Manfred Prenzel

Manfred Prenzel

University Professor, Dean of the TUM School of Education, Technische Universität München

“Educating the Educators” is for Manfred Prenzel the bedrock to maintain the competence of our knowledge society. In this vain, Prenzel explores the importance of motivation, value orientations and social competencies to support the teachers’ professional development. As the National Project Manager of the OECD-Programme for International Student Assessment, Prenzel’s contributions are rooted in years of experience as both an education manager and a researcher. Having served as the Director of the Leibniz Institute for Science Education and currently the Dean of the Technische Universität München School of Education, Prenzel strives at getting a reliable picture of the strengths and weaknesses of educational systems and identifying levers for improving teaching and learning especially in schools.

Breaking the Wall of Mindless Schools. How Educational Research can Contribute to Successful and Joyful Learning


When the wall came down, I always had an eye on the reports of the events in Berlin.


Sehr geehrter Herr Bundespräsident Wulff, Mr President (? 44:35 name), ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, it is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to contribute to the fantastic conference here. Thank you for inviting me, and thank you for the perfect organisation. I am just wondering how you all feel after three hours of presentation, input from very different disciplines- no opportunity to move your legs or to participate in face-to-face discussions. So, maybe you feel like in school?

I just want to invite you to relax for a moment. Please, sit back on your chair, relax, and close your eyes. I just want to stimulate your mind a bit. I want you to think of a personal object. The personal object that I want you to think of is your watch. So, please try to imagine your watch in your mind. Lets go through some details of your watch.

What about the clock face of your watch: what colour does the clock face have, and how would you name this colour? Lets think about the dial: are there 60 minutes indicated, or 12 hours, or quarters? What about the numerals: are there 12 numerals, or four, or none? What is the shape of the numerals? Are these Roman numerals or Hindu-Arabic numerals? We could go on and on, but just open your eyes, take a look on your watch, and confront your imagination with the reality.

You don’t have to worry if you had some problems to represent your watch. I am sure there are only a small number of experts here in the room that is able to imagine the mentioned details of their personal watches. The astonishing thing is that everybody is taking a look on his watch several times a day. But it is quite difficult to remember what the details are. Sometime ago you bought your watch and thought about the specifics of the watch, and you compared it with other watches.

What the watch exercise tells us: we may look a thousand times on certain objects, but in the end we have not learned anything. First of all, already, it is not easy to describe: a clock face, for example, in a specialised language or colours. We need the terms, concepts, to order and to describe, and to remember details.

Another consequence: whether and what we see and learn, depends on our perspectives, our questions, our interests. Of course, our interest when we look on our watch is different; we want to know how late it is. But we can also try to stimulate and to discover interesting and important details. Besides, what would have happened if I had asked you to explain how your watch works? Would you have been able to mention at least the principle, or principles, how to scale time?

So what you see: learning is quite difficult, and we need help from outside to classify it, to understand the world around us. We even need education to explore our environments, so education is necessary, and a school is the most important institution to provide education to everyone.

The school is an institution designed to guide the learning of our children systematically, to introduce them into our culture and society, and to prepare them for the challenges of the future. The function of a school, however, is not only to support the acquisition of knowledge, but also, maybe primarily, the development of the young personality. Schools prepare for participation in society. Schools create the basis for learning across the lifespan. Schools help to get access to objects, themes, issues, and to experiences young people normally would not have access to in their personal environments, depending on their family backgrounds, for example. Schools try hard to help students to focus up on issues at hand. So schools, as you can see in the Orbis Pictus from Comenius, try to exclude the world outside, in order to help students to focus on issues at hand.

You can also see the wall as some kind of conditions that could foster the collaboration, the development of a learning community. But on the other side, high walls carry he risk to exclude real life from schools, to create artificial settings for learning, and also maybe making schools quite different and non-transparent to look at from the outside. Schools today still give the impression that they are dominated by walls. There are, however, several attempts to break these walls; what could mean: first to have a look on the (? 51:00 processes) and outcomes of schools.

When students are leaving school after several years, are they prepared for life, for the challenges of a knowledge society, for the future? Questions like that guided several international comparisons, like the OECD program for international student assessment: PISA. The findings of the PISA assessment in 2000 were very sobering for Germany. Germany performed very low, below the OECD average; even more problematic have been the large proportions of very low performing students and the strong relationships between social background and performance. PISA caused a lot of efforts to improve our schools.

I would like to show you some findings that we received in a number of studies linked to PISA. In an extension of PISA 2003, we tried to analyse how much students in Germany are learning during the course of one year of schooling. So, we had the opportunity to extend the international sample. We could access two complete classrooms in all participating schools to two points of time: first at the end of grade nine, and then again at the end of grade ten. We used different kinds of tests, curriculum oriented as well as literacy-oriented items, and we used scaling method that allowed to locate the results on one scale.

This scatter plot shows what our students did learn in the course of one year schooling in mathematics. The points represent about 6,000 students showing the performance in grade nine and grade ten on the PISA scale. On average, the students at grade ten performed 25 points higher on the PISA scale; but according to the diagonal line here, the diagonal line here represents no change. Above the line are about 58% of the students who improved their mathematic performance significantly, 42% of the students did not.

You can ask: what did the students do? Were they daydreaming? No, they weren’t; they worked very hard. They tried to understand, but also they were quite successful. They mastered the class work, and the teacher made tests. At the end, they performed the school successfully.

We could also aggregate these findings on the classroom levels, and we find a number of classes that performed better on average after one year of schooling. That is quite interesting for us to go into details about differences between kinds of instructions. My interpretation of these findings is as follows: learning in most of our classrooms is strongly related to the high stakes teacher made assessments and marks, and that produces a kind of short-term learning to the test. It leads to a superficial success. Of course everybody is happy: parents, students, and the teachers- that there is a progress. But, it is a progress on a very superficial level. Assessments like PISA try to assess at the end of one year of schooling, at the end of a school phase, and see what is sustainable knowledge that has been kept over a certain period of time.

What I show you here now is a finding, similar approach, what students did learn in a year of physics- also in the ninth grade. Here you see a scatter plot of 50 classrooms. We again see that there are some classrooms that perform better after- at the end of the year- what we would expect.

But, what you see here is a scatter plot showing the development of the interest. During the course of one year of schooling, most of the students lost interest. They improved the understanding, but they are no longer interested in physics. So, what does it mean? They will not tend to select advance science courses. They will not decide to engage in a profession linked to science. We now have a number of data and evidence that also highly talented students in mathematics and science turn away from the sciences.

At the moment we see that, not only in the German classrooms, but also in many other countries, the learning is focused on cognitive understanding, cognitive performance, but not on the development of interest and motive. That is very important in schools to improve also the motivations to go on learning in these different disciplines.

So, just mentioned study on the development of competence and interest in physics was a video study. That means we recorded a number of lessons in these classrooms. Our question was: what makes a difference with respect to the development of interest and understanding? In these video analyses we tried to identify patterns of teaching that support higher order thinking as well as the development of interest. What we did find were at least three relevant factors.

The first factor can be named goal orientation and coherence of the lessons. We found, for example, that teachers spend on average only one minute of the lesson for the introduction, for exposing the goal, for structuring the way to proceed. Motivation and understanding are supported by an exposition of the problem at hand that shows the relevance and gives an idea of ways to tackle the problem.

The second point: process oriented teaching. The typical classroom dialogue is dominated by teacher talk, by short questions, short answers, by very narrow-focused discussions. There are a small number of teachers posing questions that demand higher order learning activities. There are teachers who use opportunities to provide constructive feedback that again makes a difference- and the quality experiments, for example.

There are only a small number of teachers that stimulate the students to model theoretical relationships and to design their experiment. That enquiry-based science teaching approach also makes a difference. In the end, we find here some examples of joyful and mindful teaching and learning.

Let me finish with three consequences. I think we need more awareness also on a political level for multidimensional objectives and outcomes, not only cognition, but also motivation. The second point: we have to improve our teacher training and also our professional development. Thank you very much.