Blog – Why anything works


If some teaching methods are poor why do they work?


Being able to say “It works for me” allows some teachers to ignore the evidence from psychology and cognitive science about what works.


Ir means debate continue around the issues of compliance, freedom, agency, choice, independence, values, content, teacher professionalism, and other matters. Please add to the list.


So how come we are unable to resolve this matter?


I offer a tentative suggestion for a model that can be adjusted in the light of real evidence. If you have some then please comment. I’ll adjust the model accordingly.


The model represents 100% of learners of school age. Given my secondary background I think this may well be more applicable to that age range. Also I’ll limit it to year 7 to year 11.


Will learn whatever Learn at home Good relationships Luck Could well suffer
57% 5% 10% 5% ** 23%
who have good prior background knowledge. Who are likely to learn by whatever reasonable method, in class who go home and learn via a textbook or YouTube who learn with some teachers because they get on so well because of good relationships who are just lucky could this group have achieved more with the appropriate science based methods?

I am amending the percentages as different data is provided.


** 23% have very low literacy  Thanks to @SusanGodsland

Now. Pretty obviously I have no secure evidence basis for the percentages, other than my own experience. What I am saying is that the vast majority of kids will learn, at least reasonably well, good grades at GCSE or, at least, as well as prior attainment predicts. By whatever method the teacher chooses. I would put this at around 75% to 80% who are for various reasons pretty method independent. There is also an effect where revision classes in year 11 can increase the exam chances of some children who had not, until that point, understood the work.


Also, for children who are struggling and whose parents can and choose to pay, there are tutors. Also I know of no tutors who do anything other than ‘tell’ their tutees. I know of no tutors who operate via discovery methods.


My message is quite simply that the vast majority of children they will do reasonably well whatever methods their teacher chooses. They are either advantaged by their background or by efforts that compensate for gaps.


I could seem that we can say then that methods do not matter. But what about the 15%, or whatever number it comes to, and their lack of success? Who are they? Well my assertion is that they are likely to be:


  • Disadvantaged – ie they do not have a background that provided them with supportive prior learning environments, or environments that did not value learning highly enough.


  • Uninspired – because they were not learning well and fell behind.
  • Allowed to fail – their teacher or school system didn’t react to them not knowing stuff as well as possible.


  • Poor readers – I would suggest that their phonics teaching had been poor, or lack of prior knowledge.


  • Poor behaviour – either their own or in classes where good learning behaviours were not the norm.


  • Low expectations – schools who believe “Children like these…”


I am sure you can add to the list.
Do you identify the features of the children who are not doing well in your own subject and school? If you do, what are the common characteristics? What could be done about it?

A blog about a hashtag


A fairly prolific tweeter, @PaulGarvey4, uses the following hashtag




Despite several others telling him that there are issues with this, he continues to use it. That is clearly his right. It is clear that 140 characters is not enough to properly explain to Paul why this hashtag is, well, pointless and also potentially harmful.


First, “way” is not defined. Does he mean an activity carried out in a classroom? Like a card sort? Probably not. Does he mean a system such as explicit instruction? Closer, I think. Does he mean the set of activities that a teacher we call progressive might use? Sort of.


One issue is the lack of definition. Paul uses the hashtag to say that nothing works everywhere and, I guess, any method can work somewhere. The main query is whether or not the hashtag says anything of importance. Does it help us move on? Does it help us improve learning for any group of children? I think it does not.


I actually think it is damaging because it allows a teacher who is less confident using a particular technique to claim that there is no best way overall so they do not have to seek a better ‘way’. The issue I have with that is that we should not be simply seeking to justify what we currently do, but we should be looking for improved ‘ways’. The ‘way’ we choose should not be constrained by our current, personal ability to work with children. Teachers are professionals and should seek self improvement. We need to find the best possible ‘way’ rather than be satisfied with the status quo.


Also, we should be using evidence outside our own experience as well as considering the constraints imposed by the circumstances in which we work. For example, I am perfectly willing to accept that if one teacher operates in ‘ways’ that are very different from another teacher of the same subject, then that is less likely to be well supported and may not ‘work’ particularly well.


But my main problem with #NoBestWayOverAll is what does it say? What it says MUST be true and especially in education where the variables are so numerous. It is like saying “air is air and water is water”. That statement is most certainly true, but what can it possibly add to our knowledge base. So the hashtag has no validity, has no value other than it is


too true to be good.

Please. Paul, invent a hashtag that can be defined and has a definition having some value in moving us on. Did you know that ‘water is wet’?