…the blog that shall not be named
I’ve tweeted quite a lot about this report and true, this blog post comes quite late after its publication. I was quite positive about the report, but did notice that the press and the blogosphere seemed to mainly focus on the two (!) pages in the report on ‘ineffective practices’ (p22-p24). The executive summary -correctly- barely mentions them. I think this emphasis on ‘myths’ is a shame because the first half with effectiveness models, and the second half on frameworks for capturing teaching quality, are very interesting. In addition, the section on myths is rather light-weight regarding evidence, in my opinion. The character of the report, called a ‘review of underpinning research’, is not really shown in this specific section. Sure, this doesn’t mean that ineffective practices should not be uncovered, but surely this goal is better served with some more grounding. Something that should have been easy to do, as in some cases genuine reviews are referenced.
Let me give some examples:
Use praise lavishlyPraise for students may be seen as affirming and positive, but a number of studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning. For example, Dweck (1999), Hattie & Timperley (2007). Stipek (2010) argues that praise that is meant to be encouraging and protective of low attaining students actually conveys a message of the teacher’s low
Allow learners to discover key ideas for themselvesEnthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction (Kirschner et al, 2006). Although learners do need to build new understanding on what they already know, if teachers want them to learn new ideas, knowledge or methods they need to teach them directly.
Group learners by abilityEvidence on the effects of grouping by ability, either by allocating students to different classes, or to within-class groups, suggests that it makes very little difference to learning outcomes (Higgins et al, 2014). Although ability grouping can in theory allow teachers to target a narrower range of pace and content of lessons, it can also create an exaggerated sense of within-group homogeneity and between-group heterogeneity in the teacher’s mind (Stipek, 2010). This can result in teachers failing to make necessary accommodations for the range of different needs within a supposedly homogeneous ‘ability’ group, and over-doing their accommodations for different groups, going too fast with the high-ability groups and too slow with the low.
Encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideasThis finding has already been mentioned in summarising the review by Dunlosky et al (2013). Re-reading and highlighting are among the commonest and apparently most obvious ways to memorise or revise material. They also give a satisfying –but deceptive– feeling of fluency and familiarity with the material (Brown et al, 2014). However, a range of studies have shown that testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches.
Address issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach contentTeachers who are confronted with the poor motivation and confidence of low attaining students may interpret this as the cause of their low attainment and assume that it is both necessary and possible to address their motivation before attempting to teach them new material. In fact, the evidence shows that attempts to enhance motivation in this way are unlikely to achieve that end. Even if they do, the impact on subsequent learning is close to zero (Gorard, See & Davies, 2012). In fact the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure. Start getting them to succeed and their motivation and confidence should increase.
Present information to learners in their preferred learning styleA belief in the importance of learning styles seems persistent, despite the prominence of critiques of this kind of advice. A recent survey found that over 90% of teachers in several countries (including the UK) agreed with the claim that “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)” (Howard-Jones, 2014). A number of writers have tried to account for its enduring popularity (see, for example, a clear and accessible debunking of the value of learning styles by Riener and Willingham, 2010), but the psychological evidence is clear that thereare no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style (Pashler et al, 2008; Geake, 2008; Riener and Willingham, 2010; Howard-Jones, 2014).
Ensure learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to rememberThis claim is commonly presented in the form of a ‘learning pyramid’ which shows precise percentages of material that will be retained when different levels of activity are employed. These percentages have no empirical basis and are pure fiction. Memory is the residue of thought (Willingham, 2008), so if you want students to remember something you have to get them to think about it. This might be achieved by being ‘active’ or ‘passive’.