There Is No Magic in Education

We are obviously very much inclined not to believe that using a textbook as a pillow would somehow allow for the contents of the book to diffuse slowly into our minds. Still, we seem to be predisposed to anything that seems too good to be true. In education, we are often prone to get excited with simple yet seemingly profound perspectives. Take, for instance, the following phrases, "education for all", "praise the effort not the intelligence", "personalized learning", and "teach critical thinking". What we often fail to see is that these are ideals, not actual interventions. There is no doubt that teachers should adopt these goals for these are truly essential but one must still keep in mind that these principles are necessary but are not sufficient. We must still focus on what actually works in education.

Above copied from Micro Explosion Media

I recently had a brief exchange with a school supervisor in the Philippines who was promoting "teacher collective self-efficacy". Evidently, teachers should feel empowered as a group in any school. Knowing and believing that they can make a difference is important. The question is how does one get there. How can we develop a belief in ourselves that we are in fact capable? First, by actually experiencing some success. Second, by seeing someone we could relate to achieve success. And lastly, by receiving encouragement. Unfortunately, experience teaches best so either previously achieving goals or witnessing others successfully completing a task are more effective than just being encouraged.

Education is surely multivariate. For this reason, there is no "one solution for all". Several factors are important. The work of John Hattie, who has long been working on teasing how each factor in education may or may not affect learning, should always be taken with a panoramic perspective. It is only through a complete picture can we see what actually works in education.

For example, a precious post on this blog talks about problem solving before instruction. One cannot look at this intervention separately from others. Instruction here corresponds to direct instruction, another factor Hattie has found to be very effective. One likewise should not look at problem solving simply as providing challenge. Failure indeed wakes us up to reality, but too much failure can also erode our self-efficacy. Teaching requires a balance between support and struggle. As teachers, we must be aware of how knowledge is built. With this realization, we can tailor steps of both success and struggle. Evidently, we need to know where our students are. I guess it is easy to see why class size is important. As you can see, there are several factors already coming into play.

Teaching does involve hardwork and commitment. So, perhaps, we do need aspirations such as "education for all", "praise the effort not the intelligence", "personalized learning", and "teach critical thinking". But we must keep in mind that these are dreams. How we get there is still up to us.


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