27 January 2010

On evidence-based practice

The linked article examines what the Teach for America programme claims actually makes for good teachers and teaching. Among many other points;
"For years, Teach for America also selected for something called “constant learning.” As Farr and others had noticed, great teachers tended to reflect on their performance and adapt accordingly. So people who tend to be self-aware might be a good bet. “It’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis,” Ayotte-Hoeltzel says.

But in 2003, the admissions staff looked at the data and discovered that reflectiveness did not seem to matter (1) either. Or more accurately, trying to predict reflectiveness in the hiring process did not work.
What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record. In the interview process, Teach for America now asks applicants to talk about overcoming challenges in their lives—and ranks their perseverance based on their answers. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleagues have actually quantified the value of perseverance. In a study published in TheJournal of Positive Psychology in November 2009, they evaluated 390 Teach for America instructors before and after a year of teaching. Those who initially scored high for “grit”—defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-choice test—were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer. (Grit also predicts retention of cadets at West Point, Duckworth has found.)
But another trait seemed to matter even more. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction”—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. These teachers “may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students,” the study suggested.
In general, though, Teach for America’s staffers have discovered that past performance—especially the kind you can measure—is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers. And the two best metrics of previous success tend to be grade-point average and “leadership achievement”—a record of running something and showing tangible results. If you not only led a tutoring program but doubled its size, that’s promising.
Knowledge matters, but not in every case. In studies of high-school math teachers, majoring in the subject seems to predict better results in the classroom. And more generally, people who attended a selective college are more likely to excel as teachers (although graduating from an Ivy League school does not unto itself predict significant gains in a Teach for America classroom). Meanwhile, a master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness (2).
(1) One in the eye for reflection!
(2) And so much for the new Master's in Teaching and Learning.


At 5:46 PM , Anonymous Anique @ Learning Matters said...

Yes, maybe so much for reflection, but hindsight is always 20/20! We followed 7 Teach for America recruits through their first year on the job...it's interesting to see how they talk about their experience as they live it. You may be interested in watching some of the short videos here: http://bit.ly/6Vca9G. If you watch, let us know what you think!

Anique @ Learning Matters

At 8:13 PM , Blogger James A said...

Many thanks! Your link gives a 404 error message, but the full url is; http://learningmatters.tv/blog/video/the-real-world-of-teach-for-america-the-series/3669/



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