Evidence-based practice and research is a key element of professional development now and I highly recommend you start an investigation yourself.
Below, we look at some of the approaches of the past which, once celebrated, now also have contrary evidence to their success – how effective have you found each in your time teaching?
VAK (Visual, Audio, Kinaesthetic)
What type of learner are you? The question that echoed around thousands of classrooms across the country for years. One of the more famous educational myths, VAK has been seen everywhere from initial teacher training programmes to NQT inductions to whole-college CPD. For years, VAK (and learning styles) was not only exhibited as a means of closing the gap, but also showcased as an infallible strategy to engage all learners in a variety of settings. That is, until it was debunked upon finding there was little to no evidence to support it.
Although some research has shown that engaging a variety of senses during lessons can provide stronger learning, worryingly, VAK and learning styles continue to prevail on ITT programmes, with many new teachers continuing to build this into their practice.
Listening to music while working improve performance/ test score – no.
For years, students have pleaded with us to let them listen to music as they work as it ‘helps me work’. Most practitioners, usually in those first faltering steps at managing class behaviour, have given in at one time or another in the hope that this will help those challenging students to achieve. Except that it doesn’t, with research suggesting that listening to music whilst completing tasks detracts from the task itself and therefore often leads to poorer performance.
This same research does suggest that listening to music before completing tasks can be helpful (much in the same way listening to motivating music before exercise can aid performance). It also suggests that, when revising, listening to music without lyrics is more beneficial than listening to music with lyrics (potentially as the brain focuses less on music without lyrics).
Flipped learning and iPads
More and more prevalent in modern education, flipped learning (in which students are introduced to learning materials before class, with classroom time used to deepen understanding) has been touted as an answer to helping challenging and low attaining students to excel. Unfortunately, what evidence there is about the impact of flipped learning, offers no conclusive proof of success, and, in some cases, evidence actually suggests the opposite.
Over the last few years, it has also become fashionable to introduce iPads and other tablets into the classroom. With little to no evidence that these devices positively impact learning (with evidence actually suggesting a detrimental effect) iPads and classroom tech continue to prove immensely popular in UK education.
Grouping by ability
A controversial one this. Surely grouping by ability allows for more effective teaching and therefore better outcomes for students? No so. With some research actually suggesting the opposite, that grouping has very little impact on student achievement.
Further to this, research actually suggests that students who are streamed or placed in ability ‘set’s actually make less progress than those who are placed in mixed ability groups. There is also the impact this has on students wellbeing and mental health, with research showing the negative impact that setting/ streaming/ ability grouping can have on students. Whatever academic ability students in so called ‘lower ability groups’ have demonstrated, they know full well if they are in the lower set groups and this can catastrophically impact on self-belief, confidence and academic and career aspirations.
With data and outcomes not supporting streaming, and the potentially devastating impact on wellbeing, research further suggests that grouping by ability in colleges disproportionately impacts disadvantaged students as they are mainly concentrated in ‘lower ability’ groups.
With further funding promised to identifying and spreading evidence based practice, and more and more practitioners engaging with and developing these ideas, hopefully the strategies and practices listed above will become a thing of the past.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.