New insights on teaching strategies

by Pablo Fraser
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Education’s purpose is to prepare children for a fast-moving, ever-changing world. Teaching faces the additional challenge of classrooms becoming increasingly more culturally diverse. Now, more than ever, this requires an adaptation of current teaching strategies.

The recent OECD working paper Teaching strategies for instructional quality: Insights from the TALIS-PISA Link data seeks to be a contribution to this debate, by providing information about the teachings strategies used by mathematics teachers in eight countries.

What is the TALIS-PISA link database?

In TALIS 2013, participating countries and economies had the option of applying TALIS questionnaires to a PISA 2012 subsample with the purpose of linking data on schools, teachers and students. We call this option the “TALIS-PISA Link” database. The TALIS-PISA Link provides us with valuable information about teaching strategies and their relationship with the characteristics of the school, the classroom and student’s outcomes. A better understanding of these relationships can help teachers, schools, education policy makers to design more effective policies with the aim of improving the learning achievements of all students.

What are the most common used strategies used by teachers?

The analysis of the data showed that teaching practices can be classified in three groups:

  • Active learning strategies, which consist of promoting the engagement of students in their own learning. They typically include practices such as group work, use of information and communication technology, or student self-assessment.
  • Cognitive activation, which consists of practices capable of challenging students in order to motivate them and stimulate higher-order skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.
  • Teacher-directed instruction, which encompasses practices based on lecturing and rely to a great extent on a teacher’s ability to deliver orderly and clear lessons.

It would be inappropriate, however, to favour one form of strategy over another, since all of them contribute towards student learning – depending on the student’s skills and the context. For example, data has shown that students exposed to teacher-directed strategies are slightly more likely to respond to the less complex items in the PISA mathematics evaluation, while cognitive activation strategies seem to be moderately related to solving more complex maths items. However, these associations appear to be tenuous and further explorations on the association of these strategies with student learning are needed.

The results of the report showed that teacher-directed practices and cognitive activation practices are the strategies more often reported. Three out of four teachers reported presenting “a summary of recently learned content” (teacher-directed practice) or that they “go over homework problems that students were not able to solve” (cognitive activation practices). However, only around one-third of teachers reported engaging frequently in active learning strategies. Indeed, the frequency in which active learning practices are used seems to be particularly low for mathematics teachers. The lack of engagement in these strategies may indicate that the necessary support and policies that would allow teachers to develop these strategies are not in place.

What are the policies and the support that could foster the use of active learning strategies?

The working paper evaluated the association of active learning with a myriad of factors located at the school, the classroom and the teacher levels. One of the most interesting results is that in all the eight participating countries, teacher self-efficacy showed as being positively associated with the implementation of active learning practices: the more the teacher feels confident in his or her ability to provide quality instruction, the more likely he or she will be to engage in active learning strategies. Indeed, teachers must feel confident in their abilities in order to implement relevant teaching strategies.

Also, when teachers dialogue, support and exchange materials with their colleagues, they are more likely to engage in active learning practices. Teachers should not work as isolated agents, but rather to engage in professional networks and in collaboration with colleagues.

What education policies can best support teachers’ self-efficacy?

Results from TALIS 2013 have shown that the level of self-efficacy among teachers in a country is highly correlated with teachers’ participation rates in professional development. The more teachers participate in training activities, the more confident they feel about their ability to teach, and the more they use active learning strategies. If professional development is not available at the school, school leaders could try to foster other types of initiatives, such as mentoring programmes.

What can schools do to promote collaboration among their teachers?

School leaders can provide opportunities for fostering relationships among their staff in school by giving them a physical space where teachers can meet, or allowing time away from administrative work for teachers to meet and develop a relationship with their colleagues.

Teachers everywhere are committed to helping their students achieve the best they are capable of. The OECD, through the study of the TALIS-PISA Link data, seeks to provide guidelines on how to support them. The study findings can inspire teachers and school leaders to co-operate using a wider palette of techniques to meet the needs of students with varying abilities, motivation and interests. The insights provided here can also inspire education policy makers to design teaching policies that could foster the implementation of innovative teaching strategies.


OECD Education Working Paper No. 148: Teaching strategies for instructional quality: Insights from the TALIS-PISA Link data
OECD Education Working Paper No. 130: How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school
OECD Education Working Paper No. 115: Examining school context and its influence on teachers: linking TALIS 2013 with PISA 2012 student data

Teaching strategies for instructional quality: Insights from the TALIS-PISA Link data brochure
Asia Society (2016), Teaching and leadership for the twenty-first century: The 2016 International Summit on the Teaching Profession
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning
A Teachers’ Guide to TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning International Survey
Ten Questions for Mathematics Teachers … and how PISA can help answer them
Icon credit: teacher by Hadi Davodpour, CC0 1.0, table source: OECD.

Leave a Reply