As an ESL teacher, my first priorities are the linguistic development of my students and the attainment of their language learning goals. As an educational researcher, my first priority is to study and develop extremely effective teaching and learning strategies to get students to where they want to be. Students might not like it too much, but research is really starting to show that the ball is almost entirely in their court.
As Thomas Carruthers said, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. Ignoring how this might make us feel about our paycheques (insert chuckle), it is important to mention just how accurate this is, especially in terms of in-class strategies. Our students want to improve their English language ability, so they should be doing all the talking, reading and writing The effective and simultaneously “unnecessary” teacher is one who is more of a learning experience designer, who spends most of her time designing learning moments and strategies outside of class time, reflecting on student difficulties and successes when not in class, and using these as beacons in the dark when planning the next class. And now, we finally have confirmation that we teachers are useless – well, almost.
If you aren’t familiar with, “The Hattie Ranking,” I highly suggest you read up on this literature. John Allan Clinton Hattie published his incredible book, Visible Learning, in 2008. Synthesizing over 800 different meta-analyses on effective teaching and learning strategies, Hattie was able to create a ranking of the most effective to the least effective. These instructional strategies are not discipline-specific, so they apply to any teacher’s course, and we all do them anyway. What may shock you is just how ineffective some strategies are, and how others that are seldom used are so effective. Below is a brief synopsis of the three most effective and some of the surprisingly least effective.
Most Effective in Influencing Student Achievement
1) Self-Reported Grades
Yes, not only is your direct teaching no longer required, you don’t even have to grade your students anymore! Studies show that when students are responsible for assigning themselves and arguing why they merit a grade, their achievement skyrockets! This of course requires the teacher to develop clear assessment criteria, procedures and rubrics. When armed with the “how” of assessment, students often find the path to success is clear cut. Those who fail also understand why. Grades can also be ‘results’. For those of you who don’t grade your students formally, developing a clear learning goal with success criteria and having them report on it can serve the same purpose.
2) Piagetian Programs
Teaching is most effective when the learning strategies employed match the cognitive level (as expressed by Jean Piaget) of the students and the level required by the course. In the case of teaching spoken English with a grammar point, we clearly engage the sensorimotor and operational levels (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Piaget). Thus, the in-class learning activities should contain a lot of stimulation to the senses and operational thinking .
3) Formative Evaluation
Once you get that self-report on student success, it is vitally important to provide students with feedback – not only on their English language success, but also on how well they have understood and commented on the success criteria. Eventually, students should be able to self-monitor their progress. But, a friendly pat on the back, or a soft re-direction to the right criteria can go a long way in boosting confidence and motivation, as well as providing them with confirmation that they are studying/practicing in the right way.
Least Effective in Influencing Student Achievement
While homework does have a positive effect on achievement, it is quite small (0.29 as per Hattie). There is a growing body of evidence that “homework” – the active kind, should be done in class and that “lectures” can be done at home in the form of readings/videos. The mind needs a break, so cut down on the homework.
2) Teacher Subject Knowledge
How much the teacher knows about their subject is virtually irrelevant (0.09 as per Hattie). Students can learn from a book. Hmmm, maybe we are becoming progressively obsolete…
To read more about the Hattie Ranking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visible_Learning
What do you do in your classes to encourage student autonomy/ self-directed learning? Please share your favourite strategies!