There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.
I read Joe Kirby’s recent post on cognitive bias with interest because I’ve been pursuing a very similar line of enquiry. What if we’re fooling ourselves?
The wonderfully entertaining You Are Not So Smart by David Mcraney deals with many different varieties of self-delusion and makes excellent reading. But even armed with all this information, self-delusion is very hard to spot. One thing that’s become clear to me is that I should be suspicious of my intuition.
That said, I do try to open to criticism and new information and have as a result adjusted my beliefs quite considerably since beginning the blog. If you could be bothered to read though the 195 posts I’ve written over the past 2 and a half years in chronological order you’d have an idea of just how much my trajectory has altered. And this, I think, qualifies me to pontificate on such matters with a modest degree of perspicacity. Because you see I’ve thought an awful lot about whether there’s a right way to teach.
- I used to believe that student engagement and ‘fun’ were the most important elements of successful lesson. Now I’m convinced that engagement can lead to ‘dumbing down’ and that fun can distract from learning.
- I used to believe that students always learned best in groups and that teachers should try not to talk too much. Now I’m much less sure about this and think that the conversation should be about improving teacher talk rather than minimising it.
- I used to believe that getting students to learn independently was the best way to make them independent learners. Now I’m pretty certain that we must actively teach students how to be independent.
- I used to believe that developing Higher Order Thinking skills was much more important than teaching knowledge. Now I realise that understanding is useless if you can’t remember what it was you understood.
- I used to think that getting pupils to demonstrate progress in lessons was the best way to teach. Now I’m aware that focussing on short term performance gains at the cost of longterm retention and transfer is a mistake.
But you know what? Maybe I’m wrong.
Just because I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a better way that I can teach doesn’t mean I’m right. So, shouldn’t I just keep my gob shut and allow others to come to their own conclusions? Well, unsurprisingly perhaps, I don’t think so. Despite all the evidence and research that’s knocking around in education, there’s very little certainty that there is one teaching strategy to rule them all. There are no magic bullets. There is nothing that will always work in every context. Even Ofsted agree this:
OFSTED should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, 2012
But that doesn’t stop teachers being told that there is a ‘right’ way to teach. It doesn’t stop consultants training teachers in what Ofsted will be looking for, and it doesn’t stop Ofsted Inspectors from condemning teachers for talking too much and failing to let pupils work independently on the scant evidence of 20 minutes observation in which they utterly fail to appreciate that this can tell us almost nothing about successful teaching. This being the case, I consider it important that I raise a contrarian voice. I may not be right, but I’ve put a lot of thought into my position and if by contradicting the prevailing views I might cause others to enter into some healthy professional scepticism, then that’s a pretty good outcome.
So that’s my message: If you put sufficient thought into what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it then you’ll probably be OK. If you just follow instructions and do what you’ve been told is right, then you probably won’t. It’s the thinking that makes what we do good or bad. Obviously, I’m of the belief that sufficient thought will mean that you will end up agreeing with me, but in the meantime, I’m happy to cast doubt on dearly held assumptions and get teachers thinking.