5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

21 Mar

Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate student ability, mostly for reporting purposes)
  5. Develop student metacognitive strategies so that students can become more aware of their own learning and how to make it more effective.  (Learner Training)

What surprises me though is that these practices are considered novel enough that they need to be put into a blog post?  CELTA tutors may correct me (please do!) but aren’t these things considered essential on a CELTA?  Aren’t we meant to be doing all these things anyway?  I suppose it speaks to the audience of the Edutopia website, which is not primarily language teaching.  Maybe language teachers are just more responsive and methodologically up-to-date than mainstream education…..


Image Credit: Pixabay

The piece is based on a book by John Hattie, who is the director of the Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne.  He has made his name in the field of meta-analysis, effectively taking in all the data from studies that have looked at educational attainment and looking at it to see what patterns emerge.  In 2008 he published “Visible Learning”, which was based on 800 meta-studies from around the world and which identified positive and negative processes in classroom learning, such as the long summer break that has now led some schools to adjust their school calendars to teach over the summer and provide more shorter terms punctuated by more, shorter holidays.  In 2011 he published a follow up book “Visible Learning for teachers” that looks at the practical implications for teachers and suggests strategies they can employ to maximise the learning that takes place.  The article is based on this latter book.

I don’t disagree with the suggestions made in the article – but it made me wonder what my five “effective teaching practices” would be.  This is what I came up with.  I can’t claim that I do all these things all the time, but I generally try to do them most of the time!

(1)  Have fun.  Obviously, it doesn’t necessarily follow that if the teacher is having fun the students are too (“Dance, my minions!  Dance!”), but if you’re bored and pissed off then the students probably will be too.  You can’t be happy all the time, and some activities and goals are more serious than others, but fun should always be there, like a background harmonic.

(2) Make it valuable.  Time is precious to everybody, young and old, and we’ve all sat through too many meetings where at the end of it we walk out thinking “That was three hours of my life I won’t see again” that we should probably make sure our students don’t feel the same way about us!  Again, difficult to achieve with ALL the students ALL the time, but possible to do with MOST of the students MOST of the time.  And if you have a student who is getting nothing out of it at all, then they’re in the wrong class.  I had a 15 year old CPE student whose main school teacher used to send him to the library to look up words in the dictionary because she felt it was a better use of his time than being in her class….

(3) Make them DO stuff.  We’ve been having this discussion in the forums on another post, and again, it isn’t something that you can do for every language point or for every skills focus, but my everlasting bugbear with the majority of materials is that the students aren’t required to be active producers of language, but that they are mostly seen as passive receptacles.  There is room for both aspects and indeed, both are needed to give the students time for input to become intake – but I don’t believe that is where it should stop.  Involve tasks and activities that ask the learners to USE whatever language they have.

(4) Know your students.  This ties in a bit to the first two because if you don’t know your students well, then you probably won’t have as much fun or make it as valuable as they need.  But essentially as a teacher, your job is to help the students get from where they are, to where they want to go.  If you don’t know them, you won’t know either of these things and won’t be able to help as effectively.  I am a big fan of needs analysis, in particular using google forms for this process, and I do this with all my adult and exam classes.  I haven’t yet come up with a decent needs analysis form for young learners, so if you have – please share!

(5) Teaching not testing.  The majority of summative testing or formal assessment is completely pointless.  The majority of tests don’t do what they are actually meant to do, which is measure what the students can do with the language.  Very often in a language learning context what they measure is the learners ability to manipulate a grammatical structure under controlled and guided conditions, so I do wonder what getting seven out of ten in an exercise where the student has to put the verb into the past continuous tells us?  Given the choice I wouldn’t bother with it.  Including a test in a course makes a mockery of the idea of needs analysis and student centered learning, because as soon as you put a test in the course, it becomes about test centered learning.  Alas I am not in a position to follow through on this idea completely, mostly because other stakeholders in the process want to be able to reduce an abstract concept like “language ability” to an easy to read number on a report card.  But there we go.

So – these are my five!  I’d be interested to know what other people think.  It is a largely subjective process (despite all the research that John Hattie put into his ideas), so do feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image credit: Pixabay

Image credit: Pixabay


9 Responses to “5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices”

  1. Costas Gabrielatos Monday 21 March 2016 at 12:24 #

    I hope you won’t mind me posting a link my ‘cards on the table’ piece on language teaching methodology:


  2. Jacqueline Monday 21 March 2016 at 14:43 #

    Thanks for this article. I agree completely with all your points. A trick that I use to get learners to use language is let them be the teacher. They ask me questions about the material that I just taught them. I just model the kind of question again and off they go, and they love it. Works with children and adults.

  3. Dave Tucker Tuesday 22 March 2016 at 11:26 #

    Loved that ‘fun’ was top of the list! Nothing better to get the dopamine flowing, then you know learning’s following close behind!
    Occurred to me that the advice in the original article may well have been aimed at teachers with little or no formal training – the audience which perhaps I most often write for…

  4. Fern Kushner Tuesday 22 March 2016 at 14:50 #

    It is certainly easy to be a bit cynical when the title of the blog post has all the hallmarks of a piece designed to boost traffic to the website (do a keyword search, use an odd-numbered list of items, etc.).
    The new version of the list is certainly much more on my wavelength–I find that one of the best litmus tests of a successful class is whether the participants and I had fun. Nevertheless, the points in the original list are ones that, unfortunately, have not yet become part of the mindset of many teachers. (I have, alas, had experiences many such instructors, even as an adult.)
    Thus I would suspect that Rebecca Alber, the author of the blog post under discussion, might indeed be providing a much-needed nudge to some in the teaching profession.
    Not all teachers / trainers / instructors work in situations where they regularly receive feedback. Perhaps the built-in feedback in most language-teaching situations forces us to re-examine our teaching principles quite often.

  5. Clare Tuesday 22 March 2016 at 16:53 #

    This mirrors the thoughts I always have when I see posts and articles about “the most effective teaching practices” or similar.
    For me, it boils down to this: Teachers have to be passionate about what they’re teaching and about teaching in general, and they need to know their students and how to motivate to get active.
    The suggestions from the original post are ways of doing this, and your ideas say the same thing as my thoughts but in different words. I guess it’s the combination of all these factors coming together that really makes for effective teaching!


  6. Clare Tuesday 22 March 2016 at 17:01 #

    Reblogged this on Clare's ELT Compendium and commented:
    Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
    Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):
    **Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

    So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
    I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

    Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!

    • Fern Kushner Wednesday 23 March 2016 at 11:51 #

      My one sentence: Love what you do, and believe in the potential of your students!

  7. Helen Tuesday 29 March 2016 at 18:49 #

    I’d have “Give appropriate and useful feedback” and by that, I don’t mean giving them a mark which, as you mention, is often meaningless. There’s quite an interesting article here from a few years a go on what useful feedback could be http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx and I think it’s really necessary (although really challenging/time-consuming to do at all) to incorporate a kind of constant dialogue with students, from the beginning of a course to the end, which isn’t just about one-off skills and language evaluations. I think that fits in some way with both your #4 and #5 and which also builds in the idea of ‘establishing a relationship with the learners’, possibly another one on a hypothetical list of mine! Thanks!

  8. Andrew Weiler Thursday 31 March 2016 at 04:02 #

    The value a lot of the time is in the detail. For me the sentiments expressed have some similarity to what I believe but I suspect my practices would vary from the author’s. I will make 5 suggestions based on what is written above to give readers another take on what has been written.

    1. Engage the students. Without engagement, learning is nigh impossible in languages. Fun is one element to that.

    2. Ensure that what you do in class produces learning backed up by confidence. Without improvement in the latter, learning is by name only.

    3. Students need to discover what it is they need to learn, otherwise memorization needs to be employed (generally a poor tool for most things in language). The teacher’s role is to present situations where the discoveries are achievable and layered.

    4. Teachers need to provide “continual” feedback in response to what students are doing. Not generic but specific, designed to throw students back on their own resources so their powers of learning improve.

    5. Effective teachers are “continually” testing by seeing what each student can do and not do. This is achieved through teachers being attentive and customising what happens in the class to confirm any observations made. ( I agree testing as is commonly understood is a complete waste of time as far as education is concerned. Clearly testing also has gatekeeping purposes..that is a whole different matter of course)

    Clearly a lot more could be said about my take on each, which I have done at strategiesinlanguagelearning.com

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