Teaching best practices and myths

While many people think that great teachers are born, there is a growing body of evidence showing that great teachers can be made. While most of the research was done at the primary and secondary education levels, many of the findings are applicable to tertiary education, including college finance.

Research by the Sutton Trust and the University of Durham analyzes the effectiveness of teaching. Two factors stand out as having the largest impact on student achievements:

  • Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on student learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.
  • Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning are also found to improve attainment.

On the other hand, several strategies that are commonly believed to support student learning are not supported by evidence:

  • using praise lavishly,
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves,
  • grouping students by ability,
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”

The entire report in pdf format contains more details.

Similarly, the Education Endowment Foundation evaluates the effectiveness of many teaching tools based on published research. The five most effective tools by impact are as follows:

  1. Feedback: information given to the learner and/or the teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.
  2. Meta-cognition and self-regulation: approaches that aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development.
  3. Mastery learning: this approach breaks subject matter and learning content into units with clearly specified objectives which are pursued until they are achieved.Students must demonstrate a high level of success on tests, typically at about the 80% level, before progressing to new content.
  4. Homework: tasks given to pupils by their teachers to be completed outside of usual lessons.
  5. Peer tutoring: approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support. The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success.

The best online homework systems combine numbers 1 and 4, feedback and homework, by providing detailed feedback immediately after a student submits an answer to a homework question.


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