In Honor of World Teacher’s Day: The Science to Prove the Importance of Great Teachers

Happy World Teacher’s Day! To celebrate, we wanted to dive straight into our favorite topic: Learning Science. Our Applied Learning Sciences team believes wholeheartedly in the power of learning science to drive student outcomes. They also believe in the power of great teachers to inspire, support, and empower those students.

In honor of World Teacher’s Day, let’s explore how great teaching is at the heart of learning — and the science to prove it.

First, read this blogpost on the subject by Christine Gouveia, our Vice President of Applied Learning Sciences. Then, watch a full-length webinar to learn more.


Anyone who has ever stood up in front of a classroom hoping that their curriculum is engaging, that they are connecting with students, and that their students are learning can tell you: Great teaching is not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen by magic.

Effective teachers prepare long before they arrive at school, monitor and adjust during instruction, and continue working after the school day ends as they reflect on various teaching methodologies, classroom management techniques, and lesson plans to fit the diverse needs and interests of their students.

Effective teaching should be characterized as a dynamic mixture of art and science (Berliner, 1986; Marzano, 2007). Teaching engages the “artistry” of the individual. For instance, teachers must determine which instructional strategies to employ with the right students at the right time. Yet, when you consider the art of pedagogy, teachers use the methods of science to instruct, question, and assess.

How are great teachers applying the science of learning?

Great teachers know that effective teaching should begin with a consideration of how students learn and preparing lessons with this understanding in mind. Understanding both the psychology and the physiology that underlies learner development is critical, including how the human brain processes information. During the middle school years, young teens often experience rapid growth spurts, while undergoing significant social-emotional and intellectual changes. Great teachers consider and respond to the developmental characteristics of young adolescents when planning learning experiences. For instance, they might incorporate lessons that allow for role-playing and perspective-taking to encourage identity formation and exploration, or they might emphasize collaborative opportunities for learning, which capitalize on adolescents’ heightened need for peer interaction and sense of belonging (Kellough & Kellough, 2008; Scales, 2010; see also Caskey & Anfara).

Teachers could base instructional choices exclusively on habit, intuition, ideology, or professional judgment, and these approaches may not be ideal if the goal is to be an effective teacher. Teachers understand the variety of inputs and select accordingly. Advice from experts and personal experience can be useful aids in planning instruction, and made even better with the application of learning sciences.

Much has happened in the learning sciences in the past 100 years, particularly in the last few decades. As a result, an accumulated knowledge base concerning the science of teaching and learning has been established. There is now an abundance of research on how learning works that is relevant to education (the science of learning), and cognitive-based principles concerning how to help people learn optimally (the science of teaching).

Learning sciences research has offered a number of useful techniques and recommendations to increase teacher effectiveness and student performance. Teaching and learning are intricately linked to cognitive, social, and behavioral factors of human development, including metacognition, motivation, social interaction, and engagement. Learning sciences can provide key insights on effective instruction, classroom environments, and assessment. For example, by adding the arts to STEM (STEAM) we are starting to learn about areas where the integration of arts (especially music) into STEM education can improve the learning environment, as well as broaden the appeal of STEM fields. Advancing this movement is the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which launched the website stemtosteam.org.

How can we apply these research findings to the real world?

Psychology research continues to evolve to help educators impart knowledge more efficiently. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Top Twenty Principles is one of the latest advancements in the continuing research on applying the science of learning to education — particularly, preK-12 teaching. The authors, known as the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, present the most important principles from psychology — the “Top 20” — that can enhance elementary and secondary teaching and learning and offer tips on how to apply them in the classroom. For instance, instead of focusing on memorization of material that is unrelated to students’ lives, curricula should include meaningful, real life concepts and authentic activities that resonate with students’ cultural backgrounds.

These principles can provide great teachers with a clearer understanding of student learning that can help them generate or further refine teaching approaches and strategies that more effectively foster student learning in specific contexts.

In effect, learning science can help make great teachers even better. Effective teaching is an art and a science. Capturing these dual essenses of pedagogy may not be magic-but perhaps something more like alchemy, providing opportunities for great teachers to continually improve.

Dr. Christine Gouveia is Vice President of Applied Learning Sciences at McGraw-Hill Education where she leads the applied research, iterative design, and early validation of next generation learning experiences to promote learner outcomes and system effectiveness. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Educational Psychology & Cognitive Science from Cornell University, an M.S. in Developmental & Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, and a B.S. in Social Psychology from Howard University.


References

American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK-12 teaching and learning. Retrieved from http:// www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf
Berliner, D. C. (1986). In pursuit of the expert pedagogue. Educational Researcher, 15(7), 5–13.
Caskey, M. & Anfara V.A. (2014) Research Summary: Developmental characteristics of young adolescents. Westerville, OH: Association for Middle Level Education. Retrieved from https://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/TabId/270/ArtMID/888/ArticleID/455/Developmental-Characteristics-of-Young-Adolescents.aspx
Kellough, R. D., & Kellough, N. G. (2008). Teaching young adolescents: Methods and resources for middle grades teaching (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. ASCD.
Scales, P. C. (2010). Characteristics of young adolescents. In this we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents (pp. 63–62). Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.