The Excel Academy

Seven Myths about Education

As a teaching and learning team, we have chosen the standard of focussing and honing in on ‘Setting the standard.” We are interested in this particular area so that we can draw on prior knowledge and experience of how we model expectations and then, in turn, cascade relevant strategies on this standard on a whole school level.

 A book of thought-provoking controversy. Daisy Christodoulou draws on her experience of teaching in challenging settings and environments and demonstrates how classroom practice can contradict basic scientific principles. The chapters are, largely, engaging and they explore myth after myth, such as ‘teacher-led instruction is passive’ and ‘projects and activities are the best way to learn’ considering practical implications using scientific theory.

Please see brief summaries of the chapters attached to probe curiosity and widen thinking.

Seven Myths about Education – Nichola Jones

Myth 1 – facts prevent understanding

The myth is that ‘fact learning’ creates passive learners, students are able to retain information but are unable to retain reasoning.  A ‘banking’ concept is explained to show that students ‘receive, file and store’ content like a deposit. Arguing that by filling children with facts, you are stunting their emotional growth.

  • the changes to the National Curriculum in 2007 are commented on to encourage teachers to teach ‘less’ content by not prescribing as much of the content to focus on skills and experiences.

The argued reality is that lots of facts together, developed through working memory (which research suggest 3-4 items can be held in at any time) and long term memory create ‘schemas’. Once a schema of knowledge is held, new knowledge can be acquired both quickly and easily. To develop skills in analysis and evaluation, knowledge needs to be securely committed to memory. The idea that in Blooms Taxonomy, knowledge is towards the bottom and ‘evaluation’ and ‘analysis’ are toward the top of higher order thinking skills – is wrong. Knowledge and skills cannot be ‘unscrambled’ (E.D Hirsch) and that by learning the facts / the knowledge allows for meaning, the acquired knowledge builds which enables the creation of ‘sophisticated higher order responses’. 

  • an example is given on Page 22 of the learning of William Shakespeare, memorisation and constant practice lead to a mechanical way of knowing how to do something that with confidence later led to creativity and adaptations in his writing / works.

Myth 2 – teacher led instruction is passive

The myth is that teacher led instruction does not work and that Ofsted look for lessons with very little instruction. The evidence of subject reports from Ofsted, supports this. The idea being that if the right learning environment is created, students will learn without being teacher led. It is argued that students fail to learn independently because they are led through schooling to meet Ofsted requirements / targets. Reports show that Ofsted want – teacher talk to a minimum, no introduction of new knowledge from a teacher to be given and a lot of student discussion. Lessons graded lower showed to be based on facts / new knowledge. The comment I’d make here to be wary of is all the Ofsted findings are from 2012 or earlier.

The argued reality is; teacher instruction is vital to become an independent learner. The ability to learn independently needs to be based on knowledge that students already have, different and better teacher instruction is needed. If a student is left to independently work on a task without teacher instruction, they will struggle to commit any facts to their long term memory as they will struggle to make sense of the information which leads to working memory overload.

  • theory of Direct Instruction is shown to be effective: 1) teacher decides the instructions and sets success criteria. 2) these instructions / criteria are made clear to students. 3) teacher to demonstrate and model this. 4) evaluate if the instructions are understood, if they’re not, repeat.
  • An example of how Winston Churchill learnt following a similar method of being taught continuously until it was understood is given on Page 41.



Seven Myths About Education – Emily Harvey

Myth 3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything.

According to the myth, science and technologies have become so far advanced and economies have expanded so much that they have changed the fundamental purpose of the education system. It argues that a ‘job for life’ no longer exists and that students need to be prepared with transferable “21st century” skills to survive an ever-changing jobs market. Fact learning is no longer important because we have computers to remember and recall information for us and skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and communication are much more relevant.

The myth fails to acknowledge the fact that these advances in science and technology build on previous knowledge, rather than replace it. Scientific discoveries, improvements in technology and advances in computer systems have all stemmed from creative thinking, but this creative thinking requires a good understanding of the basic systems and facts. New discoveries arise from old information which wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t possess the underlying knowledge of facts and even transferable skills have limited use if we don’t understand the fundamentals of the systems we work with.

Myth 4 – You can always just look it up.

Along a similar theme to myth 3, myth 4 focuses on the argument that fact knowledge is unnecessary and with the advent of the internet, it is more important to have good procedural knowledge (knowledge of methods and strategies for finding information) rather than having good declarative knowledge (knowing the information itself). Futurelab – a UK based education charity – suggest there is an increasing importance of interpreting and questioning information and recent Ofsted inspections praised lessons that were student led, with an emphasis on class discussion and independent learning.

The arguments linked to this myth are valid, such as the ability to analyse information is important, particularly with the increasing status of the media, however, domain specific knowledge is still essential and good research skills (“looking it up”) alone are not enough. For example, using a dictionary to find a new definition still requires knowledge of other complex vocabulary to understand the definition. The ability to analyse and solve problems uses most of our working memories, which are limited to around 3-7 pieces of information, so to free up working memory we need to be able to recall basic facts easily without continually needing to “look-up” information.

Seven Myths About Education – Jonathan Law

Myth 5 – we should teach transferable skills.

This myth focuses on the need for students to ‘learn how to learn’ and the power of teaching transferable skills rather than focussing just on teaching knowledge. The RSA Opening Minds curriculum focuses on a competence based curriculum whereby students don’t just acquire knowledge but also understand and apply it to a range of contexts. The previous National Curriculum contained less content to allow schools to teach with this approach to learning. The book argues that whilst skill teaching is important, effective teaching would intertwine these skills whilst teaching content, as opposed to teaching separate ‘skill’ focus lessons. Analysis in maths is different to analysis in geography so it is not easy to teach on transferable skill. Likewise, it is usually a thorough understanding of the content knowledge that can lead to better analysis and evaluation, rather than certain skills. An example that demonstrates this is in the game of chess. The best players have the deep knowledge and understanding of the best techniques and moves. As such, it is highly knowledge bound. The book argues that the most important aspect of learning is the ability to recall specific knowledge when required. The authors argue, as an example, that the best readers are not always the ones that practice the skill of reading the most, but those that know ‘a little about a lot’ and so automatically can understand the text a lot quicker and easier.

Myth 6 – projects and activities are the best way to learn

This myth focuses on the idea that ‘projects and activities are the best way to learn’. The idea behind this is that in the ‘real world’ after education, students will be faced with challenges that require then to pull together knowledge and skills from different domains, not necessarily one that is ‘maths’ or ‘English’. This will in time lead to ‘independent learners’ that are more prepared for further and higher education. This book argues that it is not realistic or practical to expert school age children to be an ‘expert’ at anything. ‘Experts’ in a particular field have studied that subject for many years, and at varying levels. It is argued that just because you are not an ‘expert’ at different subjects does not mean that you cannot solve real world problems. Many people are good problem solvers across a range of domains without being an expert in any of them. The book argues that if given certain projects, then students are not ‘independently thinking about the right things’. For example, the author describes a project they set on the history of football. One of the tasks was to design a football club crest and then produce a written piece of work evaluating its meaning. The author evaluated getting students to complete a task like this was ‘particularly wasteful because they involve pupils thinking about the wrong things’. The author also acknowledged that an activity such as this doesn’t help to prepare for GCSE questions. The author explains their opinion that committing facts to long term memory is more vital and reflects the work of Kirschner et al in saying that ‘the aim of all instruction is to alter long term memory’. At the end of the chapter, the author describes how teachers teaching in the style of ‘enquiry based learning’ have ‘noble’ aims in attempting to teach so that learners can solve real world problems, but that they often presume that they can already solve real world problems and independent tasks on their own without any background knowledge.

Seven Myths About Education – Leanne Soboljew

Myth 7 – teaching knowledge is indoctrination

This myth focuses on knowledge itself being a tricky concept as it brings a whole host of problems in its wake. As ‘knowledge’ is such an umbrella term, the book poses the question of how do we prioritise exactly what to teach. A further concern, which is explored is the nature of social class within the curriculum. The book argues that “knowledge is bound up with issues of social class and power.” The traditional curriculum involves teaching knowledge which reproduces hegemonic values and as a consequence reproduces social and class inequalities. I believe that knowledge of the external world, which broadens horizons and deepens understanding is also important for students to be equal. If students are only ever taught to the exam, then how can we ever change this culture?

Overall, we found the book to be insightful on various levels with many meaningful methodologies, which we can use and adapt when moving forward with our own practice. As a group, we agree that her findings are consistent with our own practice however, one major criticism is that some of the ideologies and evidence used as examples given is outdated. The Ofsted reports used are pre 2010 so as a group concentrating on this literature as a part of ‘Setting the Standard’, newer evidence would be more beneficial when seeking to adapt and enhance already existing practice.

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