Why pedagogy matters for innovative teaching

By Alejandro Paniagua
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills

It is generally acknowledged that the quality of an educational system depends upon the quality of its teachers. Teachers are responsible for preparing young people to meet new challenges in a fast-changing world; and that is why innovation in teaching practices has become essential for engaging students.

When it comes to innovative practice, there are many documented examples of innovative practice that teachers can turn to; however, to simply direct teachers to a set of tools and techniques would not necessarily be the best way to help them innovate in the classroom. Every situation is unique, and it is not always clear how such tools can be adapted in practice.

A new OECD report, Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: the Importance of Innovative Pedagogies, takes a different approach. Rather than viewing teachers as technicians who adopt tools to improve the learning outcomes of their students, the report sees them as competent professionals who are able to find solutions to new problems. If the main challenge in educational practice is to meet the diverse needs of every student, then teaching needs to be acknowledged as a problem-solving process rooted in teacher professionalism.

Innovation in the classroom isn’t fostered by feeding teachers with techniques.

Our report focuses on pedagogies around natural learning inclinations, such as play, emotions, creativity, collaboration and enquiry. By identifying and grouping innovative approaches that promote learner engagement and align with new principles of learning, this publication can help teachers to innovate for themselves. It also provides readers with valuable insights from networks of innovative schools, including some that have already implemented the approaches described in the report.

In writing this report, we built on the analysis of six “clusters” of innovative pedagogies:

  • blended learning, where the classroom is seen as the place to apply content and deepen one-to-one interactions, whether with the teacher or through peer collaboration;
  • gamification, which is engagement through play and the pedagogies of games;
  • computational thinking, which addresses mathematics as a coding language and looks at information and communication technology (ICT) as a platform for developing problem-solving reasoning in students;
  • experiential learning, which focuses on the process of discovery;
  • embodied learning, which focuses on the non-mental factors involved in learning and that signal the importance of the body and feelings; and
  • multiliteracies and discussion-based teaching, which situates knowledge in the political and cultural context.

Together, these clusters provide a baseline from which teachers can innovate themselves.

It is essential for teachers to understand the relationship between teaching and learning when designing learning environments; and to acknowledge the importance of networking and collaboration among schools that are implementing similar approaches – this is the starting point for putting innovations into action.

In the case of ICT, the increased use of computers in different subjects has not signalled a turning point in how students acquire the complex set of skills they need to be proficient. They may become familiar with basic tasks, but not in a way that boosts their learning or, more importantly, helps them understand ICT as a critical tool for solving today’s challenges.

In fact, the unfulfilled promise of ICT in education underscores the importance of putting pedagogies at the centre of education policy discussions. The importance of ICT and skills like critical thinking and digital literacy has come into clearer focus in new projects targeting curriculum reform, and it has been incorporated in surveys such as the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA). Yet neither the curriculum nor the assessments really tell teachers how to update their practices.

School networks are critical for understanding and scaling classroom-level innovations.

To help teachers become champions of ICT in the classroom, we must think in terms of teaching and learning interactions. For example, by considering critical thinking, digital literacy or computer science in terms of pedagogies, it is possible to identify computational thinking as a key pedagogical lever in understanding how to use computers in the way that scientists do to solve problems – in other words, using computers to implement problem-solving approaches. This, in turn, can improve student competence in mathematics, sciences, or other key areas such as design or algorithmic thinking.

School networks are also a critical lever for understanding and scaling classroom-level innovations. Such networks play an important role in encouraging innovation as a community-driven process to collectively improve the design of learning environments.  Computers at School (CAS), a grassroots organisation that supports computer science teaching in schools across the United Kingdom, focuses much of its support on computer science subject knowledge. Such support also serves as a platform upon which new pedagogies, such as computational thinking, can flourish.

Recognising the key role of pedagogy is not about policy dictating the best teaching methods. Rather, it is a matter of broadening teachers’ skills and techniques, and helping them explore new ways of thinking, reflecting and understanding. In this mission, teachers are not and should not be alone: teachers in school networks are in continuous contact with a large community that supports their professional development. Innovation in the classroom isn’t fostered by feeding teachers with techniques, but through a learning process in which teachers identify their creative, intuitive and personal capacities, and better align them with innovative pedagogies.

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