There is a huge amount of teacher professional development that is concerned with imparting ‘effective techniques’ for teachers. This is based around the idea that if you show or explain a superior technique then teachers will go away and use it in their classrooms, and that this will improve students’ learning.
Except the sad part is that there is very little evidence that, by itself, simply demonstrating or even practising a technique outside of the classroom will actually improve student outcomes. Indeed summaries of international research are quite clear: one-off workshops (whether within school or external) are, by themselves, extremely unlikely to have any lasting impact on teachers and students.
I’d go further: there is very little evidence that focusing purely on generic teaching techniques is likely to improve student outcomes for most teachers, in most schools. Even if you have top-up sessions, simply repeating sessions to ensure that teachers are ‘performing’ in the correct way seems unlikely to achieve what you want, from the evidence we have around the world.
So what should we do? The existing evidence (and indeed TDT’s forthcoming updated review) suggests that for effective (i.e. having impact on students and teachers) we need to:
- identify clear aspirations for student learning and continually clarify where our own students are in relation to these,
- work collaboratively and iteratively to bring teaching theory/evidence to bear on achieving our aspirations within the real-world classroom environment, through collaborative planning, observation, evaluation and discussion,
- engage with external expertise which can challenge and support our iterations as well as our assessment of how well we’re doing (this is the part where a workshop might come in), and
- allow our way of thinking about students and about learning to be constructively challenged and changed.
These characteristics appear to be necessary (if not completely sufficient) to ensure that we’re actually achieving what we want: better teaching and improved outcomes.
So if we are going to have one-off workshops and guides to teaching techniques, let’s use them properly and effectively within much wider processes of focused, collaborative enquiry about improving student learning. Without the bigger picture, we are otherwise probably just wasting time.
Note, the blog image is a piece from the Teacher inquiry and knowledge-building cycle to promote valued student outcomes (see page 2)
I would answer no to your question, but with one proviso. I think the question should be what teaching strategies should we be exposing teachers to? Rather than techniques. Strategies suggest a wider brief, for example feedback, and within this strategy there are a variety of techniques that one can embed in one’s practise. Furthermore, if those strategies are evidence based, e.g. spaced learning (Dunlosky et al., 2013) then the answer has to be a resounding yes. The thing that makes the biggest difference to student outcomes is the quality of teaching so it is in this area that we should focus most of our energies. The next important question is what vehicle do we use to drive the professional development. I quite agree that one off traditional staff meetings are a poor form of delivering positive pedagogical change and I would wholeheartedly agree with the points you make from the upcoming TDT review. If schools can change the vehicle they use to address professional development and focus the development on strategies supported by evidence then we can begin to see a way forward and not repeat the professional development mistakes of the past. I think Dylan Wiliam puts it best when he says we have been trying to get teachers to think their way into a new way of acting, when we should be getting them to act into a new way of thinking.