I know I’m a good teacher because I get results. My students experience ‘ah hah’ moments when something opaque suddenly becomes clear.
But my teaching methods are not new-age. I do not ‘facilitate’ learning per se because I know that anything new is scary, and students need clear, step-by-step instructions …to get the basics.
Once students have those basics, they can branch out at will, and follow their own lines of inquiry – literally learning on a need to know basis – and I’m happy to ‘facilitate’ that. Unfortunately, most people are not able to direct their own learning at the beginning, no matter what age they are. It’s like being told to get creative with a hammer and a chisel when you don’t even know how to hold the tools. -rolls eyes-
I have to pay lip service to the new age methods in order to be able to teach at all. Now, finally, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that may, eventually, lead to more effective teaching – for both teachers and students.
The following excerpt is taken from an article that appeared on The Conversation on 24 November 2014. Written by Dr Kevin Donnelly, Senior Research Fellow – School of Education at Australian Catholic University, the article is entitled :
Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.
The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.
Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.
Direct instruction vs inquiry learning
Debates about direct instruction versus inquiry learning have been ongoing for many years. Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.
Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.
Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.
The UK report concludes that many of the approaches adopted in Australian education are counterproductive:
Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.
Especially during the early primary school years in areas like English and mathematics, teachers need to be explicit about what they teach and make better use of whole-class teaching.
As noted by John Sweller, a cognitive psychologist from the University of New South Wales in the recent Final Report of the Review of the Australian National Curriculum:
Initial instruction when dealing with new information should be explicit and direct.
You can read the rest of the article here, and I strongly recommend that you do.