Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, a simple Twitter account which rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK'. He is an award winning teacher and an experienced school leader and as @TeacherToolkit, curated this website you are now reading as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in the Britain' by The Sunday Times and one of the most influential in the field of education. He is the only classroom teacher to feature. He is a former Teaching Award nominee for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London' and has also written 3 books on teaching. Read more here.

60 thoughts on “20 Years of Educational Fads

  • 11th July 2016 at 8:24 am

    Very entertaining – where do you find the time Ross?

    Somebody once said the very best lies contain a grain of truth. Perhaps it is the same with what you have termed “educational fads”. What I have found is that people become enthusiastic (evangelical even) for what works for them. This success is regulated by the where, when and with whom variables and so is not always transferable – no matter how well it is structured, regulated or observed. So I prefer to keep an open mind and use what works so long as it does not involve labeling (something else education is seduced by).

    Whilst I agree with many of your list I do feel there is more to be made of #7 (remember the grain of truth). Maybe its how it is used or applied, not unlike AfL. My experience as a teacher and researcher suggests there are some elements that are common to successful learners and that as learners we can develop them. At the very least as teachers we need to discuss them with learners and challenge the self beliefs that limit our learning experiences and successes.

    As for the next fad – “Growth Mindset”?

    • 11th July 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Kevin,
      I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while and the tweet (within the blog) was to gather a consensus of ideas to help format the blog. I’m hoping to raise awareness that we need a more evidence-based profession before ideas are rolled out. We’ve all been susceptible to fads etc. Worse, some of us may be responsible for some of them.

  • 11th July 2016 at 8:31 am

    Oh my…. How many of these made me groan inwardly when reading them!
    I spent many hours of ‘CPD’ being told these were the future and many frustrating hours attempting to implement them!

    • 11th July 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Makes me ‘sad too’, to think how much INSET I also had to sit/listen for some of those listed.

  • 11th July 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Good morning Ross. It appears that we both have been impacted by Hattie and Willingham’s research. I agree with much of what you said in the article, but having said that, what pedagogies do work to increase student learning and lead them to higher order thinking skills?

    • 11th July 2016 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Tim – thanks for the comment. Are you asking me to think of some current practise that improves high-order thinking? If so, quality of verbal/written feedback – using Pose Pause Pounce Bounce as a mechanism – for framing and targeting questions for example. The key here, is asking the right questions, to the right students of course. Much more to say; please clarify.

    • 30th November 2016 at 8:38 pm

      hard work?

    • 12th July 2016 at 9:23 am

      That’s okay Naureen. It’s just a shame that some schools only allow their governors to visit lessons in-between changeover of lessons and often to classrooms that have students sitting in rows working from textbooks. This is ‘okay’, and would often re-affirm governors’ personal memories of school and what works. When governors visit schools, it is important to showcase the real picture and ensure that the governing body sees all aspects of school life. I do think textbooks are important, I just disagree with Gibb and the incestuous relationship with Pearson and the examination boards – hence the label ‘fad’. As for rows, I have my kids sitting in rows every week and in many lessons I observe, teachers do too. To promote it as the only option for all classrooms, is a ‘fad’ in my opinion.

      • 15th July 2016 at 10:50 pm

        Thanks, Ross. Governors should try and make sure that when they visit their schools they get as full and as complete a picture of what’s happening there as they can. My comment above was as an educator, not a governor. As an educator I love text books and I would have my students sitting in rows. As a governor it’s not for me to tell the teacher what to do. As a governor I need to know that whatever the school does has a positive impact on teaching and learning.

  • 11th July 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Ross – Just to give you a little background information. I’m taking an ELearning course right now and we have been discussing pedagogical theories like social constructivism. I have spent time on my own reading Hattie’s books Visible learning the science of how we learn, Visible learning for teachers, and Visible learning for literacy. I am very intrigued by Hattie’s explanations about how the brain processes information.

    In this post you talk about fads, myths, and heresies in education. What would you say are some solid EDUCATIONAL TRUTHS that teachers should understand. Things that are not myths, fads, or heresy?

    • 16th July 2016 at 9:01 am

      Hi Tim – sorry for slow response – it’s been a very busy last week at school.
      Social constructivism – a good example of impact on progress is here: Collaborative Learning.
      To answer your question would be another blog in itself – even a book! I guess a quick response would be here – What Works? – which details how teachers share the research/work they are completing in their own school with their own students. No fads/myths. Just hard work and commitment to making things better for their kids. Not influenced by politicians or school leaders. Personal projects and personal interest.

  • 12th July 2016 at 6:41 am

    I was disappointed not to find the dancing disco finger & the other non-evidence based movements of “fill up my bank account like champion” & TeachFirst darling Doug Lemov

  • 12th July 2016 at 9:07 am

    Thank you this entertaining walk through memory lane! This only serves to emphasise the need for teachers-as-researchers. I was fortunate that in the mid-1980s that I undertook a classroom-based quasi-experiment on teaching styles and this proved foundational throughout my career (retired from classroom teaching a couple of years ago – now in ‘semi-retirement’ in teacher development in higher education!)
    Practitioner enquiry vis-à-vis Scotland’s Teaching Standards is a good way to go. Also, the new Chartered College of Teaching is proposing to bring about Chartered Teacher status – this will help enable teachers become reflective professionals who seek and operate from a growing base of evidence.
    Given that teaching and learning are primarily moral activities it is necessary for teachers to develop ‘practical wisdom’ in order that, in any given situation, we have a repertoire of strategies from which to draw upon.

    • 12th July 2016 at 9:25 am

      Like the idea of ‘practical wisdom’. There’s a blog in that somewhere. Thanks for the comment Tony. The sooner the profession becomes evidenced-led in all that we do, the better for teacher-workload and accountability. Thoughts?

  • 23rd July 2016 at 9:13 am

    Nice to read something that confirms you’re not ‘anti team’. I’ve always had huge issues with most of the above and I’m a firm believer of having a good research base before trying some new fad. How about we focus on promoting teaching styles that demonstrate excellent clarity and seriously motivate naturally inquisitive minds to engage!

    • 23rd July 2016 at 10:29 am

      Now that’s a good idea. It’s a shame to think that politics may be to blame for half of these fads.

  • 23rd July 2016 at 12:23 pm

    What about the more general assumptions? You spend more time teaching Maths, English and Science therefore children learn more. Yet History, Geography, Citizenship all get limited time and get great results. Efficency is key, not more time equals more learning.

  • 26th July 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Glad to see educators addressing fads. Great to see the questioning of learning styles which are still rampant in Australian schools and the use of technology. I’d certainly query some on this list, though. Teacher-directed learning has been shown, through research/evidence, to be far more effective than discovery or inquiry based learning. Since you are reading “Visible Learning” I wonder why you call teacher-directed learning a fad?

    Also, there may not be any “real” research in some of these area however I wonder why you’d put text books on the list. A fairly comprehensive book written by experts in the field is surely more beneficial than teacher made lessons on the run. In fact if we look at countries/states etc that use textbooks, and the systematic approach they encourage, they do seem to get good results rather than an ad hoc approach.

    I also think rows of students is preferable. It makes sense that this configuration would lead to less disruption and staying on task. And I would also point out that, according to my optometrist sitting in groups not facing the front can lead to headaches/eye strain and muscle strain. Do you have any evidence these are fads? I think I’d call them a preference used by teachers who find they work better than more progressive ideas. Perhaps that is the real reason you oppose them.

    • 27th July 2016 at 9:47 am

      I believe direct instruction has a place in every classroom. Although the quality of language used is essential, and not every teacher possesses strong knowledge of their subject!
      I wouldn’t call it a fad – just fitting into the definitions/parameters I set myself, although the blame may lie with government who push particular ideologies instead of leaving the profession to get on with it ourselves. It would most likely lead to less blame and ‘labelling’ of such techniques.

      • 28th July 2016 at 12:55 am

        All teachers should preferably have sound knowledge of their subject. I’m not sure of your point. This point doesn’t impact on teacher-led class rooms anymore than more progressive-type class rooms.

        Teacher-led is definitely not a fad – ie the research suggests it is the best way to teach & learn – and it is disturbing to see it on your list. As for some teachers not having a sound knowledge of subjects, the use of text books would definitely curtail some of the problems associated with the deficit.

      • 28th July 2016 at 10:07 am

        From supporting colleagues, it is clear that some teachers are a) still developing their subject knowledge b) are not a subject specialist and c) behind curriculum reform. This is best address with exam board training, belonging to a subject association and having a first degree in their subject. In my 20 years of working in secondary schools, at least 10% of colleagues I have worked with have some of the training needs lacking in their repertoire. This is of course individual and school-specific to my own experiences …

        If teachers lack the subject knowledge, tis impacts on the quality of their direct instruction. That was my point. And if this is hindered, is impacts on the learning of students in a teacher-led or a student-led classroom. Text books are of course useful, but not the only solution. A teacher taking control of their own professional development has more impact than any other resource.

      • 28th July 2016 at 1:01 am

        I think academics in the teaching field tend to be the ones who push certain rubbish ideologies onto teachers.

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  • 1st August 2016 at 7:54 pm

    So funny.
    Must send to SLT . . . .

  • 3rd August 2016 at 9:18 am

    In one observation, my “areas for improvement” included the fact that I didn’t use lolly sticks to randomly choose children to answer questions. It was expected in every lesson despite me asking why! In future lessons, to play the game I would pick a lolly stick and ignore the name and just ask the child I wanted to ask anyway. Ridiculous.

    • 16th January 2017 at 3:16 pm

      i was always being told to use mini white boards as my area for improvement by someone who only ever got the mini whiteboards out whenever they were being observed.

  • 6th August 2016 at 3:43 pm

    What’s missing?

    Success Criteria
    Response to Marking
    Guided Writing
    Guided Reading
    Learning Walks
    Working Walls
    Circle Time

    • 31st October 2016 at 7:27 am

      Then add that: ECAT, ERIC, talk for writing, creative curriculm, the list goes on.

    • 28th November 2016 at 7:48 am

      My daughter used Makaton with drastically learning-impaired adults, who couldn’t even talk. Presumably this is what it was created for and therefore has no place elsewhere.

  • 12th August 2016 at 8:14 am

    Love this… Problem is teachers are trying to do it all, all at the same time. We need to stop allowing ‘I think this would be great’ statements in education and invest in purposeful research so we can use ‘I know this will work’ instead.

  • 20th August 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Dialogic marking, and Growth bloody mindset, oh and marking but not grading was the other fad we had. Three colour pens, for peer, self and teacher marking

    • 5th September 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Bloody growth mindset doesn’t work if you do it wrong. If your classroom lives and breathes it, if your children have good models of it – it does work and has a big impact as proven in studies. Are you seriously suggesting that not encouraging a growth mindset in children is a good idea?

  • 8th October 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Missing: Daily mile, mindfulness

  • 10th October 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Do we really need all these bells, whistles and hoops to leap through (and paperwork to show evidence of them, too) to get ideas and skills across? Some work; some don’t, but somehow they miss the point of the student coming first. What was Socrates, some kind of incompetent hack?

  • 13th October 2016 at 8:28 am

    I spent 36 happy years teaching…..but my only worry was that I’d one day be caught and hanged for blatantly ignoring each and every new directive from the Head about how to teach.
    It makes me smile now when I think of my ‘lesson plans’ which amounted to three sentences per lesson, usually the same sentences for each class each day. I knew and loved my subject passionately. I knew about appropriate adaptation, continuation and development. I also knew my students and how they functioned as a group.
    My planning book was never scrutinised. If I knew I was being observed I’d write it out in larger letters so it looked like more. If pressed I would even print it out. I was never challenged on my planning or teaching, in fact I finished my career with thirteen consecutive ‘Outstandings’ from various HMI’s, Ofsted inspectors and Heads.
    My only rule was ‘Be Kind’.
    My only aim was ‘Know more when you leave this lesson that you did when you came in’.
    My only expectation was that no student’s behaviour EVER prevented others from learning.
    My only resources were my Scouse sense of humour and total respect for each young person.
    My only habit was consistency-without exception-consistency!
    No gimmicks, fads or tricks.
    Most lessons were good. Some were amazing. Some were less successful, but all were enjoyable for me and them.

    As an AST I used to explain my approach to other staff like this: If you go to the Dr with an illness, you have to trust his professional experience. If he had to refer to a plan, notes or books every consultation, you would lose confidence in him. You want his full attention, not him reading a formula of how to deal with you or treat you.
    So why would an experienced, professional teacher need to have a plan of what to do in every lesson?
    Why tell them how to organise their classes? Some young teachers may need guidance as beginners, but most soon find their own style, approach and methods of delivery which suits them and their many classes……

    Eventually, after years of being told how to teach by people who had never been teachers, judged by strangers who were visiting for a day or observed by senior staff who were feverishly ticking boxes to keep the school open, I decided to retire. I had just been issued with the third lesson planning framework in less than two weeks.

    Two years after retirement I read that Aristotle once said ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit’.

    This made me smile too…….

    • 14th March 2017 at 11:14 pm

      Totally agree with you! Towards the end , to please the powers that be, I incorporated all 20 if not more into 1 lessson!!!

    • 16th March 2017 at 6:39 am

      Great to read a common sense approach to teaching. Keep it simple, know your subject, know your students and enjoy what you are doing. Follow three simple rules and it goes a long way to being a great teacher. Not an outstanding teacher because, for me, an ‘outstanding’ means something else.

  • 14th October 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Slightly! more than 20 years ago, 24th July 1959 to be precise, I left school as a 15 year old.
    I had no qualifications but was lucky enough to start work a month later as a shop lad in an aircraft factory, where they helped me to receive an education at the local technical college.
    At school I failed the +11, was taught no grammar, and not much maths:
    In industry I was allowed time off to attend college, and eventually became an
    Associate Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
    I feel very lucky that I managed to find a sympathetic employer, but I also still feel frustrated that my potential was not developed while still at school.
    Whether this was due to teaching fads, no comprehensives, or just me being thick, it does show that the consequences linger for many years.
    Looking at the list of teaching incentives over the last 20 years seems to show that there has always been some sort of interference, and there probably always will be, so please try your best to work within the system and do your best for each pupil because I don’t think they have now the same back-up alternatives that I had.

  • 29th October 2016 at 8:22 am

    Please could we add ‘Next Step’ Marking to the list!

  • 29th October 2016 at 11:46 am

    An excellent summary! Out of interest, how do we suggest a teacher deals with a manager(s) who routinely expect to see one or more of these myths in lesson observations?

  • 31st October 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Do you remember ALS (lots of resourcing for my poor TA God bless) Booster Classes, Super Teachers and the Gifted and Talented Register ? Oh, and those big Numeracy and Literacy folders with their vocab, grammar and spelling lists. Letts orange books with big posters. Big books ! Actually, I like big books, but I wouldn’t sit a whole class of 32 Year 6s around one like once advised. And my fav – the Literacy Hour Clock to help us poor souls sub divide the hour into absolutely distinct segments, let alone teach thematically (that’s how we used to do it dear in the 70s and 80s). Ahhh, how silly.

  • 12th November 2016 at 5:46 pm

    The flipped classroom.

    • 12th November 2016 at 6:51 pm

      They’ve wasted their time listening to Education Ministers who have little or no experience in the classroom and have no idea what actually works for children and young people.
      They’ve wasted their time changing teaching methods and marking schemes unnecessarily and trying to force children to learn things and reach standards they’re not ready for developmentally.
      They’ve wasted their time listening to ‘new ideas’ that were actually tried and failed under different titles twenty years ago.
      They’re now wasting their time implementing expensive schemes that involve the very basic and very old notion of simply SHARING GOOD PRACTICE.
      Now Heads of Academies can do whatever they like…..pay themselves ridiculous salaries and still classroom standards aren’t improving fast enough….

      And we wonder why we go around in circles…….

    • 8th January 2017 at 10:01 pm

      Disagree. I tried it with Year 12s last year and found it very motivational – they had more reason to do the work and I could tell who had and hadn’t. I could then let those who needed stretching go off and deal with harder things while I dealt with those who had tried and failed to pick the topic up or who hadn’t tried. Those who didn’t try knew that I knew and got short shrift for it.

      That said, I wouldn’t do it with every class/year/student.

  • 12th November 2016 at 5:50 pm

    ‘Two stars and a wish’ – and this in a secondary school! Good grief…

    • 16th January 2017 at 3:31 pm

      don’t! i am just finding that teenagers are becoming less mature people due to all this stuff.

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  • 28th November 2016 at 7:54 am

    Add in “pupil voice” – the management asking the pupils whether their teachers do any/all of the above. And then hounding out any teacher who dares to be different.

    • 16th January 2017 at 3:33 pm

      oh yeah, the teacher who dares to do things different. These are a threat! a threat to staff and students! generally doing things a little differently in some of the schools i have worked at means NOT giving all the answers to students and expecting them to think a little.

  • 11th December 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I actually enjoy the popsicle stick method. It has worked for me because as soon as the kids see me grab for them, they are on high alert, they pay close attention, and they are ready to answer any question. They don’t want to look like a fool in front of their peers when I pull their stick and they don’t have any idea what I am asking them. Plus, it gives the quiet kids a voice!

    • 8th January 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Can’t you just ask questions seemingly at random?

  • 16th January 2017 at 3:29 pm

    it’s really shocking and in fact frightening that in a profession where we are meant to be showing others how to read carefully and observe and interpret meaning and listen carefully … not to mention encourage creativity and original thought….. so many people in the profession do not pay close attention to what they hear and see. I would be a very rich woman if i had a pound for every time I heard someone say “ofsted want to see” “so the inspectors can see quickly” and the rest. being told to date my marking. One time a school i was at had had ofsted in. I remember reading the report and it said in a part something to the effect of them not being concerned about the format of the planning just that they needed to know it was effective. Anyway, ofsted came for their check up visit after this one , they’d announced their visit and we were all hauled to the haul for the briefing. The briefing that included the unveiling of a brand new, incredibly complicated lesson plan proforma that we were allt o use for the next couple of days. Yes, this profporma had plenty of boxes for however many parts of a lesson and progress checking parts, or mini plenaries. Jeez, i remember the day before all the checking of plans and me just being not quite sure what they wanted me to do to show this elusive progress. I don’t think the people directing it knew what it was about either but they just needed to tell me it was wrong . wow. what a waste of time. I’m very disillusioned with the whole thing. altho i did reach the stage where i switch ears off when i hear ” for ofsted” coz i know i don’t teach for ofsted, i teach to pay my bills and see others enjoy my subject.

  • 11th February 2017 at 7:34 am

    A super post! I will defend lolly sticks, though – not for higher-order questioning, and not for every single time I call on students, but for key word review, sharing out after think-pair-share, grouping, etc. I will also draw a name and hand the jar to that student, who will in turn lead the rest of the class through a correction exercise. They are one of those simple tools that has really “stuck” for me in a positive, effective way.

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