Does explicit teaching harm creativity and curiosity?
More throat-clearing from Professor Guy Claxton
Rethinking Assessment is a UK pressure group that appears to strongly disapprove of examinations. If you are against exams then you create the problem of what to replace them with and the answer is typically some form of portfolio assessment that would further advantage the privileged and well-connected. But let’s park that issue for the moment.
Through James Mannion on Twitter, I was made aware of a Rethinking Assessment webinar. It starts with a ‘throat clearing’ from Guy Claxton who, if you recall, recently proposed eight myths that he believes are preventing innovation in teaching.
Claxton’s thesis is basically that there are two key outcomes of education. The first, which he labels ‘D1’ - Claxton has a fondness for labelling his arguments in this way - is knowledge acquisition. The second, ‘D2’, involves the development of personal dispositions.
“There are forms of teaching - some of them called ‘direct instruction’ or good, old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk’ that might be pretty successful at helping young people get the test scores they need to get,” Claxton claims. However, there is a, “gathering amount of evidence which shows that there’s a kind of toxic side-effect of that kind of teaching,” and that, “desirable dispositions like creativity and curiosity, for example, seem to be damaged by that kind of teaching.”
There are a number of things to unpack here. firstly, I prefer to use the term ‘explicit teaching’ to ‘direct instruction’ because the latter has so many different meanings. Rosenshine suggests five:
1. Academic instruction that is led by a teacher regardless of the quality of instruction.
2. The instructional procedures that were used by effective teachers in the teacher effects research.
3. Instructional procedures used by teachers when they taught cognitive strategies to students.
4. Instructional procedures used in the Distar (Direct Instruction Systems in Arithmetic and Reading) programs.
5. Instruction where direct instruction is portrayed in negative terms such as settings where the teacher lectures and the students sit passively
Good explicit teaching - the kind that emerged from teacher effects research - is certainly not ‘chalk and talk’ because it is highly interactive.
Secondly, what is the gathering amount of evidence for its toxic side-effects?
It seems that those who want to denounce explicit teaching can sink to a number of different depths in order to do so. Initially, many teachers and academics assume that explicit teaching is just an inferior form of teaching that leads to worse academic outcomes. When they realise that this idea is not supported by the evidence - quite the reverse - a few reconsider. However, many sink deeper and start claiming that explicit teaching may be effective for teaching basic or procedural skills but is no good for developing conceptual understanding. When evidence for this hypothesis fails to materialise, they may claim that explicit teaching harms creativity or motivation. Again, there is little evidence I am aware of to support this.
One study from a few years ago created a splash by claiming to show direct instruction harmed curiosity, but it did no such thing and its relationship to school education was remote, given that it involved researchers introducing pre-school students to a new toy.
So Claxton should really present his evidence.
If not, there is one level to still sink to - claiming direct instruction is racist or far-right. At least unfalsifiable claims of this kind have the benefit of not requiring supporting evidence.