Teachers should use a mixture of scientific research and gut instinct when it comes to the techniques they employ in their classrooms, according to a professor of education at Durham University.
Research on the impact of thinking skills approaches cognitive, philosophical, and visual, auditory and kinaesthetic suggests they can improve classroom learning, said Steve Higgins. However, the hard evidence varies for each approach, and educationists should be aware of that.
"You have to think if it's a "Wol", a Kanga or a Tigger approach," he told the conference. [Since Owl in the AA Milne books can't spell, Professor Higgins has renamed the character.]
Tigger approaches include kinaesthetic methods such as Brain Gym, which Professor Higgins said were "bouncy and fun" but poorly researched. "Brain Gym has never been rigorously researched so it's hard to evaluate the claims," he said. "But the underlying science does seem questionable."
A "Wol" approach, or the philosophical technique used in books such as Philosophy for Children, develops analytical thinking and reasoning skills, allowing pupils to puzzle things out for themselves, he said. "From my memory of Winnie the Pooh, the group go to Wol with a question and always leave happy, but he lets them discover it for themselves."
Kanga approaches or cognitive interventions such as CASE (cognitive acceleration through science education) and CAME (cognitive acceleration through maths education) might become dull after a while, not unlike taking a daily dose of malt extract, but they had a body of evidence to show they were effective.
"Research can help identify the 'best bets' the things most likely to improve the quality of learning and teaching," continued Professor Higgins. "Teachers should not be dismissive of scientific research, but you can't just take something off the shelf and assume because it has worked for someone else, it will work for you. You need to be critical and judge if it's being effective."