Pedagogy, the name ministers do not want to hear

3 December, 2018

Pedagogy, pedagogy, pedagogy – there I said it!

A couple of years ago, when I was about to meet the then education minister, I was advised by one who knew better (they met them all the time) not to use the word pedagogy.

Pedagogy doesn’t come up in crosswords

Frame Less Eyeglasses on Newspaper

The advice made sense. If you met some friends down the pub you simply wouldn’t. Pedagogy doesn’t come up in crosswords. No parent ever brought it up in evenings. In fact I can’t remember any of my head teachers ever mentioning it.

But there it is. Right at the heart of everything we do.

Towards a definition

In the US they use the term instruction. We use teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum to hint at the effective nature of what we do. Instruction has a different connection this side of the pond. In the US it is the coming together of those four.

It runs from the art of how we perform through to the science of how we achieve impact

And that is getting to the heart of pedagogy. It runs from the art of how we perform through to the science of how we achieve impact.

To understand pedagogy it might be better to understand what is not pedagogy.

Much of education appears counter-intuitive. ‘Pseudo’ words are effective at deliberate practice to develop phonics (empirically at least) yet 4/5s of primary teachers don’t like them. Pre-tests (especially multiple choice) prime for learning, yet testing before knowledge seems illogical. So developing great pedagogy in educators may be as much about de-learning as learning.

Pedagogy embraces the whole

By separating pedagogy into strands it loses the interrelated nature that makes learning so powerful. We tend to focus on just one element. The sum of the parts no longer make the whole. Behaviour management systems become imposed without the reconstruction back to learning. We end up marking books to correct the wrong. Worse still, we mark the books because that is school policy. We teach stuff because it is on the syllabus.

Pedagogy is becoming a science

Learning is still a messy business. The number of variables involved in human to human transmission is mindbogglingly huge. But thanks to the work of Marzano, Hattie, Robinson, Higgins, Petty et al we are beginning to tease out high probability pedagogical interventions. Methods that work if you want. As we master these to our context and situation learning becomes more impactful.

And this is what we should be doing if we want to improve education

And this is what we should be doing if we want to improve education. Sweat the tough stuff. Embrace the counter-intuitive, question the evidence and evaluate the impact.

But if each education minister, proudly in some cases, doesn’t want to understand this then we will not invest where we are likely to see the highest returns…. Pedagogy.

For education, better pedagogy equals better productivity.

Changes to; curriculum, external assessment format, funding streams, structures of schools, accountability mechanisms, behaviour codes, union structures, performance management, inspections are all distractions. So rarely do they result in any learning gain. No wonder we lag the PISA tables if ministers can’t see beyond the greasy pole of politics and grasp the real mettle.

Pedagogy, its what the best schools do, it’s what the best teachers do and one day we will realise it’s should be the heart and mind of what we all do.

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