February 25, 2024

Education: The most important conditions for good teaching

You must also learn to explain

In 2003, a working group led by Jürgen Bömert and Marieke Künter at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development began a research program called Quaactiv. As part of this, among others, the mathematics disciplinary knowledge and pedagogical knowledge of mathematics teachers who participated in the German PISA study in 2003/04 were surveyed. To test the latter, they were asked to explain a mathematical concept (calculating area, multiplying by negative numbers, …) in as comprehensible or diverse a way as possible. Subsequently, corresponding data were also collected from teacher training students during their studies and at the end of their training.

Teaching knowledge increased significantly in the first years of training, as a team led by Keele University researcher Thilo Klickman discovered after analyzing data in 2012. This applies to prospective high school teachers and to teachers who later teach mathematics only up to the 10th grade in High school. Accordingly, a teacher training course always provides relevant pedagogical knowledge for teaching mathematics. Secondary school teachers with many years of practice had slightly more educational specialist knowledge than those starting their career and performed significantly better than their colleagues with similar experience in other secondary schools (see “The learning curve in teaching”).

Good specialist knowledge is a prerequisite for educational knowledge of the subject. But both together are not enough to create effective lessons for learning in a specific classroom situation. In order for a teacher to use it, they must master the three big things: What’s the point if you can explain something well, but because there’s no classroom management, you can’t or no one listens? The COACTIV study found that the majority of those surveyed did not feel adequately prepared for the demands of the teaching profession even after completing their training and experienced “practice shock” after their appointment.

In recent years, teacher training and further education have been rethought. Teacher training in colleges and universities now includes not only more in-house training in schools, but has generally become more practice-focused in order to train effective teaching at an early stage. Students practice specific procedures that they can apply in special learning situations. You clearly learn how to carefully monitor what is happening in class, how to guide students’ learning stages, anticipate comprehension problems and adapt the course of the lesson accordingly. There is also now a wide range of educational videos that are used as illustrative examples in training and further education. They make it possible to observe and reflect on real events in the classroom “from the outside.”

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The good news is: successful teaching can be learned during your studies if strong specialist knowledge and teaching knowledge are complemented by internships and practice-focused courses in which the Big Three are practiced. Of course, daily school life is not limited to teaching. Parent evenings, parent-teacher conferences, administrative tasks, IT issues, corrections, conferences, student council meetings, and much more have not yet received much attention in teacher training. When you start your career, you consume a lot of time that is then not available for lesson preparation and further development, which quickly leads to burnout.

But let’s go back to your notes from the beginning. Almost all of the characteristics you note can be assigned to one or more of the three quality dimensions. The great advantage of the Big Three is that they apply not only to different subjects, but also to a wide range of teaching methods.

Learning curve in teaching The mathematics teacher training students examined in the COACTIV study had little pedagogical knowledge at the beginning of their training—in this case, knowledge of how to convey mathematical connections in an understandable way. This competence has increased significantly in the first years of training, although there are differences in level depending on the goal (school) of study. Secondary school teachers with many years of professional experience performed significantly better in their educational knowledge than teachers in other high schools. This graphic shows the average values ​​of the results for the individual groups.

What matters in distance learning?

This has been demonstrated not least by the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. In one fell swoop, teaching has changed more than ever before. From day to day, more or less sophisticated concepts are introduced to fill the loss of face-to-face teaching. For several weeks, children and young people have learned exclusively at home with the help of emails, material packs, video meetings or chats. Before that, homeschooling was the absolute exception in Germany. This has suddenly raised the question here in this country about what is important and useful about so-called distance learning and how students can be supported in their learning process, which now takes place exclusively at home.

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A study we conducted in collaboration with Katharina Schetter in Baden-Württemberg with more than 3,100 students from fifth to twelfth grade confirmed that The Big Three also apply to this type of teaching. For example, monitoring – monitoring students – regular feedback on performance and providing motivating tasks have again proven to be essential requirements for motivating students to learn. Formats that require collaboration and allow for personal exchange have been particularly well received. In distance learning, everything that supports social closeness and interactions has become more important for learning than before.

One of the current requirements of education ministries for schools is to teach digital skills such as software use or basic programming skills. Children and young people must also learn to think critically about, choose and use media content responsibly. Since the latest developments in artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT, teachers have been faced with the question of how to deal with it. Can artificial intelligence be used in a way that provides added value in teaching? Could he perhaps have even achieved greater educational equity by circumventing language barriers and working as a one-to-one tutor?

One thing is clear: in school above Digital media, but above all also with I learned them in order to build digital skills. It is not about replacing the teacher, but about supporting him – for example, in adapting teaching materials more quickly to individual learning levels. For example, learning applications can provide immediate feedback on completed mathematics tasks during independent work phases and, depending on the outcome, provide exercises for targeted repetition or at the next more difficult level.

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On the contrary, when students create explainer videos themselves, they deepen their knowledge of the subject and at the same time expand it using specific software. Virtual meetings with “contemporary witnesses” bring historical events to life in history lessons, interactive apps explain mathematical laws – and the number of digital media designed specifically for schools is growing rapidly. However, it should always be an integral part of the foundation of a well-run, supportive and cognitively stimulating classroom. Otherwise their potential cannot be achieved.

Individual lessons

In many schools today, the teacher still stands in front of the class and writes reminders on the board, which everyone then copies into their notebooks. Students are then asked to open a specific page in the book and work on the tasks independently, then compare them together. At least that’s how we experienced teaching in high school in most cases.

Teaching in unison is sometimes useful, for example to introduce the basics of a topic and familiarize the class with certain tasks. However, much of this will not do justice to students’ individual learning requirements in the long term and undermine their personal commitment. It makes more sense, for example, if they invest more time in less comprehensible educational content and can learn more independently.

There are now efforts in many schools to resolve spatio-temporal structures. Given the huge shortage of teachers in the coming years, this may become necessary. Through weekly plans and collaborative learning formats, students have some flexibility when engaging with content. However, the teacher accompanies the learning process and ensures that tasks are completed in a certain time. This means that students can work largely at their own pace and, to some extent, in self-organised groups.

But such alternative concepts must also be based on the three well-known quality characteristics. The Big Three are perhaps even more important for learning success in forms of learning in which students work more independently. When working with partners or groups, there can be more turbulent phases. While incorrect solutions are identified almost immediately in live teaching, an unsupervised set can be “lost” if the teacher does not monitor it carefully. In the end, good teaching is not measured by the extent to which the latest learning formats and the latest digital tools are used, but by whether the lesson is built on an effective foundation of learning that the teacher prepares in every school lesson.