The Science of Good Teaching

Benjamin Franklin apparently said. "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." But what do we REALLY know about effective learning hundred years later?

Many respected economists and educators from the world's leading universities researched this topic. They discovered that many things don’t matter, such as classroom size, new technology, or fancy uniforms. Their evidence suggests that the secret to thriving students are amazing teachers. Here's what they have learned.

First we have to acknowledge that teaching is a highly complex skill. It involves a deep understanding of the subject matter and the ability to explain complex issues in simple ways. But it also requires an understanding of psychology, pedagogy, as well as a wide range of management skills in order to get the student's first quiet and then excited.

Rob Coe, Professor at Durham University reported that many widely used methods don’t work: for example grouping students by ability, giving unearned praise, or the idea that students can discover complex concepts by themselves. Instead, master instructors have high exceptions and maximize the lesson time. But most importantly, they combine high quality instruction with pedagogical content knowledge. They don’t teach a subject, they teach their students how to learn it for themselves.

In order to get it right, we have to treat and train teachers like brain surgeons. After all they also operate on human brains. Like aspiring doctors, they are best trained in the field where they receive professional feedback when they made mistakes. Effective schools of education therefore, train teaching like a craft, rather than an abstract science. At Sposato, a Graduate School of Education known for creating effective teachers, students spend a lot of their time tutoring or assisting professionals.

Teachers who are already in the classroom, need regular professional feedback on the job. A vast study by Roland Fryer from Harvard found that teachers who receive precise instructions together with specific regular feedback from a lead teacher, will improve the most. Other good ideas to improve teachers are to ask the students for feedback or to record lessons on video and let the teachers watch themselves.

Doug Lemov, founder of UnCommon Schools and author of Teach Like A Champion, identified many methods that great teachers use: they greet each student at the door so students feel welcomed and acknowledged of their existence. Later they use a strong voice and don’t stop talking until they have everyone’s attention. Plus, they teach for mastery learning to ensure students get it 100% right before they proceed. But maybe most importantly, great teachers first get their students excited and then keep their attention through story-telling and engaging activities that sparks their imaginations.

A paper published by Stanford in 2009 showed that leadership makes a big difference too. At low performing schools, principals hardly ever show up in the classrooms, but instead spend most of their time on administration, documents or finance. . Schools with better students, have principals that get out of their office and spend a lot of time in the classrooms, supervising and developing the teachers. Together, they can make a big different in their students life

Economist Raj Chetty and his team, analyzed the data of 2.5 million US students and 18 million test results. He thinks that instructors who are good at teaching to the test, have a big impact. On average, having such a teacher for just ONE year, raises the students test scores and cumulative lifetime income by 14,500 - in 2011 dollars. On early childhood education, he has another hypothesis: Great kindergarten teachers help to develop social skills, discipline and character. Their impact does not improve test scores during the school years, but surprisingly reemerges years later, when their former students apply those skills to advance in their careers and find meaningful and well-paying jobs.

Eric Hanushek, Professor at Stanford University, computed how much good teachers really matter. He found out that top teachers get students to learn 50% more each year than an average instructor. Poorly trained ones, just half of the average. That means that 10 years at school can either result in 15 years of actual learning or just a mere 5 years. This is a massive difference that mainly hurts children from low-income families who can't afford extra classes or changing to a better school.

American novelist Gail Godwin once wrote: "good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre." To see a great actors in action watch Michael Sandel from Harvard teach Law, Robert Sapolsky from Stanford teach Behavioral Biology, Walter Michel from MIT teach Physics or Mr. Hester managing a classroom of teenagers. Links are in the description below and other great instructors in our channel playlists. Now please share YOUR favorite teachers in the comments below!

Robert Sapolsky, Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology

Walter Lewin teaching Physics

Mr. Hester Managing a Classroom

Eric Hanucheck

Raj Chetty Professor of Economics, Stanford University

Cold Calling

Sposato School of Education

Teachers Effectiveness

Time Spend by Principles Time-Use (revised).pdf

What makes Teaching Great

What Matters in School is Good Teaching