I have written before about the fashion where chefs, having been in the culinary game a long time, reach such a stage of mastery that they take ingredients *out* of dishes rather than add them. This refusal to overcomplicate ends up prioritising taste, and assuming taste is the most important part of restaurant dining, I’m all for it. That’s not to say that the odd dry ice moment isn’t welcome on a special occasion, but it shouldn’t be the main feature. It is also worth noting that if done too often or for too long, what passes for ‘wow’ moments today look tired in a year’s time.
Cooking, coaching or teaching: the temptation to overcomplicate is real. Education is stuck with a kind of ‘improvement narrative’ where the search for new paradigms is never-ending and real. Even when a new paradigm is found, further investigation reveals that is was a couple of old paradigms, one standing on the shoulders of the other and both wrapped in a large raincoat.
Despite advances in technology, we cannot speed up (or worse, bypass) the teaching of reading, writing or basic mathematics. Human beings develop cognitively at a broadly similar rate as they did a hundred years ago (and more). The fact it is now easier to find information at the click of a button will not ensure children gain expertise quicker in these areas. In fact, without appropriate guidance, they are far more likely to end up with misinformation and misunderstandings, with time wasted and frustration evident.
The most efficient and effective way to educate children is for the teacher to be an expert in what they are teaching and to pass on their knowledge and understanding of that subject. The skill of the teacher is to structure instruction into a logical sequence, to provide clear explanations where necessary, to pre-empt and address likely misunderstandings, to allow for appropriate practice so concepts are mastered and (just as importantly) to make the content come alive. The teacher should be an expert story-teller, sprinkling the occasionally dry subject matter with the holy water of interesting anecdote.
Lorraine Hammond wrote a good article in The Conversation recently, explaining what is meant by explicit instruction and how it helps children to learn. It is clear, logical, backed up by research and makes a strong case for effective teaching via this model. But explicit teaching is not the ‘go-to’ teaching model in Australia. Project-based and enquiry learning are more popular, seemingly because this allows children to follow their own interests and hence become more ‘engaged’. This also deals with the twin problem of poor behaviour (children will behave better if allowed to do what they like) and lack of teacher expertise (children can learn for themselves from the internet and the teacher can simply guide learning).
This is dressed up as a ‘democratic’ classroom, and given that modern-day veneration of children’s interests, it does appeal to parents. But just as we should not let ideology stand in the way of evidence, we should also be careful of overcomplication. A good example of this is the following comment, made in response to Lorraine Hammond’s article, by an associate professor of education at Deakin University. It is a good example of something that sounds sensible on the surface, even fundamental, but does not stand up to scrutiny. The author attempts to differentiate learning from education, and criticises explicit methodology as the passing on of information, or mere indoctrination, thus different from genuine conceptual understanding. This makes no sense – deeper understanding comes from learning more and being able to make more connections between what has been learned. This desire to overcomplicate, to pretend that intimately related areas of education are mutually exclusive, does no-one any favours. Flawed and dogmatic ideology is rife in Australian education. It is hard for people to sieve out the useful advice and ideas, and particularly so for those new to the profession who are more susceptible to seduction via new paradigms. How genuinely useful is the following comment:
And here’s the original article. You can make up your own mind here too.