“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Isaac Newton
I’m sure there must be other professions that are similarly prone, but it does seem to be that schools are particularly susceptible to the latest trends and fashions. New resources, gimmicks and ideas are introduced and expected to be integrated into lessons, often with alarming regularity. This would be all well and good if the evidence was there to support the effectiveness of these, but quite frankly it often isn’t.
Resources are usually sold to schools via glossy magazines or sales representatives. This salesmanship is reminiscent of home shopping channels or must-have toy crazes, such as Cabbage Patch dolls or the latest games console. But by spending freely on new resources, is it possible that schools are directing money away from areas where it might be more productively used?
English Teacher James Theobold noted the following in his recent blog
“If the resources were produced specifically to be sold and not to be used in the creator’s classroom at all (ie by a business that solely produces resources), then it’s worth asking: are they selling something that has not been tried, tested and developed in a classroom first? How effective is that resource?”
The truth is that more often than not we just don’t know how effective these resources are. Some might help with teaching, but is there really any point if they’ve little or no effect on learning? If teachers are required to use pre-published books or schemes the school has purchased, then, somewhat inevitably, this will impact on their autonomous right to choose and prepare what they deliver.
Likewise, technology can sometimes be very useful, but the cost of this equipment is growing exponentially so teachers might feel obliged (or instructed) to integrate it at every opportunity. The ubiquitous interactive whiteboards are an example that immediately springs to mind. I can say from personal experience that the pressure to use these in all lessons is immense.
So what really makes for successful teaching? How truly beneficial is all of this stuff?
Thankfully, an increasing number of teachers and their managers are basing their curriculum content and delivery around advice and evidence of what works. More and more people are considering what the key ingredients of successful teaching and learning really are. While differing on some points, certain themes do appear to recur. I’ve paraphrased a selection of these here:
Clearly communicated lesson goals: discussed with pupils at the start, and re-visited during and at the end of lessons
Regular (preferably open-ended) verbal questioning of pupils to check understanding
Practise: perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s been shown that pupils do better when they’ve regular opportunities to practise. They must be practising the right stuff – it’s crucial that it isn’t used to reinforce bad habits
Pupil feedback: it should tell pupils what they’ve done well and where they need to improve (offered verbally or through tailored marking)
Teacher flexibility: particularly concerning the pace at which each pupil learns. All pupils are different, so where possible provision should account for this
Regular testing and quizzing: widely shown to be the most effective way of ensuring long term retention of information
If we’re to believe the above list, it seems to me that none of these would necessarily require much in the way of equipment or resources to deliver successfully. In fact, it seems entirely possible that complex resources could even detract from the purity and simplicity of effective teaching and learning.
I’d like to suggest that school leaders, particularly middle leaders with budget responsibility, try to ensure their school is only buying, or enforcing the use of, materials and equipment that are genuinely beneficial to learning. Seductive as this stuff is, it’s vital not to introduce fashionable and costly resources which may ultimately prove no more effective than, say, a sheet of paper and a pen.
This blog was written for NAHT Edge (@NAHTEdge): Here
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