Of course, it makes sense that as a profession we would want to know this, but my response when people ask me what I think works in the classroom is, “Well, which classroom are we talking about?”
I wonder if, in our rush to standardise strategies with talk of effectiveness, and lock-step protocol, we might underplay the nuance that each context presents.
What I mean by that is, when I’m asked how a particular school compares to another, my usual answer is ‘most schools are same, same but different,’ meaning most schools have similar issues, but it’s the differences that, in the end, make all the difference.
And I’m starting to wonder now if the same can be said about classrooms within schools.
This thinking is not new. For a long time, education researchers have identified there tends to be more variance within schools than between schools.
For the most part, the focus of researchers has been on teaching strategies or the content covered, and what’s particularly interesting is that quite often, when teachers are asked to reflect on whether variance within schools around these issues is a good thing, the answer is typically, ‘yes’.
This is presumably because such variance appears to allow teachers to differentiate to take into account different learning needs.
This runs counter to approaches such as Visible Learning, that ranks various approaches as being more effective than others, in an attempt to direct schools to take a more standardised approach to their pedagogy, whereby differentiation appears to happen by outcome, rather than approach.
That said, rather than variance associated with approaches and content, my interest is piqued by the variance within schools around issues such as social and emotional development, or cultural backgrounds, or learning differences.
It strikes me that if we focus on these variables – and recognise them as important – then nuance is required in the approaches we take.
Indeed, we’d most likely need quite varied approaches within the one school, which leads us back to the question, “What works in the classroom?” Or more pertinently, “What works in this classroom?”
I’d encourage schools who are interested in addressing this question to use the evidence at hand to inform their approaches.
I’d also encourage schools to partner with universities to research the impact their approaches are having. Academics, PhD and masters students would love to work with you and they can provide you rich – context appropriate – insight into the effectiveness of the work you do with your community and how to direct future efforts.