The pendulum of educational innovation
Everyone involved in schools and colleges can no doubt draw up their own list of 'fads' and a few are listed:
- Brain-based teaching
- Character education
- Emotional intelligence
- Learning styles
- Multiple intelligences
- Self-esteem movement
- Portfolio-based assessment
- Teaching generic skills over subject knowledge
- Teaching in blocks
- Individualised/personalised learning
- Student control over learning
- Raising aspiration
Now to help us understand the processes associated with the life-cycles of educational innovations it is worth turning to the work of Slavin (1989). Slavin argues that educational innovation is famous for its cycle of early enthusiasm, widespread dissemination, subsequent disappointment, and eventual decline - the classic swing of the pendulum. (p752). Slavin then goes onto describe the 12 phases of the swing of the pendulum which educational innovations inevitably move through.
- The programme is proposed
- The programme is piloted
- The programme is introduced into innovative schools or MATs
- The programme becomes a hot-topic amongst staff-developers
- The programme expands rapidly
- Controlled evaluations begin
- Innovative schools move to other programmes
- Complaints surface in professional publications
- Preliminary evaluations are disappointing
- Developer claims that disappointing results are due to poor implementation.
- Interest in the programme flags
- Controlled evaluation studies are published - invariably with disappointing results
In seeking to improve your effectiveness as an evidence-based practitioner - be it as a teacher, school research lead, head of department or senior leader, there would appear to be a number of implication of Slavin's analysis.
- You may want to take a moment to reflect on innovations recently introduced into your school, and where you would place the innovation on the pendulum. In doing so, I'm not asking to judge where the innovation might be within your own school's 'pendulum of change' but rather where the innovation could be located within the system. Let's take Lesson Study as an example. It could be argued that Lesson Study is at the mid-point of swing of the pendulum - there has been rapid expansion in the use of Lesson Study - even though we don't know whether it works and benefits pupil outcomes - and the EEF evaluations have just begun and we are now waiting for the results.
- Having located where an innovation is located on the swing of the pendulum, it is probably worth reflecting on the decision-making process which led to the innovation being adopted. Were colleagues swept up in a colleague's enthusiasm post a CPD event. Does the school have a culture of having to be seen to be innovative and adopting the latest new programme or intervention? Was it because the school has a specific problem and needed to be seen to taking action to address the issues
- For any new innovations or programmes you are thinking of adopting - consideration should be given as to their current position on the pendulum, as this will given you some insight into the evidence available to support the decision where to adopt the innovation. Slavin argues that before a programme or intervention is adopted a critical analysis of available evaluations should be undertaken where the following questions are asked: Has the group using the program been compared to a comparable control group? Did the post-test assess objectives that were being pursued equally by the experimental and control group? Was the programme evaluated under realistic conditions and over realistic time periods?
- For any long-standing educational practices which may have been adopted within your school or college, it may be worth taking a moment to reflect on what research evidence is currently available to support claims for the practices effectiveness. For as Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) evidence can often become stale and no longer current
And a few final words
Hargreaves, A and Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming, teaching in every school. Routledge, Abingdon
Slavin, R.E., 1989. PET and the pendulum: Faddism in education and how to stop it. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(10), pp.752-58.