Sutton Trust: Seven popular teaching strategies unsupported by evidence

A new Sutton Trust report which reviews over 200 pieces of research on how to develop great teachers has listed seven popular teaching practices not supported by evidence…

The seven examples of strategies unsupported by evidence are:

  1. Using praise lavishly For low-attaining students praise that is meant to be encouraging and protective can actually convey a message of low expectations. The evidence shows children whose failure generates sympathy are more likely to attribute it to lack of ability than those who are presented with anger.
  2. Allowing learners to discover key ideas for themselves Enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.
  3. Grouping students by ability Evidence on the effects of grouping by ability, either by allocating students to different classes, or to within-class groups, suggests that it makes very little difference to learning outcomes. It can result in teachers failing to accommodate different needs within an ability group and over-playing differences between groups, going too fast with the high-ability groups and too slow with the low.
  4. Encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas Testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches to memorisation than re-reading or highlighting.
  5. Addressing low confidence and aspirations before teaching content Attempts to enhance motivation prior to teaching content are unlikely to succeed and even if they do the impact on subsequent learning is close to zero. If the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure starting to get them to succeed through learning content will improve motivation and confidence.
  6. Presenting information to students in their preferred learning style Despite a recent survey showing over 90% of teachers believe individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, the psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits to this method.
  7. Being active, rather than listening passively, helps you remember This claim is commonly presented in the form of a ‘learning pyramid’ which shows precise percentages of material that will be retained when different levels of activity are employed. These percentages have no empirical basis and are pure fiction…

More at: Many popular teaching practices are ineffective, warns new Sutton Trust report


Download the full report from the Sutton Trust: What makes great teaching?


See also from the Sutton Trust: Improving the learning of teachers


Your thoughts, feedback and suggestions from the seven unsupported strategies listed above or the report in general? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Research and Teaching.


  1. rhcaseby

    SchoolsImprove suttontrust Good to base teaching on evidence, but pity only some of 7 on list include info on what IS effective.

  2. StokeParkCllr

    SchoolsImprove suttontrust great post. I would challenge no. 7. No doubt in my mind that moving around helps memory whatever the subject

  3. garyhenderson18

    Itsdihere like point 3. Instead build team work and leadership skills and have Ss work in mixed ability groups in effective teams.

  4. Itsdihere

    garyhenderson18 We have some primary schools testing this out. Differentiation not by ability grouping. OutwoodIE #mathshubs

  5. stevesheehan52

    SchoolsImprove suttontrust lessons is judged in 20 by someone using a checklist based on half understood research. That’s the problem.

  6. garyhenderson18

    Itsdihere OutwoodIE worked in a school which set using PE ability and then focused in PE on teamwork. Seemed to result in better results

  7. Janet2

    The full report warns that bluntly telling teachers what doesn’t work isn’t a good basis for building good practice.  This is especially true when the tactics are open to interpretation.  For example, the list says discovery methods don’t work and key ideas are better taught by direct instruction.  But ‘direct instruction’ can vary between standing at the front and telling pupils facts to introducing a key idea with questions that check understanding.  Similarly, ‘discovery methods’ can be unguided activity or carefully designed activities followed by feedback which embed the key ideas.

  8. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove suttontrust Very interesting as many of these I’ve been “marked down” for not doing in observations. Fantastic!

  9. amirshah316

    SchoolsImprove This is interesting but also shows how the profession continues to evolve only to resemble that which we did years ago.

  10. amirshah316

    SchoolsImprove This is interesting but also shows how the profession continues to evolve only to resemble that which we did years ago.

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