Pedagogy - 'Disillusioned' teachers bored by chalk and talk

Traditional methods do not suit modern classrooms, expert says

William Stewart

Teachers as well as students are becoming alienated and bored by "traditional" teaching methods, according to one of the world's most influential educationalists.

In an outspoken new report, Professor Michael Fullan argues that disillusionment with traditional techniques is driving growing numbers of teachers to use technology to inspire students.

The University of Toronto academic - who has advised education authorities in the US, Canada and the UK - reached his conclusions after interviewing teachers and school leaders in 12 countries where he says new methods are being developed from the grass roots.

Professor Fullan claims that traditional chalk-and-talk methods of teaching no longer work in a world in which students' expectations have been raised by 21st-century technology.

"We frequently heard the refrain [from teachers] of distraction: `Students no longer listen', and `Kids nowadays have an attention span of three seconds'," he writes in the report, which is co-authored with Maria Langworthy, an American academic.

"But what was interesting was these teachers' explanations of how they addressed students' distraction. Many of the teachers we interviewed had students who were no longer willing to accept the role of being passive receivers of learning defined by someone else."

Instead, the report says, teachers are adapting their methods to suit young people who want to be more actively engaged and who interact differently with the world around them because of technology.

"Young people are now digitally connected to overwhelming amounts of information and ideas," the report continues. "Amid this, students greet teachers' attempts to deliver content knowledge using traditional didactic approaches with scepticism.

"In particular, once they have mastered basic skills, students know there is so much more `out there' and are unimpressed by pre-packaged, depersonalised learning experiences."

The report gives examples of alternative methods being adopted by schools in countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, Portugal, Spain and the US. They include students tutoring each other, teachers helping them to "master the process of learning" and working with students to "create new knowledge".

Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser for education company Pearson, which commissioned the report, said that it demonstrated how a new pedagogy was emerging "not in laboratories or universities, but at the front line, in classrooms".

He described the change as a "response to the crisis of boredom and frustration among students and career disillusionment among teachers".

Sir Michael was an education adviser to Tony Blair when the latter was UK prime minister and offered School 21, a free school in England, as an example of the "deeper learning" portrayed by the report. He noted how the London school, run by another former Blair adviser, Peter Hyman, had incorporated students' ideas into its plans for new classrooms.

But the report's findings appear to be at odds with the views of England's education secretary Michael Gove, who introduced the free schools programme. Mr Gove has described criticism of "explicitly didactic" teaching methods as "shameful".

Professor Fullan identifies them as the root of the problem. But he stresses that the new methods of teaching he describes take teachers beyond being "mere facilitators" to becoming "partners" who recognise the "importance of proactively learning alongside students". "Through such partnering, teachers not only become learners themselves, but also begin to see learning through the eyes of their students," he writes.

"This `visibility' is essential if teachers are to continuously challenge students to reach for the next step."

The report acknowledges that many of the teaching strategies it describes have been "advocated for at least a century by the likes of Dewey, Piaget, Montessori and Vygotsky".

But it says that today's conditions means they are now being widely embraced: "Through the combination of the `push' of traditional schooling that fails to keep students or teachers engaged, and the `pull' of new pedagogies unleashed through digital access, the transformation of education systems on a broad scale becomes not only possible, but inevitable."

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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