Teacher Toolkit’s Fads

You may be aware of Ross McGill who blogs as Teacher Toolkit. I have to admit that I don’t read all of his postings but sometimes a piece will catch my eye. I enjoy discussions of teaching practices and so it was with interest that I took a look at a list of what McGill considers to be teaching ‘fads’ (although they are confusingly then further categorised into gimmicks, fads, myths and hearsay – for instance, gimmicks are fads that have become ‘over-egged’).

They are:

1. Learning styles

2. Lesson objectives

3. Learning outcomes

4. Rapid progress (Ofsted)

5. APP (Assessing Pupil Progress)

6. Chinese teaching

7. PLTS (Personal, Learning, Thinking Skills) (sic)

8. Textbooks

9. iPads

10. Sitting in rows

11. Group work

12. Zero-tolerance

13. Brain gym

14. Four-part lessons

15. Teacher talk

17. Lesson planning

18. Verbal feedback stamps

19. Triple marking

20. Starters, Middles, Plenaries

On the face of it, this is a quite extraordinary list. It is clearly somewhat parochial – many of the items are driven by Ofsted and will make little sense outside of the UK. There are some fairly worthless ideas on there of which I would share McGill’s misgivings. But the idea that lesson planning is a ‘fad’ (or ‘hearsay’) had me reaching for my dictionary, even if McGill seems to be referring to the notion of submitting your plans for scrutiny.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a fad as, “something (such as an interest or fashion) that is very popular for a short time,” and Google offers, “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze.”

Brain Gym would certainly fit the description of something rather short-lived but teacher talk, sitting in rows and textbooks are generally considered to be traditional aspects of teaching that have been around since Noah went out looking for badgers. Yes, they have gone out of fashion from time-to-time. I once worked in a school where the maths department had abandoned textbooks altogether and were instead engaged in generating an enormous photocopying bill. But textbooks as a fad?

A number of the other items such as learning objectives and multi-part lessons can probably be traced back to a mixture of craft knowledge and the teacher effectiveness research of the 1960s (see here). This seems like a long time for a fad to last although I would accept that the influence of a specific idea will wax and wane over time. And although profoundly wrong, I would not describe Learning Styles as a fad (or ‘gimmick’) because there is a strong, possibly ideological attachment to them among a section of the teaching and education research communities that has persisted since at least the 1980s.

I have my own ideas as to what might constitute a teaching fad and I was therefore intrigued that McGill would address this topic. Arguably, the Teacher Toolkit blog has been tireless in raising awareness of teaching fads. There is the ‘five minute lesson plan‘ and all its variations such as the ‘five minute marking plan‘. These templates are likely to be ephemeral in their popularity. And then there are ideas such as yellow box marking, speaking tools, exit cards and so on.

I quite like a discussion of the merits of various teaching approaches. I don’t take disagreements personally. Instead, I think we learn from them and so I am glad that McGill has put his head above the parapet and taken a few pot-shots at ideas that he doesn’t like. But I have to note that it seems a little inconsistent with his previous advice to, “Stay away from pointless arguments on pedagogy.

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