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As a philosophy and social movement, effective altruism has gained traction among philanthropists over the past decade. The aims of this strand of thought are self-explanatory: to engage in altruistic actions (to ‘do good’) in the most effective manner possible. To determine how one goes about doing this, three questions arise:

1. What does it mean to ‘do good’?

Philosophers have long pondered the meaning of altruism, with disagreements over its nature and authenticity. My aim here is not to delve into the complexities of this epistemological debate, but rather to tap into commonly-accepted notions of doing ‘good’. One such definition could be simply framed as improving the welfare of others. …


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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

If you ask a teacher virtually anywhere in the world to describe their go to structure for a 40 minute lesson, many will say that they begin with a few minutes of review.

But is that actually a good idea?

In Barak Rosenshine’s guide to research based strategies all teachers should know, strategies #1 and #10 suggest that a week’s worth of instruction for a single subject should look like this:

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This is definitely better than no review.

Rosenshine provides robust evidence from three types of sources — in support of devoting 30% of instructional time to review. Rosenshine’s principles are a synthesis of decades of research on “how the mind acquires and uses information, the instructional procedures that are used by the most successful teachers, and the procedures invented by researchers to help students learn difficult tasks.” …


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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In Barak Rosenshine’s guide to research based strategies all teachers should know, strategies #1 and #10 suggest that a week’s worth of instruction for a single subject should look like this:

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Rosenshine provides robust evidence from three types of sources — a synthesis of decades of research on “how the mind acquires and uses information, the instructional procedures that are used by the most successful teachers, and the procedures invented by researchers to help students learn difficult tasks.”

Spending 30% of instructional time on review definitively beats no review. But is 30% enough?

Direct Instruction (one of the most empirically validated types of pedagogy) as well as other cognitive science research on the benefits of spacing — suggest that devoting 30% of instructional time to review is not nearly enough to ensure you teach every student to mastery and guarantee long term retention of what is taught. These research based principles suggest that the review::new material ratio should be the INVERSE of what Rosenshine suggests! …


Teaching is the most important job in the world. The quality of any nation’s education cannot exceed the quality of its educators.

“Collectively, we need to tackle the learning crisis for the one in two children being failed as they never even learn the basics”

Each teacher has the opportunity to shape and impact tens of thousands of young lives over the course of their career. It is not unusual to hear someone reflect on a favourite teacher from their school days or to ascribe their success in life to the advice or guidance given by a teacher.

Yet, in many low and middle-income countries teaching is an extremely difficult profession. Once trained, teachers can find themselves teaching in a range of challenging situations; days away from the nearest town; with little or no support or guidance; textbooks that aren’t aligned to the material or the age of the children they are attempting to teach and overcrowded classrooms with children sitting on the floor. …


It’s 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon at Mokola Academy in Alimosho, Lagos, Nigeria. Bridge pupils and teachers have been giving 110% all week, making huge strides in reading, maths and science. A peek through a classroom window provides a glimpse of a quiet room with children intently focused on classwork. Teachers circulate, checking pupils work, marking answers and giving in-the-moment feedback as they move around the classroom.

Energy is dwindling — but suddenly, two loud claps ring out. “Eyes on me!” echoes throughout the academy and suddenly there is a mass rustling of textbooks closing, pencils clattering on desks and pupils excitedly whispering. …


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Government teacher Prince, from Liberia on the difference that receiving proper training and support has made to his teaching.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs in the world, but often teachers working where they are most needed have little help, training or support. In many low and middle-income countries teachers are left isolated and unsupported in remote communities where they are responsible for overcrowded classrooms.

Often they have few teaching resources and may struggle to understand the content they teach. Despite this they are expected to improve learning outcomes and lay the foundation for the prosperity of both their communities and countries. …


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Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Children benefit most when academics have a genuine synergy with front line teachers and practitioners. It takes a unique combination of learning science and the art of human interactions to maximise learning. I have recognised the need for this collaboration for many years, but only recently have I been able to witness its true effect on teacher and learning.

When I began my career as a teacher, I was quickly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead of me. After studying education for four years, I thought I had learned everything that I needed to know in order to be a great teacher. I took courses on theory, practice, classroom management, and methods. I had completed four practical experiences across Boston public and private school systems. But after my first few days of real teaching, I yearned for even 30 minutes with my professors, to reflect with them on the multitude of challenges and complexities that had already arisen in such a short time in the classroom. In short, I was in over my head, and I needed help from the experts. …


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Imagine a classroom of 45 students in Liberia. A teacher spends 5 minutes demonstrating 37 + 24 on the blackboard. She then leads students through a 10 minute guided practice of a similar problem, 44 + 19. Finally, students launch into a 25-minute independent practice solving problems aligned to today’s goal. All students work hard, 15 students answer most questions correctly, 15 students do okay, and 15 students answer most questions incorrectly. The teacher circulates while they work in order to give feedback to as many students as possible before the lesson ends.

Most pedagogical experts would recognise this as an instructionally sound, well-aligned 40-minute lesson. After many years of crafting lessons this way, I too believe this is a much more effective approach than status quo lessons in many low and middle-income countries, which is often a teacher lecturing and students copying from the board. However, after studying Direct Instruction (DI) programs, I now think that this Liberia math lesson falls far short of maximising the impact of 40 minutes worth of instructional time. …


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When a plane crashes, we examine every detail about the aircraft’s mechanics. When a building collapses, we examine every detail about the building’s construction. And when students fail to learn, we for some reason skip examining every detail about instructional design.

If an education system fails to ensure that every first grader can read the simple sentence “The name of the dog is Puppy,” and every third grader can solve a two-digit subtraction problem such as 46 minus 17, then we must interrogate the details of reading and mathematics program design.

The details of effective instructional design — just like details of building an airplane or constructing a building — are too high stakes and too complex to be left to intuition, memory or the whims of individual preference. …


Many early grade math programs teach students to solve addition and subtraction problems by representing quantities with a physical symbol, like lines. To add, kids simply draw lines for both numbers and count them up. To subtract, kids draw lines for the starting quantity (the “minuend”), then cross out the subtracted quantity and count what’s left.

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Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

By using lines for subtraction like this, what kids are actually doing is solving by “counting back” because they can’t compute yet — they haven’t memorised that 8–5 = 3, so to simplify the expression, they physically cross out 5 of the 8 lines and find that only 3 lines remain, so the answer must be 3. …

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Talking Education is a Medium Publication all about progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4: Education for All.

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