If you care about the kids you teach, you must start to approach teaching as a science. We all want to have a positive impact on our students. This is what inspires ad unites us as a profession. Approaching teaching as a science can help you have this impact on kids. Sadly, our unity of purpose stands in stark contrast to the variety of ways that different teachers go about teaching their students. Once we step inside the shelter of our own classroom, we believe that we can teach in any way that we like – each of us driven by deeply entrenched and personal philosophies about teaching. There is rarely overt disagreement between teachers, even when they believe in decidedly different approaches because we adopt the ‘I’ll leave you alone, if you leave me alone’ mentality.
For most teachers, however, teaching is a private matter; it occurs behind a closed classroom door, and it is rarely questioned or challenged. John Hattie
One of the reasons that this situation exists is that most students learn regardless of how their teacher goes about teaching them. Research shows that most approaches to teaching have a positive effect on students’ learning. Therefore, it is not hard to justify why we teach the way we do.
Why You Need To Treat Teaching As A Science
However, while it is true that most teaching strategies have some degree of positive impact, the collective research shows that some teaching strategies have far more impact than others. There are particular ways of going about teaching that are likely to help:
- Greater numbers of students to succeed
- Each child to progress further than they otherwise would have
Teachers who approach teaching as a science put personal philosophies aside and choose strategies that have the largest impact and the greatest chance of success. When you go to your doctor with a serious concern, you expect them to recommend the best treatment available – a treatment based on hard research rather than their personal beliefs. It should be the same with teaching. When you cling to snippets of research that support your personal philosophy and ignore the collective body of research on what works best, you do your students an extreme injustice. So how do you actually go about treating teaching as a science?
Stay Up To Date
If you are serious about treating teaching as a science, you need to stay up to date about what works best. At present, you can get a 5-minute crash course by reading about the Top 10 Teaching Strategies, or for a more in-depth exploration, you could have a look at John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses On Student Achievement. However, as with medicine, our knowledge about the most effective ways to teach is always improving. When new evidence comes to light, you need to know about it. Given how busy teachers already are, this is a hard ask. And it isn’t made any easy when schooling systems advocate new fads and theories that have little, if any, grounding in evidence. You could spend your nights ploughing over one academic paper after another. Yet, if want some semblance of a life you could just join the Pinnacle Community and have the latest, independent advice delivered straight to your inbox.
Select Evidence Based Strategies
Armed with your knowledge of what works best, you then need to put that knowledge to use. Teaching is an applied science – a discipline where you turn knowledge into action. Closing the gap between knowing and doing is just as important as gaining the knowledge in the first place. However, you can’t use every one of these high-impact strategies in every lesson. Nor is it a good idea to randomly select strategies without thinking about the context of the lesson. While approaching teaching as a science involves drawing on evidence-based knowledge, you need to apply this knowledge wisely.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Miles Kingston
For example, research shows that providing time for students to practice new skills and that spreading this practice out over time is crucial. However, it is unwise to ask students to practice things without providing feedback. Otherwise, your students are likely to master the wrong thing.
Monitor Your Impact
When you approach teaching as a science, you select evidence based approaches to teaching. If you do so wisely, you are likely to help:
- More of your students to succeed
- Each student progress further than would have if you had adopted alternative strategies
However, no strategy or set of strategies is going to work with every child or in every situation. You are simply choosing those strategies that are most likely to work.
Research will never be able to identify instructional strategies that work with every student in every class. The best research can do is tell us which strategies have a good chance of working well with students. Robert Marzano
Therefore, you must monitor the impact that your chosen approaches are having on your students’ learning. You need to be a student of your own effect on those you teach. It’s what doctors do all the time. I spent six weeks in hospital following a massive heart attack. During that time, my doctors tried several evidence-based strategies to strengthen and stabilise my heart. Each time they tried something new, they monitored its effect because even in the medical arena, no single strategy is guaranteed to succeed.
Problem-Solve As Needed
When your chosen strategies are failing to have the impact you intended, you need to change your approach until they do. It can be a challenging a frustrating process, but the feeling you get when finally have a breakthrough is amazing.
It is in the process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled
Problem solving involves learning on the fly. It is what we witnesses when mission control successfully Apollo 13 back to Earth. It is what we saw in nearly every episode of House, and it is what we need to see more of in schools. Treating teaching as a science acknowledges the vital role that action science needs to play in every classroom.
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