In her introduction, Daisy Christodoulou states that ‘for every myth I identify, I have found concrete and robust examples of how this myth has influenced classroom practice across England; only then do I go on to show why it is a myth and why it is so damaging,’ (p.5-6). A controversial way to start a book and perhaps not entirely reflective of Christodoulou’s arguments, but a good way to inspire curiosity.
In this book, Christodoulou challenges seven myths that she had previously accepted as ‘rules’ that teachers had to abide by, in order to teach ‘well’ and adhere to the standards set out by Ofsted. Basing her arguments not only in theoretical frameworks and research but also in personal experience of teaching in state secondary schools, Christodoulou does make some convincing points against these myths (see below). Indeed, her attacks are not necessarily ground-breaking (I found myself nodding along at points) but they do put into words the problems with certain classroom experiences that even I have witnessed (and been guilty of) during my short time as a teacher.
Undeniably, the list of myths is a little predictable but to a teacher of a subject that is both modern and old-fashioned at the same time, I found them quite interesting:
- facts prevent understanding
- teacher-led instruction is passive
- the twenty-first century fundamentally changes everything
- you can always just look it up
- we should teach transferable skills
- projects and activities are the best way to learn
- teaching knowledge is indoctrination
There are many themes that tie these myths together. The first two chapters discuss the need to build student knowledge of both concepts and facts. Whilst Christodoulou argues that there is a place for both in the classroom, one cannot be left out for the other. Her busting of myth 2 was particularly reassuring to me as a linguist, learner and teacher of MFL. Her arguments for teacher-led learning question how students can learn without being given some basic information (such as the French or Spanish alphabet, for example). Myths 3 and 4 focus on the impact of new technologies such as the Internet on the use of memory and fact learning, portraying many classrooms as a battle ground between long-term and working memory; two necessary learning tools which should be complementary but, due to these ‘rules’, find themselves at odds. Meanwhile, myths 5, 6 and 7 question the prizing of project based learning and the teaching of ‘transferable skills’ above everything else and suggests that often, strong teacher subject knowledge is deemed less important than a teacher’s ability to teach such skills.
Arguably, some of the statements Christodoulou makes in her book are not new. Indeed, we bust some of these educational myths in our day to day teaching, yet the author does provide us with some more ammunition in the pedagogical battles that we fight, not so much within, but outside of the classroom.
– Lily Peters