- The debate is important to help us all develop and provide the best education for our students;
- We all do what we do because we believe it is the best thing for our students.
This is a story about two teachers: Adam and Zack.
Adam believes that students learn best by exploring ideas they are interested in. By linking his lessons to authentic experiences, Adam believes that students will construct their own learning, which will be powerful for them as they are interested in it. Adam motivates his students with challenging real world problems that they want to find solutions to. In Adam's class, students are provided with real choices over their learning, both the content and the skills.
Adam wants his students to leave school with the skills to succeed in the future, and is not concerned with the knowledge they have at the end, as content is just a delivery system for the skills. Critical thinking and creativity are the goals of education in the eyes of Adam, and to develop these he gives his students lots of authentic problems to solve.
Adam would describe himself as a "guide on the side", facilitating the learning of the students. He sees his job as helping students to develop into their own people, and to be there as a guiding force when students get stuck.
Adam's edu-heroes are Rousseau, Piaget, Vygotsky and Sir Ken Robinson.
Zack believes that students learn best when they are given clear instruction. Zack uses lots of examples to explain concepts, and he aims to give all his students access to the powerful knowledge that has been developed by generations of humankind. Zack motivates his students by making them successful in the early stages, giving them lots of practice of simple skills which build upon one another. In Zack's classroom, students learn what he has chosen, and he creates lessons to make this as successful as possible.
Zack wants his students to leave school with a good understanding of the knowledge that has benefited previous generations: the knowledge he believes to be powerful due to its longevity. After lots of practice on the basic skills, Zack will push students to solve complex problems, believing that critical thinking and creativity are based on the knowledge you already have, and are domain specific.
Zack would describe himself as a "sage on the stage", directing students to the content and skills they need to learn. He sees his job as imparting what he knows to his students and ensuring they understand it.
Zack's edu-heroes are Engelmann, Willingham, Rosenhine, Bjork and Wiliam.
Adam and Zack are about as far from each other as they can be in terms of their beliefs and practices within education. But what's truly important is that they both do everything they do because they believe it is what is best for their students.
There is a debate in education as to what the best approach is. And this debate gets very heated. The reason it gets so heated is that we all care deeply about the outcomes of our students. We all want nothing more than to give our students the best start in life, and provide them with an education that will serve them well for the remainder of their lives.
But we disagree on how to do that.
And, perhaps more importantly, we disagree on what the purpose of education is in the first place.
But that's fine. The debate that rages on is what holds us all to account. It is what makes us think about what we do, rather than just ploughing on doing the same as we always have.
I was first made aware of this debate when I joined twitter. Before that I was oblivious to the fact that there were large chunks of the education community who thought differently to me. In fact, I wasn't really aware of what I thought. It was only when I started to engage in the debate (mostly from the sidelines) that I began to think deeply about my own beliefs. I went away and read lots of articles and books. Over time my own views shifted because of the debate.
But most teachers are not on twitter, and are possibly completely unaware that this debate rages on. They do what they do because that is what they have been told is best. Or that is what they have always done. Or that is how they were taught. But we would never accept an argument from a student that blindly follows one source, without contrasting it to others. So why should we expect teachers to follow one path? Engaging in the debate is the only way to come to terms with who you are as a teacher.
Most teachers are not Adams or Zacks, but more like Daves, Tommys or even Michaels. They lie somewhere along the spectrum of the debate. Perhaps they are on one side, but have certain views that align to the other. And this is always shifting. Some people become more extreme in their beliefs. Some sway to the centre. Some completely switch sides. All these changes happen because of interactions within the debate. They happen because teachers are thinking about teaching and education.
When I started teaching I was probably a Dave. After discovering cognitive science, I swung to becoming a William. Now I am more like a Rory. Where will I be in two years time? Probably still on Zack's side of the spectrum, but who knows. I didn't expect to be here when I was a Dave!
My two takeaways from the story of Adam and Zack are these:
Those who try to shut down the debate, or even win the debate, have probably strayed quite close to Adam or Zack. But their voices are important too. They are the ones who, usually by being provocative in their language, make teachers like me think about my position on certain issues.
So next time you find yourself disagreeing with somebody about education, don't dismiss them or try to shout them down. Have a conversation. Try to learn from them. And remember, we all want the best for our students.
If you are interested in an excellent post about the different modes of teaching, and how to mix up the worlds of Adam and Zach, check out this post: https://thinkingaboutteaching.blog/2019/08/03/traditional-or-progressive-how-to-get-the-best-of-both-worlds/
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.