TALIS: Showing how teachers acquire confidence and improve children’s learning.

This week, a new round of TALIS survey results will be published by OECD. This blog looks at some of the findings from the last TALIS survey, which shows the sorts of practices which increase teachers’ feeling of confidence in the classroom and, in turn, improve children’s learning.

talis_blog3Schools and classrooms are often described as black boxes in which teaching and learning process are impossible to truly capture and monitor in depth. To help open this black box, and look closer at the types of learning environments that support effective teaching and motivated teachers, the OECD developed the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). This was carried out in 23 middle and high income countries in 2007-2008. It focused on teacher appraisal and feedback, teachers’ professional development, and teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about teaching and their pedagogical practices. The next results of this survey are due out this week.

TALIS does not directly link classroom teaching practices with learning outcomes. Its starting point is that teachers who believe they can successfully teach the most difficult subjects and the most difficult students (called ‘self-efficacy’) are those who set higher standards and deliver better learning outcomes. Indeed, there is a positive correlation between the extent to which lower secondary school teachers feel confident in the classroom, as measured by TALIS, and the reading skill levels among 15-year-olds in the 2009 PISA (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Learning outcomes are higher in countries where teachers feel capable of teaching well 

Average score of teacher self-efficacy index in TALIS and average reading score in PISA, selected countries, 2008-2009


Source: TALIS 2008 database

A key objective of the TALIS survey is to discover what school and individual characteristics are associated with teachers who have confidence in their teaching abilities. While cultural characteristics influence the strength with which patterns appear in different countries, three findings stand out:

First, teachers who report they teach well are often found in school settings characterized by a greater variety of teaching practices in the classroom. Teachers who make use of diverse teaching practices are more able to adapt them to different learning situations and student needs. TALIS examined teaching practices such as structuring (teachers clarifying the goals of the lesson to ensure that all students understand the basic principles), student orientation (using both team work and student participation in classroom planning), and giving students the chance to work independently.

Second, teachers who report confidence in their teaching also participate in professional learning communities. Two of the six components of professional learning communities were particularly important: cooperation through joint teaching, which requires a higher level of coordination and reflection than just the exchange of pedagogical material; and openness, as measured by the frequency with which teachers observe the classes of their colleagues. In Malaysia and Turkey fewer than 2% of lower secondary school teachers observed their colleagues on a weekly basis and fewer than 7% taught classes together. In Denmark and Norway, the respective shares were seven times higher (Figure 2).

Figure 2. There are major differences in the extent to which teachers collaborate and learn from each other

Percentage of teachers who teach lesson jointly and observe other teachers at least once every week, selected countries, 2008


Source: TALIS 2008 database

Third, teachers who are more confident in the classroom are more likely to receive feedback and appraisal and specifically receive public recognition from their school principal or colleagues. In Italy and Mexico, teachers who never received appraisal or feedback in their school were less likely to feel confident in their teaching ability. Yet, two in three Italian teachers and one in three Mexican teachers had never been appraised or received feedback by the school management team. In Italy, 90% of teachers had never been appraised or received feedback by an external body either. In countries where a teacher appraisal process is in place, TALIS shows that teacher confidence increases, especially if it takes into account their attempts at innovation in teaching.

TALIS_COVERThese findings are all crucial for disentangling the knot that is the global learning crisis, and putting better systems in place in the future. As the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 showed, policy makers need to work to unlock the potential of teachers so that all children learn basic skills and knowledge. This week, the next round of TALIS results will be published by OECD. The EFA GMR, for one, will be examining them in great depth to feed into our next Report.




  1. Confidence in teaching can help only if it results from a realistic knowledge store. Just raising confidence can mislead!
    Teachers need knowledge! How to train low-educated teachers so that they can quickly bring the requisite content into their working memory? This is what UNESCO could be studying.

    1. I absolutely agree with Helen. Unless teachers’ own knowledge level is improved to a point where they not only retain the knowledge but are able to apply it from their memory, it is not possible to achieve any improvement in teaching practices. Most pedagogical skills imparted to teachers with low knowledge cause a temporary ‘feel good’ response and equally temporary confidence level improvement which disappears as soon as the teacher enters the class full of students. About time we started focusing on the real issue of knowledge acquisition of our teachers!

    2. I think there is far more to be said about the certification bodies, especially in places like Ghana, that allow for teachers to receive lifetime jobs without requiring continual upskilling and re-certification. The onus is on the teacher, but largely on the system, to encourage teachers to increase their knowledge levels and employ diverse teaching strategies. I do think that more should be done to better recognize teachers who show an agency to better their skills. In Ghana, for example, I think the role of circuit supervisors and school inspectors need to be parsed well so that one can act as a knowledge support and the other act in a compliance role instead of CS’s doing both jobs and doing the former quite poorly.

    3. I did a small study into the correlation between content knowledge and efficacy. Even scarier is an over confident teacher with low content knowledge…because they think they are amazing when there is room to learn and grow,

  2. En la sociedad de la información los profesores no son la principal fuente de conocimientos y entre las funciones prioritarias de la escuela no está la difusión de información. Así se desprende de informes internacionales como el coordinado por Delors para la UNESCO, publicado con el título “La educación encierra un tesoro”. Si se trata de ayudar al desarrollo de habilidades y actitudes para vivir en el mundo actual, tiene sentido proponer el uso de un repertorio variado de prácticas de enseñanza y la predisposición para el trabajo en equipo con colegas como base de la autoconfianza docente. Esa autoconfianza puede relacionarse con la esperanza en el potencial transformador de la acción educadora, defendido por P. Freire como rasgo imprescindible de los educadores. Igualmente condicionaría el equilibrio emocional tan necesario en esta profesión. Y parece lógico esperar el dominio del significado, fundamentos y alcance de las prácticas, no solo de los aspectos técnicos, para poder responder a las necesidades de los alumnos y a los objetivos de los programas.

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