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How good is our evidence (HGIOE)?

Letters | Published in TESS on 24 September, 2010 | By: Donald Morrison

Brian Boyd's plea for evidence rather than ideology to inform classroom practice seems common sense, if somewhat trite (TESS, September 10).

He rounds on HMI of old for having advocated setting in S1-2 against the better evidence of academic researchers. He then turns his attention to the "elitists" who reject "trendy" pedagogy and argue that "all we need to raise achievement is to have highly-qualified subject specialists, teaching in the traditional, didactic manner".

Where has Professor Boyd been and who has he been talking to? I cannot recall hearing that type of statement from a teacher this century. I would be interested in his evidence for this assertion.

Having disposed of the old guard with their dodgy evidence and intransigent ideologies, Professor Boyd proceeds to commend the "strong body of evidence" for Assessment is for Learning. Most teachers, of course, will be familiar with Black and Wiliam's Inside the Black Box, which purported to provide the killer evidence for AiFL. But a recent study by Dunn and Mulvenon (2009) casts doubt on the methodological soundness of the eight articles on which Black and Wiliam based their conclusions - not proven perhaps.

Dunn and Mulvenon suggest the only credible claim that can be made at present is that formative assessment benefits lower-performing students. So where does this leave the teacher who wants to do what works best? Perhaps Professor Boyd can enlighten the practitioners.

Another area of uncertainty centres on active learning strategies. Active learning is advocated across the whole CfE spectrum from 3-18, yet, according to Professor Boyd there is only evidence of efficacy for early years at present. What is the research saying about its effectiveness at the senior phase?

As a teacher, I have to balance the needs of all abilities and use a wide range of strategies - active learning, formative assessment and direct teaching in the classroom. If research evidence exists that the most able senior students respond effectively to AiFL and to active learning, perhaps Professor Boyd would do teachers a service and bring it to their attention.

CfE rightly needs to be based on a powerful pedagogy but this, in turn, needs to be based on sound empirical evidence.

Donald Morrison, PT humanities, Ellon Academy.

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