However if we limit ourselves to what is formally researched and published in peer reviewed papers we are going to continue to fail a good portion of our young people. To get a change in outcomes we must change our practice.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” - Henry Ford
It concerns me that there is still a tendency (for some) in education to dismiss new approaches, new strategies, new ideas, patronisingly belittling new ways of doing things as fads and passing fancies, simply because there is yet to be a lofty body of evidence that proves it works across the board. Sitting around and waiting for the evidence to be served up on a silver platter before you are willing to try new interventions and strategies is only going to result in our learners missing out on on a whole raft potentially effective and engaging approaches. It also results in practice becoming stale and whole schools becoming stuck state of stasis.
And let's be honest, even the proven stuff is not working for all students. If any of the researched approaches was the silver bullet we would all be sitting back watching all our students succeed. But of course the notion that any one approach is the answer is naive. Technology in and of itself is definitely not the answer (although universal access most definitely opens up your options for a greater variety of approaches), MLEs are definitely not the answer (although what they too enable a far greater variety of approaches), Hattie is not the answer (although his work may provide part of the answer for many). No one approach nor one collection of approaches is ever going to be the (complete) answer. And if it was the answer 25 years ago or even 25 days ago, the chances are it may not be the answer tomorrow. In a world which is changing at an ever increasing rate the answer is going to keep on changing.
"The only constant is change" - Heraclitus
So what is the answer?
I believe it has to be and and.
As professionals we absolutely need to take it upon ourselves to be well read and well versed in what has been proven to work in the past and we need to have these approaches and strategies as a foundation for our pedagogical practice, the basis of our teaching toolkit. This might include; understanding what effective direct instruction looks like, understanding what effective questioning looks like, knowing how to give effective feedback and feedforward and so on and so forth. But if this is where we stop and look only to the past for our best practice, we are simply missing out on better practice. We will undoubtedly become less efficient, less relevant and ultimately run the risk of becoming redundant as a result of not changing our practice to meet that change of society and the demands that society puts upon our young people.
"When the rate of change outside of the organisation is faster than the rate of change inside the organisation, the end is in sight." - Jack Welch
If we are to evolve and adapt, if we have any hope of becoming what Linda Darling-Hammond refers to as adaptive experts, we absolutely must embrace the new, even if some strategies may not stand the test of time. Of course we do not blindly adopt every shiny new tool, strategy and approach for the sake of it. There is absolutely no point in innovation for the sake of innovation and change for the sake of change. In whatever we do, we absolutely must keep our eye on the prize - improving outcomes for our learners.
For me, the answer lies in nailing that stuff in the rear vision and being open to the new and shiny, albeit whilst appraising the new and shiny with a critical eye. This is where the concept of the "spiral of inquiry" or "disciplined inquiry" is key. If I am going to be creative, be innovative, be a risk taker, I absolutely have to do it in such a way that I am also critically evaluating the impact of 'new pedagogies' on my student's learning.
I really like the diagram below (from the REPORT of the Professional Learning and Development
Advisory Group) as it builds on the concept of teaching as inquiry. Beginning with the focusing inquiry where you 'Analyse what's going on for your learners', then 'Define your focus', Develop your thinking about why this happening', Learning more about what can be done' and the 'Take action - try new solutions' and then 'Check the difference you have made. '
Personally I think we need to get on with trialling a whole range of seeming unproven strategies, as long as we are doing so mindfully and with a view to gathering the evidence as we go. We have to learn to embrace uncertainty and believe all of our abilities to create new knowledge and new approaches. And if we do gather evidence (whether it be successful or not), I believe we have a responsibility to disseminate and share, thereby building the body of evidence (whether it be quantitative, qualitative, empirical or anecdotal) to help ensure any particularly effective 'new pedagogies' are adopted alongside the tried and true.
And maybe it's time to stop glorifying 'best practice' and talking 'better practice' instead.