Mark Sass, a teacher since 1994, teaches at Legacy High School in the Adams Five Star School District.
Want to know why many educators close their doors to current education debates? See Alan’s recent post “Why I don’t trust education research.”
It is dangerous for educators to act this way, but it is certainly understandable. Whom to believe? What am I to do?
A better approach for educators to take with research is to look at research that is at the micro-level. Research that impacts their everyday practice versus the big policy research that gets mangled, or not, in subjective partisan bias. Case in point is the research that shows that constructive feedback to students has a greater impact on student learning than do socioeconomic characteristics.
Researcher John Hattie looked at meta-analyses and evaluated the relative impact of many factors, including family structure, curriculum, teaching practices and student feedback on student achievement. His findings challenge some prevailing notions by many educators. The following factors influence student achievement as shown by the “effect size,” or the percentage of standard deviation (the higher the number in the parentheses equals a higher impact).
- Preterm birth weight (.54)
- Illness (.23)
- Diet (.12)
- Drug use (.33)
- Exercise (.28)
- Socioeconomic status (.57)
- Family structure (.17)
- Home environment (.57)
- Parental involvement (.51)
As you can see, many of these factors would be considered outside the influence of the teacher (this is arguable in some areas like parent influence). These are certainly negative influences. But are there any other influences, ones that can be under the control of the teacher that can overcome the negative factors? Hattie found a number of practices that are more powerful than those listed above. For example: teacher/student relationships (.72), professional development (.62), creativity programs (.65), and feedback (.73).
Doug Reeves summarizes Hattie’s findings:
“We can say, based on the preponderance of the evidence from multiple studies in many cultural settings, that feedback is not only more important than most other instructional interventions, it is also more important than socioeconomic status, drug use, nutrition, exercise, anxiety, family structure, and a host of other factors that many people claimed were overwhelming.”
This is why some school districts, like Aurora and Adams 12, are looking at scrapping their antiquated grading systems and replacing them with grading systems that reflect this current research. But there is great resistance to the proposed changes. Why is this?
Our greatest challenge is to transform what we know into action: The “knowing doing gap.” In all my years as a teacher, I have been frustrated by many things. But the one area that has frustrated me the most is the seeming indifference to research by educators.
Yes, other fields experience this indifference, but I would argue that it is more so in education that in any other field. I cannot imagine anyone in the technology industry being satisfied with what they know. They want to know more and they operate from the assumption that what they do could be better.
Look at medicine and the changes that have taken place over the years when it comes to their practice. To educators I would ask, “What keeps us from continually challenging what we know?” Reeves says:
“Equipped with a rich literature on the theory and practice of change, educators and school leaders should be fully capable of acknowledging error, evaluating alternatives, testing alternative hypotheses, and drawing conclusions that lead to better results. Instead, decision making processes are more likely to be guided by personal convictions that are not only antiquated but dangerous. We can be indignant about the physicians of the 19th Century who were willing to wash their hands, but when the subject turns to educational policies, we sometimes elevate prejudice over evidence.”
I know that school and district environments can impact innovation. But this should not keep us from moving forward. Teaching is one of the most complicated of human activities. It is hard. That’s why educators need to continually challenge what they know and interrogate what they do. This push should come from within the field of education, not from left field.
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