How goals affect your teaching stylePosted: December 19, 2016
It can be a bit of puzzle. There is no reason why a particular curriculum should imply a specific way of teaching it. For instance, Dan Willingham has written at length of the need for a knowledge-rich curriculum and yet his statements on teaching styles are relatively few, limited to cautioning us about flashy hooks or the overuse of pure discovery learning.
Yet, on social media and when examining the way that schools enact different educational philosophies, a knowledge-rich curriculum tends to be associated with explicit instruction whereas a knowledge-lite curriculum, such as the one embodied by England’s 2007 National Curriculum, is often seen to favour for exploratory, student-directed forms of learning. This seems likely to be the reason why the Times Educational Supplement (TES) recently seized upon what it mistakenly saw as a criticism of explicit instruction by knowledge advocate, E D Hirsch Jr. They knew that the headline would be clickbait.
I don’t think means and ends are as independent as we might think. If you have a body of knowledge that you wish to communicate then, as Hirsch suggests, research and even common sense tell us that explicit methods will be more efficient. You need to learn-by-doing if you have a skill that needs practising. To traditionalists, children must first learn a body of knowledge before practising its application whereas, to progressive educators, something like scientific inquiry is itself a ‘skill’ that can be practised and refined from the outset and that builds other more ephemeral ‘skills’ in the process, such as collaboration. This means that all teachers should, or at least intend to, reach the point of independent application but that traditionalists will pay far more attention to building a body of knowledge first and they believe the best way to do this is explicitly.
There are those who love to suggest that advocates of explicit instruction are only interested in students repeating back disconnected facts that they don’t understand. But there are two problems with painting this picture. Firstly, I am not aware of anyone who is arguing for this. Secondly, explicit instruction is consistently associated with better performance on tests of application, with PISA 2015 being just the latest example.