I have been looking at two tendencies in contemporary education: open classrooms and evidence-based teaching. In this short post I propose seven ideas for testing openness.
The Rules of the Game
There is plenty of “evidence” out there. Research evidence backs up every single educational initiative- even the bad ones! So it seems that educationists really want to prove themselves right. They rarely find evidence that contradicts their cherished notions. We need a different quality of evidence- large enough samples with control groups to effectively test the theories in question. They should be:
- Measureable: we need something to measure. It doesn’t have to be kids. If we can’t measure it, we will always be at the mercy of opinion.
- Falsifiable: this means that we are prepared to accept when the evidence goes against us. We are not trying to collect evidence to prove that our theories are right. We are trying to set up conditions to prove whether a part of our theory is right or not.
- Repeatable: so that independent researchers can replicate the test if they choose to.
So here are the seven!
Theory 1 : children learn better when they can control the length of their study time. It is essential to know this in order to test one of the building blocks of the open classroom. In a free school environment children have free choice of action. Importantly, openness depends on there being free movement. We want more than anecdotal evidence to support the practice.
Theory 2 : children are able to mark their own work effectively. In the open classroom, teachers often invite learners to mark and evaluate their own work. The openness of the open classroom is not simply a question of freedom, but implies changes in the way that both teachers and students look at their work. We expect children to take more responsibility. Does this practice make sense?
Theory 3 : children can learn from peer teaching. Peer teaching is a building block of the open classroom. Open classrooms purport to give teachers more time to engage with children individually and in small groups. One important way they do this is by imaginatively engaging the children in self-evaluation. The thesis needs to be tested for children of all age groups and across different subject areas.
Theory 4 : interest results in better learning. By interest I mean activities the learner freely undertakes. By better I mean more durable: that is to say, what is learnt stays with the learner for longer. There aren’t enough longitudinal studies of the effect of learning by interest as opposed to learning by compulsion. Freely-chosen courses of study are not self-evidently more effective than dictated courses of study.
Theory 5 : non-cognitive learning has a positive effect on academic learning. Non-cognitive learning includes concepts such as self-esteem, interest, character skills, personality skills and other soft skills. Proponents of non-cognitive learning ask for more attention to character-building. The growth mindset, for example, became a fashion although it has been heavily criticized. The question for a school is: should a school teach non-cognitive skills? Evidence needed.
Theory 6 : academic learning has a positive effect on non-cognitive learning. Proponents of academic learning suggest that learning to study has broad-ranging effects on qualities of character such as perseverance, attention-span and focus. We can design a test for this.
Theory 7: explicit attention to the emotions improves academic learning. Although emotional learning is not a key building block of the open classroom, practitioners often include it in the package.
What do you think? Is it possible to test the open classroom?