What Does Research-Informed Teaching Look Like?

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It is a question asked frequently by both current and prospective St. Andrew’s families: “What does research-informed teaching look like?” Nothing illustrates how St. Andrew’s incorporates research as clearly as how Upper and Middle School final exams are conducted.

St. Andrew’s conducts its exam period in three distinct parts: preparation, assessment and reflection. Students receive exam review sheets, project guidelines, and rubrics from their teachers, as well as research-informed study tips, such as spaced practice, during the preparation period. Students take exams or complete projects during the assessment period. Finally, several days are dedicated to reviewing the exams and receiving feedback during the reflection period.

 
“It’s only because we had this research-informed journey, collectively as school faculty, that we were able to consider this a better practice than the ‘sacred cow’ of ending school with an exam,” said Glenn Whitman, St. Andrew’s Dean of Studies and Director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.
 
Teachers and students experienced this exam period for the first time last year. Max Mento ’18 said he recalled feeling extremely stressed during exams as a freshman, before the reflection time was introduced. He said receiving feedback after his sophomore year exams made a difference.
 
“I remember it was good for me because it was the first time anyone had talked with me about my finals, rather than give it to me and say ‘Here it is’ and send me out the door,” Mento said.

“Relationships underpin our ability to do everything, and the year should end with a moment that honors that, with each teacher taking the time to look each student in the face and just talk,” said Dr. Ian Kelleher, Director of Research for the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.

Ria Naab ’18 said this year, she would like the feedback to be more direct and applicable beyond the course she just completed.
 
“I think that will help us in years to come,” Naab said. “Maybe it was the way we broke down a problem, and we can learn what was the wrong step and how we were actually supposed to do it, so next year when I do the next math exam, I know how to do things.”
 
Teachers are planning to use the four reflection days to have one-on-one conversations with students and help them prepare for the coming year. Students in Sara Graham’s Mandarin classes will listen to and grade their own oral exams and complete a strategic inventory to assess their progress learning the language.
 
Graham said the length of the reflection period allows her to do more than just return and review the exams.
 
“I can really focus on the different skills of the students,” she said. “I can go in depth with the students about their reading, writing, speaking and listening.”
 
In John McMillan’s math classes, students will review a list of concepts they will need to have mastered from their current course to succeed in next year’s class. In one-on-one conversations, McMillan said he’ll talk to students about their strengths and weaknesses in math and how they can prepare for their next course over the summer.
 
“Before we had open gradebooks, they saw a letter on their report card, with no concept of how it really got there,” McMillan said. “Giving students an opportunity to see their exams and put that letter into context can be useful feedback for them, in terms of how much and how well they studied.”  
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St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.