A fuzzy feedback loop
Why teaching is so hard to master
Hope all’s well & you’ve been contemplating the teacher expertise paradox. This week, we unpack one of the main reasons why teaching is so hard…
Big idea 🍉
Teaching is hard to get better at via experience alone. This is partly due to the noisy relationship between teaching and learning. Aka, the 'fuzzy feedback loop'…
To illustrate, let's draw a comparison between teaching and darts.
When darts players throw a dart, the outcome is immediate and visible. The relationship between action and impact is clear and enables players to make rapid improvement over time 🎯
By contrast, when teachers make a change to their approach, the impact on learning is much harder to discern. This is because:
Learning is invisible It is tricky to measure and so can generally only be inferred from student performance.
Forgetting happens To assess if lasting learning has occurred, we must wait several weeks after we last taught it.
Multiple factors are at play Even if we could measure learning, it would still be a challenge to isolate exactly what caused it.
In short, the relationship between teaching and learning is invisible, noisy, and delayed—even with the best formative assessment, compared with darts, teaching suffers from a fiendishly fuzzy feedback loop.
The consequences of this situation are significant.In particular, it makes it tricky for teachers to improve via experience alone. Trial & error, reflection, and discovery are simply not powerful enough tools to cut through the fuzz.
Experience is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to building teaching expertise.
“Expertise is a venture beyond natural abilities.”
This fuzzy feedback loop is why evidence informed PD is so important.
By isolating aspects of teaching, controlling some of the chaos, and aggregating data, research has the potential to tell us things we can’t discover on our own. At its best, PD provides a carefully crafted suite of inputs and activities that help teachers sidestep the fuzzy feedback loop, and in doing so: supercharge our classroom experience.
Of course, research relevant to teaching is still nascent and shaky in many areas. And developing and implementing evidence informed approaches that transfer sufficiently well across contexts is not without challenge. And there are likely to be some questions which research can never answer for us.
Even if we did have a robust and complete evidence base, teaching would still require a heavy dose of professional judgement. Evidence informed PD only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a vital one.
Challenge → How do you get your fix of evidence informed PD? If you’re a leader, how do you help your staff get theirs?
• The relationship between teaching and learning is invisible, noisy, and delayed.
• This makes is hard for teachers to learn from experience alone.
• Evidence informed PD is part of the solution.
Little links 🥕
On topic → Check out this paper by Ericsson on the structure and acquisition of expertise, and this rapid review of effective PD by Fletcher-Wood.
On trend → Check out this brief video from Dylan William on the role of research in education, and a paper on the role that punctuation and capitalisation rules play in comprehension (HT to 3Rs for flagging this one)
Bonus → Steplab and WalkThrus are 2 great examples of evidence informed PD, and this week they announced a collaboration 🤝
Enjoy the start of the weekend (Thursday night, right?)
PS. Huge thanks to everyone who bought a copy of my new book last week—the response has been incredible! Next on my author checklist is to gather a few Amazon reviews… if anyone is feeling extra generous, I’d be super grateful Peps… 🙏