“Lavish praise” not good for child improvement finds study
Heaping praise on struggling students could make them less likely to succeed, a recent study has shown.
The study, “What makes great teaching”, reviewed over 200 pieces of research into teaching methods and their results, targeted “popular” classroom myths that are hampering pupils’ achievement.
Professor Robert Coe of Durham University, who carried out the research for the Sutton Trust education charity, believes that many new teaching strategies have no evidence to show they work.
Coe said: “Great teaching cannot be achieved by following a recipe, but there are some clear pointers in the research to approaches that are most likely to be effective, and to others, sometimes quite popular, that are not. Teachers need to understand why, when and how a particular approach is likely to enhance students’ learning and be given time and support to embed it in their practice.”
The study found that the two main benefits to a child’s education are high quality of teaching and a teacher with extensive knowledge of their specialist subject.
It also revealed that praising a struggling student too much might lead in a “positive association with underachievement” and be detrimental to the child’s success. On the contrary, students “presented with anger” are less likely to have a positive association with performing badly.
Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers, emphasised the importance of trusting teachers with their methods. She said: “Teachers are all too familiar with the fads and fashions regularly promoted as the latest formula to improve teaching and learning, only to see them debunked and replaced by some other magic solution afterwards. The fact is that teachers themselves are the professionals who best know their children and their students.”
The Sutton Trust, which focuses on addressing social mobility through education, conducted the study to discover how improved teaching methods can enable poorer pupils to achieve more. Findings show that over the course of a school year, pupils gain 18 months’ worth of learning from teachers determined to be “very effective”, in contrast with an insufficient six months’ worth from teachers who perform poorly.
Dr Lee Elliot Major, director of policy and development at the Sutton Trust, named good teachers as “the agents of social mobility”.
He said: “It’s a scandal that we are so concerned with the learning of pupils, yet neglect the professional development of teachers themselves. The research review debunks many of the teaching myths but also reveals the core lessons for schools to help them develop great teachers.”
Thomas Rhys Jones