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?

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