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Surveys of Learning Reveal Strengths, Weaknesses
Over the past two decades, large-scale surveys have generated a wealth of generalizable evidence on instruction. But until recently, this vast body of research has not been summarized systematically.
UW–Madison education professor Eric Camburn and Sociology graduate student Seong Won Han set out to remedy that. They reviewed and analyzed evidence on instruction from all surveys conducted between 1987 and 2005 that used nationally representative samples to measure classroom instruction.
Camburn and Han reviewed 145 studies that used data from 19 national surveys to investigate instruction. They found that
The review also confirmed that students of low socioeconomic status (SES) received diminished learning opportunities compared to their more affluent peers.
Dimensions of Instruction
Camburn identified positive relationships between six dimensions of instruction and student achievement (see sidebar: “Dimensions of Instruction”). The dimension of instruction with the greatest number of positive results was interactions for learning. That refers to the ways students tap informational, human, or material resources to support their learning.
The review also showed several positive relationships between focus of learning (content coverage) and student achievement. Among the nine studies reporting a significant relationship, five examined the amount of content covered, and four examined the coverage of specific topics or the integration of topics.
Type of cognitive activity was shown to be positively associated with achievement in seven studies.
Finally, five studies found a positive correlation between achievement and control of learning (i.e., whether the pace of instruction is controlled by students or the teacher).
Level of rigor varies
Unequal opportunity to learn
Content coverage lopsided
Implications for research on instruction
Camburn also encourages fellow education researchers to engage in more scientifically rigorous inquiries when they use large-scale survey data to study instruction.
See Camburn, E.M., and Han, S.W. (in press). Two decades of generalizable evidence on U.S. instruction from National surveys. Teachers College Record.