How to create sustainable change: The path to improved teaching and learning

There is strong evidence that structured pedagogy is key to improving foundational skills in reading and math. Here are some resources that can give governments and practitioners concrete solutions to improve existing programs.

November 15, 2022 by Wendi Ralaingita, RTI International, and Elizabeth Marsden, RTI International
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4 minutes read
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Children use straws to learn about place value concepts. Credit: SoT Designing Effective Numearcy Programs.
Children use straws to learn about place value concepts
Credit: SoT Designing Effective Numeracy Programs

Fewer than 50% of students in low- and middle-income countries can read by the time they are 10 years old—a crisis that has deepened with the impact of Covid-19.

Research indicates that if students are illiterate past the age of 9, 70% will face lifelong illiteracy. The numbers for numeracy are equally worrying: in the lowest income countries, fewer than 1 in 5 primary school students are proficient in math.

So, how do we fix it?

The good news is that efforts to address this problem over the last 10 years have resulted in a growing body of evidence about how to improve teaching and learning at scale. Now, the Science of Teaching, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative, is working to analyze and compile this evidence.

The initiative is also generating new evidence through applied research – that is, research designed to provide practical solutions to existing programs. This evidence will then be immediately available to improve programs to assist policymakers, donors, and implementers in improving foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) instruction and learning in low- and middle-income countries.

There is strong evidence that structured pedagogy is key to improvement. This involves governments who provide curriculum and materials for students and teachers, teacher professional development, data and systems aligned for supporting instruction.

Leadership that advocates for and supports FLN leading to growth in FLN achievement is also a crucial part of structured pedagogy.

: SoT Introduction to Structured Pedagogy

In many contexts, FLN interventions see an initial upsurge of impact and then a leveling off, or sometimes a scenario in which initial improvement is accounted for by a small percentage of high-performing schools.

In order to ensure equity and improve learning for all students, such initial gains need to be enhanced through a focus on both depth and breadth.

By depth, we mean the individual teacher’s ability to deepen their practice by learning and utilizing more advanced skills to improve student outcomes.

By breadth, we mean the systemic and structural support from national and local governments to schools and teachers to ensure improved teaching and learning in all schools.

Deepening teaching practice

The knowledge skills that teachers need for high-quality FLN can be thought of as falling in three “buckets”:

  1. An understanding of the goals for student learning, from basic to higher order thinking skills.
  2. Evidence-based, high impact teaching strategies that support student learning.
  3. The ability to use both informal and formal assessment to make instructional decisions and help all learners succeed.

As teachers begin to employ new practices in their classroom, with the help of training and ongoing support, they may initially master one or two strategies that are most similar to their previous practice, and they may become proficient at teaching basic skills, such as letter-sound correspondence.

However, they may still struggle with more complex strategies, such as using assessment information to help struggling students or facilitating rich discussion in the classroom.

Instructional improvement is a journey, and the Science of Teaching is working to generate and compile evidence on how teachers’ instructional skills can be deepened over time, such as through how-to guides on Numeracy, Assessment-Informed Instruction in the classroom, and Remediation.

: SoT Designing Effective Numearcy Programs

Teacher professional pathway for the High Impact Strategy of using discussion in mathematics.

System support to broaden the reach of good instruction

But teachers cannot be expected to do all of this on their own. Governments must be ready to support quality instruction.

Government support can serve to expand the breadth of high-quality FLN to reach more schools and students by investing in teacher education through pre-service training, in-service training and ongoing support that incorporates best practices.

Policy advisors, educational institutions, and governments also need to be on the same page when it comes to setting standards and curricular goals, and ensuring that all are aligned by conducting assessments that accurately capture and inform learning outcomes.

Science of Teaching has created how-to guides aimed at aligning everyone from teachers to government officials and policymakers to design effective curriculum and give evidence-based solutions to common challenges both within and across classrooms.

A teacher showcasing new curriculum materials.
A teacher showcasing new curriculum materials.

Enjoying sustainable success

There is no ‘overnight secret’ to successful education programs. They take time, resources, and energy from all stakeholders.

Creating a sustainable trajectory of growth that does not simply plateau requires concerted efforts and knowledge-sharing, which is at the heart of Science of Teaching’s core mission.

We continue to research and develop new resources and guides, as well as to provide targeted technical assistance, to support governments, communities, and schools to support student achievement.

We will also continue to link with policymakers, local and international implementers, and the donor community to support knowledge sharing.

We invite all interested in connecting on this mission to visit our website or reach out to us.

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