Challenging Agenda for Teaching in Learning Country
In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the need for new approaches in the drive for higher educational standards. Policy has involved using the school as the unit of intervention, yet evidence now suggests that:
The school is much less important than teachers in classrooms, or the 'learning' level, since the influence of the latter is four to five times greater;
The range of variation within any school dwarfs the difference between schools by a factor of three or four times, with all schools possessing relatively better practice that could be used for training and professional development purposes.
At the same time, awareness of the importance of classrooms, interest in teaching and in 'teacher effectiveness' has burgeoned, with a flurry of research that studies the behaviours, attributes and climates exhibited by outstanding professionals. This interest started in the mid-1990s with the prescription of supposedly 'effective' methods in the three 'Strategies' in England, and has been followed by greatly increased interest in the teaching profession in 'what works' in classrooms.
In the last couple of years attention has moved on to issues to do with pupils' learning because the range between children in a classroom in their achievements, even when they are exposed to the same effective teaching, has persuaded many people that just focusing on teaching is inadequate.
There is no doubt about the popularity of the 'learning based' emphasis by comparison with the earlier focus on 'teaching'. In Scotland, for example, the emphasis permeates the entire activities of the Inspectorate, its publications and its conferences.
But the power of 'learning based' approaches has recently been, rightly, increasingly questioned by a number of literature reviews that have wide circulation and currency in England. In these, it is clear that:
There is no scientific support for one of the main learning theories, Gardner's multiple intelligences, being related to anything, or support for any work in improving classrooms based upon the model;
Work on the effects of learning preferences, cognitive styles and personality types of pupils is similarly negative.
Where there are huge effects of 'learning' type factors, is in two areas:
Thinking skills, where pupils are trained in how to think, gather data and form conclusions;
So called 'formative' assessment, involving positive feedback on the strengths /weaknesses of work. …