math or science if they have good instructional skills. In other words, much of the public believes that a great middle school math teacher can easily become a great history teacher—that a “great teacher can teach any subject.”….

Most people have a hard time recognizing richer, more active forms of teaching and learning. Within the learning sciences community, there’s now a clear consensus that more active forms of learning promote richer understanding. Researchers from across the field argue that more engaged forms of education—such as quizzing, explaining, or teaching others—produce much better student outcomes and a deeper grasp of material. As psychologists Richard Mayer and Logan Fiorella argue, learning is “generative.”

The evidence on this point is so overwhelming that some researchers, such as Scott Freeman at the University of Washington, refuse to do any more studies comparing active forms of learning against less active forms of learning. If you’re an educator and “you refuse do active learning, it raises an ethical question,” Freeman says. “It’s like a doctor giving you a less effective drug. You’d think it’s an issue of malpractice.”

But in the present research, the public appeared skeptical of this approach to learning. In fact, the public showed a lot of support for more passive approaches to learning. For instance, almost 90 percent of respondents believed that “[r]ereading is a highly effective approach to learning,” though research suggests that the approach is not all that effective. Many also believed that highlighting is a successful approach, but again, studies show that the strategy is not that effective.


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