The ‘practice’ of teaching : January 16, 2012
Fewer (activities); Deeper (learning); Better (student outcomes).
John Tomsett, Headteacher
This is not a blog post proper, just some notes on Hattie’s introduction to Visible Learning for Teachers. Hattie says what we all know: there is no scientific recipe for effective teaching and learning and “no set of principles that can be applied to all students”.
That said, I’ve been engaging in some gentle elbow-digging about Learning Styles again today. For those of you who haven’t read my views, I will summarise them by saying I think Learning Styles are deeply unhelpful. If anyone is interested in the dissenting view then please skim through Doug Wood’s blog here.
The point I wanted to make and that Hattie puts so eloquently is this:
[T]here are practices that we know are effective and many practices that we know are not. Theories have a purpose as tools for synthesizing notions, but too often teachers believe that theories dictate action, even when the evidence of impact does not support their particular theories (and then maintaining their theories becomes almost a religion). This rush by teachers to infer is a major obstacle to many students enhancing their learning. Instead, evidence of impact or not may mean that teachers need to modify or dramatically change their theories of action.”
Or, as Dylan Wiliam put it, we should stop teachers doing ‘good things‘. We all want to do good things because obviously no teacher is deliberately trying to be an obstacle to students’ learning, but without considering the impact of the way we teach we can waste time which could be spent doing better things.
It’s no good saying that what we do is better than nothing. Of course it is. Hattie says that we need to measure the effects of what we do against a ‘hinge point’ of 0.4. If a strategy has an effect size of at least 0.4 then it worth doing. We have no right to be routinely using methods that do not reach this hinge point. Ignorance is not can excuse either: it’s our professional duty to be aware of what works.
And that’s the point. It’s not that I think Learning Styles is utterly without benefit, (if it encourages varied teacher approaches to learning strategies) it’s just that there are many more useful things we can be spending our time practising.
And the argument that by catering to Learning Styles we are more in tune with our students’ needs? Hogwash! Hattie says, ‘labelling students in terms of how they (the teachers) think the students think, and thus overlooking the fact that students can change, can learn new ways of thinking’ is harmful. Case closed? I hope so.
For those who’ve already waded through Visible Learning, I can assure that the “for teachers” version is markedly more useful and I recommend you read it with alacrity.