My posts in english

Instruction and values

It had to happen; our Minister of National Education counts on School for fight against Islamist terrorism "delivering the republican values", "live and convey the principles ', such as a common culture of mutual tolerance and respect, refusal of intolerance, hatred, racism and violence, freedom of conscience, of expression...Would this be a form of recognition of the School failure to transmit republican values? However, it is not lack of emphasis on civic and moral in the programs, for several decades. Therefore, other elements are to be taken into account.

 If the Republican values instilled by School are just a citizen catechism to be assimilated without students having the necessary background culture to understand, this is useless or even counter-productive, especially when these same values are in deep disagreement with those transmitted by the families or the environment.

I am nevertheless convinced that School has a major role to play in the transmission of the fundamental values of our society. But this is not an umpteenth civic and moral education program that will make the difference. Values are similar to critical thinking [1], they are acquired as part of an acquired and understood culture. If we want education to form enlightened citizens, which obviously is not the case at the moment, we need to transmit all the cultural elements that will allow the exercise of deep understanding, critical thinking and thinking in general. In other words, everything that helps the individual not to be dominated by the last fashionable guru; everything would therefore begin with perfect mastery of reading at the end of elementary schooling, reading being a route to culture and thought. It is a fact: there is a high number of students of sixth grade failing to understand a simple text (15% are having serious or very serious difficulties in reading [2]).For them begins the inevitable cycle of school failure. Then one can easily imagine how it is easy to indoctrinate them, whether under religious or political or other labels, if only they are in social and family break.

Actually, School should have a role to play but this would need a genuine and profound revolution. Firstly by giving back to the institution and the teachers their lost authority and secondly with a single  compass: the search for efficiency, which in other words, means to rely on evidence and accept Evidence Based Practice in Education. In short, it would be essential that our School system finally  enters the real world and stops being a parallel universe populated by care bears. Reality catches up with us anyway and the price is exorbitant. 


Viewpoint on teaching methods

Explicit Teaching teaching is not an institutional teaching tool ; therefore, it is often victim of ignorance, misinterpretation, even by people supposed to practice it. I have found during my visits on the Internet a slide show presentation, (anonymous author), who  getting mixed up with transmissive teaching and traditional teaching ; he pretended that explicit teaching is non-transmissive. This mishmash is likely to confuse anyone who wishes to learn more about Explicit Teaching. But, at least, it drove me to think about a more adequate description of things.

 Generally, the criterion of distinction of teaching methods is their specificity, i.e. the type of action taken by the teacher. Thus, for decades, we have been told to distinguish the transmissive methods (also known as direct) which directly transmit information from one who knows to one who does not, and the indirect methods, supposed to let discover the students with the help of an adult or another student. In doing so, one differentiates the methods by their modes of action. This classification does not allow a very informed choice. Exaggerate a little (barely): I will choose a discovery method because I am better in the role of an attendant (guide by the side in the words of John Hattie); I will choose a transmissive method because I prefer delivering lectures.

This leads us to the real question: Why choose this or that method? Legitimate question for anyone who enjoys a genuine and complete educational freedom. There is only one possible answer to this question: for its effectiveness. I.e. in relation to the results. It cannot, in an advanced society, claiming to form the enlightened citizens of the future, make the economy in the quest for efficiency in educational matters. Therefore, the evidence becomes essential. Therefore, rather than using the old distinction transmissive/non-transmissive (with all negative innuendo glued to transmissive) it would be fairer to distinguish methods based on evidence and those relying on something else. Admittedly, this is doesn’t fit in the constructivism philosophy and its followers still cast opprobrium on anything transmissive,  on behalf of humanitarian virtues such as developping personal fulfilment of the child. But when it comes to show the data supporting their actions they have none to produce. One can understand why they are fighting against the coming of evidence in education.

In summary, this is how we should present things (non-exhaustive table, research is still ongoing).

In this new perspective, the question of a transmissive or non-transmissive teaching method becomes secondary and we refocused the interest of teaching methods on their respective effectiveness validated or not by research.

No doubt this way of presenting things will not appeal to all those who reject the idea of the evidence in education. But all those who, on the contrary, are claiming it, must cease to flow in the transmissive/Non-transmissive dichotomy and highlight what makes their strength: the evidence.


The importance of John Hattie’s work in education.

For all those who are interested in explicit teaching or Evidence Based Practice, it is not necessary to present John Hattie. For others, they may refer to this presentation and will quickly understand the importance of this researcher on the issue of evidence in education.

His book, Visible Learning, fruit of 15 year’s work, presents a synthesis of meta-analyses: 50,000 studies and millions of students concerned. The book is not intended to drown the reader in a flood of incomprehensible data to the uninitiated, it delivers the conclusions based on measured and measurable data. The purpose is not to criticize teachers and say how wrong they are, but simply to highlight the need for a tool to measure what works best in education, in order to guide towards excellence. John Hattie likes to repeat that the most important question that a teacher must ask himself is what impact his action has had on learning.

I don’t propose to summarize this very comprehensive book, but simply to list key ideas contained in it so that everyone can assess the contribution regarding effective teaching.

·       We need a barometer of what works best, and such barometer must prepare a guide of what is excellent. It is the objective of Visible Learning to build this barometer.
·      The book proposes a model of effective teaching and learning based on thousands of studies. It is the paradigm of educational orientation based on evidence.
·        A large part of the book tells of the power of direct teaching, highlighting the importance of the feedback to inform the teacher of the success or failure of its procedure. In other words the nature of its impact on student learning.
·     We are talking about teaching and visible learning when, together, the teacher and the student seek to establish whether and to what extent the learning objective has been achieved.
·      The book speaks of the power of passionate teachers on the cognitive student involvement and taught content. Guidance and the evaluation of the progress lead to the power of feedback from the teacher to the students but also between the students themselves.
·    Effective teaching occurs when the teacher chooses the learning objectives, success criteria, makes them transparent to students, models, assesses the degree of understanding of what has been explained by a regular check, and offers a synthesis of what was taught in the phase of objectification.
·     Too often, direct teaching is described as bad, while constructivist teaching would be good. This statement is false and in complete opposition with the data for effective teaching and learning.
·     These results show that guided instruction is much more effective than little or unguided instruction. The rejection of direct teaching is typical of an immature profession, which is sorely lacking solid scientific bases and rejects evidence, preferring the views and ideology.

Finally, some practical implications for the teacher in search of efficiency.

·   Provide multiple opportunities for practice.
·   Create a visible link between learning objective, criteria of success, activities and resources.
·   Encourage voluntary practice and concentration.
·   Teach students how to ask, understand, and use the feedback.
·    Recognize the importance of the feedback between students and teach it.
·    Guide progress, regularly throughout the year.
·  Assess the impact of education, do its possible to maximize the impact and progress of students.
·    Guide directly.
·    Make clear learning objectives and success criteria until they are explicitly understood by all.
·    Be conscious that efforts of the students are important, more than their level of interest in the activity.
·    Pay attention to what each student thinks and knows.
·    Know the amount and quality of feedback necessary in the learning process.
·   Develop a good knowledge of the content in order to provide useful feedback.
·    Remember the fundamental message of research: the impact of the teacher’s actions.

Effective direct teaching as described by J.Hattie is the Explicit Teaching formulated and described by B.Rosenshine. This is another study, and not least, proving the effectiveness of this way of teaching. If explicit teaching is still a marginal practice here in France, it comes from the fact that evidence still do not have their place in pedagogy; the "educrates" who tell the true from the false in high places do not want them and prefer relying on ideology and beliefs by spreading educational legends such as « Explicit Teaching prevents children from thinking by their owns ».It’s a long way to go until the idea of an explicit and structured way of teaching is accepted and untill the end to the dark ages of pedagogical legends.

Videos about John Hattie:

Denial of reality

This post has been translated into english by Anthony Radice, a british teacher and published in his blog.

Just as we choose a tool suitable for a task, our teaching methods should be focused on delivering our intended results. It should be as simple as that. Nothing else should pollute the discussion. But it does. The pedagogical advice given to trainee teachers, and the successive reforms which have claimed to revolutionise education, are equivalent to asking someone to use a fork to saw a plank. How did this happen?

As early as 1975, traditional instruction was replaced by an education that was supposed to ‘promote a child’s development, enable him to acquire a culture, prepare him for professional life and to exercise his responsibilities as an adult and a citizen’. In 1989, schools, now seen as the places where this new education would take place, became a national priority, at least according to what people said. Emphasis was placed on equality, and schools were required to contribute to developing the personality, raising levels of training, facilitating social and professional integration, and promoting the exercise of citizenship. In 1990, the state education system founded in the late nineteenth century by Jules Ferry was dismissed as too selective but at the same time too narrow and no longer in line with society. In 1998, we heard how the schools of the French Republic promote equal opportunities and give an important place to citizenship and secularism; once again, the ideal of national schools that promote knowledge in a complex world. In 2002, we were still hearing about the republican school and equal opportunities, and primary schooling was seen as the foundation. In 2003, the Minister of Education announced that he wanted to ‘meet the challenge of knowledge and intelligence’. In 2005, the primary missions were ‘the transmission of knowledge and, equally importantly, the promotion of the values of the Republic’. In 2007, it was still about transmitting values, training intelligence, nourishing minds, preparing children for adulthood and professional life: the school as the pillar of equal opportunities. In 2008, it was a matter of giving each child the keys to knowledge and social integration; primary schools were required to transmit basic knowledge and skills to each pupil.

A common factor in all these successive education ministries is their claim to reject the republican schools founded by Jules Ferry in the late nineteenth century; thus they replace traditional instruction with the new education, and make the school a vector of values and a place where a child finds self-fulfilment. The school insists on its mission of training citizens ready to integrate into society, endowed with a critical spirit, and imbued with republican values. This mission to create citizens justifies the reduction of time spent on traditional instruction in academic subjects; they must share curriculum time with many other educational goals which are supposed to be equally important. It is also abundantly clear that the idea of pedagogical freedom is gradually fading. In 1990, it was clearly stated that the pedagogical models of yesteryear should no longer be used, not because they did not work, but because they were too didactic and narrow. This made way for a system which would be child-centred: based on the ‘physiological, psychological and social reality’ of the child.

More than four decades have passed, during which we have repeatedly fiddled around with the primary school’s mission to give all pupils intellectual formation and republican values. And what is the result? We have achieved an equality of ignorance: most students entering college have lamentable levels of knowledge; they lack even the basics; they are culturally impoverished. As for republican values, here too we see an inverse correlation between the intention and the effect, as behaviour in the classroom has seriously deteriorated.
Let us examine more closely the methods proposed by successive ministries to achieve the noble ambition of producing effective citizens. They are ‘child-centred’ and we can all observe the consequences. Constructivism, even when it is not named, has entered our national education system. Constructivism knows no limits. Once it has arrived, the pedagogical requirements imposed by the Ministry of Education will take this direction year after year. All the while, effectiveness is never mentioned in these official ordinances. The word is banned. The mission of schools was proclaimed to be the humanistic principles of equality and personal development, so it was imagined that the means to these goals must reflect this ideal of personal fulfilment, an assumption that was never questioned; an assumption that was very pleasant to believe. Since children are culturally, socially and economically diverse, schools have had to minimise these differences by dumbing down, by removing grading, by minimising the importance of specific knowledge for success. No student should think they are better than others due to their academic success. All must believe that they succeed. In the same way, in order to develop democratic values, we will have to make each classroom into a mini-democracy, where pupils have a say in rules and sanctions. In order to promote personal fulfilment, we will remove all struggle, all bad grades, all demanding exercises and all repeated practice from the classroom, and introduce play based learning. There are countless examples. All of these practices rest upon a confusion between the ends and the means, and a denial of reality: evidence which clearly indicates what is effective and what is ineffective pedagogy is completely ignored. Schools are no longer authoritative, so they are invaded by the outside world, in the form of new technology and parental interference; there is no competition; grading is disappearing; students work on projects according to their own interests; school trips proliferate; and despite this orgy of constructivism, results are still not improving. Faced with a fiasco that can no longer be hidden, the only solution proposed is yet more constructivism, and the absence of results is attributed to refractory teachers who use archaic practices. This is a denial of reality. It is a hellish vicious cycle from which escape will be extremely difficult, even if we have a strong will to break free.

For more than forty years – for several generations – it has always been the same solutions to the same problems. This is indeed a denial of reality. It could have been avoided if educational decision makers would sincerely consider effectiveness. They would have needed to realise that there are better methods for achieving their objectives, even if these methods do not suit their ideology. Let us look at some examples. They wish to achieve critical thinking. Many studies have shown that this relies upon a store of factual knowledge in long term memory. No one can have a critical mind without a certain amount of knowledge; we need to form people’s minds. Thus it is counterproductive to reduce the transmission of knowledge if we wish to develop critical thinking. The same applies to creativity. We are told that schools wish to develop pupils’ creativity, while at the same time reducing the acquisition of knowledge to the most basic level. This ignores the fact that creativity depends upon experience and knowledge; creativity does not function in a vacuum. In all my years of professional practice, I have seen pupils emptied of creativity, especially artistic creativity. Since we have been claiming to train creative children through our local programmes, we have found that they do not know what to do with a blank canvas, and when they do attempt something, it is staggeringly impoverished.

All this is entering public discussion. Evidence in education has made great progress, and our knowledge of cognitive architecture gives us clear indications of what we should do to promote successful learning. For behaviour management, the same applies. Here too, there is a denial of reality; the evidence of surveys and meta-analyses, which give very precise indications of how to be more effective, are ignored, as though they did not exist. Denial of reality. The French ‘educational sciences’ still refuse to acknowledge this type of education and research, but do not hesitate to promote their pedagogical injunctions, even if these are based on nothing but a few ideological, a priori assumptions, which have been unchanged for decades. Theirs is a science only in name, a façade which allows them to influence those who still trust them with educational ideas that are ineffective, or even harmful.

I will conclude with the words of Daisy Christodoulou, who in her recent book Seven Myths About Education, summarised the issue very well: ‘The fundamental ideas of our education system are flawed. When one looks at the scientific evidence about how the brain learns and at the design of our education system, one is forced to conclude that the system actively retards education.’

To learn more about the evidence which suggests effective methods see here and here.
To consult the official texts see here.


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