Three education black holes you’ll want to avoid

A black hole is a place in space where the gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. You wouldn’t want to get sucked in to one. And you wouldn’t want to get sucked into any of the following educational practices either.

1. Making everything flashy

Many teachers burn themselves out by spending inordinate amounts of time planning complicated, flashy activities. They think that the students will appreciate these activities or other staff will see them as innovative. If your students are impeccably behaved and respectful, you might have some luck. Otherwise, there is a chance that the activity that you’ve poured you heart and soul into will not be taken seriously and will be a cue for lots of messing around. Take this example from the Edutopia blog which was tweeted earlier by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership:

“Students write down what they learned on a piece of scratch paper and wad it up. Given a signal, they throw their paper snowballs in the air. Then each learner picks up a nearby response and reads it aloud.”


The trouble is, if you start messing with this stuff it becomes an expectation. Just say, “No”, kids. Teach your students something instead.

2. Rubbish Edtech

I am not against all Edtech. If it provides an efficient way of doing something and makes your life easier then that’s great. BUT WHEN HAS IT EVER DONE THIS? In a previous life, I had the job of persuading a school staff to use a particular Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). “Look,” went the pitch, “you can enter multiple choice quizzes and it will score them for you.”

Many staff pointed out that they didn’t use multiple choice quizzes. Those that did, tried the VLE and found that they could not enter mathematical notation unless as an image file. Even without any notation, the quizzes took ages to create. The VLE file system was slow and painful – constantly uploading – and then no students would log on because they had forgotten their password.

We don’t need solutions in search of a problem. We need solutions to problems that we actually have and that are better and quicker than what we’re doing at the moment.

3. Learning Styles

I know, if you are familiar with education blogs then you will already be aware that learning styles are a dodo. However, some folks have recently started to say things like, “I know there’s absolutely no evidence for learning styles but what’s the harm? It’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Aside from wasting everyone’s time, the worst that could happen is that male kids or kids from ethnic minorities who are struggling writers get labelled as having a ‘kinaesthetic’ learning style. Instead of getting the intensive extra writing that they need, they will be given mindless cut-and stick activities or blocks to play with and will fall ever further behind.

Labeling children, whether it is with a learning style or a mindset, is never right.

By XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Three education black holes you’ll want to avoid

  1. Thanks – it is good that you are highlighting this nonsense
    1) that list of 22 things is horrific. Is the author prepared to demonstrate them? Who picks up the paper at the end, because it won’t all be exchanged
    2) Whenever VLE salespeople come to demonstrate their product they seem to like creating a multiple choice test with 1 question and two answers and show that this works in theory, hoping staff wont do the calculation. Also why would I create something in a non exportable format that I won’t own when (not if) the school stops subscribing to your product. I would rather create and own the file so that I can use it at my next job. We are one of the many schools using,uk [good luck to them for finding this gap in the market!] They demonstrated that if you type all of your marks into the system it will print out a nice list for you before say a parents evening. Well thanks! Before you came along, I had to use my own spreadsheet. Before Bill Gates came along, I had to use a paper mark book. He actually sold it as if it would be saving me time! (regurgitating my own information!)
    3) learning styles – there is a huge irony that we can only have our own TEACHING style if it’s the style that management think is in fashion. I just thought of that! I think my learning style is reading high quality blogs
    Thanks again

  2. Haha! On my very first day of classes as a new and very naive graduate teacher, I tried to use #1 in the hopes that it would paint me as a fun, innovative teacher. What really happened is that the kids chucked paper balls at each other for the last 10 minutes of the lesson, which I then had to clean up, and I was nailed for the rest of the year. Good times!

    1. Tech IS the process.

      …and tech comes in many flavours: military tech, rocket science, horticulture, computer science, cooking… They all look different.

      Digital tech can only help if it is layered on top of the sort of tech that is native to the particular domain that interests us or. teaching. That is what I would call “pedagogy”. But very few teachers understand this. See Brian Simon’s 1981 article, “Why no pedagogy in England?” They think teaching is completely bound up with their personality, their values, their personal intuition and what they suppose to be the infinite variability of their students. Without a secure underlying pedagogy, all that is left of ed tech is other people’s tech – mainly hardware – and a few third-grade bits of software running on inadequate infrastructure, that don’t cut the mustard.

      So I am completely with Greg when he slams *rubbish* ed tech (which is most ed tech right now) – but if we are to address the overwhelming challenge that faces education systems in the developed world today – achieving consistent quality of education at ever increasing scale, with access to ever diminishing pools of talent (at least in areas of rapidly developing expertise) – then more effective forms of ed tech is not only a good solution, it is the only plausible solution that we have.

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