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Teaching Practices in Primary and Secondary Schools in Europe: Insights from Large-Scale Assessments in Education

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This report focuses on describing teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in Europe. For primary education, the report uses combined data from the 2011 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the 2011 Program for International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). For secondary education, it uses data from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS). While the TIMSS/PIRLS study is conducted with pupils at the fourth grade level, PISA samples fifteen year-old students and the TALIS main study collects information from teachers at ISCED 2. For TIMSS/PIRLS, the incidence of the teaching practices analyzed relate to Reading Literacy, Science and Mathematics instruction. For PISA, only teaching practices related to Mathematics instruction, the main subject in PISA 2012, are analyzed. The analyses of teaching practices in TALIS 2013 are based on reported data from different ISCED 2 subject matter teachers. Using data from the three surveys, this report details the frequency of teaching practices and establishes relationships between certain practices and students’ achievement and school learning conditions. The main categories of teaching practices addressed include: 1) General and content-specific instructional practices; 2) The use of informational technology (ICT); 3) Teacher collaborative practices; and 4) Characteristics of the school learning environment at the classroom, school and educational system levels. The breath of information herein provided allows for a better understanding of the frequency of different teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in European Union Member States (EU MS) and for cross-country comparisons. At the same time, the interpretation of the findings highlights the importance of considering the uniqueness of different learning contexts in any attempt to understand teaching effectiveness. Taken together, the research evidence gathered provides detailed information about teaching practices that can assist EU MS in discerning gaps in the available information, identifying country profiles, and addressing common challenges. The findings highlighted in each part of the report and related policy messages offer novel insights into teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in Europe.
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Maria Magdalena Isac
Patrícia Dinis da Costa
Luísa Araújo
Elena Soto Calvo
Patrícia Albergaria-Almeida
2015
Report EUR 27277 EN
Teaching Practices in Primary and Secondary
Schools in Europe: Insights from Large-Scale
Assessments in Education
2
European Commission
Joint Research Centre
Unit JRC-DDG.01 Econometrics and Applied Statistics
Contact information
Luísa Araújo
Address: Joint Research Centre, Unit JRC-DDG.01 Econometrics and Applied Statistics
TP 361 Via E .Fermi 2749 I-21027 Ispra (Va) - ITALY
E-mail: luisa.borges@jrc.ec.europa.eu
Tel.: +39 0332 78 3872
JRC Science Hub
https://ec.europa.eu/jrc
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This publication is a Science and Policy Report by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-
house science service. It aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the European policy-making
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the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use which
might be made of this publication.
All images © European Union 2015
JRC95601
EUR 27277 EN
ISBN 978-92-79-48421-6 (PDF)
ISBN 978-92-79-48422-3 (print)
ISSN 1831-9424 (online)
ISSN 1018-5593 (print)
doi: 10.2788/383588
Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2015
© European Union, 2015
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
Abstract
3
Teaching Practices in Primary and Secondary Schools in
Europe: Insights from Large-Scale Assessments in
Education
Maria Magdalena Isac
Patrícia Dinis da Costa
Luísa Araújo
Elena Soto Calvo
Patrícia Albergaria-Almeida
4
Unit JRC-DDG.01 Econometrics and Applied
Statistics
Note
This report is part of the CRELL VII Administrative Arrangement agreed between DG
EDUCATION and CULTURE (EAC) and DG JOINT RESEARCH CENTRE (JRC). Its
content, “Technical report on teaching and learning practices in primary and secondary education” is stipulated
under point 2.3. of the Technical Annex accompanying CRELL VII.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank colleagues from DG JRC and DG EAC for their useful
comments on earlier versions of this report. Thanks also go to Miriam Barattoni and Mattia
Olivi for their support with graphics and text formatting.
5
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This report focuses on describing teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in
Europe.
For primary education, the report uses combined data from the 2011 Third International
Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the 2011 Program for International Reading
Literacy Study (PIRLS). For secondary education, it uses data from the 2012 Program for
International Student Assessment (PISA) and from the 2013 Teaching and Learning
International Study (TALIS).
While the TIMSS/PIRLS study is conducted with pupils at the fourth grade level, PISA samples
fifteen year-old students and the TALIS main study collects information from teachers at ISCED
2. For TIMSS/PIRLS, the incidence of the teaching practices analyzed relate to Reading Literacy,
Science and Mathematics instruction. For PISA, only teaching practices related to Mathematics
instruction, the main subject in PISA 2012, are analyzed. The analyses of teaching practices in
TALIS 2013 are based on reported data from different ISCED 2 subject matter teachers.
Using data from the three surveys, this report details the frequency of teaching practices and
establishes relationships between certain practices and students’ achievement and school learning
conditions. The main categories of teaching practices addressed include: 1) General and content-
specific instructional practices; 2) The use of informational technology (ICT); 3) Teacher
collaborative practices; and 4) Characteristics of the school learning environment at the
classroom, school and educational system levels.
The breath of information herein provided allows for a better understanding of the frequency of
different teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in European Union Member States
(EU MS) and for cross-country comparisons. At the same time, the interpretation of the findings
highlights the importance of considering the uniqueness of different learning contexts in any
attempt to understand teaching effectiveness. Taken together, the research evidence gathered
provides detailed information about teaching practices that can assist EU MS in discerning gaps
in the available information, identifying country profiles, and addressing common challenges.
The findings highlighted in each part of the report and related policy messages offer novel
insights into teaching practices in primary and secondary schools in Europe.
6
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 9
PART I - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU ............................................. 17
1. Teaching Practices. Context, Conceptualization and Measurement ................................. 18
1.1. A brief introduction to TIMSS and PIRLS. ................................................................. 18
1.2. Some highlights of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 combined. ............................................ 19
1.3. The Conceptualization of Teaching Practices in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011. ............ 22
1.4. The measurement of teaching practices in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011. ...................... 25
2. Indicators of Teaching Practices in TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 ............................................... 30
2.1. Introduction. ..................................................................................................................... 30
2.2. Goals and outcomes of teaching and learning. ............................................................ 32
2.2.1. Standards and levels of performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science. 32
2.2.2. Students’ perceptions of instructional teaching practices. ................................. 39
2.3. Generic and content-specific instructional practices. Teachers’ perspective. ......... 42
2.3.1. Generic instructional practices. ............................................................................. 43
2.3.2. Content-specific instructional practices. .............................................................. 46
2.3.3. ICT integration in teaching and learning. ............................................................ 50
2.4. Teachers’ collaborative practices. .................................................................................. 53
2.5. School environment and support that shape teaching practices. .............................. 56
2.6. Conclusion and discussion. .................................................................................................. 58
References .......................................................................................................................................... 63
PART II - Teaching Practices in Secondary Schools in the EU ...................................... 67
1. A Brief Introduction to PISA .................................................................................................... 68
2. Indicators of Teaching Practices in PISA 2012 ....................................................................... 74
2.1. Introduction. .......................................................................................................................... 74
2.2. Instructional practices. ......................................................................................................... 75
2.2.1. Ability grouping for Mathematics instruction. .......................................................... 75
2.2.2. Teacher instructional intentions in Mathematics classes. ........................................ 81
2.2.3. Opportunity to learn in Mathematics classes............................................................. 86
2.2.4. Teaching practices in Mathematics classes. ................................................................ 87
2.2.5. Teacher quality in Mathematics classes. ..................................................................... 89
2.2.6. ICT in Mathematics lessons. ........................................................................................ 91
2.3. Collaborative practices in Mathematics lessons. ............................................................... 94
2.4. School learning environment/climate. ............................................................................... 96
2.4.1. School learning environment. ...................................................................................... 96
7
2.4.1.1. Teachers morale. ..................................................................................................... 96
2.4.1.2. Maximize achievement in Mathematics. ............................................................. 98
2.4.2. School climate for EU MS. ........................................................................................ 100
2.5. Relationships. ....................................................................................................................... 104
2.5.1. Relationship between teaching instructional practices and the school learning
environment. ........................................................................................................................... 104
2.5.2. Relationship between use of ICT in Mathematics lessons and ICT availability at
school. ...................................................................................................................................... 106
2.5.3. Relationship between student and teacher related aspects of school climate and
Mathematics teachers’ intentions. ........................................................................................ 107
2.5.4. Relationship between ability grouping and students’ achievement. ..................... 109
2.5.5. Relationship between class size and students’ achievement. ................................. 110
2.6. Do instructional practices and school learning environment explain Mathematics
achievement at the EU level? .................................................................................................... 113
2.7. Conclusion and Discussion. .............................................................................................. 117
References ........................................................................................................................................ 122
PART III - Teaching Practices and Other Aspects of Teaching in TALIS 2013 ............ 125
1. Teaching Practices. Context, Conceptualization and Measurement ................................... 126
1.1. A brief introduction to the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) .. 126
1.2. TALIS Conceptual framework.......................................................................................... 127
1.2.1. School dimension: School and professional climate. ............................................. 129
1.2.2. Classroom dimension: Teacher/classroom’s environment. .................................. 130
1.3. Teaching Practices: Results of TALIS 2013 International Report .............................. 131
1.3.1. Operalization of teaching practices in TALIS 2013. .............................................. 132
1.3.2. Education-related factors examined in TALIS and the identified relationships
with the three active teaching practices. .............................................................................. 135
1.3.2.1. Classroom context. ............................................................................................... 135
1.3.2.2. Classroom disciplinary climate. .......................................................................... 135
1.3.2.3. Learning domains: Mathematics, Science and Humanities. ........................... 136
1.3.2.4. Class size. ............................................................................................................... 137
2. Active and non-active teaching practices in EU and their relationship with different class
sizes ................................................................................................................................................... 140
2.1. A Brief Introduction to this Chapter: Methodology, Results and Discussion of the
Findings ....................................................................................................................................... 140
2.2. Aims ...................................................................................................................................... 140
2.3. Methodology ........................................................................................................................ 141
2.4. Results ................................................................................................................................... 143
2.4.1. Active teaching practices. ........................................................................................... 143
2.4.1.1. Students work in small groups to come up with a joint solution to a problem
or task. ................................................................................................................................. 144
8
2.4.1.2. Students work on projects that require at least one week to complete. ....... 146
2.4.1.3. Students use ICT for projects or class work. ................................................... 148
2.4.1.4 Conclusion and discussion. .................................................................................. 151
2.4.2. Non-active teaching practices. ................................................................................... 153
2.4.2.1. I present a summary of recently learned content. ............................................ 154
2.4.2.2. I give different work to the students who have difficulties learning and/or to
those who can advance faster. .......................................................................................... 156
2.4.2.3. I refer to a problem from everyday life or work to demonstrate why new
knowledge is useful ............................................................................................................ 158
2.4.2.4. I let students practice similar tasks until I know that every student has
understood the subject matter. ......................................................................................... 160
2.4.2.5. I check my students’ exercise books or homework ......................................... 162
2.4.2.6 Conclusion and Discussion. ................................................................................. 166
2.5. Conclusion and Discussion ............................................................................................... 167
References ........................................................................................................................................ 169
ANNEXES .................................................................................................................... 173
ANNEX A: TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 detailed data .................................................................. 174
ANNEX B. PISA 2012 detailed data .......................................................................................... 190
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
9
INTRODUCTION
The aim of this report is to offer a detailed description of teaching practices at the
primary and secondary school levels and, when possible, explore relationships between teaching
practices and other factors such as student achievement and class size. The latest data from
several large-scale assessments in education is used for these purposes, namely TIMSS & PIRLS
2011, PISA 2012 and TALIS 2013. The focus of the report is on the mapping of the frequency
of different teaching practices across European Member States (EU MS) at ISCED levels 1 and
2 as measured in TIMSS/PIRLS at the fourth grade level, in PISA for 15-year olds and in TALIS
for teachers in ISCED level 2.
Each part of the report is divided in two chapters; the first is an overview of the survey,
and the second presents the results of the analyses of different teaching practices. Within the
second chapter of each part, a summary of the findings is presented in bullet points at the end of
each section. Conclusions and policy messages are discussed at the end of each part concerning
the three international surveys. The report addresses the teaching practices captured in the data
collected in TIMSS/PIRLS (Part I), PISA (Part II) and TALIS (Part III).
Specifically, using TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 data collected in the teacher and student
background questionnaires, the first part of the report describes the prevalence of different
instructional and collaborative teaching practices across 17 participating EU MS. Using data
collected in the school questionnaire and in the student questionnaire, the PISA part describes
the frequency of different teaching practices in 26 participating EU MS and explores
relationships between teaching practices and the learning environment and students´
achievement. The TALIS part describes and compares the teacher-reported data on the use of
different active and non-active teaching practices across 18 EU MS. It also examines whether
teachers’ reported use of these teaching practices is related to the size of the class they teach. For
the three large-scale surveys, the selection of the variables related to teaching practices was
carried out according to data availability and on the basis of teaching effectiveness theoretical
frameworks and related research findings. The Background and Rationale section of the report
presents this theoretical framework.
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
10
Background and Rationale
The idea that teachers and the teaching practices they implement are important for
students’ educational outcomes has been steadily gaining ground since the publication of the
Coleman report in the sixties (Coleman et al., 1968). This report had showed that students’
socioeconomic background was the main determinant of educational outcomes and that the
influence of teachers on student outcomes was minimal. Since then, more sophisticated study
designs and methods have allowed for precise measurements of what goes on in schools and its
relation to the educational outcomes of students. Findings indicate that teachers and the
environment they teach in can indeed make a difference. Conceptual models now include
different dimensions of the educational environment, such as teaching practices, school climate
and resources and look for interactions among them to categorize effective schools. Within an
educational effectiveness framework “an effective school is one that has an effect on student
achievement over and above home influences” (Martin, Foy, Mullins, & O’ Dwyer, 2013, p.111).
More specifically, empirical research has examined the impact of a wide range of
education-related factors, such as students’ home background, school environment and school
instruction, on students’ learning outcomes with the aim of identifying which factors are essential
for educational effectiveness
1
. The teachers’ characteristics that have been more frequently
studied can be classified into three large categories: background qualifications, beliefs
and attitudes, and instructional practices.
The background qualifications category includes teachers’ degrees, college ratings, test
scores and teaching experience. Higher teacher background qualifications have been associated
with better student achievement (Palardy & Rumberger, 2008; Rice, 2003; Wayne & Youngs,
2003), although these findings have not always been replicated and null findings or even negative
effects have also been reported (Buddin & Zamarro, 2009; Clotfelter, Ladd, &Vigor, 2007;
Hanushek, Karin, O’Brien, & Rivkin, 2005).
The teachers' beliefs and attitudes category refers to teachers’ self-efficacy,
expectations for students’ achievement and beliefs about the nature of the teaching and learning
process. There is some evidence that teachers’ beliefs about their students impact student
learning. For example, some studies show that when teachers believe that their students will
1
Educational effectiveness research seeks to investigate which “factors in teaching, curriculum, and the learning
environment at different levels such as the classroom, the school, and the above-school levels can directly or
indirectly explain the differences in the outcomes of students, taking into account student background
characteristics, such as ability, SES and prior attainment”. See Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, p.12, and Chapter 1 of
this report.
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
11
perform well and that they are motivated to learn this has a positive direct impact on students’
learning outcomes (Lee, Smith, & Croninger, 1997; Staub & Stern, 2002; Caprara, Barbaranelli,
Steca, & Malone, 2006). However, there are also studies suggesting that this impact is only
indirect (Muijs & Reynolds, 2002) and null findings have also been reported (Driessen &
Sleegers, 2000).
Last, the instructional practices category refers to the activities teachers carry out in the
classroom. Research linking instructional practices and students’ academic performance seems to
converge in its findings: what teachers do in the classroom is a good predictor of their students’
achievement (Brophy, 2000; Seidel & Shavelson, 2007; Hattie, 2009; Creemers & Kyriakides,
2008). Instructional practices consistently predict students’ learning outcomes and their effects
have been shown to be larger than teachers’ background qualifications or their beliefs and
attitudes (Kyriakides, Campbell, & Gagatsis, 2000; Nye, Konstanopoulos, & Hedges, 2004; Muijs
& Reynolds, 2002; Palardy & Rumberger, 2008; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Stigler & Hiebert,
1999). Teaching practices are also one of the most malleable education-related factors (Scheerens
& Bosker, 1997; Harris & Chrispeels, 2006).
Instructional practices are often classified into two types teacher-directed or
constructivist - depending on whether it is the teacher (direct instructional practices) or the
student (constructivist teaching practices) that plays a pivotal role in the learning process. With
respect to constructivist versus direct instructional practices, it has been suggested that a variety
of teaching practices that combine self-regulated child-initiated activities (such as spontaneous
and unstructured play) with teacher-directed adult-led activities (such as delivering content) seem
to be the most effective and adequate approach for effective classroom learning (Creemers,
Kyriakides, & Antoniou, 2013; Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2002), particularly for students with
learning difficulties during the primary school years (Purdie & Ellis, 2005). Nevertheless, research
also suggests that certain teaching practices seem to be more effective than others for particular
learning domains, educational levels and specific student sub-populations (Seidel & Shavelson,
2007).
First, distinct instructional practices seem to relate differently to students’
outcomes depending on the learning domain under examination. For instance, Meijnen,
Lagerweij and De Jong (2003) found that time spent on different educational goals and the
method used to assess students’ progress were associated with students’ growth in mathematics,
but results were not replicated for word reading (decoding) or reading comprehension. More
recently Boonen, van Damme and Onghena (2013) found that practices involving teaching
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
12
estimation and classification were positively related to mathematics achievement, spending time
on instruction and dividing students into homogenous reading groups were positively related to
reading achievement, and using homogenous reading groups was positively related to spelling
achievement in a large group of first graders. Nonetheless, other instructional activities such as
the amount of time spent on mathematics instruction, frequency of book projects or peer
teaching were negatively associated with achievements in mathematics, reading and spelling,
respectively.
Second, there is evidence that distinct instructional practices impact achievement
differently depending on the educational level of the students. For example, Kyriakides,
Christoforou and Charalambus (2013) conducted a meta-analysis exploring the impact of
teaching factors on students’ achievement. They found that younger students benefited more
from instructional practices such as asking them complex questions about the content of the
lessons that have been covered in the class. However, older students benefited more from
teaching practices aimed at developing higher-order thinking skills (e.g. concept mapping, critical
thinking and cross-curricular competencies) or problem solving that require comparing and
relating information that go beyond what has been directly stated.
Third, the effectiveness of certain instructional practices seems to vary depending
on other factors, such as the socio-demographic characteristics, level of achievement,
ethnic or social and cultural background of the student (Muijs, Harris, Chapman, Stoll, &
Russ, 2004). More precisely, research suggests that children from disadvantaged backgrounds
benefit more from teacher-directed and very structured instruction than students from more
advantage backgrounds for whom active learning activities seem to be very effective (Huffman &
Speer, 2000; Muijs & Reynolds, 2003; Mortimore, 1991; Scheerens, 1992; Slavin, 1996). Thus,
placing emphasis on basic skills rather than on higher-order cognitive skills seems to have a
greater positive effect on disadvantaged than on advantaged students (Brophy, 1992; Boonen,
Damme, & Onghena, 2013; Teddlie & Stringfield, 1993; Walberg, 1986). Taken together, these
findings suggest that educational effectiveness should take into consideration the specific
learning domains, school stage and contextual characteristics of the learners.
In the last decades, research on teaching has focused on holistic aspects of teaching and
on analysing teaching patterns instead of isolated teaching acts (Borko, 2004). Additionally, and
as reported by Seidel and Shavelson (2007), research has been centred on examining large-scale
surveys with statistical models that control for extraneous variables, consequently increasing
statistical power in detecting the effects of teaching on students’ learning outcomes. One of the
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
13
latest theoretical models mapping in detail factors describing teacher behaviour in the classroom
is the dynamic model of educational effectiveness developed by Creemers and Kyriakides (2008).
The model is grounded on the assumption that the effects on student achievement are multilevel
and, in this way, it refers to factors at different levels; student, classroom, school and system
level. Seven teacher factors/practices are described in this model. They include orientation,
structuring, teaching-modelling, application, management of time, teacher’s role in making the
classroom a learning environment and classroom assessment. For example, the school learning
environment, where factors such as the extent of teacher collaboration and emphasis on
academic achievement may vary, is likely to interact with and even condition classroom teaching
practices. In addition, the dynamic aspect of the model emphasizes the constantly changing
nature of these factors as they evolve, for example, trough different stages of teacher
professional development.
Creemers and Kyriakides´ (2008) dynamic model of school effectiveness also considers
teaching within a larger framework that includes factors that operate at higher levels, namely at
the school and at the educational system level. The TIMSS/PIRLS, PISA and TALIS surveys do
not follow a specific model of school effectiveness. However, they are informed by this
theoretical and research-related background and include in their assessment frameworks school
and system level factors that are likely to interact with classroom-level factors, such as tracking
students by ability level, class size, school climate and teachers´ self-efficacy. They do so because
these factors can be viewed as indicators of the quality of school systems. Accordingly, the
analyses presented in this report include school effectiveness variables with the aim of
contributing to a better understanding of the teaching practices implemented in primary and
secondary schools and their relation with others factors at different levels of the educational
process.
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
14
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Scheerens, J., & Bosker, R. J. (1997). The foundations of educational effectiveness. Oxford: Pergamon.
Soto Calvo, E.; Isac, M.M.; Araújo, L.; Costa, P. & Albergaria-Almeida, P. - Introduction
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Seidel, T., & Shavelson, R. J. (2007). Teaching effectiveness research in the past decade: The role
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Slavin, R. E. (1996). Research on cooperative learning and achievement: What we know, what we
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Staub, F. C., & Stern, E. (2002). The nature of teachers' pedagogical content beliefs matters for
students' achievement gains: Quasi-experimental evidence from elementary mathematics.
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Stigler, J. W., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The Teaching Gap New York.
Teddlie, C., & Stringfield, S. (1993). Schools Make a Difference: Lessons Learned from a 10-Year Study of
School Effects. Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.
Walberg, H. J. (1986). Synthesis of research on teaching. Handbook of research on teaching, 3, 214-
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Wayne, A. J., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A
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Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
17
PART I
Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
Chapter 1
This chapter provides a brief introduction to the
main findings of the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011
Combined survey, describes the theoretical grounds
that informed the data collection, and details the
measurement of teaching practices and related
contextual information.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
18
1. Teaching Practices. Context, Conceptualization and Measurement
1.1. A brief introduction to TIMSS and PIRLS.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in
International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) are international studies directed by the
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). With the aim of
studying the effects of educational policies and practices in a comparative perspective, the IEA
pioneered international large-scale assessments in education starting early in 1960’s
2
. Since 1995,
the IEA conducts continuous four-year assessment cycles for TIMSS focusing primarily on the
achievement of fourth and eighth grade students in Mathematics and Science. The PIRLS five-
year cycle assessments, in turn, started in 2001 and address mainly how well children read after
the first four years of primary school.
TIMSS and PIRLS are international studies comparable to the Program for International
Student Assessment (PISA) launched in 2000 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD). Both assessments offer information on students’ outcomes and
contextual information on teaching practices and home literacy activities in countries around the
globe. The characteristics of PISA are described later
3
in this report and the design of TIMSS
and PIRLS will be further detailed. Yet, to better understand the assessment frameworks of
TIMSS and PIRLS at the fourth grade level, some differences in comparison to PISA are worth
mentioning. The most obvious distinction is that PISA surveys 15 year-olds, whereas PIRLS
samples fourth grade students. The TIMSS survey has two target populations, namely, students
at the fourth grade and students at the eighth grade
4
. Still, other fundamental differences are
particularly relevant here. They are linked to the purpose of these assessments or, more precisely,
to what they intend to measure. In that respect, the two IEA studies focus on students’
achievement in Reading, Mathematics and Science with reference to an internationally agreed
curriculum in these core academic areas. Conversely, PISA is not curriculum-based but takes a
functional literacy” perspective that aims to capture students’ ability to apply their knowledge to
real life situations in Reading, Mathematics, and Science. Moreover, TIMSS and PIRLS use
teacher questionnaires to collect information about teaching and learning together with student
achievement in order to identify potential relationships between students’ achievement and
2
The origins of large-scale assessments in education are often traced back to the First International Mathematics
Study (FIMS). See http://www.iea.nl/fims.html
3
See Part II of this report.
4
This report deals with PIRLS and TIMSS at the 4th grade only.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
19
teaching practices and school characteristics. PISA’s main focus, on the other hand, is on
students’ knowledge and skills - particularly in Reading, Mathematics and Science - that are
essential for full participation in modern societies. Therefore, PISA is not designed to explicitly
address teaching practices, although it collects some related contextual information from
students and school principals
5
.
Therefore, TIMSS and PIRLS are different from PISA in that their explicit focus is on
curriculum and teaching practices. One of their main aims is to provide high-quality data that
will increase policy-makers understanding of key school and non-school-based factors that
influence teaching and learning”
6
. Perhaps one of the most salient novelties in these IEA studies
is that they introduced the concept of “opportunities to learn”
7
. In this respect, over the years,
they have been providing data on the status and potential relationships between the intended
curriculum (what national or regional authorities adopt as programs of study), the implemented
curriculum (what is taught in schools), and the achieved curriculum (what students learn).
This information has been used by many countries to asses or initiate curricular reforms.
For example, national curricula were revised in some countries based on results of TIMSS which
indicated that higher-performing countries generally had greater levels of coverage of the
intended curricula. Similarly, reforms of pre-service and in-service teacher training programs
were also informed by IEA studies that indicated areas of relative weakness in teacher
preparation or instructional materials and strategies. For instance (see Heyneman and Lee, 2014),
some countries decreased the frequency of teacher lecturing and increase student engagement in
lessons by means of extended, deep questioning teaching practices. Other countries encouraged
teacher collaborative practices that seemed to be a feature of high-performing countries.
1.2. Some highlights of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 combined.
In 2011, the cycles for TIMSS and PIRLS coincided for the first time and participating countries
were offered the unprecedented opportunity to conduct both TIMSS and PIRLS with the same
fourth grade students. Internationally, 34 countries
8
(17 of which EU Member States) took this
opportunity and assessed the same fourth grade students in Reading, Mathematics and Science.
The 17 EU MS that participated in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined, were: Austria (AT),
Croatia (HR), Czech Republic (CZ), Finland (FI), Germany (DE), Hungary (HU), Ireland (IE),
5
For examples of principals’ reports on teaching practices and school environment see Part II of this report.
6
See www.iea.nl
7
See www.iea.nl/studies.html
8
34 countries (and 3 benchmarking entities: Quebec, Canada; Aby Dhabi, UAE; and, Dubai, UAE).
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
20
Italy (IT), Lithuania (LT), Malta (MT), Poland (PL), Portugal (PT), Romania (RO), Slovak
Republic (SK), Slovenia (SI), Spain (ES), and Sweden (SE).
A special international database was created by the TIMSS and PIRLS International
Study Center
9
to include only the fourth grade students assessed in all three subjects. This was
complemented by extensive background information about home, school and classroom
contexts for teaching and learning in these three areas.
Martin & Mullis (2013) illustrate the potential of this database in the TIMSS and PIRLS
2011 Relationships Report, but mention that their work intends only to open the way for more
in-depth analyses based on the common information identified and statistically combined from
the two surveys. Accordingly, the results presented in their report do not deal explicitly with
teaching practices. However, they do bring to light several aspects of learning outcomes in
Reading, Mathematics and Science, the potential relationship between these outcomes as well the
importance of other contextual factors - meaningful for both learning and teaching - such as the
home and school environments. These aspects are worthwhile noting also in the context of
addressing teaching practices. Elements such as student achievement are one of the main
expected outcomes of teaching or the “achieved curriculum”, and other, such as a supportive
school environment is both relevant for teaching practices as well as for student achievement.
Countries Participating in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined
9
See http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timsspirls2011/international-database.html#database
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
21
A selection of the main internationally
10
relevant results of this report (Martin & Mullis, 2013) is
provided below to illustrate how TIMSS and PIRLS offer a unique view of the interconnection
between learning and teaching and the context in which they take place.
a) Regarding the main outcomes of teaching - student achievement in Reading, Mathematics and
Science - TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 show that:
More than half of the TIMSS and PIRLS participating countries are successful in
ensuring a well-rounded foundation of skills in all subjects for most students (90% or
more reaching the low international benchmark in all three subjects). Yet, educating
students to high proficiency levels in all subjects seems to be overall challenging.
Countries tend to be more successful in either one or two of the three subjects.
However, it seems that being equally successful in educating students in all three subjects
simultaneously is a difficult task. This is particularly true when it comes to educating
substantial percentages of students to high levels of achievement.
Strengths in some subjects may be fundamental for success in the others. Overall, fourth
graders are likely to be at disadvantage in learning Mathematics and Science as well as
reaching high performance levels or benchmarks in these content areas if they lack
reading skills.
b) Regarding the influence of the home environment on student outcomes, TIMSS and PIRLS
show that:
Students’ achievement in Reading, Mathematics and Science is not only the result of
schooling. Overall, their achievement levels in all areas are dependent on the home
environment. The educational levels of the parents, the home resources (e.g. books at
home), the home literacy and numeracy activities parents engaged in with their children
prior to compulsory school entry influence students’ attainment of numeracy and
literacy skills.
c) Regarding the school environment, TIMSS & PIRLS show that:
The school learning environment is relevant for student achievement in all three
curriculum content areas. Overall, some of school characteristics that were found to be
associated with achievement are (ordered by the strength of the correlation): strong
10
Please note that these findings refer to all 34 countries and not only to the 17 EU MS. Many of these aspects,
relevant to the topic of teaching practices, will be addressed in detail with respect to the EU MS in Chapter 2 of this
report.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
22
emphasis on academic success, strong and orderly school environment, and adequate
environment and resources.
1.3. The Conceptualization of Teaching Practices in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011.
In order to understand how teaching practices are conceptualized in the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011
joint framework, several sources of information must be considered. The overarching framework
is best described by the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Relationships Report (Martin & Mullis, 2013).
This framework is primarily informed by the TIMSS 2011 and PIRLS 2011 Contextual
Frameworks (Mullis, Martin, Ruddock, O’Sullivan, & Preuschoff, 2009; Mullis, Martin, Kennedy,
Trong, & Sainsbury, 2009), but also by research strands which play a role in informing the
theoretical grounds for the data collection undertaken by the IEA.
By focusing on characteristics of effective schools, Martin & Mullis (2013) clearly situate
their findings in the context of “educational effectiveness research” (EER). EER has traditionally
informed the designs of international large-scale assessments undertaken by the IEA (Klieme,
2013). EER aims to test theories that explain “why and how some schools and teachers are more
effective than others” (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, p.3). It seeks to investigate which “factors
in teaching, curriculum, and the learning environment at different levels such as the classroom,
the school, and the above-school levels can directly or indirectly explain the differences in the
outcomes of students, taking into account student background characteristics, such as ability,
SES
11
and prior attainment” (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, p.12). Research initiatives in this field
(see also Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Reynolds, Sammons, De Fraine, Van Damme, Townsend,
Teddlie, & Stringfield, 2014) are also known to use, at times, terms such as “school
effectiveness” or “teacher effectiveness” in order to underscore the importance of either school
characteristics (e.g. school climate, teacher collaboration) or classroom factors (e.g. teacher
instructional behavior).
Although alternative, broader conceptualizations could also apply, there are the two main
concepts referring strictly to teaching practices that are measured identically in TIMSS and
PIRLS 2011. They refer to two areas of activity of the teaching staff, which are different but yet
interconnected. In this respect, consistent with theories on effective teaching, the conceptual
frameworks differentiate between what the teacher does in the classroom teacher instructional
11
SES stands for socioeconomic status. “Socioeconomic status is commonly conceptualized as the social standing
or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation” (see
American Psychological Association, 2015).
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
23
practices from other, arguably equally important, teacher activities which are carried-out outside
the classroom in collaboration with peers - teacher collaborative practices.
Teacher instructional practices, which could be improved by teacher collaboration, refer to
several instructional strategies that teachers may use frequently in the classroom. Research within
the educational effectiveness tradition (Creemers, 1994; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997) has identified
several components of effective instructional strategies. At the moment, an overall agreement
has been reached that both “traditional” direct instruction
12
as well as student-centered
13
views
on teaching can serve as mapping concepts to define effective teaching practices
14
. Creemers &
Kyriakides (2008), for example, make use of such theories as well as of results of empirical
research to identify several generic
15
factors that best describe teachers’ role in the classroom:
a) orientation (e.g. clarifying the objectives of different learning tasks), b) structuring (e.g.
outlining the content, reviewing), c) questioning (e.g. involving students in classroom discussion),
d) teaching-modelling (e.g. helping students to self-regulate their learning), e) applications (e.g.
using seatwork or small group tasks to provide practice), f) promoting a positive classroom
leaning environment (e.g. fostering positive interactions with and between students), g)
management of time (e.g. maximizing learning time) and h) classroom assessment (e.g.
diversified, formative feedback).
The measures of instructional practices used in TIMSS and PIRLS attempt to tap into
generic instructional practices but also content-specific practices for Reading, Mathematics
and Science. Regarding generic strategies, the measures address elements such as structuring,
questioning and engaging feedback. For instance, teachers are asked about the frequency of
specific practices such as structuring the content by setting and communicating clear learning
goals, connecting new content to students prior experiences, providing interesting instructional
materials, using higher-order questioning techniques, praising students for their achievement and
encouraging them to further improve. In what concerns content-specific strategies, another set
of measures capture practices aimed at developing Reading comprehension skills and strategies
(e.g. making generalizations and drawing inferences based on a literary text), problem-solving
skills in Mathematics (e.g. working problems collaboratively with teacher guidance) and inquiry-
12
Direct instruction advocates the use of structure, questioning, monitoring and the use of informative and engaging
feedback (see, Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008; Scheerens, 2010).
13
Student centered views are often inspired by constructivism and advocate teaching meta-cognitive skills,
cognitive activation, discovery learning, and scientific inquiry (see Scheerens, 2010).
14
For a comprehensive comparison of direct instruction and student-centered practices see Scheerens, 2010 and
Vieluf, Kaplan, Klieme, & Bayer, 2012.
15
These generic instructional practices are relevant across different subject matters.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
24
based Science investigation skills (e.g. design experiments). In addition, some indicators are
concerned with the integration of digital tools in teaching and learning.
Teacher collaborative practices refer to a set of behaviours that can serve the purpose of
improving teaching. The conceptual frameworks of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011, as well as the
corresponding international reports
16
, situate the concept of teacher collaboration in close
interconnection to the concept of “professional learning communities” (PCLs). Professional
learning refers to teacher learning activities that help teachers to improve their classroom
practices. One aspect of this learning is traditional teacher professional development programs.
Yet, individual and collective learning can also take place through peer observation and
collaboration. The concept of PCLs captures such learning. The concept was originally
developed by Lave & Wenger in 1991 under “communities of practice”. Although alternative
definitions exist (Lomos, Hofman, & Bosker, 2011), educational effectiveness research (e.g. Stoll,
Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas, 2006) commonly identifies a few central features of
PCL’s: a) shared values and vision (e.g. focus on academic success for all students), b) collective
responsibility (e.g. accountability systems which put pressure on all and encourage teacher
collaboration), c) reflective professional enquiry (e.g. reflective dialogue about educational issues,
deprivatization of practice through mutual observation), d) collaboration (e.g. planning the
curriculum jointly). The measure of teacher collaborative practices used in TIMSS and PIRLS
attempts to tap into particular types of teacher collaboration. In addition to reporting on strictly
collaborative teacher behaviours such as working together to plan and prepare instructional
materials or try out new ideas, teachers are also asked about the frequency of their reflective
dialogue (e.g. discussing how to teach a topic, share insights from their teaching experience) and
deprivatization of practice (e.g visiting one another’s classes for learning and feedback purposes).
Successful teacher collaborative and instructional practices require some favourable
school conditions and resources. In that respect Martin & Mullis (2013) as well as the Contextual
Frameworks of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 describe, from a school effectiveness perspective,
17
several characteristics of effective schools. These characteristics refer to a school environment
that is safe and orderly, that is characterized by a strong focus on academic success, and that has
adequate resources. Both instructional and collaborative teaching practices are potentially shaped
by such conditions. For example, providing effective instruction as well as learning with peers is
16
See TIMSS 2011 Results in Mathematics, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012; TIMSS 2011 Results in Science,
Martin, Mullis, Foy, & Stanco, 2012; and PIRLS 2011 Results in Reading, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012
17
For a detailed review of the school effectiveness research base used to inform TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 see Martin &
Mullis, 2013.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
25
likely to be facilitated if the teaching staff feels safe, has positive relationships with students and
peers, has adequate resources such as instructional materials or workspace for collaboration, and
has a common purpose of improving student achievement.
1.4. The measurement of teaching practices in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011.
Teachers’ generic instructional practices are measured with the teacher scale “Engaging Students in
Learning” addressed to teachers of Reading, Mathematics and Science. The scale contains six
items related to the frequency (on a four-point scale with the following response categories:
every or almost every lesson; about half the lessons; some lessons; never) of different teaching
practices intended to interest students and reinforce learning, namely:
Summarize what students should have learned from the lesson;
Relate the lesson to students’ daily lives;
Use questioning to elicit reasons and explanations;
Encourage all students to improve their performance;
Praise students for good effort;
Bring interesting materials to class.
An alternative measure for teachers’ generic instructional practices is also proposed in the
context of TIMSS 2011 and PIRLS 2011 Contextual Frameworks. It is argued that teacher
instructional practices can also be measured based on the outcome of those practices, namely
students’ engagement in learning. This proxy measure is estimated based on students’ responses
to the questions in the scale “Students Engaged in Lessons”. The scale measures separately
(students reported separately about their Mathematics and Science lessons) students’ degree of
agreement (on a four-point scale with the following response categories: agree a lot; agree a little;
disagree a little; disagree a lot) with five statements about their Mathematics and Science
instruction:
I know what my teachers expect me to do;
I think of things not related to the lesson (reverse coded);
My teacher is easy to understand;
I am interested in what my teacher says;
My teacher gives me interesting things to do.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
26
For Reading, a similar measure is used, “Students Engaged in Reading Lessons”:
I like what I read about in school;
My teacher gives me interesting things to read;
I know what my teachers expect me to do;
I think of things not related to the lesson (reverse coded);
My teacher is easy to understand;
I am interested in what my teacher says; and
My teacher gives my interesting things to do.
Teachers’ content-specific instructional practices are measured with several sets of items for Reading,
Mathematics and Science. Teachers where asked to indicate to what extent (on a four-point scale:
never or almost never; 2 or 3 times per month; 1-3 times per week; daily or almost daily) they use
certain practices. The flowing items describe practices for developing reading comprehension
skills and strategies:
Locate information within the text;
Identify the main ideas of what they have read;
Explain or support their understanding of what they have read;
Compare what they have read with experiences they have had;
Compare what they have read with other things they have read;
Make predictions about what will happen next in the text they are reading;
Make generalizations and draw inferences based on what they have read;
Describe the style or structure of the text they have read;
Determine the author’s perspective or intention.
Problem-solving skills in Mathematics were assessed with the items:
Work problems (individually or with peers) with my guidance;
Work problems together in the whole class with direct guidance from me;
Work problems (individually or with peers) while I am occupied by other tasks;
Memorize rules, procedures, and facts;
Explain their answers.
For Science, the following inquiry-based investigation skills were reported on:
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
27
Observe natural phenomena such as the weather or a plant growing and describe
what they see;
Watch me demonstrate an experiment or investigation;
Design or plan experiments or investigations;
Conduct experiments or investigations;
Give explanations about something they are studying;
Relate what they are learning in Science to their daily lives.
The integration of digital tools in teaching and learning is measured with items enquiring on the use of
computer software (as a basis for instruction or as supplement) for Reading, Mathematics and
Science; and the frequency of activities involving instructional software and aimed at looking up
subject related information or/and at developing skills and strategies for Reading, Mathematics
and Science. The frequency is measured on a four-point scale: never or almost never; 2 or 3
times per month; 1-3 times per week; daily or almost daily.
Teachers’ collaborative practices are measured with the teacher scale “Collaborate to Improve
Teaching”. For TIMSS and PIRLS 2011, the information was collected from teachers of
Reading, Mathematics and Science. The instrument is based on the frequency (on a four-point
scale: never or almost never; 2 or 3 times per month; 1-3 times per week; daily or almost daily)
with which teachers interacted with other teachers regarding five areas of activity meant to
improve their teaching, namely:
Discuss how to teach a particular topic;
Collaborate in planning and preparing instructional materials;
Share what I have learned about my teaching experiences;
Visit another classroom to learn more about teaching;
Work together to try out new ideas.
Teachers’ perceptions of relevant aspects of the school environment (focus on academic success,
safety, resources
18
) are captured by a set of scales:
The scale “School Emphasis on Academic Success” related to the extent (very high, high, and
medium) to which teachers perceive the focus on academic success of the school in five areas, namely:
Teachers’ understanding of the school’s curricular goals;
18
See section 1.3.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
28
Teachers’ degree of success in implementing the school’s curriculum;
Teachers’ expectations for student achievement;
Parental support for student achievement;
Students’ desire to do well in school.
The scale “Safe and Orderly School” environment measures teachers’ degree of agreement (safe
and orderly, somewhat safe and orderly, not safe and orderly) with five statements that
characterize the safety of the school environment, namely:
This school is located in a safe neighborhood;
I feel safe at this school;
This school’s security policies and practices are sufficient;
The students behave in an orderly manner;
The students are respectful of the teachers.
The scale “Teacher Working Conditions” captures teachers’ perception (hardly any problems,
minor problems, moderate problems) concerning five potential problem areas in terms of
resources:
The school building needs significant repair;
Classrooms are overcrowded;
Teachers have too many teaching hours;
Teachers do not have adequate workspace (e.g., for preparation, collaboration, or
meeting with students); and
Teachers do not have adequate instruction materials and supplies.
The next chapter reports on results of descriptive analyses using the information provided by all
these items/scales to describe teacher instructional and collaborative practices and their context.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
29
Chapter 2
This chapter describes the prevalence of different
instructional and collaborative teaching practices
across the 17 EU MS. Chapter 2 also introduces the
premises needed to interpret the descriptive analyses
based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data.
Key findings are reported on four overarching topics:
Goals and outcomes of teaching and learning;
Generic and content-specific instructional practices;
Teachers’ collaborative practices; School
environment and support that shape teaching
practices.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
30
2. Indicators of Teaching Practices in TIMSS & PIRLS 2011
2.1. Introduction.
This chapter provides information regarding several indicators reflecting or closely linked to
instructional and collaborative teaching practices at the fourth grade level. The analyses makes
use of the TIMSS and PIRLS combined database and aims to add to the findings reported by
Martin & Mullis (2013) in the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Relationships Report by focusing on a
descriptive in-depth analysis of such indicators
19
. When possible, findings are presented in
relationship with the EU priorities in this area. The information is meant to show the state of the
art and provide insights that can inform the implementation of reforms in the 17 participating
Member States. The analyses show how teaching practices vary across countries and can enable
individual European Member States to compare their policies with those in the other EU
countries.
Nevertheless, before describing these practices, some characteristics of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011
data and of the current analyses must be considered in order to clarify how the statistical results
should be interpreted.
TIMSS and PIRLS do not directly sample teachers
20
. Their objective is to obtain reliable
estimates about the population of students at the fourth grade level in each country. Therefore,
the TIMSS and PIRLS two-stage stratified cluster sample design involves first sampling schools
and afterwards sampling one or more intact classes of students from each of the sampled
schools.
21
Information about most teaching practices addressed in this report is obtained from the teachers
of Reading, Mathematics and Science of the sampled classes. This information has a valuable
descriptive power. Yet, teacher data must be treated as a characteristic of the students. Taking
this into account, the next sections of this chapter will mainly provide information on
percentages of students in classrooms where teachers report to be using certain practices. Tables
19
Most indicators on teaching practices were reported separately in the corresponding international reports (See
TIMSS 2011 Results in Mathematics, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012; TIMSS 2011 Results in Science, Martin,
Mullis, Foy, & Stanco, 2012; and PIRLS 2011 Results in Reading, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012) but were
not included in the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Relationships Report nor reported in interconnection for Reading,
Mathematics and Science.
20
Unlike in TALIS 2013 where nationally representative samples of teachers where surveyed.
21
In this way, nationally representative samples of students and schools are represented by the data. Teacher data is
nevertheless an attribute of the students.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
31
located in Annex A will accompany the graphical representations of this chapter with the actual
estimates
22
, their standard errors and reliability.
The measures used to describe teaching practices in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 do not rely on
classroom observations
23
. They are self-reports from teachers. These instruments are of overall
good measurement quality and comparability. Nevertheless, one must take into account that this
information is subjective. Moreover, in a comparative context, such as the one presented here,
one cannot rule out that answer patterns may reflect cultural differences and/or reference to a
group standard such as specific educational policies. Therefore, cross-country comparisons must
be made with caution and additional information on country specific contexts and policies may
aid interpretation
24
.
Across the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 combined database for the 17 EU MS, the vast majority of
teachers of Reading are also teaching Mathematics and Science at the same class. Accordingly,
estimates of generic instructional practices, teacher collaborative practices and teachers’
perceptions of the school environment are based on teachers of Reading. For all other content-
specific aspects, separate analyses are carried out for the different learning domains using
corresponding weights for teachers of Reading, Mathematics and Science.
TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 are the most up-to-date
25
comprehensive international source of
information for primary education (4th grade). However, these surveys are cross-sectional and
provide measurements for one specific point in time
26
. Readers are therefore encouraged to
consider this information in triangulation with other sources, especially from national and/or
macro-regional levels, to examine recurrent trends in TIMSS and PIRLS assessments since 1995
22
All estimates are computed with the IDB Analyzer using IEA’s guidelines, taking into account the complexity of
the sampling design and applying sampling weights. See https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/event/workshop/workshop-
using-pisa-piaac-timss-pirls-talis-datasets
23
For example, for TIMSS at the 8th grade such measures can be inferred also from classroom aggregates of student
self-reported observations of teaching practices. Although this is still not objective observation, it may provide a
stronger measurement than teachers’ reports. Nevertheless, with minor exceptions, such information was not
collected for TIMSS and PIRLS at the 4th grade due to concerns regarding students’ age and the burden of such
additional instruments.
24
See also Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Minnich, C.A., Drucker, K.T., & Ragan, M.A. (2012) PIRLS 2011
Encyclopedia: Education Policy and Curriculum in Reading, Volumes 1 and 2 Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS
International Study Center, Boston College, & Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Minnich, C.A., Stanco, G.M., Arora, A.,
Centurino, V.A.S., & Castle, C.E. (2012). TIMSS 2011 Encyclopedia: Education Policy and Curriculum in
Mathematics and Science, Volumes 1 and 2. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center,
Boston College.
25
For four EU MS (DK, FI, BE-FL and PL) information for primary education is covered by TALIS 2013.
26
TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 were carried out in 20102011.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
32
and to be observant of the results of the next studies’ cycle in 2015 for TIMSS and 2016 for
PIRLS
27
.
2.2. Goals and outcomes of teaching and learning.
One of the main aims of teaching is to enhance student learning and the outcomes of such
learning. Research findings consistently show that teachers and teaching practices are the main
factors influencing student achievement among those that educational policies could influence
(Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008; Hattie, 2009; Seidel & Shavelson, 2007; Scheerens & Bosker,
1997). In the European context, a commitment was made to strive for achieving higher levels of
student achievement in an equitable and inclusive manner (European Council, 2010; European
Commission, 2012a). One of the Education and Training 2020 targets aims specifically at
reducing the share of low achievers in Reading, Mathematics and Science to below 15% by
2020
28
. In this context, teaching-related policies and the work of teachers has gained an
important role. Teachers are called to innovate their teaching and make efforts to improve the
key competences of students (European Commission, 2012b).
The following section gives a brief overall description of student achievement in
Reading, Mathematics and Science in the 17 analyzed EU MS with a particular emphasis on skills
that students at different proficiency levels must acquire. These particular skills represent
commonly agreed aims for teaching and learning across countries participating in TIMSS &
PIRLS and involve the use of a diversified repertoire of instructional practices. In addition, the
second part of this section will describe fourth graders perceptions of instructional teaching
practices for Reading, Mathematics and Science.
2.2.1.
Standards and levels of performance in Reading, Mathematics and
Science.
The TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 frameworks are based on an international consensus on what skills
students should be able to master in Reading, Mathematics and Science at the fourth grade. In
each domain, the assessments of student achievement were organized around two dimensions: a
27
In a near future, some of the information reported in this chapter may be compared with findings of TIMSS 2015
and PIRLS 2016.
28
Benchmark established on OECD PISA data for the population of 15 year-olds in each MS. Here, similar analyses
and conclusions are presented with respect to primary education (4th graders) based on TIMMS and PIRLS 2011
Combined data.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
33
content dimension - specifying the subject matter or content domains to be assessed, and a
cognitive dimension - specifying the thinking processes that students are likely to use as they
engage with the content
29
. The PIRLS assessment framework for Reading specifies two content
domains or purposes for Reading: reading for literary experience and reading to acquire and use
information. These purposes aim to account for most of the reading fourth graders do in and
out of school. Half of the texts used for the assessment are literary and half are informational.
The items within each of the two reading purposes measure four processes of reading
comprehension: focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information, make straightforward
inferences, interpret and integrate ideas and information, and examine and evaluate content,
language, and textual elements.
The tasks assigned to students for the TIMSS Mathematics assessment covered three
content domains or subject matters: number (30%), geometric shapes and measures (35%), and
data display (15%). The items within each of the domains measure three cognitive domains or
cognitive processes involved in working mathematically and solving problems: knowing,
applying, and reasoning. The TIMSS Science assessment covers the content domains: Life
Science (45%), Physical Science (35%), and Earth Science (20%) and similar cognitive domains
as in Mathematics: knowing, applying, and reasoning.
In TIMSS and PIRLS 2011, as in previous assessment cycles, students’ achievement for
all three learning domains is reported according to four levels of performance
30
. These four
levels summarize the achievement reached by students at different levels of proficiency: the
“Low international benchmark”, the “Intermediate international benchmark”, the “High
international benchmark” and, the “Advanced international benchmark”. Box 1, 2 and 3 describe
the skills students must demonstrate in order to be classified at each of the four levels of
performance for Reading, Mathematics and, Science. For each domain, it is apparent that higher
order skills rely on basic skills. For example, higher Reading comprehension processes such as
making inferences or evaluating content rely on basic skills such as locating and retrieving
information. Problem solving in Mathematics or skills related to scientific inquiry in Science both
rest on the prerequisite that students have some basic Mathematical/Science knowledge (e.g.
adding and subtracting numbers; knowing and understanding facts and principles of different
content domains in Science).
29
See TIMSS 2011 Results in Mathematics, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012; TIMSS 2011 Results in Science,
Martin, Mullis, Foy, & Stanco, 2012; and PIRLS 2011 Results in Reading, Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012
30
In addition to average achievement.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
34
Box 1. The PIRLS 2011 International Reading Benchmarks
Low
Intermediate
High
Advanced
400
475
550
625
Literary
When reading
literary texts,
students can locate
and retrieve an
explicitly stated
detail.
Informational
When reading
informational texts,
students can locate
and reproduce
explicitly stated
information that is
at the beginning of
the text.
Literary
When reading literary texts,
students can retrieve and
reproduce explicitly stated
actions, events and feelings;
make straightforward
inferences about the
attributes, feelings and
motivations of main
characters; interpret obvious
reasons and causes and give
simple explanations; and
begin to recognize language
features and styles.
Informational
When reading informational
texts, students can locate and
reproduce one or two pieces
of information from within
the text; and use subheadings,
textboxes and illustrations to
locate parts of the text.
Literary
When reading literary texts, students
can locate and distinguish significant
actions and details embedded across
the text; make inferences to explain
relationships between intentions,
actions, events and feelings, and give
text-based support; interpret and
integrate story events and character
actions and traits from different parts
of the text; evaluate the significance of
events and actions across the entire
story; and recognize the use of some
language features (e.g. metaphor, tone,
imagery).
Informational
When reading informational texts,
students can locate and distinguish
relevant information within a dense
text or a complex table; make
inferences about logical connections
to provide explanations and reasons;
integrate textual and visual
information to interpret the
relationship between ideas; and
evaluate content and textual elements
to make a generalization.
Literary
When reading literary texts,
students can integrate ideas
and evidence across a text to
appreciate overall themes; and
interpret story events and
character actions to provide
reasons, motivations, feelings
and character traits with full
text-based support.
Informational
When reading informational
texts, students can distinguish
and interpret complex
information from different
parts of text, and provide full
text-based support; integrate
information across a text to
provide explanations, interpret
significance and sequence
activities; and evaluate visual
and textual features to explain
their function.
Source: Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Foy, P., & Drucker, K.T. (2012). PIRLS 2011 international results in reading. Chestnut
Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College
Box 2. The TIMSS 2011 (4th grade) International Mathematics Benchmarks
Low
Intermediate
High
Advanced
400
475
550
625
Students have some
basic mathematical
knowledge.
Students can add
and subtract whole
numbers. They
have some
recognition of
parallel and
perpendicular lines,
familiar geometric
shapes, and
coordinate maps.
They can read and
complete simple
bar graphs and
tables.
Students can apply basic
mathematical knowledge in
straightforward situations.
Students at this level
demonstrate an understanding
of whole numbers and some
understanding of fractions.
Students can visualize three-
dimensional shapes from two-
dimensional representations.
They can interpret bar graphs,
pictographs, and tables to
solve simple problems.
Students can apply their knowledge
and understanding to solve problems.
Students can solve word problems
involving operations with whole
numbers. They can use division in a
variety of problem situations. They
can use their understanding of place
value to solve problems. Students can
extend patterns to find a later specified
term. Students demonstrate
understanding of line symmetry and
geometric properties. Students can
interpret and use data in tables and
graphs to solve problems. They can
use information in pictographs and
tally charts to complete bar graphs.
Students can apply their
understanding and knowledge
in a variety of relatively
complex situations and
explain their reasoning.
They can solve a variety of
multi-step word problems
involving whole numbers
including proportions.
Students at this level show an
increasing understanding of
fractions and decimals.
Students can apply geometric
knowledge of a range of two-
and three-dimensional shapes
in a variety of situations. They
can draw a conclusion from
data in a table and justify their
conclusion.
Source: Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Foy, P., & Arora, A. (2012). TIMSS 2011 international results in mathematics. Chestnut
Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
35
Graph 1 presents the percentage of students not reaching the Low international
benchmark in Reading. It also shows the proportion of students reaching the Low and
Intermediate benchmarks as well as those reaching higher levels of performance, more
specifically the High and Advanced benchmarks.
On average, across the 17 European educational systems, the data indicates a high degree
of success in terms of inclusiveness, meaning that these EU MS manage to bring the vast
majority of students at least to a basic knowledge of content and skills level. Over 91% of the
students are reaching the Low, Intermediate, High and Advanced benchmarks with only about
8% of them showing low achievement in Reading. Nevertheless, results vary widely among
countries. On this metric, Finland, Croatia and Czech Republic have among the most inclusive
educational systems with a share of low achievers
31
below 5%. Conversely, some Member States
31
Low achievement is defined here as student performance below the “Low International Benchmark” of TIMSS &
PIRLS 2011.
Box 3. The TIMSS 2011(4th grade) International Science Benchmarks
Low
Intermediate
High
Advanced
400
475
550
625
Students have some
elementary knowledge
of life science and
physical science.
Students demonstrate
knowledge of some
simple facts related to
human health,
ecosystems and the
behavioral and
physical characteristics
of animals.
They also demonstrate
some basic knowledge
of energy and the
physical properties of
matter.
Students can apply basic
knowledge and
understanding to practical
situations in the sciences.
Students recognize some
basic information related
to characteristics of living
things, their reproduction
and life cycles and their
interactions with the
environment, and show
some understanding of
human biology and health.
They also show some
knowledge of properties of
matter and light, electricity
and energy and forces and
motion. Students know
some basic facts about the
solar system and show an
initial understanding of
Earth’s physical
characteristics and
resources.
Students can apply knowledge and
understanding to explain everyday
phenomena. Students demonstrate
some understanding of plant and
animal structure, life processes, life
cycles and reproduction. They also
demonstrate some understanding
of ecosystems and organisms’
interactions with their
environment, including
understanding of human responses
to outside conditions and activities.
Students demonstrate
understanding of some properties
of matter, electricity and energy
and magnetic and gravitational
forces and motion.
They show some knowledge of the
solar system, and of Earth’s
physical characteristics, processes
and resources. Students
demonstrate elementary knowledge
and skills related to scientific
inquiry.
Students can apply knowledge
and understanding of scientific
processes and relationships in
beginning scientific inquiry.
Students communicate their
understanding of characteristics
and life processes of organisms,
reproduction and development,
ecosystems and organisms’
interactions with the
environment, and factors relating
to human health. They
demonstrate understanding of
properties of light and
relationships between physical
properties of materials, apply and
communicate their understanding
of electricity and energy in
practical contexts and
demonstrate an understanding of
magnetic and gravitational forces
and motion. Students
communicate their understanding
of the solar system and of Earth’s
structure, physical characteristics,
resources, processes, cycles and
history.
Source: Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Foy, P., & Stanco, G. (2012). TIMSS 2011 international results in science. Chestnut Hill,
MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
36
such as Malta and Romania are still struggling. The share of students at risk in these countries
exceeds 15%.
Results also show that the 17 EU MS perform fairly well in terms of excellence, meaning
that they succeed in educating many students at high and advanced content and skills levels. On
average, nearly four in ten students (36.40%) perform at the High and Advanced benchmarks. In
Finland, Ireland and Croatia, the share exceeds 45%, while in Member States such as Malta,
Spain and Romania figures are slightly more modest (below 30%).
Similar results for Mathematics are shown in Graph 2. Here too, across the 17 EU MS
the data indicates a high degree of success in terms of inclusiveness. Over 90% of the students
are reaching the Low, Intermediate, High and Advanced benchmarks with only about 9% of
them showing low achievement. However, country differences exist. On this metric, Finland,
Germany and Portugal have a share of low achievers below 5%. On the other hand, in some EU
MS such as Romania and Poland, the share of students at risk exceeds 15%.
Graph 1. PIRLS Reading Benchmarks
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 1, Annex A.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
37
Graph 2. TIMSS Mathematics Benchmarks
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 2, Annex A.
For Mathematics, on average, across the 17 EU MS about 30% of the students perform
at the High and Advanced benchmarks. In Finland, Lithuania and Ireland, the share exceeds
40%, while in Poland, Spain and Romania less than 20% of the students are reaching high and
advanced proficiency levels.
Graph 3 shows results for Science. Across the 17 EU MS, over 91% of the students
reach the Low, Intermediate, High and Advanced benchmarks with only about 8% of them
showing low achievement levels. Finland, Germany and Portugal have shares of low achievers
below 5%. On the other hand, in some Member States such as Romania and Poland, the share of
students at risk exceeds 15%.
Regarding Science, on average, across the 17 EU MS about 35% of the students perform
at the High and Advanced benchmarks. However, there is considerable heterogeneity among
countries. In Finland, the proportion of high achievers
32
exceeds 60%, while in Malta less than
32
High achievement is defined here as student performance at or above the “High International Benchmark” of
TIMSS & PIRLS 2011.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
38
15% of the students reach high and advanced proficiency levels in Science. For all other EU MS,
values lie between 25% and 45%.
Graph 3. TIMSS Science Benchmarks
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 3, Annex A.
Across learning domains, the overall pattern shows that when countries are able to
educate high proportions of students at or above the Low benchmark in Reading, they tend to
perform similarly for Mathematics and Science. A clear example is Finland where the percentages
of students not reaching the Low benchmark for Reading, Mathematics and Science range from
1.45% to 2.68% while large proportions of students have at least a well-rounded foundation of
basic skills in all subjects. In addition, Finland has nearly half of its students or more reaching
the High and Advanced proficiency levels in Reading, Mathematics and Science.
Conversely, in countries such as Romania and Malta, the share of low achievers across
learning domains is quite high. In Romania, the percentages of students not reaching the Low
benchmark for Reading, Mathematics and Science range from 16.51% to 23.06%. In Malta, low
achievement is less pronounced in Mathematics (13.34%) in comparison to the other subjects,
yet consistently high when it comes to Reading (28.80%) and Science (31.94%).
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
39
2.2.2.
Students’ perceptions of instructional teaching practices.
As described in Chapter 1, TIMSS and PIRLS measure students’ perceptions of instructional
teaching practices in Reading, Mathematics and Science. For each subject, students express their
agreement with several items describing instructional activities (e.g. in terms of how interesting
are the materials used or the tasks assigned).
33
Three scales were created to describe the levels of
student engagement
34
with their instruction in the different subjects. Graphs 4, 5 and 6 in the
following pages present this information for Reading, Mathematics and Science.
Graph 4. Students Engaged in Reading Lessons
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 4, Annex A.
33
For the exact wording of the items, please consult Chapter 1, Section 1.4.
34
Students’ engagement was classified in three categories: “Not engaged”, “Somewhat Engaged” and, “Engaged”.
For Reading, “Not engaged” students “agreed a little” with three statements and “disagreed a little” with the other
four, on average. Students in the “Engaged” category “agreed a lot” with four of the statements and “agreed a little”
with the other three, on average, whereas all other students were considered “Somewhat Engaged”. For
Mathematics and Science, students considered to be “Not Engaged” “agreed a little” with two statements and
“disagreed a little” with the other three, on average. “Engaged students” “agreed a lot” with three of the statements
and “agreed a little” with the other two, on average, whereas all other students were considered “Somewhat
Engaged”.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
40
Graph 5. Students Engaged in Mathematics Lessons
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 5, Annex A.
Graph 6. Students Engaged in Science Lessons
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 6, Annex A.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
41
Across the participating EU MS, on average, over 39% of the fourth grade students reported
being Engaged during Reading lessons (see Graph 4). Over 44% reported being Engaged
during Mathematics lessons (see Graph 5) and over 41% in Science lessons (see Graph 6).
Slightly higher shares of students reported being “Somewhat Engaged”: over 51% for Reading,
over 48% for Mathematics and over 50% for Science. Overall, on average, across learning
domains and countries, 91% of the students or more reported being at least somewhat engaged
in their lessons. On average, only about 8% of the students reported being "Not Engaged" in
Reading lessons and 7% reported not being engaged in Mathematics and Science lessons.
Variability among countries is most pronounced for the “Engaged” category. Consistent outliers
across Reading, Mathematics, and Science for the category “Not Engaged” are Finland and
Portugal. In Finland about 20% of the students report not being engaged in each of the three
lesson types. In Portugal, substantially lower shares of students (about 2% on average across
Reading, Mathematics and Science) report no engagement in such lessons.
35
35
Such statistics may appear puzzling. Earlier in this chapter Finland was consistently pointed out as a high
achieving country. A large % of Not engaged students may seem a counterintuitive finding. Nevertheless, we remind
the reader that the information described relies on students’ self-reports and such measures may be affected by
cultural values and/or other specific reference frames such as reference to high educational standards. In addition,
the results are consistent with similar patterns for Finland regarding students’ reports on other attitudinal measures
(e.g. Students like Reading, Mathematics and Science in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011).
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
42
2.3. Generic and content-specific instructional practices. Teachers’ perspective.
Teacher instructional practices
36
have been consistently underscored for their important role in
student learning (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008; Hattie, 2009; Seidel & Shavelson, 2007;
Scheerens & Bosker, 1997). They were shown to have the strongest association with student
achievement above other personal teacher characteristics such as background qualifications
(Boonen, Van Damme & Onghena, 2013; Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008; Muijs & Reynolds,
2010; Palardy & Rumberger, 2008). Some studies (Charalambous, Komitis, Papacharalambous, &
Stefanou, 2014) also report that teachers themselves prefer to be evaluated based on their daily
classroom practices rather than on the basis of other evaluation mechanisms.
For primary education, direct instruction methods (e.g. structuring the content,
questioning) have been generally found (Creemers, Kyriakides & Antoniou, 2013; Hattie, 2009;
Muijs, Campbell, Kyriakides & Robinson, 2005) to be suitable for this young age group.
36
Teacher instructional practices refer to several instructional strategies which teachers may use frequently in the
classroom. See also Chapter 1. Sections 1.3. & 1.4.
Highlights
The different proficiency levels in TIMSS and PIRLS at the fourth grade provide
information on the knowledge and skills teachers must teach/facilitate in the
classroom as well as actual student achievement.
On average, across subjects, over 90% of the fourth graders have at least a well-
rounded foundation of basic skills (reaching the Low Benchmark).
The EU MS where the vast majority of students over 95% - reach the Low
Benchmark) are also those with over 40% of the students reaching the High
Benchmark (e.g. Finland all subjects; Czech Republic Mathematics & Reading;
Croatia Reading; Austria - Science).
However, some educational systems have relatively high shares of low achievers
across learning domains (e.g. Romania all subjects; Malta Reading & Science).
On average, across learning domains and countries, a large proportion (over 91%) of
fourth graders report being at least somewhat engaged with their Reading,
Mathematics and Science instruction.
In the best performing countries (e.g. Finland), higher shares of students tend to
report not being engaged with their Reading, Mathematics and Science instruction.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
43
However, they seem to be highly effective in teaching basic skills but somewhat insufficient for
addressing the development of higher order thinking skills for which more student-centered
approaches (e.g. reflecting on one’s own thinking, problem solving strategies) may be needed.
In the European context (European Commission, 2012a), teachers are called to innovate
their teaching practices and give students a central role in their learning. Yet, this should be
achieved in an inclusive way by ensuring that all students participate in education and develop at
least basic skill levels. In this context, a mix of instructional approaches combining direct
instruction with more student-centered approaches while taking into account the characteristics
of the students (e.g. ability level, social background) should be considered (see also Creemers &
Kyriakides, 2008). In most European countries, the choice of these methods is left at the
discretion of teachers (Eurydice, 2013). Accordingly, the role of professional development
programs is essential in preparing teachers for their activity.
The following section, consistent with the scientific literature (Creemers & Kyriakides,
2008; Charalambous, et al., 2014) and the frameworks of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011, lays out the
distinction
37
between “generic” and “content specific” instructional practices. Generic
instructional practices are those instructional strategies used by the teachers in the classroom that
cut across different learning domains or subject matters. Content-specific practices are those
instructional strategies that are most relevant for particular subject matters, in this case for
Reading, Mathematics and, Science. Within each category, a further distinction is made between
practices relevant for basic versus higher order skills. In addition, the last part of this section
provides information regarding the integration of ICT in teaching and learning practices for
Reading, Mathematics and Science.
2.3.1.
Generic instructional practices.
Graph 7
38
illustrates the proportion of students whose teachers report using several generic
instructional practices
39
. On both sides (right and left) of the graphical representation, solid blue
lines indicate proportions of students categorized under “Most Lessons” according to their
teachers’ responses on the TIMSS and PIRLS scale: “Engaging Students in Learning”. These
teachers use three of the six practices in “every or almost every lesson” and the other three in
“about half the lessons,” on average. The right and left sides of the graph present also
37
See also Chapter 1. Sections 1.3. & 1.4.
38
Please refer also to Tables 7.1. & 7.2. in Annex A. The estimate for FI on “bring interesting materials to the class”
is not reliable, therefore not reported.
39
Analyses based on teachers of Reading. Analyses using weights for teachers of Mathematics and Science yield
similar results.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
44
information on the proportion on students whose teachers use each of the six practices in “every
or almost every lesson”.
On average, many of the fourth graders (72.51%) have teachers who use a variety of
generic instructional practices in most lessons in order to engage them in learning. Yet,
differences among countries are apparent. In particular, in Romania and Lithuania more than
90% of the students have teachers that use a variety of strategies in most lessons. Conversely, in
Finland, Germany and Sweden, less than half of the students have their teachers use these
practices with the same frequency.
With respect to the use of each practice, on average, large shares of fourth graders are
praised for good effort (88.09%), encouraged to improve their performance (85.37%), and
involved in deep questioning (81.63%) at least in almost every lesson. Substantially fewer have
their teacher summarizing the main points of the lesson (67.98%) or relate the lesson to their
daily lives (61.24%); even fewer (27.48%) have their teachers bringing interesting materials to the
class.
Instructional strategies such as the ones described above and in particular questioning,
structuring (summarizing the main points of the lesson), orientation (relating the lesson to
students’ daily lives) and, engaging feedback (praising them for good effort, encouraging them to
Graph 7. Generic Instructional Practices
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 7.1. & 7.2., Annex A.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
45
improve their performance) are fundamental for basic skills instruction (Creemers & Kyriakides,
2008)
40
.
Looking across the countries, there is little variability for involving students in deep
questioning, praising them for good effort and encouraging them to improve their performance.
Notably, in Romania, Poland, and Ireland high proportions of students (more than 90%) are
exposed to all three practices, while in all other countries the share of students whose teachers
involve them in such practices is above 50%.
Considerable variation is nevertheless apparent for summarizing the main points of the
lesson, relating the lesson to students’ daily lives, and bringing interesting materials to the class.
Specifically, the first two practices (summarizing the main points of the lesson, and, relating the
lesson to students’ daily lives) are highly emphasized (for more than 80% of the students) by
teachers in Romania and Croatia. Conversely, in Sweden lower shares of students (about 20%)
are engaged with such practices in almost every lesson. Bringing interesting materials to the class
is less common across the 17 EU MS with extremes for Finland (2.63%) and Romania (55.38%).
40
See also Chapter 1.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
46
2.3.2.
Content-specific instructional practices.
Graph 8
41
presents the percentage of students whose teachers report emphasizing at least weekly
several reading comprehension strategies in their lessons. From left to right, these stategies are
presented according to an ascending order of complexity. In general terms, they can be related to
the different proficiency levels for Reading achievement of TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 (see Box1).
Graph 8. Instructional Strategies for Reading
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Tables 8.1. & 8.2., Annex A
On average, almost all students are asked at least weekly to locate information within the
text (97.17%), identify the main ideas of what they have read (95.48%) and, explain or support
the understanding of what they have read (95.68%). Fewer (84.14%, 68.50% and 67.76%) are
asked to compare what they have read with experiences they have had, compare what they have
read with other things they have read and, make predictions about what will happen next in the
text they are reading. Slightly smaller shares of students (78.52%, 60.16% and, 56.39%) are asked
to make generalizations and draw inferences based on what they have read, describe the style or
structure of the text and determine the author’s perspective or intention.
Across countries, there is little variation in teachers’ reported emphasis on reading
comprehension strategies aimed at developing basic Reading skills (e.g. locating information,
identifying main ideas and explaining). Nevertheless, progressing towards strategies involving
41
Please refer also to Tables 8.1. & 8.2. in Annex A.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
47
higher levels of complexity, the reported emphasis on such strategies varies considerably from
country to country. In particular, large variation is noticeable for determining the author’s
perspective, describing the style of the text, and comparing what students have read with other
readings. More specifically, less than 50% of the students in Finland, Austria, Czech Republic,
and Germany are asked to compare what they have read with other readings, determine the
author’s perspective or to describe the style of the text, while over 80% are asked to do so at
least on a weekly basis in Lithuania, Romania and, Portugal. As described previously in this
chapter, the skills developed by such strategies are most commonly demonstrated by high and
advanced learners in Reading (see Box1).
Graph 9
42
presents instructional strategies for Mathematics. On both sides (right and left)
of the graphical representation, solid blue lines indicate proportions of students whose teachers
emphasize at least weekly instructional strategies focused on developing basic key skills in
Mathematics (ask students to memorize rules, procedures and facts and, explain their answers,
respectively). The left side of the graph also presents information on the proportion of students
whose teachers use several strategies to help them improve their problem solving skills. These
include: working problems (individually or with peers) with teacher guidance; working problems
together in the whole class with direct guidance from teacher; and working problems
(individually or with peers) while the teacher is occupied by other tasks. The problem-solving
skills developed by such strategies are most commonly demonstrated by high and advanced
learners in Mathematics (see Box 2).
On average, only a few students (24.65%) are asked at least weekly to memorize rules,
procedures and facts. More than half (62.08%) are on the other hand asked to explain their
answers. Less than half (53.20% and, 40.93%) are involved in working problems (individually or
with peers) with teacher guidance, and working problems together in the whole class with direct
teacher guidance. Working problems (individually or with peers) while the teacher is occupied by
other tasks occurs in almost every lesson for only 11.27% of the students.
With one exception (working problems - individually or with peers - while the teacher is
occupied by other tasks), most of these practices vary substantially from country to country with
the highest variability for working problems together in the whole class with direct teacher
guidance; asking students to explain their answers; and working problems (individually or with
peers) with teacher guidance. In Austria, Sweden, Croatia, and especially in Finland, teachers put
42
Please refer also to Table 9 in Annex A. Estimates for AT & CZ on “Memorize rules, procedures, and facts” are
not reliable, therefore not reported.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
48
more emphasis on students working problems (individually or with peers) with teacher guidance
rather than on students explaining their answers. The focus on these issues is evenly shared in
Lithuania and Czech Republic, while in the other countries the focus rests on the student ability
to explain their answers.
Graph 9. Instructional Strategies for Mathematics
Proportion of students whose teachers ask them to do the following at least weekly
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 9, Annex A.
Graph 10
43
presents the percentage of students whose teachers report using several
instructional strategies at least in half of the Science lessons. These involve different levels of
complexity. Strategies which involve students observing natural phenomena such as the weather
or a plant growing and describing what they see, giving explanations about something they are
studying, watching the teacher demonstrate an experiment or investigation, and relating what
they are learning in Science to their daily lives are most commonly demonstrated by intermediate
and high performers in Science. Strategies aimed at developing high and advanced scientific
inquiry skills involve practices such as designing or planning experiments or investigations and
conducting such experiments or investigations (see Box 3).
43
Please refer also to Table 10 in Annex A. Estimates for FI on “design or plan experiments” and PL on “conduct
experiments or investigations” are not reliable, therefore not reported.
Isac, M.M. - Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in the EU
49
Graph 10. Instructional Strategies for Science
Proportion of students whose teachers ask them to do the following at least half of the lessons
Source: CRELL analysis based on TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 Combined data. See also Table 10 in Annex A. Estimates for
FI & PL on “design or plan experiments” are not reliable, therefore not reported.
On average, more than 80% of the students are asked in at least half of the lessons to
relate what they are learning in Science to their daily lives (87.94%) and give explanations about
something they are studying (81.11%). Less than half are asked to observe natural phenomena
and describe what they see (41.36%) and even fewer have their teacher demonstrate an
experiment (25.74%), conduct experiments (24.59%), and are involved in designing experiments
(19.49%).
Nevertheless, all these practices vary from country to country with somewhat less
variability for relating what is learned in Science to daily live. The highest variability regards
observing natural phenomena closely followed by watching the teacher demonstrate an
experiment, conducting experiments, explaining what is being studied in Science and designing
experiments.
Notably, less than 20% of the students in a large number of countries (Austria, Croatia,
Poland, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Czech Republic) were involved in designing experiments
and in conducting such experiments, while in Ireland, Romania and Italy about