Classroom practices and teachers’ beliefs about teaching

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Every September, classrooms in the Northern hemisphere reopen to students and teachers for a new school year. What can students expect from their teachers this year? The new Teaching in Focus brief: Teaching beliefs and practice sheds light on some of the most common teaching practices and what teachers in Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) believe is the nature of teaching and learning.

Most teachers across TALIS systems see learning as a process where students are actively engaged in gaining knowledge and constructing meaning (in line with a constructivist view on teaching), as opposed to a process where students are passive recipients of information. For example, more than 90% of teachers see their role as a facilitator of their student’s own inquiry. These beliefs support the importance of independent and critical thinking, and students’ active construction of meaning.

However, when teachers are asked about their most frequently used teaching practices, more passive rather than more active teaching methods emerge on top. For instance, 74% of teachers report frequently presenting a summary of recently learned content (a more passive practice), while only 50% of teachers frequently give students work in small groups (a more active practice). This indicates that in many classrooms teachers are relying on more traditional practices where students are passive recipients of knowledge, rather than using a balanced mix of passive and active teaching methods. It shows a missed opportunity to let students practice tasks that require critical thinking or team work, skills that are sought after in the labour market and necessary for success in the 21st Century.

What are the factors that support teachers’ use of active methods? TALIS results show that collaborative professional development, such as participation in a network of teachers, mentoring or collaborative research, are some of the factors which can be associated with the more frequent use of small group work or projects that take students more than a week to complete. Collaborative professional development can facilitate teachers exchanging information on which active practices are effective and under what conditions, thus helping teachers interact and learn from each other across different disciplines.

In addition, classroom factors matter – classrooms with a positive climate are also the ones where active teaching practices occur more often. This might signal that active teaching can help build a more positive climate, or that such positive climates make the use of active teaching more likely, thereby initiating a virtuous cycle. Many teachers need to sacrifice big chunks of learning and classroom teaching time to administrative tasks and order-keeping, which could be another reason why they are not able to invest time and energy in more active teaching methods.

TALIS shows that teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning and their classroom practices do not always go hand in hand. But beyond this diagnosis, TALIS also suggests that support for teachers’ professional development, especially in terms of collaborative activities, is only one way that can help to close the gap between teaching beliefs and practices. Systems should also consider to what extent classroom factors (such as classroom climate) impact the choice of teaching practices and focus their efforts on these policy levers as well.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survery (TALIS)
A Teacher’s Guide to TALIS 2013
Photo credit: High School Students With Teacher In Class Using Laptops @Shutterstock

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