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Professor Wim van de Grift: ‘Teachers can only provide tailor-made teaching if they are given the right support’

01 June 2011

Half of the teachers in senior general secondary and pre-university education do not pay enough attention to the differences between their students. This is one of the findings contained in a report recently published by the Education Inspectorate. But they are not to blame, according to the professor of educational science and head of the teacher-training department of the University Centre for Learning & Teaching at the University of Groningen, Wim van de Grift. ‘The quality of teachers has not changed over the years, while the work has become much more demanding. I would argue the case for introducing nationally standardized exams and providing more coaching. This would help teachers to gear their teaching to the needs of individual students.’

Wim van de Grift
Wim van de Grift

International research has shown that over the last few years, the percentage of Dutch school students who have trouble reading and doing mathematics has increased, while the percentage of students that excel in mathematics has dropped. Attention for individual teaching needs has been growing in response to these findings, says Van de Grift. ‘We are still doing well compared with the countries around us. But performance among our 15-year-olds clearly lags behind that of 15-year-olds in Finland and the Asian economies. If we want to change this, we must ensure that our education is better geared to the needs of individual students. We must encourage less-able students to higher levels of attainment and lead our best students to levels of excellence.’

New teachers

Van de Grift is not surprised that so few teachers gear their teaching to the differing needs of students. The situation has been highlighted during many years of observations. Part of the problem lies with new teachers, according to the professor. ‘New teachers can create a safe and stimulating environment for their students, they can organize their lessons efficiently, they can give clear instruction and are often able to involve their students actively in the lessons. But however well-trained you may be, it takes a few years before you are fully conversant with the curriculum, the distribution of teaching material over the year and the examination programme. You need to build up a routine before you can really gauge the level of your individual students.’

Standardized testing

Gearing teaching to the needs of the individual is much more difficult in secondary education than in primary education, continues Van de Grift. ‘In primary schools, the teacher has the same class all day. In secondary schools, teachers see much less of each student, sometimes only one or two hours per week. This makes it trickier to gauge their level.’ Furthermore, national standardized testing, such as the Cito test in primary schools, is less common in secondary education. ‘Obviously all teachers set tests and exams, but national standardized tests are the only way to determine which students are lagging behind in relation to their contemporaries in the rest of the country and which students could do even better. This would provide teachers with an instrument for gearing their teaching to the needs of individual students.’

Further professionalization

Teachers also need further professionalization, according to Van de Grift. Experiments have shown that class consultations and coaching enable teachers to analyze their students’ performance, and that they can then use the information to customize their teaching. ‘A single master class or a one-day conference is not enough,’ claims Van de Grift. ‘A teacher will learn much more if a colleague or a specialist observes and analyzes his or her teaching on a regular basis and gives advice. Some schools in the north of the country are already working on this form of professionalization.’

Curriculum vitae

Wim van de Grift (1951) studied psychology in Utrecht and obtained a PhD in Leiden for research into the role of school managers in educational reform. He worked as a researcher at the University of Amsterdam and for the Education Inspectorate, before being appointed Professor of Theory of Education and head of the University Centre for Learning & Teaching [UOCG] teacher-training programme at the University of Groningen in 2008.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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