Evidence-based teaching strategies – how often are Australian teachers using them?
‘Evidence-based practice’ is becoming a common phrase in education. Put simply, it refers to the teaching practices that research has shown will have the greatest impact on student learning. Most teachers want to use research evidence to inform their practice and want to be using the teaching practices that work best for their students. But to what extent are evidence-based practices being used in Australian classrooms?
The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) recently surveyed teachers across Australia about how often they used specific teaching strategies. Some of these strategies are evidence-based, while others are not — in fact some have been found to be ineffective for student learning.
The survey results present a mixed picture. Positively, many teachers reported they often use strategies that support explicit instruction, formative assessment and classroom management. These are three evidence-based practices outlined in AERO’s Tried and Tested guides. However, teachers also reported that their use of individual strategies varies, which may limit the effectiveness of the practices in improving student learning. For example, nearly three-quarters of teachers report frequently adjusting their teaching based on assessments of students’ understanding, but fewer than half report frequently using exemplars or rubrics when providing student feedback. Of greater concern, up to 71% of teachers also reported using strategies linked to teaching practices not generally shown to be effective for student learning, in most or every lesson.
While our survey relies on self-reports and cannot investigate the quality of practice, it does provide a snapshot of classroom practice across a large sample of teachers.
AERO will continue to research evidence use in Australian classrooms and will use the insights to support teachers to use evidence-based practices well, and move away from ineffective practices.
Explicit instruction involves fully explaining and effectively demonstrating what students need to learn. In the classroom, this can include strategies like actively supervising and interacting with students as they practise their skills, specifically outlining learning objectives and success criteria, and using worked examples to demonstrate the steps needed to complete a task.
Teachers report that explicit instructional strategies occur frequently in Australian classrooms. In most or every lesson:
Formative assessment refers to the variety of methods teachers use to gather and interpret information about student learning as learning is taking place. Putting this into practice involves (among other things) identifying what students already know and what they need to learn, providing timely feedback using developmental rubrics and/or work samples so students understand what is expected, and using simple, low-key assessments to regularly check for student understanding and identify any misconceptions.
Two formative assessment strategies were used relatively frequently by teachers. In most or every lesson:
Teachers used two other highly effective formative assessment strategies less often. In most or every lesson:
Focused classrooms maximise students’ on-task learning time by minimising disruptive behaviour and disengagement. Strategies for focused classrooms include teaching and modelling appropriate behaviour so students know how to perform the roles expected of them, and establishing a clearly defined system of classroom rules and routines so students have predictability and structure.
Teachers responding to the survey reported that in most or every lesson:
We also asked teachers how often they used some strategies that are not supported by rigorous causal evidence, including designing lessons based on students’ learning styles and using unguided instruction or independent inquiry time to allow students to discover answers for themselves.
Troublingly, teachers also report using these strategies in their classrooms, though less often than most of the evidence-based strategies mentioned above. For example, in most or every lesson:
The findings from this short survey highlight more questions for AERO to explore, such as:
How well are evidence-based practices being used? While surveys provide snapshots of the practices of large numbers of teachers, other research methods such as classroom observations also help to provide a more in-depth view of evidence-based practices. And while this survey asked about how often certain practices are used, frequency of practice must be carefully interpreted. For example, we might expect learning goals and success criteria to be part of almost every lesson, whereas explicit teaching of rules and routines can be more useful at certain times of year or with certain groups of students.
What types of evidence-based practices are currently being used by early childhood education and care (ECEC) practitioners? For example, how frequently are practitioners using strategies around executive function and self-regulation, early literacy and early numeracy?
How does support provided in schools influence the use of evidence-based practices? For this, we will look to factors like school leader support, colleague support, coaching and other professional learning.
How else can we support teachers to implement evidence-based strategies in the classroom?
What advice might we offer to teachers who are using unproven and ineffective strategies, that will support them to adopt evidence-based practices instead?
AERO will continue to work to provide resources and advice to teachers and leaders that encourage the development of evidence-based teaching practices in all educational settings. We are currently building rubrics of evidence-based practices so teachers can evaluate their own practices and pinpoint areas for further development, if required.
- How often do you and your colleagues use the evidence-based practices described above?
- Do you tend to use some strategies that support these evidence-based practices more than others?
- How often and how well are these evidence-based practices used by teachers in your school? How do you know this?
- How does your school support the use of these evidence-based practices?
- For research evidence about learning styles, see this open access paper on the continuing belief in learning styles despite a lack of evidence. The paper includes links to 3 of the key meta-analyses: Aslaksen & Lorås (2019), Cuevas (2015), and Pashler et al. (2008).
- For research evidence about the limited effectiveness of unguided instruction, see this 2011 meta-analysis comparing unassisted discovery learning with other forms of instruction, and this 2016 meta-analysis examining the effects of guidance (such as scaffolds and explanations) in maths and science.