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Educational research – The problem with this “pedagogical minefield”

Pedagogical research can be hugely valuable, writes Bhamika Bhudia – but given the speed at which it moves, we should be wary of going all-in on the latest fad...

  • Educational research – The problem with this “pedagogical minefield”

Teaching is an ever-changing discipline. Accepting that, and evolving your practice accordingly is a necessity – but when the latest research becomes outdated as quickly the latest student dance craze, how can you be expected to keep up? Should you even try?

I spent hours of my training and early years in teaching frantically cutting up pieces of card. How else would my kinaesthetic students ever meet the learning objectives if I didn’t cater to their individual learning styles?

These days, the notion of learning styles is met with derision throughout the teaching community, despite numerous teachers having previously been trained in it, and the acronym ‘VAK’ once being a common sight on lesson observation forms. It feels that all that time I spent enslaved to those tiny pieces of paper was wasted, but it’s not just VAK that’s taken a hit.

Bloom’s taxonomy, Thinking Hats, even the way we measure progress – all have similarly come into the firing line.

Out with the old

As time moves on and we reflect upon the impact of such approaches, the logical thing to do is move forward. Thus, we may conclude that it’s best for our students to put down the scissors, forget the triangles and for the love of God, take off those hats…

However, problems can arise if the focus of an entire school shifts according to newly published research findings; when limited CPD opportunities are focused solely on ‘the next big thing’, or precious time is spent on creating new schemes of learning in line with the latest ‘Correct way to teach’ – only to soon find that these too are redundant.

Currently, retrieval practice is all the rage, as are dual coding and knowledge organisers, but how to implement them is already being hotly debated within the teaching hive. If you’re not planning lessons in accordance with cognitive load theory, how will your students ever build learning over time?

How can you ensure they’re building schema and making links if you haven’t simplified the intrinsic load enough? Is the latest ‘correct way’ direct instruction, or is it discovery learning? No, wait, it’s instructional coaching – right? It feels like we’re in a pedagogical minefield.

The way forward

Ultimately, there is no ‘correct way’, silver bullet or perfect formula that will withstand the test of time, because teaching isn’t, and never has been stagnant. It reflects our students, who change as society changes. Pedagogical science is fascinating, and while I can’t pretend to understand all of it, it certainly can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Its results and research findings warrant our attention.

However, that’s not to say that every time something new is published, or even postulated, we should to go back to the drawing board, scrap everything and start again. Even under now defunct methodologies, children still learnt, exams were still passed and objectives were met.

Teachers have been successfully doing their jobs for millennia, but if a well-informed study comes along and tells us that there’s a more efficient way of doing things, let’s see that as an opportunity to try something new.

Overhauls aren’t the answer, but ‘micro changes’ could be. Experiment, switch things up, refine your practice. Put new ideologies and methods to the test in your classroom before any full-scale rollouts or scrapping of existing resources.

This needn’t entail hours of work, blindly following the latest crazes; it means doing some research of your own by seeing how things work, in your school, with your subject and, most importantly, with your students.

Sure, what you’re doing now may well be contradicted, and perhaps even scoffed at in years to come. But whatever you’re doing in your classroom, it should be because you can see it has merit; because it’s working in practice, and is giving your students the best possible chance at success.

Bhamika Bhudia is a teacher of English and lead teacher in a mixed comprehensive secondary school in London; follow her at @MissMika_Eng.

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