What's the Difference Between Teacher Quality and Quality Teaching?

Contemporary researchers have published quantitative and qualitative research which examine learning in classrooms, particularly emphasizing learning outcomes and the effects of teacher quality and quality teaching in classrooms (Biggs, 2012; Gardner, 2011; Hattie 2016; Marzano, Frontier & Livingston, 2011; Nuthall, 2007). These two categories have specific influences and observable outcomes. Quality teaching and teacher quality both have tremendous impact on positive outcomes for students, particularly with regard to creating opportunities for moving learning objectives between surface processing and deep processing – at times into transfer-appropriate strategies for learning.

Recent arguments have been made that help to differentiate between quality of teachers and quality of teaching (or teaching efficacy) (Hanushek, 2011; Harris & Sass, 2011; Taylor, Roehrig, Hensler, Connor, & Schatschneider, 2010). Darling-Hammond and Jaquith (2012) posit that teacher quality and quality of teaching should be considered independently, but as equally important. Darling-Hammond and Jaquith argue that the talents, personal mannerisms, and paradigms each teacher draws from in order to inform their teaching should not be evaluated independently of factors that enable, “a wide range of students to learn” (p. i), asserting that teaching efficacy,

is also strongly influenced by the context of instruction: the curriculum and assessment system; the “fit” between teachers’ qualifications and what they are asked to teach; and teaching conditions, such as time, class size, facilities, and materials. If teaching is to be effective, policymakers must address the teaching and learning environment as well as the capacity of individual teachers. (p. i)

It is crucial to understand these distinctions while exploring the potential for introducing insight learning opportunities into learning environments. Teachers may be effective at implementing pedagogy, but lack the requisite training to maximize Aha! moments in learning. Similarly, an expert pedagogue may be inducing preconditions for Aha! moments but may lack the effectiveness to maximize their effect in learning, especially for moving from superficial information acquisition to deeper thinking strategies and transfer-appropriate opportunities.

Goe (2007) outlines a comprehensive framework for better understanding teacher quality in terms of its effect upon student success, following on from the concern with measurable and broad impacts upon the widest range of students. The graphic representation in Figure 2 presents teacher quality as a combination of inputs and processes, and student outcomes as measurable effects of teacher quality. These inputs and processes include teacher certification, beliefs, instructional delivery, interactions with students, teacher test scores and experience, and classroom management. Student achievement is both an input and output, often part of teacher evaluations and other forms of feedback influencing practice. Inputs, processes, and feedback from outcomes (generally in the forms of grades from student assessment) all inform the basis for teacher quality.

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Figure 1. Graphic representation of a framework for teacher quality (Goe, 2007, p. 9).

Teacher as Architect of Learning and Designer of Experiences

Teaching efficacy is among the most significant determinants of student outcomes in classrooms (Hattie, 2008). As wide as the variety of teaching styles are, so are the variations of curricula, curricular delivery systems, factors affecting schools, and the quality of teachers and the training they receive. Laurillard (2013) sums up nicely the importance of teachers and their role as architects of learning and designers of experiences that optimize surface to deep thinking:

What it takes to teach cannot be determined directly from what it takes to learn, which means that teachers must be willing to treat the process as essentially problematic, iterative, and always improvable; we must stop assuming that teaching can be theorized like a natural science and treat it as a design science. (p. 82)

Indeed, teaching can and should be a designed process that encourages vibrant and dynamic growth in student outcomes. Aha! moments in learning are an important and special part of that design. These moments in learning should be captured and cultivated – and produced regularly. Teachers can positively transform learning experiences for students using strategies that promote the increased frequency of Aha! moments in their classrooms, the benefits of which connect to all areas of learning growth and potential (Kounios & Beeman, 2014). The opportunity for students to find deeper meaning in their work, extend ideas, and become more actively interested in their personal development in all areas of learning, becomes a powerful lever in education and learning overall, and one that teachers and school leaders must embrace and nurture.

Experienced teachers are able to contextualize learning and meet the needs of their students within various curricula, regardless of personality differences, and remain focused on mastery of content and transfer across subjects (Hattie, 2003). Further, as teachers develop their practice over time, the potential for greater positive impact in classrooms increases. Hattie (2011) states:

Expert teachers and experienced teachers do not differ in the amount of knowledge that they have about curriculum matters or knowledge about teaching strategies – but expert teachers do differ in how they organize and use this content knowledge. Experts possess knowledge that is more integrated, in that they combine the introduction of new subject knowledge with students’ prior knowledge; they can relate current lesson content to other subjects in the curriculum; and they make lessons uniquely their own by changing, combining and adding to the lessons according to their students’ needs and their own teaching goals. (p. 261)

The focus must therefore be on providing opportunities to develop expertise within teachers to cultivate and capture insight and discovery throughout their curriculum and course lessons. If one of the primary objectives in increasing teacher efficacy is helping students move from surface to deep thinking (Hattie, 2003), and if it is hoped that this change in thinking will produce transfer across different areas of learning, Aha! moments in learning provide an excellent opportunity for this type of teacher training. Hence, an understanding of surface and deep learning, the differences between them, the place of both in the learning, and developing Aha! moments to enact the transition from surface to deep could be most valuable in teacher development programs. These teaching strategies can be aimed at manifesting greater numbers of Aha! moments and a more robust and engaging learning environment. Teachers can be trained on how to maximize the number and magnitude of these moments and further impact learning, achievement, and observable outcomes of students.

There is a growing body of neurological research that proves cognition is highly plastic and that complex mental activity improves cognition, brain function, and structure (Chapman et al., 2015). The tools that are becoming available to enhance and increase retention of learning are becoming easier to access and more widely used, and there is growing interest from teachers and professionals in implementing techniques that increase achievement in students. School administrators must discover and invest in teaching development programs where current research about learning is at the center of informing practice. Teachers need to spend more time harvesting from the available research literature, perhaps even adding to it, in order to garner the fullness of its potential to inform behaviors, and to enhance their professional work in schools. This may be best accomplished by placing a greater premium on the observable behaviors and patterns surrounding learning in classrooms. As Laurillard (2013) suggests, we should transfer energies away from teaching teachers how to teach and toward training them in methods to become leaders of learning. Teachers cannot practically observe what is happening in the mind when learning occurs (or easily, even with various measurement apparatus – e.g., fMRI), but if the observable correlates of the Aha! moment reflect the plasticity and growth happening when students’ do learn, this breakthrough in research will open tremendous opportunities for teachers and students alike.