7 practices to avoid in the classroom

Each year new research is published informing us of which practices are best to use in the classroom and which aren’t hitting the benchmark.

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Each year new research is published informing us of which practices are best to use in the classroom and which aren’t hitting the benchmark. They show us how we can implement these strategies effectively and what challenges to look out for. We’ve gone through this research to bring you 7 common practices to steer clear of in your classroom and the alternatives that are leading the way in student engagement. 

1. Starting class with chalk and talk 

Explicit teaching can be a highly effective way of instructing a class as it provides guidance through the learning process and offers a clear purpose for students through detailed explanations and demonstrations. However, it’s essential in a classroom to provide ongoing opportunities to target teaching and unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the chalk and talk method which fails to provide this. 

By conducting a lesson at the front of the class the assumption is made that every student is ready to learn what is being taught and can easily keep up with the pace set by their teacher. This isn’t the case for many students, in fact, a year 7 classroom has on average an 8-year spread of ability meaning it’s almost impossible to reach every student’s learning needs whilst addressing the entire class. 

The consequence is as to be expected, we end up with disengaged students who fall further and further behind as their teacher and the higher average students move on without them. And while the higher achieving students can keep up they are not being challenged to reach their full potential. 

We are almost unintentionally punishing students who are unable to make it to class or are late and miss the chalk and talk introduction. Without this information, it’s an extra challenge for students to move forward with their work in a productive manner that creates meaningful understanding as opposed to rote learning. 

This is where targeted teaching needs to step in. In addition to practising explicit teaching it’s also good to find balance with target teaching. Offering students work that is specific to their learning needs allows them to slow down and work at a pace that supports their success. They can feel comfortable investigating areas further that they have not fully mastered yet without the pressure to move on and stay at the pace of their peers. 

2. Praising high marks instead of effort and growth 

Achieving a perfect or almost perfect score is an exciting moment for any student; their hard work and dedication paid off. And it’s just as exciting for their teacher, who has been there to support and nurture them while continuously providing the tools and knowledge they need to flourish. 

It’s programmed into us from a young age that high marks automatically equal intelligence and success. So it comes naturally to be impressed and praise the mark achieved with simple statements like “well done on your score of 90%” or “great work, your answer is correct”. But it’s important to consider the impacts praise like this has on students. 

Research shows that praising intelligence actually undermines student motivation and achievement. Students are more likely to focus on their performance and as a result find it’s harder to recover from a setback. It becomes clear their motivation solely relies on their success, so if success isn’t present, they quickly lose interest and enjoyment in their work.  

On the other hand, students praised for their effort see intelligence as a learnt trait that is built over time through hard work and consistent effort. By developing this growth mindset, students concentrate on their learning goals opposed to performance goals and persevere through challenges. 

Praising the entire learning process including concentration, self-correction, and strategies is a great way to reinforce a growth mindset. 

Try out these growth mindset statements in your classroom. 

  • “I can see that you tried really hard on this task and didn’t give up when it became challenging.”
  • “I’m really impressed that you stayed focused and tested out multiple strategies to see which worked best.” 
  • “You deserved that mark! I saw how hard you worked on this topic.” 

3. Calling on students cold 

Teachers have a whole toolbox filled with strategies to engage students, draw out curiosity and improve input. Calling on students cold in class to answer a question is one method that has been around for generations as a way to inspire student contribution. 

A quiet classroom is usually a sign of students working productively, but when a teacher is seeking a response a silent classroom is not what is needed, so calling on a student cold may be the only option. However, the problem with this is students’ don’t have time to research, prepare or work with their peers to uncover meaningful insights or information to share. 

For some students who work well under pressure being singled out might not phase them but for many students this kind of method can do more harm than good. If the answer they provide when put on the spot isn’t correct or of any use then the only outcome would be the effect on the students confidence, mindset and future participation in class

In this practice, when instructors don’t receive the answer they were looking for, it’s common they will jump from student to student searching, which only puts more emphasis on correct answers instead of the thinking and effort placed behind them. 

Research suggests that the negative impact cold calling has on class participation and the increased anxiety levels felt in students means a hybrid strategy would be the most successful. This kind of hybrid strategy would mean that students are still required to contribute in class but the methods used to initiate this would be altered. 

Engagement strategies:

  1. Present the question to the whole class and allow students the appropriate amount of time to research and prepare an answer. This time will mean students are far more ready when they are called upon and have a more meaningful answer to share. This preparation time also encourages students to  seek out their teacher for further support if it’s needed.  
  2. Encourage students to work in small groups to discuss their thoughts. This strategy gives students who may not feel comfortable speaking in front of the whole class a chance to share.
  3. Implement Rich Learning with your students as an alternative strategy to build classroom discussion and student engagement. 

4. Using a classroom resource that doesn’t gather real-time data 

Textbooks, eBooks, and online learning platforms are just some of the many classroom resources utilised in today’s education landscape.

 Online learning platforms seem to sit ahead of the game as textbooks drift out of fashion with their inconveniently large size, sky-rocketing pricing and not to mention the newest edition textbooks are written not by the author but the publisher and composed of previous versions chopped up. The eBook doesn’t sit far from this, containing the same content just presented digitally in the hope it appears to be in line with a 21st-century education. 

The classroom resources industry is not small by any feat. In 2020 the global education technology market size was valued at 89.49 billion USD alongside the textbook industry, which generated a revenue of 7.85 billion USD. With this much revenue pumped into the industry each year you would expect the resources being produced would be doing the heavy lifting. 

Instead, teachers are left to uncover insights on student gaps, performance, and learning styles on top of teaching content that is not meeting the specific needs of each student.

Research indicates that personalised learning enhances student engagement and development but to target teaching, a clear outline of student abilities first needs to be established. The use of diagnostic tests and learning models that generate real-time data as students complete their work, is the most effective way to uncover insights and apply them to individual learning journeys. 

5. Streaming learning

Streaming versus personalised learning, it’s an ongoing debate where both sides present convincing arguments for their success in the classroom. Streaming is an efficient way to group students and takes much less investigative work than personalised learning. Streaming allows schools to simply group students by their achievement level without having to dig deeper into their specific learning abilities, which can then be addressed if needed by their teacher during the school year. However, once we start to look deeper into the research around streaming we uncover the faults that actually add more work to a teacher’s plate, which contradicts the reason it was favoured in the first place. 

After classes are allocated, it’s left up to one teacher to meet the needs of 28 students’ whilst keeping up with the curriculum requirements. Learning intervention, maintaining student motivation, and difficult conversations at parent-teacher interviews about why students are slipping behind all the land on one person. So as a result teachers end up trying to personalise learning anyway, in an attempt to keep afloat the struggling students while still challenging the high achievers. 

The vast majority of the literature generally shows that this method impacts negatively on student learning outcomes. Streaming within Australia focuses on top-performing students, and often ignores its negative effects on lower-performing students and minority groups. These are the students who are left behind in class despite their best attempts to keep up and the enormous effort teachers put in to support them. 

A study into schools that implemented personalised learning reported a very high level of pupil engagement and participation – in classroom lessons, extra-curricular clubs and in work-related learning in the local community. So in the case of streaming versus personalised learning it seems logical to conclude that offering targeted teaching improves the overall learning experience for both students and teachers.

Find out more about how to support students with true differentiation in your classroom. 

6. Not setting clear and individual goals with students 

Goal setting is beneficial for all students but in particular for students who are at or below the class average. Willingly providing targeted and regular support to students who struggle with self motivation can make a world of difference. 

In a study conducted to determine if setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance it was found that students who completed the goal-setting intervention displayed significant improvements in academic performance. It was concluded that goal-setting appears to be a quick, effective, and inexpensive intervention for struggling students. 

Although goal setting and regular check ins with students is said to have a positive impact on growth and motivation it does take up a lot of time for teachers. This might mean prioritising students who are at the higher risk of disengaging and following a routine that keeps both student and teacher on track.

Research suggests that following 4 steps when setting goals helps ensure successful and ongoing implementation. 

  1. Set goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. An example of this type of goal includes Increasing a student’s growth rate by 10% before the end of term 2.
  2. Develop a plan of action with each of your students. Setting out smaller weekly goals with students can make the overall goal seem more achievable. Encouraging students to attend a homework group or work with a peer to stay accountable can be easy ways to stay on top of goals. 
  3. Monitor progress frequently, once a fortnight after the testing period has taken place, go over term goals with students to see if progress is being made, the weekly goals are attainable and if any further intervention needs to take place. 
  4. Celebrate success! When students are hitting weekly goals and making progress on their term goals make sure you acknowledge this with growth mindset statements. 

7. Whole class feedback sessions

Feedback is an essential part of the learning process, it creates a specific time for reflection on student performance and the development of strategies to support learning goals. In a report aimed at identifying influences that are most effective in improving student achievement. 196 studies on feedback were reviewed and determined that effective feedback can almost double the average student growth over a school year.

Many studies arrive at another important conclusion that improved formative assessment helps low-achievers more than other students and so reduces the range of achievement while raising achievement overall. 

So with feedback being so effective, why doesn’t whole class feedback support student development?

When we look at the overall performance of a class there are a number of things taken into consideration, the average mark, the questions most students got incorrect, the students who excelled and the failure rate. Each of these emphasises marks as a measure of success and overlooks some key factors. 

Firstly, whole class feedback  doesn’t consider the need for one-on-one time where teachers can employ techniques like positive reinforcement around individual growth rates of students. Drawing attention to positive elements of students achievement such as perseverance supports the development of a growth mindset where students learn to place importance on effort and growth. This builds motivation and confidence even when there is absence of perfect answers. 

Whole-class feedback also neglects the chance to uncover specific gaps and misconceptions, which if not addressed can then be carried into new concepts. This sets students up to struggle as mastering a topic that’s not fully understood is unattainable and students then employ rote learning over deep understanding. Research recommends that feedback is given timely and regularly with students one-on-one. The best time for reflection is after a testing period so that students receive targeted invention where attainment didn’t take place and there is space to act and monitor their progress.

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