What works in education?

Well, pretty much everything!  Researchers will try some new approach with a class and show that the students improve.  This can then be picked up by education systems as the latest fad with all schools required to implement it.  A few years later it is abandoned in favour of a new fad.  It is hardly surprising that teachers often become cynical and rejecting of new approaches based on some overseas study.

A New Zealand academic (now based in Melbourne) decided to look more closely into this question. His name is john Hattie and he spent over 15 years going through the research findings and comparing the power of different interventions at a family, teacher and school level.  For those of you familiar with the terminology he looked at meta-analyses which is an approach of reviewing similar studies and combining the data statistically.  Hattie did ‘meta-analyses of meta-analyses’ so the results of hundreds of studies covering thousands of students were compared.  He translated the results to a ‘difference measure’ so that they could be directly compared.   

The first question he asked was ‘what happens if students don’t go to school?’  He found that they actually improve by 0.2 of his ‘difference measure’.  They may have been taught by their community or picked things up by themselves, but the important point is that unless the ‘new approach’ being recommended has an effect better than 0.2, it is in fact best to leave the students at home!

The next question is what is the impact of the average teacher in the average classroom?  The effect is a difference score of 0.4, so unless the ‘new approach’ can produce a larger effect than this, better to leave the teacher alone to get on with it.

The third question is of course ‘what are the most powerful approaches to use?’, and his research clearly separates a huge range of different strategies, with some of the most powerful strategies easy to implement, and many of the common approaches recommended being less effective that those that the average teacher would use naturally.

For the working teacher, this information is gold.  The core message is that we need to learn from our students what is most effective and students become powerful learners when they are in the role of teacher.

Workshops can be provided looking at the most powerful approaches based on Hattie’s work with opportunities to devise ways to collaboratively plan their implementation at your school.