The groovy prog isn’t the issue; it’s the bad trad.

This is just a short observation.  In the twittersphere, often for good reason, it’s pretty common for people to rally around the flag of condemnation when various bits of edu-babble surface:

  • The learning bicycle/kebab
  • The pyramid of nonsense about learning 10% of what we read – and all that guff
  • The snake oil of brain gym
  • The voodoo of teaching according to students’ VAK preferences.
  • The just-google it brigade (who really exist -I met a History teacher only recently who was fully in this camp)
  • Resilience lessons.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy corrupted to mean knowing facts is merely low-order regurgitation.

Into this pit of derision other things get swept in – sweepingly:

  • Group work
  • Projects
  • Flipped Learning
  • Enquiry
  • Role play
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats
  • Empathetic writing
  • Experts and Envoys
  • Making a Tudor Castle or a model eye
  • Anything involving cutting and sticking.
  • iPads/BYOD

I understand the issues around these things; I get the worry that, in certain circumstances or if over-used, they’re not as effective as more direct forms of instructional teaching; there are opportunity costs – sometimes that’s significant. I’m not someone who says that the neuromyths are not myths or that nobody ever says ‘it’s not about knowledge – it’s about 21st Century skills’ … there are lots who do; I meet them all the time.

BUT a major problem I see with this line of discourse is that while people pile in, seal-clapping with glee at the witty put-downs (as I have done in certain cases), it’s just not anywhere close to the main issue we have.   In fact, I don’t think it ever has been – as I’ve said before.

I see lots of lessons in lots of contexts; I do tons of learning walks in different schools, popping in and out of classes unannounced. And here’s the thing: you just don’t see a whole lot of teaching ‘infected’ with all this ‘groovy prog’ practice by people who’ve never used the phrase ‘evidence-informed’, ‘knowledge-rich’ or heard of Rosenshine. (Incredibly – there are some people yet to hear The Word).

No – when lessons fall short of the practice you’d hope to find, it’s far far more likely to be a case of  Bad Trad:  The teacher is up there, trying to teach in an instructional manner but finding it hard.  They’re struggling to marshall the material and control behaviour; they’re not explaining well; their questioning is weak; their resources are poorly designed to support practice and provide challenge;  they’re not checking for understanding or teaching in a sufficiently interactive, responsive manner addressing students’ knowledge gaps; they’re not using enough modelling or worked examples; they’re not engaging students in guided practice or retrieval activities in an intense enough manner;  they’re not being clear enough about the learning intentions or spelling out what excellence will look like.

They’re trying to do these things – sometimes people feel they ARE doing them – but it’s just not working as well as it could.  The most common agenda that emerges – now and I’d argue at all times past –  is not about engineering a major shift along the prog-trad axis; it’s a case of developing a better understanding of effective instructional teaching and focusing on the details of that.  Where children haven’t been able to secure deep learning with sound schema it’s not because of all their crappy prog teachers – it’s more a case of suffering too much Bad Trad; instructional teaching that hasn’t hit home; hasn’t been inclusive or rigorous enough; hasn’t allowed the fluency to develop at the level needed before moving on.

This is where I see the researchEd #cogsci movement having its greatest power.  Of course we need the myth-busting elements to help protect us from fads – there’s plenty of good material for a funny talk.  But fads come and go and teacher inertia protects them from taking on too much of the crap.  Fads are a side-show.  Mainly we need to harness research evidence to hone our practice in the instructional teaching that dominates most classrooms as it always has.



    • I’m not actually an ‘anything goes’ person – I’m just saying where I feel the greatest gains are to me made in raising standards. I think strong instructional teaching is the bedrock of a good education and we need to do it well.


  1. This post makes me sad because I think it’s me – struggling to do ‘the right thing’ in a school where most other people just aren’t that bothered, and probably not doing it very well.


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