Teaching is all about relationships (kind of)

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Last month, I wrote a post on how the statement, ‘All behaviour is communication,’ is a ‘deepity’. Introduced as a concept by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, a deepity is something that can be read on two levels. On the first level, it is true but trivial, whereas on the second level it is false but if it were true then it would have huge implications. The ambiguity of these two levels therefore gives an extraordinary claim a kind of legitimacy and profundity.

At the end of the post, Chester Draws, who regularly comments on my blog, suggested that the phrase ‘teaching is all about relationships’ also qualifies as a deepity. And you can see his point. Teaching involves a teacher and at least one student and so, trivially perhaps, there has to be some form of relationship in play at all times. But the grander claim that is hiding within the deepity is that relationships are the most important aspect of teaching; more important than content knowledge, planning, designing good assessment questions and so on. Furthermore, the phrase behooves us to cultivate relationships as a top priority, perhaps by getting all into our students’ business and trying to be their buddy.

I’m with Chester on this but I think there is something missing from the discussion. Although it may be trivial that all teaching involves relationships, I think that many of us think about this the wrong way. There are elements of good teaching that are commonly ignored or discarded but that function to enhance productive teacher-student relationships and it’s worth reminding ourselves of what these are.

In order for students to learn from a teacher, a key prerequisite is that they listen to what the teacher has to say. This is at the heart of the teacher-student relationship. There needs to be respect. It helps if students are actually facing the teacher: seating children in rows so that none have their back to the teacher is literally all about teacher-student relationships.

The minds of even the most willing students will wander from time-to-time and this is why teaching must be interactive, with the teacher peppering any discussion with questions or tasks for students to complete. While I am teaching, I am constantly scanning my students’ faces for signs of confusion or disengagement; I am assessing the state of the teacher-student relationship. I find it odd that there has been a fashion for putting videos of teaching on the internet and asking students to watch these at home. It is as if nobody has considered the human factor; the relationships.

Strong behaviour policies are about encouraging productive relationships, both between teachers and students and between students themselves. Anxiety is likely to fill-up working memory resources and degrade academic performance and strong behaviour policies mitigate these effects by squeezing out opportunities for bullying and intimidation. When I read Kris Boulton’s recent post about visiting a school with a strong behaviour policy, I was struck by the fact that it was basically a commentary on the quality of relationships. And this is not a surprise.

I am aware, of course, that those who sermonise about the importance of relationships in teaching probably have very different kinds of teacher-student relationships in mind. And I think that points to the way out of a land of totemic deepities. Instead of opining about the existence of relationships, the discussion would be better served if we described the kinds of relationships we think are important and we explained why, as I have started to do above. It might lead to a better understanding of the positions of those we disagree with.

Teaching is all about relationships (kind of), so let’s agree, move on and discuss the kinds of relationships that good teachers should foster.


How to make a beef curry

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At eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, Mr Briggs opened the doors of his new cookery school. Enthusiastic sweater-clad students of a certain age had been gathering in anticipation under the porch outside. Discussion centred around wine and weekend mini-breaks. A gentleman called Geoff had tried to initiate a discussion about a golf competition that he had been watching on his television set but rapidly changed tack, opening up a discussion about the best way to protect bay trees from the frost.

Mr Briggs wore glasses and had a neatly trimmed beard. “I play in a band,” he explained to his students for no obvious reason. The students filed in and, as instructed, stood two to each bench. The room still had a vinegary whiff of grout about it.

“Right-o,” said Mr Briggs, “Today we are going to investigate beef curry.”

“Oh yum!” Exclaimed Marion, a greying lady sporting a jaunty scarf.

Mr Briggs narrowed his eyes slightly but otherwise did not react. “I want you to talk to the person next to you. I want you to discuss why beef curry is problematic.”

A hush fell over the room for a few long second before the students, eyebrows raised, started to turn and talk to each other. This continued for five minutes, by which time most of the conversations had drifted off topic and into discussions of jobs, families and cooking.

Mr Briggs clapped his hands. “Charlotte, isn’t it?” He gestured to a lady at the front of the room who nodded, “Would you like to share your discussion?”

Charlotte smirked, “Well curries give some people terrible wind!”

Mr Briggs purses his lips, “What about you, Geoff? What did you discuss?”

“Some people just aren’t fans of spicy food.” He offered.

“It’s more the concept,” explained Mr Briggs, “What is problematic about the concept of beef curry?” He asked. “Anyone?”

There was a long pause. Finally, Marion asked, “Why don’t you tell us? You seem to have something in mind.”

Mr Briggs exhaled sharply, “Well think about its origins. Think about where it is meant to come from. Think about the fact it contains beef.”

There was another pause.

“Shouldn’t we be starting to make the curry now?” Asked Charlotte, “We haven’t got that long.”

Mr Briggs ignored this. “Perhaps it’s hard to see from a privileged perspective. But curry is a cultural appropriation. We think of it as Indian but most Indians would never eat beef. Beef curry is colonialism.”

Geoff grabbed a glass and poured himself some water from the tap on his bench. The other students stared at Mr Briggs.

“Right-o,” Mr Briggs clapped, “I want you to discuss with your partners how we might decolonise beef curry.”

“What if we don’t think it needs decolonising?” Asked Geoff, making air quotes with his fingers.

“I am trying to develop your critical thinking skills. I want you to critique the concept of beef curry because I want you to think critically,” Mr Briggs explained.

“But I am thinking critically,” Geoff opined, “I am thinking critically about the idea that a curry needs decolonising.” A few of the students sniggered.

“That’s not critical thinking.” Snapped Mr Briggs.

“It is,” Geoff insisted.

“No it’s not. I’ve got a book on it: Critical Theory by Hubert Un, a professor. That’s not what critical thinking means. It’s about challenging ideas that we accept on the basis of historically defined authority.” Mr Briggs suggested.

Geoff shook his head.

“Shouldn’t we start on the curry?” Asked Charlotte.

Mr Briggs collected himself and turned to Charlotte. “Yes. That’s right.” He said, “Charlotte, you are going to be our curry expert. How should we go about cooking a beef curry?”

“Well, I have some ideas but I came here to learn. I’m no expert.” Charlotte replied.

“It’s a pedagogical tool,” Mr Briggs explained, “I want you to imagine you are a curry expert. I want you to assume that role. This will develop your empathy and creativity skills.”

“We want you to assume that role!” Snorted Marion. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

“I so do!” Countered Mr Briggs, “I lecture in catering at the University and everything!” He exclaimed.

At that moment, the doors swung open and a group of students with matching t-shirts and placards stormed in. Their leader had a megaphone which was hardly necessary in the small cooking studio.

“Briggs is a fascist!” The student leader shouted through the megaphone. “He should not be given a platform for his far-right agenda! Briggs is guilty of microaggressions against vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and fruitarians!”

The students formed a wall in front of Mr Briggs and started signing We Shall Overcome.

Geoff wondered how the golf was going.

Assessment for discovery learning

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I use formative assessment, also known as ‘assessment for learning’, on a daily basis. I read the faces of my students for signs of confusion. I ask them verbal questions and I pose problems for them to complete on mini-whiteboards. We have regular questions-of-the week that are distributed over time so that they assess content from weeks or months previously and students self-assess their answers which I then collect and analyse. I don’t deploy every tactic in the formative assessment toolbox but I think the ones that I use make me better at my job.

Formative assessment sits in an interesting place in the educational landscape. I think that Dylan Wiliam, the world’s foremost expert on formative assessment, would claim that it is neutral on questions such as inquiry learning versus direct instruction, and that adding formative assessment will improve both sets of practices. So I always find it slightly odd and jarring to see it invoked to support a particular style of teaching.

Which is what a new paper by Margaret Heritage in The Australian Educational Researcher appears to do.

The paper hinges around an exchange between ‘Ms. R’ and ‘Jason’ that Heritage captured in her research work. Jason has selected a poem to read where the lettering has been manipulated e.g the word bumpy is written as ‘buMPY’ and the word slow is written as ‘s l o w‘. Ms. R asks what poetic device is being used and confirms that it is not something they have covered in class. There follows a process where Ms. R attempts to draw this understanding out of Jason through a form of Socratic questioning.

Heritage approves of this approach because it involves ‘active construction’ of knowledge where there is ‘little direct transfer of information from the teacher to the student’ and she connects this directly to assessment for learning via Vygotsky in a way that I don’t fully understand.

There is nothing wrong with drawing things out of students, but I would suggest that this is best done when it is something the student has already been explicitly taught and therefore as a form of retrieval practice. The idea that education should always be about drawing-out from within, rather than being instructed by an authority, is a cornerstone of progressivist educational ideology. In my view, this is a flawed idea, unsupported by the available evidence and one that has led to less effective teaching methods. This paper highlights how seemingly neutral concepts such as assessment for learning can be marshaled to the cause.

Will measuring critical thinking improve NAPLAN?

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The ABC have got their hands on a report about the future of NAPLAN, the Australian government’s series of standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy that are taken by students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The report shows little progress in these areas since the introduction of NAPLAN and it makes suggestions for the future which include introducing tests of critical thinking and problem-solving.

I do not think NAPLAN is perfect. I am unhappy about how the numeracy assessment has been impoverished and made noisier by reducing the number of non-calculator questions. I also think the literacy assessments should be linked to content areas of the Australian curriculum that have been taught in the past 12 months, both to level the playing field and take away the advantage that students from culturally rich home backgrounds possess when general knowledge become a factor and to ensure schools focus on knowledge building rather than NAPLAN drilling.

However, with the caveat that I haven’t viewed the report, I cannot agree with some of the inferences it appears to draw.

Don’t blame the thermometer if your house is too cold

A system for measuring literacy and numeracy is not a program for improving it. Yes, I understand that many had hoped that by laying bare the situation, schools and education departments would be motivated to fix it. But this does not account for the influence of bad ideas in the education system. Unfortunately, NAPLAN may have motivated schools to go even harder at things that don’t work. I would still rather have NAPLAN in place, telling us that we are not making progress, than have our heads in the sand, ignoring the problem.

Tests of critical thinking and problem-solving won’t add any new information

Critical thinking and problem-solving are not generic skills. Instead, they rely heavily on possessing knowledge relevant to the problem to be solved or the topic to be critically thought about. When international assessments have sought to measure these qualities, they have not produced a reversal in the fortunes of nations. Instead, they have largely replicated the results from tests of numeracy, literacy and science.

It might be comforting to think that although we are not raising the literacy and numeracy levels of students, we may be enhancing their critical thinking skills, but this is probably just wishful thinking. Perhaps we do need these additional assessments if only to dispel this myth. But if so, can we satisfy ourselves with a sample rather than forcing all Australian kids through these redundant tests?

Why you should care about the prospects of the white working class

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I grew up in Quarry Bank, in an area of England known as the ‘Black Country’ due it’s role in the industrial revolution and the abundance of coal mines. Quarry Bank is a predominantly white, working class area and, when I was growing up, its high street was lined with butchers’ shops and pubs. The family legend holds that, at ten years of age and at the height of The British Empire, my great grandfather was harnessed to a truck, pulling coal out of a pit. This lasted until his mother was able to obtain him an apprenticeship with the pit blacksmith. Metalwork is a feature of my family history, with a great grandfather, a great grandmother and a grandfather all earning a living by making chain on a piecework basis.

I don’t think I am working class. I used to have a working class accent of which I still retrain a trace. And my parents did not attend university. On the other hand, my father completed a university level course as a young draughtsman. My family was not particularly wealthy, but we did own our own home; a home built by my grandfather who was a bricklayer as well as a chainmaker. My life has since developed away from my working class origins. I moved out of Quarry Bank to study, then I went to London and I now find myself living in Australia. To my understanding, the working class consists of blue-collar workers who tend to have a strong connection to a specific place and that is not me.

I recently noticed an education commentator on Twitter criticising people who express a concern for the welfare of the white working class in Britain. Sure, they may be disadvantaged in some ways, but those who raise such issues, he contended, tend to do so in order to dodge discussions of race or gender: It’s a diversionary manoeuvre. No doubt some people may be disingenuous in this way, but it is dangerous to conclude that we should just ignore the white working class. There is more than one lens to look through when analysing these issues.

I am the kind of dinosaur who has an outdated view of social justice. To me, social justice is about ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised in society get to share in the spoils of economic and social progress. I have never believed that markets are benevolent. Markets can reduce prices and increase living standards but they can also lead to monopolies; including monopolies over employment. Workers at the bottom of the heap do not necessarily gain from this – think zero-hours contracts and flat wage growth – and that is why government has a role in regulating the function of markets and in redistributing wealth. It is this understanding of social justice that motivated me to join The Labour Party back in 1997.

However, today social justice is more about ensuring the equality of various groups defined upon the basis of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and various other traits that individuals may possess. This equality is not just economic but also deeply symbolic. Statues, Halloween costumes and the curriculum can all embody inequality. Oppressor groups and oppressed groups are identified and one individual can be a member of both groups simultaneously. For instance, a white woman can be both a white oppressor and an oppressed woman.

The difference between these conceptions of social justice can be seen in the debate over pay equality at the BBC. It is plainly wrong that a female journalist should be paid less than a male journalist for doing the same work. However, I don’t see a disagreement about the difference between two large salaries as a social justice issue. To me, that sits in a category labelled ‘sexism’ which, in this case, appears unrelated to issues involving the poor and marginalised.

As the left has slowly transitioned from championing the prehistoric social justice of my youth to the modern, metropolitan social justice of today, it has left many of the poor and marginalised behind, including the white working class. Those who argue for taking notice of them risk revealing their latent racism to an easily offended world. And the white working class have noticed.

Which is a problem for everyone. In democracies, there are still a lot of white working class people and they have been using their votes to thumb their noses at those who they believe have nothing to offer them or who take them for granted. Mainstream politicians with centrist views have suffered as a result. While the left discuss issues of identity, the white working class in America vote for Trump and in Britain they vote for Brexit.

This is baffling to the metropolitan left. Aren’t these voters silly! Don’t they realise that the areas of Britain that voted most enthusiastically for Brexit are the ones that will be hardest hit by its effects? Well, as Bob Dylan wrote, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Rather than telling them off for voting the wrong way, the left needs to engage with policies that are attractive to working class people. An attachment to place means that the working class are less likely to move to another part of the country in order to find work and so investment needs to go to the communities where they already live. London is incredibly well served by public transport but many of the regions of England are not. A classical liberal might justify this on the basis that London generates more wealth than these regional areas, whereas the left traditionally argues for redistribution. So, policies on regional transport, like Corbyn’s policy of rail nationalisation, have an appeal. This should be a focus.

If we are concerned about the potential attraction of demagogues then we need to enhance the critical thinking abilities of the population, not least the white working class. This does not come from designing ‘critical thinking’ courses that attempt to explicitly teach critical thinking as some kind of skill. And it does not come from embedding a praxis of critical pedagogy as advanced by some portly middle-aged Marxist who thinks he’s Che Guevara. Rather, the ability to think critically gradually accumulates with breadth and depth of education. The more science, literature, history and mathematics a person has to draw upon, the greater their ability to critically analyse the world around them. And this is why we should not simply dismiss reports that white working class boys, for example, are the worst performers in the English education system. This is not just an economic and social cost to them, it is a risk to us all.

Most importantly, we need empathy and understanding. I lived in Watford from 2004 to 2010 during a time when Eastern Europeans were moving into the area. A new phenomenon arose of men who stood at the end of our street, drinking from cans of beer. As far as I recall, they never caused any trouble. Nevertheless, my elderly neighbour didn’t like it. It’s easy to label her a racist but perhaps a little harder to understand that she was simply uncomfortable with the way that her community was changing. Middle class people either embrace the change in culture or move somewhere else. Working class people find that harder to do, economically and emotionally, and we need to understand that.

It’s like the feeling I had when I last walked through Quarry Bank with my Dad. The pubs we used to visit together were gone. And the butchers’ shops selling roast pork sandwiches were gone. And for a moment, forgetting my escape to a different life in a different place, I felt a sense of loss.

There are many people out there feeling a sense of loss, a sense of confusion, that they are being neglected or ignored. We need to think about policies that will address these concerns. Otherwise, Trump and Brexit are just the beginning.

Does it matter as long as they are reading?

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A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to listen to Jan Plass discuss how he used the principles of Cognitive Load Theory in the development of educational games. A few years prior, some research had been published suggesting that a group of students learnt more from a matched PowerPoint presentation than from playing a narrative educational game and so I put this to Plass. He suggested that this may be true for undergraduate psychology students but what if the alternative to a student playing an educational game was to not do anything educational at all? Surely, in this instance, the game would have value?

This is an excellent point and is, perhaps, something we can all agree on, whatever our educational philosophy. Doing something educational must always be better than doing nothing educational. If a student will simply not engage with a particular curriculum or mode of delivery then is it not reasonable to make changes?

I believe that differences arise over when this should happen. Some teachers are happy to vary the curriculum and methods straight away. They seek to preempt or guess their students’ interests and target content appropriately. Others would wish to hold out much longer before they would, as they would see it, resort to such an approach. And I think the differences in these positions are instructive.

It’s all the same

Some would argue that all texts are texts. It doesn’t matter whether a student is reading The Hobbit or a comic book. The key skill that is being developed is that of literacy and this can be developed in any context. If this is what you believe – that literacy is essentially transferable – then why not choose contexts that match your students’ interests as closely as possible? We might even expand the definition of literacy to include listening to audiobooks or using voice-to-text instead of writing. Similarly, in other standard subject areas, the skills do not need to be locked to specific contexts. In science, students need to learn how to conduct investigations and in history they need to analyse sources in order to develop critical thinking skills. The exact content of any of these activities is not as important.

Some things are better than others

Those who would argue that students need to be introduced to specific content in specific ways vary from those who see skills as transferable in two important regards. Firstly, they think the content is worth learning in its own right. In the case of reading, this might be the vocabulary that specific texts introduce, in history it might be knowledge of specific events and in science it may be specific principles. These teachers also tend to see the landscape as more hierarchical. For instance, they may view a comic a less valuable than The Hobbit because the vocabulary is more limited. They would be suspicious of following students’ own interests because they suspect the content would be degraded.


I think that an important point has been lost in this discussion and that is about attitudes to the role of the teacher and his or her authority. I’m not convinced that anyone really thinks that all texts are texts and that they are completely interchangeable. Instead, the position arises out of something similar to Plass’s position. Typically, if you suggest to someone who believes in transferable skills that students should be reading Shakespeare then, if they don’t counter with an argument about dead white men, they are likely to express disbelief. They are likely to suggest that students won’t read Shakespeare. They won’t find it relevant, so they won’t like it and will refuse to engage with it.

Teachers who believe in teaching specific content and a hierarchy of quality will not see the problem. Surely you just make them read Shakespeare, right? And this is where the fundamental difference lies.

I am not a mean teacher and I discourage yelling, sarcasm, public humiliation and a whole range of other dubious practices that frustrated teachers sometimes resort to. However, I have no problem with exercising authority. If a student will not engage with particular content then I will expect, support and encourage him or her to do so. I wouldn’t make use of it much, but there would ultimately be a consequence to refusing to try. I believe that with good teaching, students will increase their capacity and this will then become motivating. Although they may initially dislike a topic or task, as they improve in their capacity to tackle it, they may become more motivated by it.

The disengaged

However, even I would recognise that there are students in high school for whom it would be an achievement if they read a comic book. These may be students who are extremely disengaged by the education system and this could be caused by being failed by education earlier in their school careers. If you can’t read, then it is going to be awful to be constantly asked to read and write in academic classrooms and you may become disruptive or withdrawn. In this instance, something may be better than nothing. But it will also probably be a good idea to address the fundamental needs with a wholesale basic reading intervention. On the other hand, some students may never have the capacity to engage in academic subjects, but I think there are far fewer of these students than there are students who could be brought back to an academic education with the right kind of intervention.

The fundamental question is whether we believe in our authority as teachers to impose content on students or if we believe that we should be guided by the students’ preferences. This is a clear philosophical divide. It doesn’t mean that any teacher has to sign-up to either extreme, but it is an axis along which teachers’ views differ.

The evidence against managing children

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In a recent post, I referred to a podcast interview with Dr David Armstrong. Armstrong’s contention was that we should stop attempting to manage children’s behaviour. He compared it to managing finances or cans of beans, claiming that this was dehumanising. Armstrong went on to suggest that we target teaching at children’s individual interests and perhaps even plan around those interests.

I instantly recognised this as a version of the long-running argument that has played out between educational progressivism and traditionalism. Since at least the beginning of the 20th century, progressivists have forcefully argued for following children’s interests and traditionalists have argued that all content is not equal and so proceeding in this way will lead to a degraded curriculum. Progressivists have called for what the 1960s Plowden report into U.K. primary education described as ‘permissive discipline‘ – there is no need for behaviour management strategies because students will behave well provided they are doing something they love and that is suited to their particular level of development. Traditionalists tend to suggest that quality education can be tough and unrewarding at times and so students need to be pushed along.

Readers of this blog will be well-versed in this clash of philosophies and will have their own view of where along the progressivist-traditionalist continuum they lie. But what made Armstrong’s interview intriguing was the claim that his position is evidence-based. This is a strong claim that draws to mind evidence-based practices in medicine based upon randomised controlled trials. I was interested to understand how a position that I view as essentially ideological could be framed in this way. And so I asked David Armstrong about this on Twitter.

To his great credit, Armstrong replied pretty quickly with a number of links. He also referred to his book but, unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that. The links he provided are here, here, here and here (one didn’t work).

Although short, the first paper, by Paul Cooper, summarises a number of kinds of intervention that can be effective for students with behavioural difficulties. He looks at the evidence suggesting that positive relationships and teachers’ personal warmth are important. He outlines the various types of behaviour intervention available and the longest discussion is about behaviourist methods that seek to modify behaviour through external measures and antecedents.

One such behaviourist scheme is The Good Behaviour Game: Each class is divided into two teams, any time a member of a team misbehaves then the team is awarded a point, and the team with the fewest points at the end of the day gets a reward (sometimes both teams can get a reward if they are below a certain number of points). The evidence suggests it works but I would not feel comfortable using it because the grouped withdrawal of the reward amounts to a collective punishment and I think that’s wrong.

Another behaviourist intervention is Response Cost: Each student starts out with a number of points or tokens and each time he or she misbehaves, a point is taken away. Rewards are then given to students who have a certain number of points remaining.

I am an advocate of using behaviourist approaches to managing behaviour, even if I am not particularly keen on these ones. Yet whatever you think of them, they epitomise an approach of managing students’ behaviour.

The other experimental results outlined in Cooper’s paper relate to ‘cognitive behavioural’ (CB) interventions loosely based on cognitive behavioural therapy. The results are promising but many of the sample sizes for the experiments are tiny, typically involving 2-4 students. CB interventions are essentially a form of therapy that seeks to make students aware of negative feelings and patterns of thinking so that they can better control them. I am cautious about such an approach in the classroom. Teachers are not trained therapists and they have other objectives to achieve such as the teaching of reading and maths. I can readily accept that such interventions may work with small groups of students in a focused environment but that’s almost a call for specialist provision. If inclusion is our goal then we need ways of delivering effective interventions in regular classrooms.

On the whole, I thought this was an very good paper on the subject but I couldn’t see how it supported Armstrong’s contention that we should not seek to manage behaviour, given that all the strategies mentioned had the goal of managing student behaviour.

The second link is to an entry in the Encyclopedia of Behavioural Medicine that seems, from the references, to have something to do with getting patients to stick to their treatment regimes or give up smoking. I couldn’t quite figure out the relevance to classroom practice.

The third link is a review of evidence-based practices for children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). It focuses on a range of outcomes such as play and communication, rather than being restricted solely to challenging behaviours. Again, behaviourist approaches feature heavily in the list of practices alongside CB interventions and, again, I am left wondering about the applicability of some of the methods to the classroom. The fact that behaviourist interventions – such as a reward or the withdrawal of a reward – seem to work generally, as well as in the specific case of children with ASD, suggests that they may have some classroom applicability. However, I was unclear about how all of these interventions were enacted. For example, would an approach that involved individual instruction be one that could be applied in a regular classroom?

The final link is a paper by Armstrong himself. It is not really a review of evidence, more a subjective identification of ‘wicked problems’ such as, “The adverse flow-on effects of neo-liberal educational policies on children or young people with disabilities.” This is fine, but I don’t think it adds anything in terms of evidence-based practices.

So I am still keen to understand the data that supports the arguments made by Armstrong in his interview. Unless I’ve missed it, I can’t see the evidence against managing children or in support of tailoring teaching to their individual interests. Instead we have lots of evidence on how to manage students most effectively. Yes, Armstrong grudgingly admits that behaviourism can work if you just want students to ‘comply’ but where is the evidence to support the approaches that he is more enthusiastic about? Is his really an evidence-based position or is it a philosophical and ideological one? There is nothing wrong with it being the latter as long as we all recognise it as such.