High commitment, high performance. This is the advice from education experts at the University of South Australia for educators who want to improve student outcomes.
In a new study conducted in collaboration with Flinders University and Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, researchers found that less than a third of teachers engage students in complex learning, limiting students’ opportunities to build critical thinking and problem solving problems.
Filming and assessing classroom content in South Australia and Victoria, researchers found that nearly 70% of student work involved surface learning — simple question and answer, note-taking or listening to teachers — rather than engaging student activities on a deeper level.
UniSA researcher Dr Helen Stephenson says teachers need more support to design interactive and constructive lessons that promote deep learning.
“When we look at learning, the greater the engagement, the deeper the learning. But too often students are doing low-engagement, passive work,” says Dr. Stephenson.
“In our study, about 70% of classroom content was considered ‘passive’ (where students had little observable input) or ‘active’ where they might have been doing something as simple as answering questions on an information sheet.
“While there is certainly a place for such tasks in a classroom, student learning is greatly enhanced when students spend more time engaging in complex activities that promote deep and conceptual learning.
“Deep learning requires the organization of knowledge into conceptual structures, which we know improves information retention and therefore improves learning outcomes. Deep learning also supports the knowledge needed for innovations.
“Small changes to existing lesson plans and teacher instruction can significantly increase student engagement and consequently their overall results.
“At a basic level, teachers need to consider how they can adapt their existing classroom activities so that more tasks are at the deeper end of the learning scale.
“Take watching a video for example. Students can watch a video silently (which is ‘passive’), watch a video and take notes using the presenter’s words (which is considered ‘active’), write questions they come up with while watching the video (which is ‘constructive’), or watch a video and discuss it with another student to generate different ideas (which is ‘interactive’).
“Interactive engagement in classrooms is where students engage in activities with other students that motivate them to develop deeper understanding. They judge, propose and critique arguments and opinions, and work out solutions to problems. These activities can also help them develop critical thinking skills. thinking and reasoning… all of these are predictors of improved learning.”
Interestingly, one of the main findings of the research was that many teachers did not seem to know or fully appreciate the importance of how their lesson tasks could stimulate different ways of student engagement.
“Even changing classroom activities from ‘active’ to ‘constructive’ can go a long way in improving student learning,” says Dr. Stephenson.
“Teachers should be supported to undertake professional development to shift their thinking towards practices that support deeper learning and better outcomes for students.”