After my last post I had a discussion with a friend and he said the following:
I once raised the point with a teacher [that Learning Styles Theories lacked any corroborating evidence] and the response was that theory didn’t need evidence, it was self-evident. It seems much of the support for the theory never was according to [an] evidence base but follows some kind of intuitive appeal.
This point made me think about the way in which teachers think about their practice and what counts as “good enough” for what they choose to make use of in their classroom. Clearly this threshold will be different for all teachers but there seem to be two questions that need to be answered: firstly, against what should we measure the effectiveness of a teacher’s practice, and secondly, how should each teacher engage with this. Awkwardly, I’m going to attempt to answer the latter question first and get into the first at a later date.
At university I studied a lot of political theory and in particular was taken in by the work of John Rawls. One idea that he made use of is something called “reflective equilibrium”. For Rawls,
The method of reflective equilibrium consists in working back and forth among our considered judgments about particular instances or cases, the principles or rules that we believe govern them, and the theoretical considerations that we believe bear on accepting these considered judgments, principles, or rules, revising any of these elements wherever necessary in order to achieve an acceptable coherence among them.1
For a teacher, this would amount to weighing our intuitions about some practice against some mechanism that determines their effectiveness. If teachers did this, then they would have a proper framework for engaging both with contemporary research and their own practice. For example, I may feel good about using a “do now” at the beginning of each lesson and be motivated by the narrative behind it but I should also confront this intuition with either my bigger picture concerns of teaching (is this good for developing the right kinds of students or the students who simply do well in these specific tests) or does it stand up to statistical scrutiny. Both of these latter concerns will also have to stand up to my intuition and daily practice. The point is not that one is more important than the other, the point is that both should be informed by the other and in working thusly I should be developing a practice and theory that is better suited to me students.
I’m not sure that this kind of reflective thinking is the case currently and if we think, as my friend does, that teachers are currently weighted far more on the side of “what feels right” then simply asking teachers to bow down to statistics is not going to work. The psychology impact of the backfire effect would surely throw its weight around.2 As a body of workers we need some way of working with new & practising teachers in order to work towards a pedagogical reflective equilibrium.
2 For more on this I would recommend the following podcast: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/