What is the best way to teach science
Science knows what good teaching is - only politics doesn't listen
In the meantime, almost every amateur athlete builds his training on scientific knowledge. Anyone who wants to eat healthily has at least an idea of the current state of research. In school politics, on the other hand, people still prefer to rely on feeling rather than science - the ideological blinkers hang low. Education policy is about moods and demarcation, about party politics and prejudice. All-day school, school autonomy, the grammar school as it used to be - the discussion has been going round and round for years, and it's always about structures. What is missing is exactly what is really important: dealing with learning and teaching itself, with what is happening in the classrooms.
In the past ten years, scientific research has provided enormous insights into how to design good teaching, how to accelerate learning processes or how to bring students to a deeper understanding of the material. They are proposals that neither left, conservative nor right can bother with. They wouldn't even cost much. One would just have to put the big debates aside for a moment and focus on other - more substantial - issues. Instead, we listen to education experts who want to "revolutionize" the school system, or give space to nostalgics who long for the good old days. Although we know that none of their proposals are realistic or will ever be implemented.
Ignorance of science
Almost ten years ago the New Zealand scientist John Hattie published his comprehensive meta-study "Visible Learning", in which almost all English-language studies on school teaching were summarized. 250 million students took part in the studies, over 100 factors were isolated and grouped. And the findings were clear. Only: the reception was sparse, the few education experts and politicians who even took note of the study heard only what they wanted to hear again. There was no meaningful argument, and again there was discussion about school autonomy, the revolutionization of schools and the grammar school.
It all depends on the lessons
Hattie's study - and subsequently a number of other studies - shows that the structure of the school system and the school play a far less important role than previously assumed. What matters is what happens in the lesson. Because that's exactly where you learn. Whether there are 17 or 25 children in a class, whether the school is large or small, whether it is a half-day or an all-day school, it all makes a difference. But whether the teachers know how to convey the material, how to deal with mistakes or how to develop learning goals with the class - that is much more difficult.
When do students learn best? When the teachers help them to observe their learning themselves so that they can then learn independently. When the learning objectives are clearly defined. When you develop an awareness of your mistakes and are not afraid of mistakes, but work on and with them. When they develop strategies to reflect on their learning. Everything that makes the learning process visible helps significantly more than constant repetition, more than tutoring, more than small classes.
But this requires a new culture of feedback. Today the feedback from the teacher completes the learning process: plus and minus for homework or repetitions of lessons, grades for tests and schoolwork. Systematic feedback that accompanies the students constantly is the exception. But this is exactly what accelerates learning and helps to identify deficits in good time.
The error as a place of learning
Students need channels through which they can inquire. Every teacher knows the phenomenon: you explain the material and then ask if there are any unanswered questions. And nobody answers. If you ask students to show with a green pencil when they have understood everything, with a yellow one when they have understood most of it, and with a red one when they have understood little - then suddenly there are many yellow and red pencils in the air. And you can deal with those who need the explanation again. A tiny measure that changes a lot. Anyone who has not understood the subject now has a way to say it.
Or: Instead of marking the mistake in an equation in a maths exercise, the teacher could put a mark in the line in which the mistake is. For improvement, students have to discover the mistake themselves. That makes them think and analyze errors. Dealing with mistakes is changing. The mistake is no longer simply the red pencil, but the place of learning.
Make learning objectives transparent
Learning processes also become visible when you know in detail what the teacher is trying to convey to you. Instead of just letting the students "write on it", an essay is broken down into several parts and discussed and practiced bit by bit. Or the students receive a sample essay and - like a teacher - have to write their own feedback. Did the introduction succeed? Is there an exciting climax? In this way, students develop a feeling for what makes a text good or bad.
Small changes that change a lot
These are all concepts that do not require long-term political debate. The findings of learning research speak a clear language. If these methods are used in school, students have been shown to learn faster and develop a deeper understanding. If you consistently rely on feedback, the learning effects are up to twice as high as in average classes. They are small, unspectacular changes. But they do a lot.
The responsibility for getting these ideas into classrooms rests with education policy. First and foremost, one should work to ensure that these didactic models are given due space in training and further education. This is neither a mammoth task, nor will there be any major political resistance. You can't make headlines or campaign with it. But it would bring far more to our school system than a reform of the reform of the reform of the New Upper School. (Fabian Steinschaden, September 6, 2018)
Fabian Steinschaden is AHS teacher in Vienna. In his blog fastein.blog he blogs on the topics of psychology, politics and education.
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