I don’t believe quality instruction ever left the classroom. Successful teachers have always had a thorough understanding of how students learn and have adopted and adapted pedagogies informed by research, reflection and inquiry.
The essential principles of effective learning provide us with the foundations of appropriate pedagogies but they must be creatively applied in ways which maximise opportunities and respond to demands of today’s world.
However, if you read Kevin Donnelly’s latest opinion piece, traditional teaching is somehow making a comeback. Donnelly claims that the ‘tide has finally turned’ against educational fads such as open classrooms and discovery learning.
Donnelly doesn’t define traditional teaching so I’m assuming he is referring to the type of didactic teaching associated with a traditional model of schooling.
According to John Hattie, direct instruction (which isn’t traditional) is reflected in the way teachers work together ‘to plan and critique a series of lessons, sharing understanding of progression, articulating intentions and success criteria, and attending to the impact of student and teacher learning.’ (Visible Learning for Teachers)
While it’s true that the learning space is never a substitute for quality instruction, agile spaces provide opportunities for teachers to engage in the kind of planning and teacher learning that is most effective in improving student learning. Many teachers I have spoken to have said the new spaces support collaboration and therefore the process of direct instruction.
Donnelly however cites results from a survey of noise levels in open classrooms in which 50-70% of children said they couldn’t hear their teacher very well. What Donnelly failed to include in his piece, was that the survey was conducted in four schools only.
When you don’t understand the world in which today’s learners live, it is easy to disparage contemporary approaches to schooling. In fact, most contemporary approaches are still largely influenced by traditional structures, curricula and mindsets. We don’t have enough examples yet of great contemporary practice to point to – not because it doesn’t work but it doesn’t yet exist.
These so called educational fads are not designed to replace quality instruction – they are designed to support it. Agile learning spaces support a range of learning activities. And isn’t discovery at the heart of learning anyway?
Replicating an industrial model of schooling has only led to the gap between schooling and learning growing wider in an online world. We can’t hark back to the past if we want to change the future. We are challenged to think differently by virtue of the fact we live in age that now values critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.
The OECD recognises the importance of these skills not only for the success of economies but also for individuals participating in a knowledge age. It’s worth noting that PISA will test creativity from 2017.
We have always known that the most effective teaching is evidence-based. It’s a pity Kevin Donnelly’s arguments still seem to be largely ideologically driven.