John Jensen, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the three-volume Practice Makes Permanent series wants to know how much a teacher contributes to student learning. Is his or her contribution high, medium, low, or a threat?
He said that If we could determine this, presumably we could hire and retain those on the optimal end of the scale.
One challenge is to separate the teacher’s influence from those originating in the student, the student’s parents, or alternate conditions. A separate concern is whether we can even find out how much students learn.
Perhaps solving the last issue first might suggest how to gauge the teacher’s contribution. So first off, how do we tell what children have learned?
He submits that a practical criterion available to any teacher has been almost universally ignored. In a sense, all tested knowledge is “retained” in order to be tested. Some, however, has been engraved in a child’s mind for a lifetime, and other will disappear in a few days. A high school health teacher showed him a test he had just given without realizing he had administered it two weeks earlier.
However they studied in that class, the outcome was temporary rather than permanent knowledge. So how can we separate deep, retained knowledge from temporary, surface, disappearing knowledge? How do we find this out? We do so with three conditions:
1. Entire course mastery. We make students continually responsible for the entire course back to the beginning of the year.
2. Make all tests impromptu. Test any part of the entire course at random moments with no prior announcement.
3. Keep the last grade. Whatever is the last grade a student receives for a given section goes into his or her transcript as that section’s grade of record.
These three conditions substantially alter instructional focus. By replacing the grades granted for knowledge obtained by cramming, review questions, scaffolding, test construction, and teacher hints, the three conditions extract the learning practiced sufficiently to persist on its own—retained learning.