My new academic year’s resolution is to accept I’m wrong more. This is based on an excellent article I read over my holidays which I now can’t find but on googling, I’ve realised there are plenty of articles and that this, while new to me, is not a recent phenomenon.
I will start with research and being wrong. Does evidence-led include experience-based? Or does it ignore teachers with classroom expertise in various contexts and only rely on one narrow type of study? Perhaps we ignore results which do not meet the criteria for what people want to hear? To a certain extent, we all jump on research that either disproves what we don’t believe or else proves what we do. I can no more see a ‘trad’ whooping at some research showing the benefits of group work as me being gleeful about a report showing the positive impact of silent clicking in student debating.
As an example, I cited research into the efficacy of US reading recovery using 6888 pupils and 1222 schools, a very large sample but I’m told this is not good research. When I ask about phonics, I am often given small studies or anecdotal evidence of a school or class that has achieved 100% pass rate in the phonics check. But as one headteacher told me recently, ‘we’re struggling to get this at key stage 2 where reading is at a 70% pass rate’. These are binary arguments because of course, if you talk to those most experienced and immersed in reading research, they will tell you phonics is essential but not sufficient. That the Turner Gough Simple View of reading includes reading comprehension and decoding. Five from five argues five essential components for reading: 1. Phonemic Awareness 2. Phonics 3. Fluency 4. Vocabulary and 5. Comprehension (personally, I would add phonological awareness as 1.) but this is a sensible place to start with examining evidence-based reading instruction I think. Phonics, to a certain extent has won the reading battle and seems to have reached an overwhelming consensus in current research and practice agreeing what is the best way to teach reading. There are still debates to be had however, see this excellent one in Australia as an example but it’s no longer whole word or phonics, it’s more the quantity of phonics and language rich environments which becomes the point at which people disagree.
Furthermore, England appears to be improving reading comparing favourably in international studies such as PIRLS. The good news is that these gains are particularly benefitting the most disadvantaged. What is often omitted in these headlines however are that the scores were going up before the phonic check was implemented and that Australia’s scores also went up and many schools are not using a solely phonic based approach favouring a balanced strategy. In SSP’s defence however Australia’s improvement is not so great for disadvantaged children, England appear to be doing better in this regard. I digress and am thus proving my own theory that we pay more attention to what we want to believe.
How can I try to be less biased? Firstly, my instinct to dislike the people who are different in beliefs to me must go. I am incredibly childish here and refuse to read or interact with anything they say preferring to spend my time on posts I enjoy and by definition, the people I like. So I live in a glorious echo chamber faux hating the pantomime villains, in my case, the trads. Secondly, I need to assume I am wrong more than I’m right. This means that rather than disproving others’ ideas, I must start with the thesis they are right and learn what they have to say and about what they argue. I am going to assume I’m wrong more often and try to read about more of what I instinctively disbelieve and start there asking lots of questions along the way. Ensuring that I understand exactly what they are arguing for, and being prepared (winces) to accept they may be right.
Research is not binary, nor is it static – it changes and shifts according to evidence. To assume how wrong I am seems to fit with research; we must all change our minds on occasion but equally become more resolute once all sides of a debate have been analysed.
So, say hello to Ms Wrong and watch me interact with the people I disagree with the most. It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow and for one who has a truculent inner teenager as her spirit, I will be constantly resisting the urge to flick the V.