Educationalists: Teaching bad ideas

Back in 2012, I attended a conference in Sydney about school improvement. Although the speakers were there to talk about a diverse range of topics, many took the chance to disparage ‘transmission teaching’, where the teacher stands at the front and talks to the class. They knew that their audience would welcome this view.

Continues at Spiked

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3 Comments on “Educationalists: Teaching bad ideas”

  1. Stan says:

    I am trying to make some sense of the interesting twitter discussion on whether Greg is misrepresenting Bransford et al in his article. Greg takes the view that it is implied by the Frog and Fish story that the writers think the frogs explanation cannot give the fish an accurate mental picture of life on land. His conclusion then is that the authors point is that the only way for the fish to get such a picture would be to don SCOWBA equipment (changing under water for out of water) and see things for herself.

    An alternative view is that the authors are just saying that lectures don’t always work because of a failure to account for the limited knowledge of the audience.

    I suspect the problem here is that Bransford and company are guilty of exactly what they are talking about. The context is not really frogs explaining things to fish but teachers to students and it is hard to imagine not using pictures or movies to provide more accurate imagery. So a reasonable reader can read into the analogy the implication that the frogs lecture is doomed to failure unless the fish has its own knowledge of life on land.

    Now Bransford and company do suggest that it is possible for “teaching by telling” to work. But claim that this usually requires students to grapple with the issues on there own. Here and in the other examples Greg quotes lies the problem. They are claiming a lot more than just lectures need to account for prior knowledge. Bransford and co are conflating two topics. One that prior knowledge of students needs to be taken into account and another whether a teach by telling approach will work.

    A problem is that it is not a constructivist view that you should take account of the students prior knowledge as Bransford and co claim. That’s everyone’s view. The confusion generated by implying this is not the view of everyone generates an awful waste of energy.

    • gregashman says:

      I think the problem here is that I have paraphrased the argument in a way that makes it obviously absurd. Naturally, people object to this.

      Yes, the authors do allow a place for a bit of direct instruction. But this is very limited. As you say, it comes *after* problem solving. This reminds me of the proponents of ‘balanced’ literacy who claim that phonics has a role but then promote it as a last resort only.

      It is instructive to look at the exemplars of best practice at the back of the book. Here, we have a maths teacher who almost never demonstrates solutions to maths questions. The logic is clear – to *truly* understand something, you have to experience it yourself.


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