What separates best from rest?

30th July 2010 at 01:00

I find Dylan Wiliam's views on education and learning interesting, and always worth considering (The TESS, July 2). What I don't do, however, is simply follow Dylan Wiliam, the god-like guru, whose every word has to be followed like something from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

There's an increasing tendency to declare certain teaching methods - Assessment is for Learning or active learning approaches - to be "the most effective". Before that we had visualauditorykinesthetic learning, with an implicit statement that not enough of the "kinesthetic" was in the teaching mix.

In his article, Professor Wiliam tells us that "in the classrooms of the best teachers, students learn at twice the rate they do in the classrooms of average teachers". Where this precise nugget of information comes from, I'm not quite sure. And I'm not sure what defines a "good teacher".

What criteria were set out at the start of the study for measuring effectiveness? Were the controls for the experiment sound - identical students, teachers using both good and bad methods simultaneously, and so on? I bet Professor Wiliam was a good teacher, though. He seems to have a wee bit of that key component - charisma. Probably any method would work for him.

If students are not learning what we set out for them to learn, did they learn anything else useful instead? Much of the best education is informal, "collateral" learning, which happens coincidentally while something else is going on. I learnt all my useful art appreciation and religious education in history lessons, not in art or RE. Indeed, the same history teacher turned me from someone who was useless at history into a history graduate. Perhaps a better teacher would have made me learn more but put me off for life, as happened in other subjects.

I wonder how many teachers would allow themselves to go off-piste in this way?

There's no silver bullet in education because, so long as we're all forced to teach "the best way", there's no opportunity to experiment for a better way.

Gordon Lawrie, Comely Bank Avenue, Edinburgh.

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