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The Balance

February 3, 2016

Sometime ago, I was told “balance” is a weasel word when I used it to describe both my orientation to teaching and learning and my practice in the classroom. I don’t really worry about being called names by anonymous Twitter folks, but what struck me is the negativity that suggesting teachers use a balanced approach to teaching and learning received.

More recently, I was “called out” again on this position and was told that it was responsible for reduced scores on international standardized tests. Further, some individuals suggest that the position is dangerous as it promotes and, in fact, exacerbates the divide between wealthy students and those in poverty.

Many of those who question my position advocate for teachers using scripted, Direct Instruction lessons, which are supposedly rigorously tested to ensure consistent teaching results time after time. As I have never used such lessons, I cannot attest to the veracity of that claim.

Finally, some commentators on social media, who have little to no experience in a K-12 classroom, suggest that saying we are “student centred” is a euphemistic way of casting off responsibility for educating our students.

I have said many times throughout my career as a classroom teacher and administrator, that many individuals should have a voice in how education is conducted in our schools. But, that doesn’t mean they should shape teaching and learning in our classrooms. Honestly, that is the job of the professional teacher in the room. Sometimes those teachers should use direct instruction – I don’t think they should ever use pre-scripted lesson plans but that is my opinion – and sometimes they should use other pedagogical approaches. Teachers should incorporate technology into their lessons where it is appropriate but it should never be used as a babysitter. Teachers should stay on top of professional research and adopt an orientation as a continual learner. However, they should be very cautious of accepting advice from those who have not actually taught in a K-12 classroom.

Some people would like teaching and learning to be boiled down to an exact science whereby results are replicable across all learning situations. I don’t believe that is a possibility. Teaching is not an exact science – I would argue it is more of an artform. The truly master teachers will have an understanding of the science of teaching and learning, and be artful in their craft knowing when and which approach to use.

But, those are just my thoughts.

Have a great day,


  1. Gerry Varty permalink

    Great post, Sean!

    The current narrative continues to promote the idea that ‘Direct ‘Instruction’ is a far more desirable approach than ‘Discovery Math’… where the truth is, neither is either desirable not particularly effective.

    And – more to the point, neither is particularly prevalent in Alberta classrooms, but rather a described fiction promoted by a fringe group with an agenda.

    Educational research is not a new field; as a profession, we have been looking for the elusive ‘best teaching paradigm’ for a long time. If it was out there, we would have found it by now.

    That’s why the informed judgment of the professional teacher is so valuable; as you point out, the Art and Science of Teaching is not only knowing what strategy to use, but knowing when to use it. Effective teachers constantly fine-tune the choices they make based in the impact they are having… They don’t follow a script written by somebody who has never even seen their children. Learning is personal – so is Teaching.

    The truth is, while there is no truly ‘best practice’ when it comes to teaching and learning, some things do tend to work better than others, statistically. Marzano’s work reveals that pure Discovery is indeed less impactful than Direct Instruction, which is the story being pushed by the group you mention.

    But that’s only half the story. The rest of the same research shows that ‘Guided Discovery’ is more effective than either, and by a fairly wide margin.

    Hopefully, nobody asks kids to go out and ‘discover’ everything on their own. Hopefully, nobody seriously thinks teaching by reading a ‘script’ to kids would be effective.

    The observations a teacher makes about what is and isn’t working, informed by what they know about their subject, their research base, and their own experience, should guide the choices they make.

    • Nick permalink

      “Marzano’s work reveals that pure Discovery is indeed less impactful than Direct Instruction… The rest of the same research shows that ‘Guided Discovery’ is more effective than either, and by a fairly wide margin.” Can you link to this?

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