Research School Network: Reviewing the University of Bristol’s ​“Characteristics of Effective Teaching” – Part I The first in a series of blogs reviewing the key points from the recently released ​“Characteristics of Effective Teaching“report

Reviewing the University of Bristol’s ​“Characteristics of Effective Teaching” – Part I

The first in a series of blogs reviewing the key points from the recently released ​“Characteristics of Effective Teaching“report

The School of Economics at the University of Bristol has just this week released a report into the Characteristics of Effective Teaching”. The report is based on data collected from 251 teachers, across 32 state secondary schools responsible for just over 7000 GCSE students. This blog and the subsequent series of blogs will aim to summarise the key sections of the report – if you wish to read the full version you can do via this link.

The report begins by emphasising what should be an obvious, but yet often overlooked point, that teachers are really important” for learning” and the most significant influence on educational achievement outside the family. The metric used to measure this is referred to as teacher effectiveness and defined as the contribution a teacher makes to a student gain in ability and knowledge. Understandably teacher effectiveness is significantly more important in raising pupil attainment than any other school factor.

The data used in the report was collected over a 2‑year period between 2014 and 2016 and consisted of a combination of student attainment data based on English and Maths GCSE exam scores and data collected by peer observations of teacher effectiveness. Schools selected were done so intentionally to have high rates of poverty, with over 40% of student are or ever have been eligible for free school meals.

The observation data was collected over just shy of 2700 classroom visits by peer teachers in each school, with each visit lasting approximately 15 – 20 minutes. Observers used a rubric to report on teacher effectiveness. The rubric is formed of four groups or domains” of skills and tasks, with observers scoring teacher effectiveness on just two of these – instruction” and classroom environment”. Both of these domains had sub-standards within them, on which each observed teacher was rated using descriptors to inform judgements from highly effective, effective, basic and ineffective”.

The standards that teachers were scored on within the classroom environment domain were as follows (for a more detailed description of what these mean please see the appendix in the full report)

  • Creating an environment of respect and rapport
  • Establishing a culture for learning
  • Managing Classroom procedures
  • Managing Student Behavior
  • Organizing Physical Space
While the standards for the instructional domain were:
  • Communicating with students
  • Using questioning and discussion techniques.
  • Engaging students in learning
  • Use of assessment
  • Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness

In addition to these judgements observers also recorded the frequency with which teachers deployed certain instructional activities rating their use either as none, very little, some of the time, most of the time, full time”. The instructional activities that were noted are listed below:

  • Lecturing or dictation (One-way transaction – teacher was speaking and children were listening)
  • Open discussion among children and teacher
  • One to one teaching
  • Spending special time to assist weak students
  • Gauging student understanding (e.g., through written or oral assessment)
  • Assigning homework or class work to children
  • Teacher was using a textbook during teaching activities (Use of examples from text, taking reference of text, read the lines of chapter)
  • Use of white board by teacher.
  • Children copying from the whiteboard.
  • Children are working in groups
  • Children are doing written work alone
  • Engaged in non-teaching work (maintenance of register, preparation of data, format preparation etc.)

While the following blogs on the report will explore the findings, guidance and recommendation in more detail, the introduction to the report does outline some of the key findings. Firstly, the observations clearly show that teacher’s make different choices about how to spend class time, with some teachers spending much of their lesson time using traditional direct instruction while others give over much more time to collaborative work or independent practice. Secondly, teachers’ choices on the use of class time matters for their students’ attainment but this is subject dependent. With student in maths classes scoring higher when assigned to a teacher who gives more time for individual practice, while in English students seemed to benefit from working more with class mates.

Furthermore, peer observations of teacher effectiveness seem to correlate with student test outcomes, with students assigned to a teacher within the top quartile based on peer observations scores doing much better than similar students assigned to a teacher in the bottom quartile of teacher effectiveness. Interestingly teacher effectiveness (according to the results) seems to matter less for high achieving students, with the gain made by students assigned to a top quartile teacher as high as double for students below the average starting point compared to students above the average starting point.

Even these brief result summaries may have significant implications for school decision makers and teachers. For example, the results may help inform teachers how best to make sue of their lesson time with maths teachers for example increasing the time in their lessons designated to student practice. Furthermore, the result may have implications for how curriculum leads and senior staff allocate students across their staff body. For example, ensuring that lower starting point students being assigned to more skilled teachers, rather than the traditional norm of reserving these staff for our higher sets. Although it is important to note that the results of this research are not definitive and that assigning lower starting point students to your more skilled teachers will guarantee improved outcomes.

Over the coming weeks there will be series of further blogs on this research report, exploring in more detail the main findings of the survey and its implications for schools.

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