THE SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES OF TEACHING

Every year, John Hattie conducts a comparative meta-study which provides us with a list of the 256 most proven teaching factors and their order of importance. However, asking teachers to read about 256 different teaching factors could be described as impractical at best. Many of the most successful factors identified by Hattie overlap with each other in their application. For example, learning goals, RTI, assessment as learning, and metacognition strategies are all extremely proven pedagogical tools which improve learning. All of these strategies, however, actually function on the same basic principle: they increase the clarity of learning expectations for students so they better understand what teachers want them to learn. We at Pedagogy Non-Grata have endeavoured to distil Hattie’s list and the scientific literature on teaching in order to better discern what are the most important principles for promoting student learning. It is our belief that we can then use these principles to better understand why some teaching strategies do and do not work. 


Quality Time Under Instruction

In part, we have borrowed the term Quality Time Under Tension from the evidence-based fitness community, because it so aptly describes the core aspect of learning and teaching. At the end of the day, all students are capable of higher learning; however, different students learn at different rates. This means that the amount of educational stimulus each student needs to learn a concept may be different, but that all students do need a minimum amount of educational stimulus to understand a given topic or skill. It is through exposure and practice that we learn, not osmosis, and, therefore, the most fundamental scientific principle in teaching is Quality Time Spent Learning. 


Clarity of Expectations


As discussed in the introduction, many of the most proven concepts within evidence-based education rely on increasing the clarity of learning expectations for students. It is a fundamental value and belief here at Pedagogy Non-Grata that we, as teachers, should be seeking to demystify the learning process. The better our students understand our expectations, the more possible it is for our students to reach them. 


Specificity of Teaching


Within the evidence-based fitness community, it has become common knowledge that in order for training to carry over to a specific sport, the training has to be specific to that sport. This same concept applies to education. If we want to evaluate our students on their mastery of a learning target, both our teaching and our assessments need to specifically focus on this target. If we recognize that our students do not learn through osmosis, we must recognize that the vast majority of our teaching should look to specifically prepare them for our assessments, unless our primary learning goal is to prepare students for application questions. That being said, even if we want to specifically prepare our students for the challenging application situations which can arise in life and in higher education, we must actually teach the application process as a learning goal itself and not just assess for it. In other words, it is fundamentally important to teach specifically to the tests. 


Appropriately Challenging Curriculum


If we understand the implications of the Pygmalion Theory, Labelling Theory, and Hattie’s work on Teacher Estimates of Achievement, we must recognize that keeping high expectations for students is actually one of the most important teaching factors. However, high expectations can be a double edged sword if we do not recognize when our students have learning gaps keeping them from meeting our expectations. One of the easiest mistakes a teacher can make is to lower the learning expectations of students by too much when students are struggling to reach learning goals. Our learning expectations should always be higher than our students current ability, leaving them room to improve and grow. These expectations, however, should never be so high that our students do not have the appropriate scaffolding to achieve them. 


Growth Mindset


Carrol Dweck’s work has shown us that successful people do not ask if they can succeed, but rather how they can succeed. In order to facilitate this strategy teachers should explicitly teach the concept of Growth Mindset to their students, and teachers should also keep a Growth Mindset about their own practices. As part of this mindset teachers should try to always remember that all students are capable of higher learning. Hattie’s meta study has shown that teachers believing in this idea can literally double student learning within a year. The question can never be “Can this student learn?” but rather “How can I help this student to learn?”


Reflective Teaching Practices


Collective Self Efficacy is currently the number one factor on Hattie’s list, in large part, because it promotes reflective teaching. No one teacher is perfect, no human being is always right, and no single teacher is better able to serve all students. No matter what the endeavour, it always pays off to be reflective on what you do, to be willing to adapt, and to evolve your practices based on what is working and what is not. 


Interested in learning more? Check out our podcast at: 

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/pedagogy-non-grata/id1448225801



Written by: Nate Joseph

Last Edited: 6/14/2019


References: 

J, Hattie. (2018). Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Visible Learning. Retrieved from <https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/> . 

C, Dweck. (2017). The Growth Mindset. Mindset Works. Retrieved from <https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/>. 

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