Christodoulou: Teacher trainings war on
science (the Spectatot, 15.03. 2014)
Christodoulou stelt dat de Engelse erarenopleidingen nog steeds verkeerde/modieuze opvattingen over
effectief onderwijs propageren. En hoe zit het in Vlaanderen en in de
universitaire opleiding van pedagogen en van masters-leraars ?
Theres an increasing amount of evidence about how we
learn.But you wont hear about it at teacher training collegeWhen I trained as
a teacher, seven years ago, these are some of the things I was taught: its
better for pupils to discover a fact than to be told it. Children learn best
working on authentic, real-world projects. Schools and traditional subject
boundaries are silos which stifle the natural creativity we all have within us.
And this last fact especially: there is no point teaching a body of knowledge,
because within a few years it will be outdated and useless. Dont teach the
what, teach the how. Drill and kill and chalk and talk will lead to passive
and unhappy pupils.
This, to a large degree, is still what most teachers are
taught. So its unfortunate that these ideas are deeply flawed. Theres solid
evidence that mostly, the exact opposite is true. Discovery learning is hugely
inefficient and ineffective. Authentic projects overload working memory and
confuse pupils. Skills are domain-specific and depend on a well-organised body of
knowledge securely committed to long-term memory. Deliberate practice what
might be called drill is necessary for mastery. Heres the real truth:
direct teacher instruction is good for pupils academic achievement and their
Over the past 50 or so years, scientists have discovered
more about how the brain learns than ever before. Their findings have profound
implications for education, but too few of these are known or taught within
One of the interesting things about the prevailing myths of
teacher training is that they are not new. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was pushing
them in the 18th century. Since then, despite a consistent lack of success,
theyve persisted, under different names and with different justifications.
For example, one popular buzzword at the moment is
21st-century skills, which sounds about as cutting-edge and modern as it
gets. Its often defined in terms of modern technology and the demands of the
modern economy. Generally, it tends to mean not burdening pupils with
knowledge, because facts are so easy to look up on the internet and now change
so fast. But a similar case was made at the start of the 20th century. In 1911,
a prominent US educationalist criticised the way that schools taught pupils a mass
of knowledge that can have little application for the lives which most of them
must inevitably lead. Today we also hear a lot about the importance of
innovative project- and activity-based learning. But in England in the 1930s,
the Hadow Report into primary education counselled that the curriculum should
be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than knowledge to be
acquired and facts to be stored. Weve been trying these ideas, and failing
with them, for a very long time.
So how have the myths survived? One reason may be that they
tell us something that we want to hear. They sell a vision of a world in which
we all have fantastic talent just waiting to be unleashed; in which learning is
as natural and as inevitable as growing up. Education, the myth-peddlers will
tell you, means drawing out. In fact, thats not the words real etymology
and what is put in is vitally important.
Compared to the myths, the reality can sound a bit
depressing. While we learn to speak and to understand speech naturally, most of
the other things we want our pupils to learn including reading and writing
will always require effort, and there are few shortcuts. However, there are
also some encouraging aspects of this research. Because learning is about hard
work and quality of instruction more than it is about innate genius, all pupils
are capable of achieving academically. There will always be differences in
innate talent, of course, but we have more in common than we have apart, and so
it is possible to identify teaching methods that will succeed for most pupils.
And just because learning is hard work doesnt mean it isnt
enjoyable. Quite the contrary: often we derive the most satisfaction when we
put in the most effort. We also derive satisfaction from success. Thats why
direct instruction teaching has been shown not only to result in more
academic success than other methods, but also in pupils having more
One other reason why these myths have proved so pervasive is
because, unfortunately, so much of the research evidence to the contrary is not
part of teacher training in the UK or the US. Some of the scientists who did
the research have noticed this, and protested. Take Herbert Simon. Simon is one
of the major intellectual figures of the 20th century. He was a pioneer of
artificial intelligence, and won a Nobel prize for his work on decision-making.
His research into memory forms the basis of much of the evidence Ive
summarised above, and he was deeply concerned about the failure of the American
educational establishment to consider his findings. Together with two
colleagues, he wrote an article challenging what he called some of the
frightening misconceptions of modern education.
Likewise, the reading researcher Keith Stanovich has argued
that education has suffered because its dominant model for adjudicating
disputes is political rather than scientific. In his view, this has left
education susceptible to romantic fads such as whole language reading methods.
Since I put out an ebook on education myths last summer it
is now published in print Ive heard from teachers saying how grateful they
are to have evidence for the ideas theyd suspected were right but had always
been told were wrong. But theres also been a lot of criticism. For some
readers, direct instruction, teaching knowledge and memorisation are simply
beyond the pale.
Given the history, that doesnt surprise me. The evidence I
gather challenges the status quo of English education, and challenges to the
status quo are rarely met with equanimity. But my impression is that we are at
a turning point in education. More and more teachers are realising the gap
between the theory they are taught and their practical experience. More and
more books are being published which explain the insights of cognitive science
and the implications they have for classroom teachers. Instead of the
warmed-through fads of the past century, I think the next few years will see
evidence-based reforms that lead to genuine educational improvements.
P.S. Daisy Christodoulous Seven Myths about Education was
published last week by Routledge.