Reflections on measuring success in teaching

My last two posts here were about teaching equations and bucking the traditional method of teaching skill-by-skill. I called it teaching big-picture style. I was not sure how my approach to teaching equations would go. Reflecting on it now, I’m actually wondering about how effective teaching is measured anyway?

Not to over-simplify, I would like to suggest that there are 2 ways to do this.

1. Tests – Formal Assessment

Rightly or wrongly, students are expected to be tested and graded. Part of effective teaching is preparing them for tests. Students need some experience on how to prepare for, take and learn from tests.

As a measure of success, this is relatively easy to set up and execute. Done over a period of time, student growth can be even be tracked. Results are considered evidence….there it is on paper.

2. Engagement

Are the students on-task? Are they motivated? Are they doing what they’re supposed to do? Are they persevering through challenging questions? I even dare ask – are they enjoying themselves?

This requires observation and conversation. Tracking student growth is harder and there’s hardly any 1st-hand evidence.

So then, was my approach to teaching equations a success?

The test results show yes.

Engagement levels were also up. Students did not give up. They persevered and generally stayed keen to learn. They played with equations (lots of interactive sites out there) and wrestled with equations. Some even said they enjoyed doing equations. All these from a class used to getting grades of C and D. Pretty good, I say.

Moving forward, I think that most educators struggle to make learning engaging whilst working within the constraints of needing to test. Personally, I’m not a big fan of tests but it’s a reality and does not look like it will go away in the near future. ┬áTests are handy for various reasons including assessment of (and for) learning and ‘filtering’ for streaming purposes, say.To make ‘tests’ more meaningful, even for myself, I make it a metaphor for Life – sometimes things happen that make us feel we’re being tested. What strategies do we employ to prepare for, take and learn from these? This act of abstraction helps and I mention this to students…they may as well abstract with me.

That said, even if my students get the highest scores in maths yet failed to have enjoyed it, I would consider myself to have failed….or to put it more mildly….not fully succeeded in teaching maths.

Does it even make sense to measure success in teaching?

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on measuring success in teaching

  1. matriellez says:


    Testing is the essence of our school system. It is a fundamental basis of the system to create a few successes for establishment positions. As a teacher you are required to test to deliver the successes the world of work requires.

    We do our best for the kids so we continue to force them to test as asessment or otherwise.

    If we happen to educate at the same time it is a fortunate by-product. I hope you manage to do some educating whilst giving the kids the qualifications they want.

    • malyn says:

      You’ve written just enough to pique my interest and henceforth visit your site….which then puts everything in context.

      I still believe that education is not a by-product but that which makes teachers come back day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out. The frequency of change is affecting the purpose of education as a means to get qualifications, especially because it is estimated that students will have 3-4 different careers in their working lives. Accepting that dictates the need to teach how to learn – not just how to succeed in exams. It is a dream, not a by-product, and I have reason to believe that teachers are paying attention to the needs of 21st century learning.

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