A Review of the Sutton Trust Report – What Makes Great Teaching?


what works

The 15 minute forum tonight was led by Andy Tharby.  Andy was sharing some of the key points from the Sutton Trust report – what makes great teaching? The full report can be downloaded here.

“This report reviews over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving attainment.”

“It finds some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research. 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.”

What has the strongest evidence?

  1. Teachers’ content knowledge (strong evidence): teachers must have a deep knowledge of the subjects they teach and, crucially, must understand how students think about the subject and identify students’ common misconceptions.
  1. Quality of instruction (strong evidence): this includes strategies such as effective questioning and assessment, reviewing previous learning, providing model responses, allowing adequate time to practice and progressively introducing new learning.
  1. Classroom climate (moderate evidence): in the best classrooms the quality of interaction between teacher and students ensures that teachers constantly demand more, but recognise students’ self-worth – a delicate but vital balance.
  1. Classroom management (moderate evidence): this involves teachers’ abilities to manage behaviour effectively and to use time, resources and space efficiently. These factors provide the necessary foundations for good learning; however, while the support teaching they are not enough in themselves.


Which popular practices are less effective?

1.Use praise lavishly.

Often we praise things that students have done, disproportionately to the effort that was put in or the quality of the product/ response.  This is not helpful, as it makes students think that substandard work is OK.  Andy shared an example from his Head of Department, who had observed a teacher, for an interview lesson.  The teacher pulled out a white t-shirt as a prop for the lesson and asked the students what it was.  A student in the front told her it was a white t-shirt.  The response from the teacher? “Absolutely brilliant! Yes, it’s a white t-shirt”

Carol Dweck on praise:

2.Allow learners to discover key ideas for themselves.

Acquiring new knowledge needs input from the teacher – we need to tell them.  If we don’t, we risk embedding misconceptions.

3.Group learners by ability.

There’s little evidence to suggest that setting students by ability makes any difference to their achievement.  The issue appears to be at the extremes of the ability spectrum.  Students in low ability sets tend not to be stretched, and have their own low expectations of themselves compounded.  At the other end of the spectrum, in high ability sets the work is often rushed.  As a consequence, they don’t have the opportunity to practise and consolidate their learning.

4. Encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas.

Often used as a revision strategy as it’s low stress and there’s a visible outcome of all that revision time – a page covered in yellow highlighter!  Evidence suggests that these strategies have limited impact.  The best way to get students to remember things, is to get them to recall it….repeatedly.

willingham quote

5. Address issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content.

Low aspirations in students are usually the result of past failure.  If we want them to feel motivated and have raised aspirations, we should avoid motivational strategies/ programmes that have no context.  It’s more effective to get them to experience success in your subject, by sticking at something hard and producing an excellent piece of work.  This will give them the confidence and motivation to seek further success.

6. Present information to learners in their preferred learning style.

There is no evidence to suggest that people have ‘preferred learning styles’ e.g. visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.  A good example is learning the countries of the world. The best way to do this, is by having the information presented to us as a map and looking at it.  It’s difficult to believe that some people would learn this better by having it described to them, or running around in the shape of the outline of different countries.  What we should be thinking about is how we can present the information that the students need to know, in the best possible way.

Daniel Willingham explains:

7. Ensure learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember

Students don’t always have to be ‘doing something’ to be learning.  It’s absolutely fine for them to be sitting quietly and listening – they can still learn (as long as they are not just daydreaming and gazing out of the window).  That’s not to say that being active is bad – it’s just not necessary for learning.


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9 Responses to A Review of the Sutton Trust Report – What Makes Great Teaching?

  1. SBHS says:

    Reblogged this on SBHS Teaching & Learning Take Away and commented:
    A great synopsis here of Professor Robert Coe’s report on what makes great teaching, posting on one of the best teaching and learning blogs around!

  2. Mark Bennet says:

    Listening is a great learning strategy – efficient and effective once a person acquires it. How is listening taught and learned? [I learned a lot of what I know through reading – still do – how did I acquire that skill?]

  3. izabela3321 says:

    Reblogged this on izabela3321.

  4. Reblogged this on #TeachGeog and commented:
    What makes a great teacher

  5. Pingback: That was 2015… | Class Teaching

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