Thursday, 5 February 2015

Teachers deserve better

I was at a conference quite recently and attended a very engaging talk by an individual who was promoting a set of games and activities for schools (to purchase) which aimed to develop and support primary school children’s creativity.  I was thoroughly enjoying the session, the resources looked excellent and I must admit, if I were a teacher I probably would have purchased them.  However, my enthusiasm was quickly crushed when the research evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of this resource was presented.  Firstly, the audience (primarily teachers) were presented with an image of the brain and told that these activities would improve “connections within the brain”.  An image of the brain appeared on the screen and the audience were given an (incorrect) account of how children’s brain’s work and how these activities would improve brain connectivity.  I am not a neuroscientist, but I know enough about brain structure and function to know that the information presented had very little accurate content to it.  In addition, in no way could the claims being made about significant impact of the activities on children’s brains be supported by research evidence, because there was none.  Following this, a research study (carried out by the speaker and her team) was presented, which showed that children had higher levels of creativity (something which is very difficult to define, let alone measure) when they played with this game than when they did not.  The research design was incredibly poor and certainly wouldn’t have met criteria necessary for a peer review academic publication. 

Now this resource may be excellent at encouraging creative thinking and play among children, but I was so put off by the “evidence” presented, that my opinion of it completely changed.  What’s more, I couldn’t believe that teachers were being allowed to be presented with such inaccurate information and weak research evidence.  I naively thought that anyone providing advice to teachers would be well-informed on the topic they were presenting.

This blog is simply an appeal - firstly, to those advising teachers on matters concerning children’s learning. Ensure you are well informed; the teaching community deserve honesty and accurate information. If research evidence does not exist, be clear about this.  If there is research evidence, provide teachers with an unbiased account of it so that they can make their own decisions about what is likely to work best for their pupils. 

Secondly, teachers, please demand more from those presenting you with information.  If you are uncertain about the information presented to you or the quality of evidence presented, ask for more information.  Teachers, you deserve better – just ask.  

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