When is a teaching innovation not a teaching innovation?

Is it when it is not evaluated? Is it when it is not effective? Is it when it causes harm to a small group of students? Is it when the staff members asked to try it hate it? What is the success criteria for a teaching innovation?

At the weekend I was attempting to answer a question about why there are so many changes in education. Why haven’t we figured out how to teach in the right way yet? It’s a simple question. It’s a complex answer and my thinking ran to the social and cultural circumstances of learning and how those differ and how teaching must be tailored. Also being a strong believer in the individual style of a teacher, teaching must be tailored by and for the teaching.

Innovative teaching is great to a point, provided it is carefully evaluated and the impact on all students and staff assessed. If a teaching method excludes a few students in every class who feel they cannot participate, it cannot be considered a success and the method needs to be reconsidered or adapted. Often students feel they will not be able to participate in something for very legitimate reasons and discussing their concerns can help, well, that’s better than just carrying on regardless then berating them for their ‘lack of engagement’ isn’t it? There’s a difference between gently pushing students out of their comfort zone to aid learning, and steamrollering over the diversity of your cohort because you’re so taken up with what you’re doing. You need to keep an eye on absence and engagement, and ask why the same students are absent or struggling to engage. And it can be as simple as a classroom being too noisy and overwhelming.

Staff also struggle with some teaching innovations. There are teaching innovations that I have tried and thoroughly detested: if someone ‘forced’ me to include them in my teaching practice I’d be very cross indeed. I’m happy that they work for those who use them, they didn’t work for me. The reasons why are complex but mostly they didn’t fit how I work. On one occasion I found the output of the activity too confusing to mark consistently, on another I found the activity overwhelming because it was noisy. I’ve also found an activity awkward and unnatural and my awkwardness conveyed to the class. Many reasons.

So I don’t think we can decide to all teach in the same way. And I don’t think anyone has the right to ask us to. We are all capable of making decisions about how we want our classrooms to function and the degree of innovation that we are comfortable with, and no one has the right to take that away.

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