It is difficult to understand exactly why tradeoffs exist between achievement and student involvement. One theory is that “drill and kill” style rot repetition can be effective in helping students do well on exams but makes the class terribly dull. The researchers looked at the videotaped lesson hours of these teachers in the classroom, but they did not find statistical evidence that teachers who spent more class time preparing for exams produced higher test scores. High achievement does not seem to be associated with rot instruction.
Instead, it was teachers who provided more cognitively demanding lessons, moving beyond systematic calculations toward complex understanding, who tended to create higher math scores. Researchers acknowledge that it is “worrying” that the kind of cognitively demanding guidance we want to see can “simultaneously reduce student engagement.”
Other researchers and educators have noted that learning is hard work. It often doesn’t feel good to them when students make mistakes and struggle to figure things out. This can be frustrating when students are learning the most.
It was rare, but researchers were able to find six out of 53 teachers in the study who could teach both types well at the same time. Teachers who have received lots of hands-on, active learning have received high marks from students and increased test scores. These teachers often worked together in pairs or groups of students, using sensitive objects to solve problems, or playing games. For example, a teacher used students’ egg cartons and counters to find equivalent fractions.
Another thing these double “good” teachers had in common: they maintained orderly classrooms that were full of routine. Although it has gone out of fashion to punish children for strict discipline and bad behavior, the researchers noticed that these teachers were active in establishing clear behavioral rules at the beginning of each class. The researchers wrote, “Teachers were quite thoughtful and sophisticated in their routine use of skills and discipline throughout the classroom.” “The time that teachers spent on student behavior is usually associated with brief redirects that do not impede the flow of lessons.”
These teachers also had a good idea about pacing and they understood the limitations of children’s attention. Used some timers. A teacher used music to measure time. “Teachers seemed intentional about how much time they spent on activities,” the researchers noted.
Given that it’s not common or easy for students to get involved and learn their math, Blazer was curious to know which teachers are ultimately better for students in the long run. This test actually took place a decade ago in 2012, and students were tracked later. Blazer is currently looking at how these students are doing five and six years later. In his preliminary calculations, he found that more attractive students in primary school teachers later had higher math and reading achievement scores and lower absences in high school. Students who were more effective teachers in boosting achievement usually did better in high school, but the long-term benefits faded somewhat. While we all want kids to learn to multiply and share, it may be that compelling guidance is ultimately more beneficial.
Researchers like Blazer dream of developing a “science of learning” so that schools of learning and school instructors can better train teachers to teach better. But first we have to agree on what we teachers want to do and what we students want to achieve.
This story about Good education Written by Jill Barshe and produced by The Hatching Report, a non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hatchinger newsletter.