Don’t pitch traditional and progressive teaching against each other. Both are needed.

Janet Downs's picture
What is The Pedagogy Tree? It’s a metaphor coined by Tom Sherrington, aka headguruteacher. He describes it thus:

“The tree canopy is a matrix of progressive and traditional forms that make up our learning in all its glory.”

But all too often so-called “progressive” and “traditional” teaching methods are pitched against each other which, like “East is East, and West is West, never the twain shall meet.”

Thousands of hours, interminable tweet fights, acres of print and ever-expanding balloons of hot air have been generated by proponents of each side fighting their corner. “Traditional” teachers scorn wishy-washy, airy-fairy “facilitators” while “progressives” attack “Gradgrind” methods which fill “little vessels” with Facts. Into the mix comes Ofsted, allegedly supporting particular ways of teaching while schools ministers, who know all about teaching because they once attended school, wade in with their ideas: talking is “chat”; project work is “play”.

But as headguruteacher says, pupils need both. There’s a time for telling and a time for doing; a time for listening and a time for discussing; a time to work alone and a time to work in a group.

It should be up to the professional judgement of the teacher what pupils need to know; what methods to use and when to use them. If a teacher feels uncomfortable with any particular method at a particular time or with a particular group, s/he shouldn’t feel obliged to use it. That was the point of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to inspectors. And if a teacher decides not to use a particular method, fair enough, but s/he should not then attack that method as ineffective*.

I’m not condoning bad teaching – the type of teaching which results in no learning taking place. But perhaps we should recognise, as one comment on headguruteacher’s thread said:

“…there is no ‘best way’ to teach because every child and every teacher is different and brings a different set of skills (or is it knowledge?) to the feast. Can we not just make it a feast as you suggest – lots on offer, but all of it highly nutritious?”

*An example of this is in the first chapter of Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou. She started a lesson by showing her pupils a picture and asking them what to “infer” from it. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t much. Conclusion: this method of teaching is wrong. She then claims such methods are promoted by “theorists and government agencies” who are anti-knowledge.

But as headguruteacher points out in his review of Christodoulou’s book, teachers aren’t as anti-knowledge as she claims. And presenting her claims as “myths” was unhelpful because it leads to the kind of polarisation headguruteacher highlights in his blog. Christodoulou rightly says knowledge and skills can’t be “unscrambled”. Odd, then, she should spend so much time deriding those who promote skills – these are invariably presented as being against knowledge even when they say they are not.

CORRECTION 17 March 2014 16.43 The above has been altered to correct a typo. I had written "Grandgrind" instead of "Gradgrind". This error has now been corrected.
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Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 15/04/2014 - 10:40

OFSTED have spent the last 10 years enforcing a very "progressive" style of teaching, with people losing their jobs for teaching in a traditional way. Funny how nobody from the progressive side had a problem with that. Yet now when traditionalists so much as express the opinion that their method is more effective all we get is outrage that anyone dare be so divisive as to make that argument.

agov's picture
Wed, 16/04/2014 - 05:59

"nobody from the progressive side"

What's your definition of 'progressive' in this context?

How many of these people did you meet and how do you know the truth of what you claim?

Brian's picture
Wed, 16/04/2014 - 07:54

'OFSTED have spent the last 10 years enforcing a very “progressive” style of teaching, with people losing their jobs for teaching in a traditional way.'

You're going to have to provide some evidence for this claim.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Wed, 16/04/2014 - 18:16

I don't think that "progressive" comes into it, Ofsted has the very difficult task of judging the quality of teaching in a relatively short visit to a lesson. They need to see something going on, and some teachers believe that a "traditional" way of teaching is unlikely to be active enough to be found to be "good" or "outstanding". They could be right about this, but not because Ofsted is full of trendy marxists, but just because of the way the inspection regime was set up twenty years ago.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/04/2014 - 14:48

BBC Radio 4 "How Do Children Learn History?" available on Listen Again and broadcast again tomorrow (Sunday 20 April) at 5pm discusses the way primary pupils learn about the past. Knowledge and skills were discussed - the knowledge framework (or scaffolding), ways in which historical knowledge was acquired, and whether it needed to be acquired in chronological order (or like "splashing in small puddles" on a football pitch). Some contributors were concerned about the lack of professional training for primary teachers of history. Michael Gove said teachers would "do it for themselves" via National Leaders or through academy chains.

Except that academies don't have to stick to the national curriculum - no-one appeared to realise this. Perhaps Gove forgot he'd given academies "freedom" to opt out.

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