How Teachers Influence Student Performance
With recent debate over the future of American education, how teachers influence student performance has been at the forefront of the dialogue.
Many opponents of the current education system argue that unionized teachers are overpaid, lack standardized evaluations, and are retained even when they are ineffective in the classroom. The National Education Association, on the other hand, argues that it is difficult to define what makes a good teacher. Is it a graduate degree in education? Board certification? Student test scores? Years of experience? All of these factors impact teacher effectiveness, making it difficult to assess quality of teaching.
What experts do agree upon is that a good teacher, no matter the definition, positively impacts student performance. The best teachers keep students engaged, inquisitive about learning, motivated to succeed, and excited about school. Good teachers impact student performance in several key ways, facilitating a lifelong love of learning.
Teachers set clear, measurable objectives for students
Imagine walking into a classroom and having the teacher announce, “There won’t be any assignments, tests, or projects in this class. Just do what you want and you’ll get your grade at the end of the quarter.” This sounds like a recipe for confused students and upset feelings when final grades arrive. Instead, good teachers set clear objectives for student performance. They set a clear, standardized grading policy and distribute grading rubrics when necessary.
Students should know the goals for each particular assignment and the skills assessed on a given test. By maintaining consistency and setting measurable objectives, good teachers help students meet learning goals.
Maintaining high expectations for students
In 1963, psychology researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson published a classic study about teacher expectations. The researchers tested school children at the beginning of the year and gave teachers a list of names identifying the top 20 percent of students who were described as “ready to bloom.”
Unbeknownst to the teachers, these students were randomly assigned and were not necessarily top performers. Rosenthal and Jacobson found that the students labeled as “ready to bloom” showed greater increases in IQ scores over the school year. Thus, teacher expectations about student performance influenced student achievement during the year.
The Rosenthal and Jacobson experiment holds an important lesson for teachers. Maintaining high expectations for students can improve performance, but it is essential to set expectations for all students, not just certain “good kids.” Good teachers try to be objective when evaluating students’ behavior. Rather than interpreting a boy’s rambunctiousness as being rowdy or disruptive, a good teacher might praise his enthusiasm and focus his energy on classroom tasks.
Similarly, teachers may have internalized cultural messages about academic performance. Perhaps an elementary teacher subconsciously calls on boys more often than girls because of the cultural belief that girls aren’t as good at math. This unconscious behavior might discourage girls from trying in math courses, causing them to fall behind.
This phenomenon is called stereotype threat. Strong teachers set high expectations for each student, encouraging students to engage with course material and improve overall performance.
Tailor learning objectives to students’ strengths
Gone are the days when a teacher would stand in front of a classroom, making students write a sentence 50 times on each page. Instead, strong teachers influence student performance by taking a strengths-based approach. Every child learns differently; some learn through visual objects, others prefer to hear information, while some children appreciate a hands-on approach.
To improve student performance, good teachers engage individual students in unique ways, reports National Public Radio. One approach is to present information in several formats. For example, an educator might teach the concept of fractions with visual charts as well as a brief discussion. He or she might then give students blocks, asking them to choose some of the blocks or to break the pile into quarters. Engaging multiple sensory modes increases the likelihood that students will understand fractions at a conceptual level.
One of the most important attributes for teachers hoping to influence student performance is to have a flexible approach to education. A teacher must be prepared to flexibly adapt subject matter to meet an individual student’s needs. This flexibility and willingness to meet students at their level is the mark of a strong teacher.
How do you influence your students’ performance?