‘What Makes Great Teaching? – New Report

Posted in SSZ Briefings  ·  July 5th 2016

‘What Makes Great Teaching? – New Report

 This 57-page report, published in October 2014 and jointly authored by the Sutton Trust and Durham University, reviews over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving attainment.  Specific practices which are supported by good evidence of their effectiveness are also examined and six key factors that contribute to great teaching are identified.  It also finds that some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research. 

ASCL (the Association of School and College Leaders) has welcomed this report and commented that there is not really anything new in it or that many schools will not already be doing.  However, they admit that it is useful to have the research analysed in this way.

Key Findings

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:

Teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions.
• the most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning
• teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content,
• be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and
• identify students’ common misconceptions.

Quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment.
Other elements of high quality instruction include specific practices, like:
• reviewing previous learning
• providing model responses for students
• giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely
• progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding)
• practice testing: this includes self-testing or taking practice tests on material to be learned
• distributed (‘spaced’) practice: adopting a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time

Other practices which improve attainment
Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:
Classroom climate, which covers the quality of interactions between teachers and students, and teacher expectations
• creating a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising students’ self-worth
• attributing student success to effort rather than ability (the ‘growth mindset’, SSZ comment) and
• valuing resilience to failure (grit).

Classroom management which refers to a teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, and are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place. These environmental factors are necessary for good learning rather than its direct components.
• challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson
• asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
• spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
• making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material

Common practices not supported by evidence
Common practices aimed at improving student attainment, which are not supported by evidence include:
• using praise lavishly
• allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves
• grouping students by ability
• encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas
• addressing issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content
• presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”
• ensuring learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember.

The full report, “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research”, by Robert Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major, October 2014, is available here:

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