Is there a ‘best way’ to teach?

I wrote this as a result of reading two excellent posts from @Sue_Cowley and @debrakidd, both of which were written in response to other posts saying we should never use such things as ‘Pokémon Go’ in the classroom, as they are ‘gimmicks’. The blog posts are here: 

I don’t use Pokémon Go. It doesn’t interest me, but is something that clearly interests millions of others, many of them school-age children and it interests a proportion of teachers too. That’s great. Each to their own. I do love Virgil, Homer and other literature from ‘classic times’ and I’m reasonably well-read around literature ‘classics’, I love Shakespeare and poetry, especially Eliot, is my first artistic love and has been since I was a teenager. I discuss reading tastes often on Twitter. My interests lie elsewhere from Pokémon and I’m a real nerd when it comes to literature. I love debate and will hold my own, though I recognise that some are far better at debating than I am! My 27 and 29 y-o daughters find Pokémons and enjoy finding them. Pokémon Go has taken over some people’s lives and I shake my head at that. I’m wary of addiction, even to crazes and fads (if, indeed, it proves to be). Television was described as a fad’, as were computers, when they arrived, so were all stuffed there as we all use ‘fads’ in our daily lives.

I read the two blogs above, after reading a blog from @C_Hendrick, in which he states that ‘fads and gimmicks should be resisted in the classroom’. The trouble is that all the evidence points to schools having got better over the last 30+ years, while all these ‘fads and gimmicks’ that Carl refers to, have been operative. The number of ‘good’ schools in the country, as judged by successively more taxing Ofsted frameworks, has increased, not decreased. That reflects my 30+ years experience in schools. Schools in the UK are better now than, perhaps, they have ever been and they get better year-on-year. I don’t see cogent evidence saying the opposite and showing that schools have got worse.

The same evidence points to schools improving due to two things. The first is that leadership is better. Headteachers possess quite amazing skills and put pupils first. As a result, schools have clearly improved. The second improvement is in the quality of teaching. Teaching is so much more perceptive and skilled now and as a result, pupils’ needs are far better met than they ever were in the past. This improvement in teaching has led to improving standards in the nationally measured standards areas of KS2, KS4 and KS5. Either the measures are wrong (there have been awful problems in some areas, but not to the extent that we can totally disbelieve the test evidence, for me), the tests have got easier (moot, but the demands on pupils’ skills are more exacting), the pupils have got better at the tests (yes, but the reason why comes with the last of my reasoning points) or the quality of teaching has improved – and it has. Immensely.

The improvement in teaching quality, in my opinion has been down to bloody hard work by teachers, a willingness to see the pupils’ needs as paramount and a wide range of approaches from which teachers can draw to meet those needs. Some of those approaches may be looked upon by some as ‘fads and gimmicks’. However, for some individuals in some contexts, they may be key.

In this range of approaches, some which would be regarded as ‘fads and gimmicks’, there are pupils who has awful home circumstances, who are emotionally damaged, who have suffered abuse, who are regarded as ‘naughty’ and who are heading for NEET and perhaps much worse, on leaving secondary school. But there are such pupils who have been turned round in their teenage years. How? Someone took the time to find out what that pupils needs were. Relationships are key. Kindness is key and when nothing seemed to be working, someone, or a school, didn’t give up. The genius of teachers, is in recognising a need and drawing upon a very wide toolkit to address that need at that time. That’s what teachers do, of a daily basis and it really is genius. That is why teaching has improved, from the much narrower armoury possessed by teachers 30+ years ago. At times, recognising the context and addressing those highly individual needs with that genius, saves kids.

You can find examples of such all over the Internet; of successful people whose lives were turned around by someone, or a school, not giving up on them and finding the key. Maybe that key is gardening. Maybe that key is sport. Maybe that key is Pokémon Go? The keys are needed because teenager’s interest has never been just sitting in a classroom with everyone else, taking part in a debate about women in Shakespeare, learning about the workings of sound waves, or learning calculus, or even studying the Oresteia plays by Aeschylus (via a very well-written post, as always, by Martin Robinson, @Trivium21c). I’d actually love all of those lessons and many people reading this would, but we got through to now in education. We found our own keys. Sometimes it was rules and rigid structures which helped. Sometimes, it was a curiosity for learning, which transcended the dire, boring, selfish teaching we experienced (fortunately this is seldom seen in classrooms today, but in the 1970s……).

Learning is not the same for everyone. We all have our personal way of learning. People don’t have classifiable ‘learning styles’, because everyone is a highly complex learner, at 3-years old, 19, or 60. We need our learning needs to be met. Even now, we need our needs to be met and if they aren’t, we won’t learn as well as we could, or we will switch off and not bother learning at all.

Apply that in school. At times, direct instruction is a necessary way of teaching. At other times, pupils need to learn collaborative skills in groups. Demonstration and modelling is needed. Learning by exploration, blended learning, lecturing, facilitating and many other teaching styles. all have their place, but context, not dogma, is king.

There is a ‘however’. There are outstanding schools amongst comprehensives who free up teachers to teach in their own way, yes, but there are other schools who have recruited teachers to teach in particular ways, who are also outstanding. Pupils in Steiner schools, Montessori schools, grammar schools, free schools who expect direct instruction from all staff, faith schools who teach faith studies for 30% of the curricum (I know! e.g. Jewish Orthodox schools where Kodesh is taught alongside the NC for 30% of the time every week) and private schools can all make excellent progress. If all staff align to a particular philosophy, or are recruited to teach in a particular way, those schools can be very successful. However, other schools also manage that and some of each of those schools I listed do not. It is also very easy, shown by numerous debates on twitter, to produce research evidence for why one teaching method, or another, is best.

So which approach is actually best?

Well, all can be. But, as Debra Kidd and many others say; ‘context is king’. And it is.

If someone tells you that a particular method of teaching is better than all others, don’t believe them. The evidence of wide school improvement and teacher improvement over the past 30+ years, points to the use of a more diverse toolkit being much better than any single method of teaching, if it is applied to the exclusion of others. Thus, at the right time and in the right context, Pokémon Go may sometimes have its place to engage an individual – just, perhaps, not for me. 😀

#nobestwayoverall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.