So, Eric Mazur, Harvard physics teacher, has been in Australia promoting his teaching method: ‘Peer Instruction’.
It’s a variant of group work that rests on the assumption that some of the class know the answer to a question and so a teacher can leverage this in such a way that these students will teach the others. Gone is the need for a teacher with expertise. It’s not about how much you know, it’s about how you teach.
Mazur makes unflattering references to traditional types of teaching which, he suggests, squashes the innate desire to understand and replaces it with an extrinsically driven desire to get the answer right. According to Mazur:
“If you teach the old-fashioned way with the instructor being the source of knowledge, then the highest level you set for the students is the teacher… If you teach by inquiry, then it is possible for students to exceed the teacher.” [my emphasis]
Apparently, Australia needs this kind of teaching because of our dodgy PISA science results:
“I was just reviewing this morning, the results of the latest PISA test, which are pretty disastrous… It shows that there’s really something amiss with education in the Western world, and Australia didn’t come off that well at all.”
But, hang on a second, the results of PISA 2015 showed that students who were exposed to more inquiry-based teaching performed worse in the PISA science assessment. So what is he talking about? Whatever the merits of peer instruction, he seems to have his wire crossed here because he is quoting a source that provides evidence of the opposite of what he claims.
This is why the press have been negligent to largely ignore the story about PISA and inquiry learning and to focus instead on pretty much anything else, such as the thoughts of Eric Mazur.