Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New Paper on Teaching Styles

Apparently lecture-style teaching is better than classes that focus on "problem solving":

Is Traditional Teaching Really All That Bad? A Within-Student Between-Subject Approach

Guido Schwerdt
CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research); European University Institute - Economics Department (ECO)

Amelie C. Wuppermann
University of Munich

Lecture style teaching is often regarded as old-fashioned and connected with many disadvantages: Lectures fail to provide instructors with feedback about student learning and rest on the presumption that all students learn at the same pace. Moreover, students' attention wanes quickly during lectures and information tends to be forgotten quickly when students are passive. Finally, lectures emphasize learning by listening, which is a disadvantage for students who prefer other learning styles. Alternative instructional practices based on active and problem-oriented learning presumably do not suffer from these disadvantages. National standards (NCTM, 1991; National Research Council, 1996) consequently advocate engaging students more in hands-on learning activities and group work. Despite these recommendations traditional lecture and textbook methodologies continue to dominate science and mathematics instruction in US middle schools (Weiss, 1997). This raises the question whether the high share of total teaching time devoted to traditional lecture style presentations has a detrimental effect on overall student learning.

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To study the effect of lecture style teaching, we construct the share of e®ective teaching time, that is time in class devoted to either lecture style presentation or in-class problem solving, using information on in-class time use provided by teachers in the 2003 wave of the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) in US schools. Estimating a reduced form educational production function and exploiting between-subject variation to control for unobserved student traits, we find that the choice of teaching practices matters for student achievement. We find that a 10 percentage point shift from problem solving to lecture style presentation results in an increase in student achievement of about 1 percent of a standard deviation.

This result is highly robust. Consistent with other studies in this literature, we find no evidence for significant effects of commonly investigated observable teacher characteristics such as teaching certificates or teaching experience.

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We therefore conclude that the high share of total teaching time devoted to traditional lecture style teaching in science and mathematics instruction in US middle schools has no detrimental effect on overall student learning. This finding implies that attempts to reduce the amount of traditional lecture style teaching in US middle schools have little potential for raising overall achievement levels.



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