Over the past three decades, what fads do you think teachers have wasted their time doing the most?
Good teachers don’t need fads and gimmicks, right? What teachers need are pragmatic strategies for the classroom; ideas that work with their pupils. This post was written in 2016 after being inundated with replies; I’m currently updating it for 2019 following another flurry of opinions.
This post is currently being edited (07.01.19)
For the purposes of the post, I have defined the following:
- Myth: Lacking in any rigorous educational research; promoted via stereotype and personal bias.
- Hearsay: Latest buzzwords and/or policy promoted by the government. As a result, schools jump through hoops and any good intention becomes a ‘fad’ that everyone must be able to do, regardless of context. Be wary of Campbell’s Law.
- Fad: Hearsay ideas rolled out as a by-product of school inspection that a) have teachers jumping through hoops or b) have no correlation to research, effect size or evidence of student progress. After learning how to improve pupil progress, the person returns to school and demands a change of pedagogy.
In no particular order … education fads over the past three decades include the following:
1. Learning styles:
… audio, visual and kinaesthetic learning styles. Research from both ends of the spectrum state that there is no such thing as ‘learning styles’ (Riener and Willingham 2010) whilst other academics continue to post years of research. This report (Coffield – 2004) examines 13 models of learning style and concludes that it matters fundamentally which model is chosen.
- There is a helpful summary by @.
- Questions taken from Bill Cerbin (2010), Five Ill-Conceived Ideas about Student Learning.
- Learning styles from Dan Willingham.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: concepts and evidence.
The result? It’s a myth; although there is much educational research, the contention here is that there is no correlation to learning.
2. Lesson objectives:
The framing or copying of lesson objectives in still commonplace today; “All students will; most students will; some students will …” results in teachers recording two or three variations of their lesson aims onto lesson plans or whiteboards to meet the needs of pupils and/or observers. This approach produced varied results which have little or no academic research. Debra Kidd recently renounced this as a waste of time in her book.
The result? It’s a myth. Lacking in any rigorous educational research; promoted via stereotype and personal bias.
3. Rapid progress (OfSTED):
… stipulated in the School Inspection Handbook, that students must show rapid progress before this myth was busted, school leaders were interpreting the handbook and teachers were expected to show ‘students making rapid progress’ in lesson observations. This soon became a requirement to show in a 20-minute observation! Why? Because this was the period observers – school leaders and Ofsted inspectors were anticipated to be in any classroom.
The result? It’s hearsay; rolled out as a by-product of school inspection that a) have teachers jumping through hoops or b) have no correlation to research, effect size or evidence of student progress. After learning how to improve pupil progress, the person returns to school and demands a change of pedagogy.
4. Learning outcomes:
… once the lesson was taught, students were required to write what their learning outcome was. This was further proof for the observer and for the inspectorate that teaching and learning were synchronised in perfect harmony. However, there is nothing wrong with sharing with students where they should be going. After all, which one of us would start out on our degree or driving lesson, not knowing what the desired outcome should be?
The result? It’s a myth.
5. APP (Assessing Pupil Progress):
When I first came across Assessing Pupil Progress in 2008, an enthusiastic teacher demonstrated how the assessment was measured using a fancy piece of software. I looked on in horror at the countless sub-levels of data, entered into a database to record the knowledge and skills demonstrated by a single child. (APP) was developed for use in schools to enable them to apply Assessment for Learning (AfL) consistently across both the secondary and primary National Curriculum. Initial development of APP was undertaken by the National Strategies but is now overseen by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. The coalition government has got rid of it in 2010. Good riddance. No wonder Dylan Wiliam is frustrated with how schools are using AfL.
The result? This is definitley a fad.
6. Chinese teaching:
The television series ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough?‘ was entertainment and was never going to provide us with a true perspective. Despite research, high-profile celebrities and politicians proclaiming the wonderful work of our Shanghai counterparts, at no point does anyone proclaim that in order to achieve these high-standards, teachers only teach two lessons a day. Over the past 18 months, I have received frequent invitations to events, marketed by teaching alliances, MATs and corporate organisers to attend schools hosting Chinese teachers, teaching in their schools. The promise of ‘maths teachers and Shanghai teaching methods showcased to UK teachers in [a school near you].’ I kid you not, they all appeared in my work ‘inbox’ on several occasions throughout the year. I eventually did attend one event. I also sent my maths teachers to 2 or 3 events and so far, we have done nothing to change the work we are already doing. ‘We [are] blindly following the Chinese approach to teaching maths’ says The Guardian. Oh, and each of these supported by exemplary textbooks, already hand-crafted for subject teachers waiting to consume another promised silver bullet.
The result? Another fad!
7. PLTS (Personal, Learning, Thinking Skills):
Consigned to the National Archives – that says it all really – PLTS provided a framework for describing the qualities and skills needed for success in learning and life. If only we knew the secret for adulthood, teaching and successful relationships too? Nice idea, but impossible to put a framework in place to determine the skills a child needs to become successful. Maybe now replaced by ‘character education’?
The result? One more fad to add to the list!
Nick Gibb is obsessed with textbooks being used more widely by teachers in the classroom, but it was advocated long-before the not-missed-at-all Elizabeth Truss was given her marching orders. She made a number of speeches in 2014 in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the textbook. The problem is, the knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive, that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything into the limited number of periods a week they have with each class! You only need to take a closer look at the publishers and their relationships with those that promote them to find this ideology is all a little incestuous.
The result? This is political hearsay.
I’ve yet to find myself working in a school that uses iPads extensively in all subjects with all students, but that’s not to say I don’t advocate technology in the classroom. It has a place, but it certainly should not replace the role of the teacher. Using iPads in the classroom is expensive and I have seen it work well, but I’ve also seen it lead students down the ‘garden-path’ and have seen teachers get frustrated with the technology and students to turn to ‘Google’ for the answers all-too-often. Show me the research, please.
The result? The jury is still out …
10. Sitting in rows:
I have seen teachers sit students in rows in all sorts of subjects. Maths, technology, art and English. Some are great, some not-so-much. Either way, whatever works for those teachers and their students is what’s best. It is the duty of colleagues observing/coaching to intervene if they believe the techniques a teacher is using in their classroom – even the seating plan – is detrimental to the teaching and learning of the class.
The result? Again, political hearsay.
11. Group work:
Every subject requires collaboration. To say a teacher should always have students working/sitting in groups to explore and discover has a place in the classroom, but it certainly should not be the default method for teachers. Direct instruction and teacher clarity have the greatest impact on student progress. To allow students to discover learning for themselves in project-based learning serves its purpose, only if students have the prerequisite knowledge and skills in order to do so. If you first achieve this objective with students working in rows or groups, that is the teacher’s prerogative.
The result? I hate to say it having taught in this way for 20 years, but where is the evidence? A myth (for now)…
Every school should have a behaviour policy that is rational, flexible and simple enough to cater for all students. Most work on the basis of a ‘ready, respectful, safe’ methodology which is simple and offers clarity for everyone. In schools where I have seen over-complicated policies, even teachers are confused by the rules and the series of consequences to action! In every school, when not imposing appropriate sanctions, students will find the gaps and sift out teachers who bend the rules and undermine colleagues.
If a school promotes a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, how confident are these institutions in helping young people to learn from their mistakes? How do their permanent exclusion figures read? Every school should have a behaviour policy which promotes learning and aims to cull disruption or defiance. To say you do have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, or something quite the opposite such as an ‘inclusive approach’, is just lip-service for parents and visitors. Every school requires students to learn in a safe and respectful environment. To promote that a school is tough on discipline and better than any other is in-line with ideologies promoted by those that look to commercialise education via the academies and free school movement.
Every school wants good behaviour.
The result? Political hearsay! Don’t fall for it…
13. Brain Gym:
The program has been criticised as pseudoscience, designed by Paul Dennison who worked as a public school teacher in the 1960s, researching more effective ways to help children and adults with learning difficulties. The studies themselves have received polemic feedback from supporters and critics. The consensus is Brain Gym activities are poorly designed and that the work is not supported by peer-reviewed research. When questioned, Dennison said that he “leaves the explanations to the experts.”
The result? Myth! It’s simply bad science…
14. Four-Part Lessons:
Including 3 and 7 parts or whatever number of parts you’ve been told! There is little or no evidence to suggest any suitable model works other than quality first teaching from the outset.
The result? Another fad which blights teacher performance in return for whole-school compliance.
15. Lollypop-stick questioning:
It is absolutely essential that you ask the correct question in the first place, and then use a mechanism to find a student to answer. If you do it the other way round, first, all the other students can relax, and second, you will probably merely replicate your existing expectations of the student. Used by many teachers in their fast-track induction, lolly-sticks are a neat little trick to ensure that every child takes part in the lesson to appease observers. But, what are they learning and what is the teacher assessing by doing so? Overall, whatever mechanism you use to ask questions, it’s the quality of your question – who it is targeted to and why – and the quality of feedback that counts.
The result? It’s a myth – show me the research?
16. Teacher talk:
I once blogged about teacher-talk; traditional versus progressive methods, false dichotomies or otherwise, might make for an interesting debate when it’s underpinned by evidence, but in most classrooms, teachers do a bit of both these days. Put another way, children need facts but also need to develop the skills (procedural knowledge) to use those facts. We know that it is the quality of direct-instruction and teacher-clarity that has a significant effect on student progress. Provide instructions poorly, whether for a long or short period of time and you’ll leave your students with no clarity or direction. Over time, this is likely to have a detrimental effect on learning and long-term memory.
The result? Another myth. Talk for as long as you want, as long as students are engaged in the work and you can assess the progress made over time.
17. Lesson planning:
Yes, believe it or not, teachers were required to write detailed lesson plans (2-3 A4 pages) for every lesson and submit them to their teams and/or the inspectors for lesson observations. Although the myth of writing detailed lesson plans is largely debunked, there are strong rumours that 1,000s of primary schools still ask their teachers to submit weekly lesson plans to their headteachers. The result, teachers spend their entire Sundays writing weekly planning sheets, to submit on a Monday morning for people who won’t be in the lesson!
I’d say stop doing it; focus on long-term curriculum plans and let teachers get on with their job.
The result? This could be a myth, hearsay and a fad all in one. Yet to find any research to suggest lesson planning leads to better outcomes. I’m going with school inspection and teacher-training-driven-science; it’s a fad.
18. Verbal feedback stamps:
Stamping in a student’s book to indicate that verbal feedback has taken place, adds no value to learning. It has little or no impact! If the stamp is merely to serve as an indication to an observer when looking through students books, then those teachers have lost their way in the classroom and is undermining the value of a teacher’s work.
The result? God. One of the worst education myths to appear in classrooms over the last decade.
19. Triple marking:
This idea was originally designed to reduce marking and make more of key assessments and may have stemmed from some senior leaders interpretation of the School Inspection Handbook. After posting this blog, the origins of the idea have come to light and have been clarified by the person who claims to have promoted the original idea which has been lost in translation. Thankfully, OfSTED has started to publish their own misconceptions and they could not be clearer.
The result? Started off as conference hearsay, and slowly has become a fad due to inspection preferences. Ten years later, we are still unpicking the damage.
20. Starters, Middles, Plenaries:
We’ve all created them, acted them out for observations and inspections when in reality we’d rather just get on with teaching! Teachers have so little time and starters, middles and plenaries stemmed from OfSTED preferences to engage students in learning from the start and checking what progress had been made 20-minutes later, or at the end of the lesson.
The result? Myth. Show me the research please …
The following will be added shortly:
- The purple pen of progress
- Work scrutinies
- Classroom displays
- A ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum
- Growth mindset
- Knowledge organisers
- One-to-one devices
- Lollipop sticks
- Performance related pay
- Inspections grading
- Lesson observation grading
- Genius hour
We may discover in the next few years, the lesson gradings, book looks and even performance related-pay are the next set of fads and gimmicks.
What’s missing? Write your answers in the comments below…