* What Makes an Excellent Teacher?

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You all know about LinkedIn, I suppose, but do you know that it has forums of interest to those doing an MA in applied linguistics?

David Thornton recently replied to the questions “What is an expert teacher? What is an excellent teacher?” on the LinkedIn forum for ELT Professionals. He refers us to the wide-ranging meta-research conducted by John Hattie. What follows is a nearly verbatim copy of Hattie’s findings, as summarised by David Thornton.

Hattie makes the point that students taught by expert/excellent teachers generally show an integrated, more coherent and more abstract understanding of target concepts than understanding achieved by other students. This, he suggests, provides an imperative to identify excellence.

Hattie identified five major characteristics that distinguished expert/excellent teachers from other teachers.

1. They can identify essential representations of their subject.
2. They can guide learning through classroom interactions.
3. They can monitor learning and provide feedback.
4. They can attend to emotional attributes.
5. They can influence student outcomes.

Using these categories, Hattie detailed 16 attributes of expert/excellent teachers.

One: They can identify essential representations of their subject
• They have deep representations about teaching and learning; they do not necessarily have greater subject knowledge but they organise and integrate their knowledge better.
• They adopt a problem-solving approach to their work. They are more opportunistic and flexible in their teaching and readily take advantage of new information.
• They are pragmatic: they can anticipate, plan and improvise to fit the specific situation. They spend time analysing problems rather than trying out different solutions.
• They are superior decision makers and can readily prioritise and identify significant decisions. Typically they do not write lesson plans but carry clear lesson plans in their minds.

Two: They can guide learning through classroom interactions
• They are proficient at creating an optimal classroom climate for learning. In their classrooms, errors are welcomed, student questioning is high and engagement is the norm.
• They have a complex multi-dimensional view/perception of classroom situations. They are effective scanners of classroom behaviour.
• They are essentially context dependent and have good understanding of classroom situations. They are familiar with details of the ability, experiences and background of their students.

Three: They can monitor learning and provide feedback
• They are proficient at monitoring student learning problems and assessing levels of understanding and progress. Most significantly, they provide plenty of relevant feedback.
• They are proficient at developing and testing (checking) hypotheses about learning difficulties and teaching strategies.
• They are properly proceduralised. Their automaticity at basic levels of teaching frees their working memory to focus on more complex characteristics of teaching and learning.

Four: They can attend to emotional attributes
• They respect students. They involve themselves with their students and care for them. They are receptive to the needs of their students. They do not seek to dominate or threaten.
• They are heuristic. They care about teaching and learning. They show greater emotions regarding successes and failures in their teaching.

Five: They can influence student outcomes.
• They engage students in learning and develop student self-regulation, involvement in mastery learning, and enhanced self-efficacy and self-esteem as learners.
• They provide appropriate and challenging objectives and tasks for students. They invite students to engage actively with objectives and tasks rather than passively complying.
• They have a positive influence on student achievement. They also develop students’ self-efficacy, self-regulation and willingness to be challenged.
• They enhance surface and deep learning: they successfully address both surface (content) and depth (understanding) as well as process and product.

Basically, Hattie concludes that all sixteen dimensions can successfully identify 84% of teachers correctly as excellent teachers or not. However, just three of the dimensions can classify 80% correctly. Hattie suggests that these three attributes hold the key to becoming an excellent/expert teacher. In other words, these are arguably the three crucial factors to focus on.

So, the 3 crucial factors are:

  1. Excellent/expert teachers challenge their target learners: students are constantly urged to engage deeply and meaningfully with tasks and subject content.
  2. Excellent/expert teachers display a deep representation of pedagogical subject knowledge [the ability to present key concepts to suit the prior learning and ability of the target students]. This is much more than straightforward academic subject knowledge; academic subject knowledge is certainly essential but it does not distinguish expert teachers.
  3. Excellent/expert teachers provide adequate and timely monitoring and feedback. The latter ii a two-way process: expert teachers actively and proactively seek feedback on their students’ understanding. Such feedback tells them how to adapt their teaching to better get the point across.

Interesting in itself, this post shows the value for all MA students of joining the following Linkedin forums:

  • Applied Linguistics
  • ELT Professionals
  • ESL International
  • ESL Teacher Professionals

These forums have more than 3,000 members and are often not just useful for your studies, but also useful in building networks. Alas, we all know how important networking is.

Hattie, J. (2003) Teachers Make a Difference: What is the Research Evidence? Paper for the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference.

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