I’m reading Richard E. Nisbett’s new book, Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Its chapter on effective teaching mentions the Department of Education’s web site, What Works Clearinghouse, and its sister site, Doing What Works.
I checked them both out, and they look promising. Like most education research, they’re clearly geared primarily towards elementary education, but there is some good stuff for math and science teachers, as well as for staff development, which I find myself caring more and more about.
Regarding Nisbett’s book, I’ll simplify the chapter about effective teaching thusly:
Based on correlating extant research, do the following things make schools better?
Charter & private schools: no
Class size: yes, for younger children
Teacher education and certification: no
Inexperienced, rookie teachers: no (negative effect)
“Emotionally supportive classrooms”: yes
Computerized instruction (for math): yes
Teaching writing on computers: yes
Computer tutoring for science: yes
Cooperative learning: yes
Teaching general problem solving skills: yes
Improve teacher education: less theory, more content
Provide incentives for good teachers
Reward whole schools, not just individual teachers, for success
Tutoring one-on-one by providing a sense of control in the student, challenging them, instilling confidence, fostering curiosity (with Socratic methods), and contextualizing material to their interests.
In teaching: ignore minor errors, prevent mistakes, never dumb down material, ask leading questions, make students explain reasoning, and actually give less positive feedback because that makes learning seem too evaluative.
Like most education research, this list will evoke a big “Well, duh” in most of us, and Nisbett’s book, while interesting, does little to instruct us in the specific “how to” of these ideas (not that it’s intended to). It’s a useful starting point, and might help us clear out some of the clutter in our field, though.
I also recommend the last chapter in the book, the one on increasing an individual’s intelligence, whether it’s a student’s, your child’s, or your own.