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Looking Beyond High-Yield Strategies
The term “high-yield strategies,” I hear used quite a bit, and actually when I first heard the phrase it didn’t bother me that much. But over the years it’s bothered me quite a bit and here’s why: it implies that there are strategies that should be used by every teacher, and that is absolutely not the case.
While it is true that if you look at the research on all of the various types of strategies that we know can be used in the classroom, there will be some that, in general, have a larger—the technical term is “effect size”—than others. Here’s all that means: they have a stronger relationship with student achievement. That is, they’re looking at the studies and their average effect is a little larger than some other studies. You might say that is high yield ... there are some strategies that are high yield and others aren’t. The only problem is that even with a highest-yield strategy, if you will, if you look at the research what you find is that even the best strategy ... let me give you a great one: Use of Feedback. A great researcher named John Hade just analyzed about 146,000 studies and the effect size of 138 variables and rank-ordered them in terms of the average effect size of those variables. They didn’t all have to do with instruction, but of the instructional strategies I believe feedback had the highest average effect size. So, it’s one of the highest of the high-yield strategies. But even that, if you look at the literature, you’ll find that about one-third of the studies indicate that by giving feedback within the context of those studies actually had a negative effect on the student achievement. That is, in those studies, if they didn’t give students feedback they had a better achievement than if they did. And that’s the case across all strategies.
There is no strategy, and I don’t think there ever will be, that absolutely, uniformly works. So, the term high-yield strategies I think gives that implication. And actually I’ve always tried to use the word “high-probability strategy.” There are some strategies that have a higher probability of working than other strategies. And strategies are just tools; that’s all they are. There is no strategy that I know of that I can say, every teacher absolutely has to use this all the time. Even though the term didn’t bother me in the beginning, it really does now because I think it communicates the wrong message, and that message is that, by golly, it is these sets of strategies that everybody should use regardless of their subject area, grade level, regardless of the context, and that is absolutely not true. Actually, recommending that is poor practice. It really doesn’t reflect what we know about the complexity of the teaching/learning process.