Professor Rita Dunn once observed “If a child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns” [i]. Unfortunately, all too often this has been the exception and not the rule. In recent decades there has been a huge amount of research carried out in the area of pedagogy and as previously mentioned there is no single strategy that will guarantee that deep learning, or indeed any type of learning, will take place by students in a classroom. Two good places to start understand pedagogy are A Guide to Teaching Practise by Cohen et al and Learning to teach in the secondary school by Capel et al. It is far beyond the scope of this work to investigate and expound upon the myriad of different pedagogical methodology, but let us take a brief look at some facets of classroom pedagogy. Allen and Taylor say this of active learning,
“Active learning occurs when a pupil has some responsibility of the activity. Supporters of this approach recognise that a sense of ownership and personal involvement is the key to successful learning. Unless the work that the pupil does is seen to be important to them and to have purpose and unless their ideas, contributions and findings are valued, little of benefit is learned.”[ii]
To many people it might seem like common sense that if a child feels that there is no purpose to the learning then they will not learn, but for myself and my generation the prevailing philosophy of British schools was one of ‘just learn it and if you don’t you are stupid and you won’t pass the exam’. Of course research has now shown that unless there is some sort of ‘ownership’ of the subject little will be learnt. Evidence from the EEF also indicates techniques such as meta-cognition are also extremely an effective intervention in education. They say,
“Meta-cognition (sometimes known as ‘learning to learn’) and self-regulation approaches aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development. Self-regulation means managing one’s own motivation towards learning. The intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities.” [iii]
Again strategies involving meta-cognition will tend to require time to plan and be far more effective if the teacher is able to give individual feedback, which would require a smaller class size. The EEF further comment on meta-cognition,
“How effective is it? Meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress. The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils. These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion. The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be difficult to achieve as they require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed.”[iv]
Active learning and meta-cognition also relate to motivation. Unless a student is intrinsically motivated in a subject then they must be extrinsically motivated in some artificial manner and encouraging some form of ‘ownership’ over the work / subject is one of the simplest ways to facilitate extrinsic motivation. Capel and Gervis state,
“An autonomy-support environment is one in which the teacher gives increasing responsibility to pupils, e.g. for choices / options about what they want to do; encourages pupils’ decision-making by spending less time talking, more time listening, making less directive comments, asking more questions, and not giving pupils solutions; allows pupils to work in their own way; and offers more praise and verbal approval in class. Such an environment supports pupils’ academic and social growth by increasing intrinsic and self-motivation to succeed at school, self-confidence, perceived competence and self-esteem.” [v]
Overworked and stressed out education professionals are unlikely to be in a position where they can implement this, or many of the other evidence based strategies that the EEF outline and yet for many politicians this is not a problem for the simple fact that their main preoccupation with education is that young people are ‘off the streets’. Adequate time to competently and effectively plan stimulating classes is vitally important. It is also crucially important that teachers are not hampered by prescriptive curricula that ignore those students whose skills are largely non-academic.
If children, adolescents and young adults are to find their individual mediums and thus strive for genius they must be able to experiment with a multitude of activities taught in different manners by educators who actually care. Another finding of the EEF, with robust evidence behind it, is of the effectiveness of peer learning, they state.
“Peer Tutoring includes a range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support. In cross-age tutoring, an older learner takes the tutoring role and is paired with a younger tutee or tutees… The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success. Peer assessment involves the peer tutor providing feedback to children relating to their performance and can have different forms such as reinforcing or correcting aspects of learning.” [vi]
This clearly suggests that teaching by interest rather than by age group may well be a far more effective way of fostering deep practise. A learner-centred approach requires skilful and dedicated teachers planning classes and empowering their charges so that as well as practising and learning, they can teach themselves and on other occasions their peers. Empowered students and, when appropriate, mixed aged groups are necessary for this to become a reality. More capable peers helping their less capable peers already happens in classrooms around the world but it must be done in a more structured and planned manner than has ever previously been the case.
[ii] Allen and Taylor quoted in Cohen et al P. 269
[v] Op Cit. Capel and Gervis quoted in Capel et al P. 127
Capel et al (Ed) (2009) Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience Routledge
Cohen et al (1996) A Guide to Teaching Practice (4th Edition) Routledge