The bad idea that holds teachers backPosted: January 30, 2016
We have all probably heard a common trope along the lines that, ‘I don’t teach content, I teach children.’ Another such example popped-up in my timeline via @Borto74:
It is an odd idea to emphasise. I would expect that any teacher who is doing the job that he or she is paid for will be teaching students the curriculum. So why does this come up?
It is to do with the cult of the individual that permeates our schools. Even supposedly sober commentators such as Ben Jensen and Jacqueline Magee perpetuate this idea. Whilst noting the profound difficulties required in attempting to meet every student’s individual needs, they do nothing to dispel the notion that this is the way to go.
Differentiating work is difficult and time-consuming. It can also potentially lead to invidious outcomes as students who are identified as struggling get watered-down content, increasing the achievement gap. It is not something that higher performing states seem to do. The graph below might come as a bit of a shock to anyone who thinks that differentiation is proven to be best practice:
I write about differentiation at some length in my new ebook. The evidence just isn’t there to support the idea. It seems truthy enough that catering to individual needs will be better for students but it ignores the realities of the classroom; a teacher cannot simultaneously individually instruct 30 students. Even when researchers have tried to make it work, they have complained that the teachers weren’t doing it right. So it is either something that works if you have particularly talented teachers who can implement it – although this has not been demonstrated – or it is an idea that doesn’t work at all. You decide.
What is clear is that it is not an approach that is grounded in solid evidence.