Have teachers always been interested in how the mind works and have we always wanted an evidence-based profession?
There is an increased call for evidence in teaching; for teachers to be informed more reliably than ever before.
What is Cognition?
As I discover more about cognition, research and evidence in and out of the classroom, the eternal question, ‘is teaching as an art or a science?’ continues.
Advances in neuroscience have resulted in the investigation of the mind (the software) been combined with the investigation of the brain (the hardware). A branch of psychology known as cognitive neuroscience. Cognitive-ism is a rejection of psychoanalytic approaches, which try to understand the mind in terms of myth, and of behaviourist approaches, which try to understand the mind in terms of behaviour only. This is a quote from a psychology book I have on my desk. Here’s another from the British Council: “Cognitive strategies are a type of learning procedure that we use in order to learn more successfully. These include repetition, organising new language, summarising meaning, guessing meaning from context, using imagery for memorisation.” (Source)
In education, particularly with teachers in the classroom, there has been a renewed call (via social media) for evidence-based practice to inform what teachers are doing in the classroom – and more importantly, why. This could be called ‘the cognitive revolution’ in teaching and is evident in the emergence of retrieval practice, dual coding and teachers learning more about memory and metacognition. Things that teachers have been doing for decades, albeit subconsciously.
Twenty years ago, this demand for evidence at this scale never existed in my formative years, or at least was not apparent as it is today, nor did it ever cross my lips once as a young teacher. However, this is not to say that all teachers have not experienced cognitive science, or have wanted to use or access this field of research to improve their teaching. In my opinion, we all should. However, there is a danger that as research-hungry educators latch on to this new-found-love, some will begin to only accept any claims of ‘what works’ in the classroom, particularly in cognitive terms, with only hard evidence to support it, rather than a teacher’s cognitive experience within the classroom – all those idiosyncratic decisions standing (on our feet) in front of pupils. Ignoring teacher-decisions, particularly the unobserved (cognitive) decisions, could undermine validating what a teacher knows best – from a pragmatic stance – and ‘what works’ in their classroom being quashed against scientific evidence.
I hope this makes sense.
I’d like to argue that teachers can still hold their own domain in classrooms and continue to do what works for them, and without the need for evidence! There should always be a lace for subjectivism. But, this will come at a price. If teachers are told to do XY and Z by senior leadership teams without any validity, or we find various gimmicks off the internet to trial and use in our classrooms, there is a danger that teachers will continue to do all sorts of tricks and one-off performances to please observers without any reliability or hard evidence.
Something has to change and we must be able to trust our teachers to get on with the job they do best. And sometimes, just sometimes, this can be done without any evidence to inform best practice. Whether cognitive approaches about how we teach and learn, require positivism or subjectivism evidence in the classroom is still up for debate.
What do you think?