Teaching & learning - we know what works, right?


Teaching & learning - we know what works, right?

We live in an age of information. Research, evidence and data have never been more accessible. As long as you know where to look, the “answer” is at your fingertips. So surely, when it comes to teaching and learning, we know what works, right?

Recently, I re-read Dylan Thomas’s classic poem where he urges his reader to “not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light”. I used to think this poem was about the importance of being bold and adventurous as one gets older. However, I came across another interpretation of it which states that it can be viewed through the lens of “those who face an uncertain fate that lies before them”.

 

So, what does all this have to do with teaching and learning?

Well, I came across a fascinating graphic by Zach Grosell on Twitter which highlighted how some of the most popular reviews in education (including but not limited to the Great Teaching Toolkit, Dunlosky, Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, The Science of Learning and the recent EEF Cognitive Science in the Classroom) are in a general consensus about what might help improve learning.

 

I had two initial thoughts on viewing this graphic. The first was it is genuinely amazing how some of the smartest people in education, who have spent a huge amount of time researching this stuff, have come to a pretty similar conclusion. Areas such as retrieval practice, managing cognitive load, spacing, self-explanation and feedback offer our best bets for learning. It is rare that in such a diverse and complex field such as learning, that we achieve such consensus.

The second thought I had was: despite this overwhelming weight of evidence, research and data, why is this still not seen as the default? I say this as a fairly recent survey found that a large percentage of teachers still believe in common neuromyths (such as learning styles, left brain vs right brain thinking…), but not in the effectiveness of the aforementioned learnings strategies (i.e. minimising the Split Attention Effect, retrieval practice, interleaving…).

 

What is equally fascinating (and alarming) is that one recent study found that award-winning teachers are just as likely to believe myths about the brain and learning as novice teachers are. This is why Dylan Thomas’s poem come to mind; despite the wealth of evidence, there is still more to do. We must rage on.

In this age of information, evidence and data, the next big step is making sure this evidence is accessible. It is the translation of this research that we need to ensure we aren’t neglecting. Spending time reflecting on how we share information, how we communicate big ideas and how we help translate these good intentions is behaviour change is the next step for much of cognitive science (and teaching & learning in general).

The education community is blessed by some incredibly passionate, intelligent and dedicated people. And it is a diverse group. Some are skilled at doing the original research. Others are good at communicating it. And many are experts in figuring out what this might look like in the classroom. The more we all talk to and learn from one another, the more the light grows.


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