A deliberately provocative heading to this piece…
From time to time a new educational fad gains ground. Some are based on sound research, but many are not.
The most pernicious I’ve come across has been ‘Assertive Discipline’ with its Zero Tolerance approach. This suspends learning activities in the classroom and seeks to create the best conditions for learning. This is achieved by the teacher playing the referee and distributing a series of reward and sanction cards to students. Failure to make eye conduct, speaking when the teacher is talking, failing to stay on task all lead to a suspension of any learning taking place whilst the teacher formally issues the sanction and tells the student how they are disrupting lessons. The teacher may decide to escalate the sanction to involve detentions, or in the worst cases, a duty teacher coming to remove the errant student to a place of isolation.
The problem with the place of isolation is that it is full of other errant students who are looking to buck the system. The school is now committed to a full academic week of teachers to man the isolation room and to remove students from class to take them to the isolation room.
The rewards worked in the opposite direction – rewarding students who complied with the teacher demands. These worked their way up to personal and house points and in the case of the school I worked in, to a trip to the Golden Arches for a fast food treat. That was wrong for a whole range of reasons, not the least being the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
The Assertive Discipline / Zero Tolerance programme came as a bought in training day and set of materials. I think the initial research, which all such programmes claim, was conducted in US penitentiary systems! Certainly I became aware of a direct relationship between the sumptuousness of the teacher folder given out in such programmes, together with a term’s worth of ‘customised for your school’ sanction and reward cards, and the uselessness of the programme!
Then there was learning styles, a bastardisation of some serious neuroscientific research, which had students assigned to a particular learning style, based on some cod analysis. Books were distributed in colour sequence to indicate that a child was a visual or auditory learner so that the teacher could differentiate and pitch their lesson as inclusively as possible. A laudable aim, but a spurious structure to achieve it.
Raising standards has often been associated with the production of detailed lesson plans. So much so that the writing of the plans sometimes overwhelmed the teacher to the extent that they were spent forces in actual contact with the students! I remember when I first started teaching hearing horror stories from other young teachers that in their schools, a senior manager would call in the planning books on a Monday morning and any anomalies or missing lessons would have to be explained in a formal interview with the head. What an oppressive and compliant atmosphere to create … and we wonder why so many young teachers abandon teaching within the first few years of their careers!
Effective teaching and learning is incredibly simple really:
The difficult part is ensuring these guideline are employed consistently to give the students a quality assured learning experience which prepares them to be an autonomous independent learner.