What’s What in Education? №6 Don’t Do This!
Professor: As you know, we spend most of our hours together talking about what we can do to improve the academic performance of students in grades PreK-12. But today I want to take a look at a recently published book that has received a lot of attention, Why Are We Still Doing That? written by Pérsida and William Himmele. They describe a number of common teaching practices that have been shown to be ineffective, yet are still actively used in many classrooms.
Student: Do they also tell you what to do instead?
Professor: In fact, they do. But we’ll leave that for another day.
In our prior review of effective reading practices you never heard me utter the words, “Round Robin Reading,” alliterative though they may be. However, the Himmeles’ tell us that this is a very common practice, especially in elementary classrooms. This involves calling on students, one at a time, to read a paragraph or two out loud to the rest of the class, until everyone has had a turn. Typically, students who are struggling with reading, along with those who get nervous when they are singled out, find this a terrifying experience. They will spend the class period counting the paragraphs, in an attempt to figure out which one they will be stuck reading, and examining the words, in an attempt to decode them before their turn rolls around. They are not attending to the text in any meaningful way. Those students who can read well are content to show off their skills and may be inclined to cast their less capable classmates as “losers.”
You may recall that when we looked at the work of researcher John Hattie, we found that “Teaching to Student Learning Styles” had an effect size of 0.31, which was below his 0.40 standard for effective teaching strategies. The Himmeles’ agree, citing “no research that conclusively supports the effectiveness of this strategy.” It is not surprising that many teachers, and even some teacher-training institutions, continue to promote this strategy, as it seems to make good common sense. However, the research suggests that teaching to a visual learner, as an example, using only visual materials, limits what the student can effectively learn, limits the use of highly effective materials and strategies that employ other modalities, and creates a false sense within the learner that this truly is the only way he/she can learn.
With the tremendous emphasis on supporting the reading/writing and mathematics skills of all students, but especially those who are struggling, we have seen a concurrent lessening of instructional time being allocated to Social Studies and Science in the elementary grades. Some estimates suggest that only half an hour is being spent on these areas most days. That is clearly not adequate attention to these important curricular areas.
Two non-academic areas that the authors highlight are the use of posted Behavior Charts as a management strategy and Withholding Recess as a consequence for poor behavior. It is not too hard to recognize that these public displays lead to humiliation, stigmatization, shame and upset behavior of those whose names frequently appear on the Charts and who are frequently denied the opportunity to participate in recess activities. And, perhaps most importantly, it does not change their behavior. Research does support the need for youngsters to have free play and the opportunity to expend physical energy built into their day. Apparently, many teachers have not heard these messages.
There are a few more topics covered in this book and I think most teachers would find it interesting, thought provoking and worthy of serious consideration.
Visible Learning for Teachers John Hattie, Routledge, 2012/revised 2018
Why Are We Still Doing That? Positive Alternatives to Problematic Teaching Practices, Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2021