General approaches to teaching

Fitness for purpose

The approach advocated in a 1992 report on Classroom Practice and Classroom Organisation in Primary Schools , by Alexander, Rose and Woodhead, which steps aside from the polarised debates about approaches to teaching which have beset primary education. It argues that all approaches have strengths and weaknesses and that teachers should adopt whatever is likely to be most suitable for their particular educational purpose. There are no easy, 'right' answers.

Progressive teaching

This is a very general term which is usually associated with allowing considerable amounts of child activity and choice with the teacher in the role of facilitator. Associated with 'child-centred education' and 'discovery methods' it was thought to have been prevalent in primary school classrooms following the Plowden Report of 1967. However, HMI inspections and research studies found little evidence, though it was, and is, important in teachers' professional commitment to pupils and the quality of their experiences in school.

Traditional teaching

A very general term which is usually associated with rather didactic methods in which a teacher controls the curriculum and pupil behaviour very tightly and adopts the role of instructor. Associated with the preparatory and elementary traditions in primary education and sometimes believed to be associated with 'higher standards', though, even if others allowed this, they would add 'and a narrow curriculum'.

Child-centred education

Another general term, associated with progressive teaching, and used to denote provision which is designed around sets of assumptions about the needs of the children of a particular age. The approach was influenced by Piaget's thinking and has been very influential in shaping teacher's values and commitments to children.

Didactic teaching

A form of teaching with tight teacher control in which knowledge is transmitted to the pupil, who is expected to passively receive it and to 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest' the knowledge. Closely associated with traditional teaching.

Supported learning

This approach has been influenced by Vygotsky's theories and emphasises the role of the teacher as a guide supporting and controlling a child's learning, guiding a child through their zone of proximal development (see ZPD, in 'Psychological issues and concepts'). It contrasts with the approach described above as 'progressive' which suggests a more minimal role for the teacher. According to this Vygotskian based approach the teacher is on hand to give help when needed and withdraws help when the child can manage a task alone, (see 'scaffolding', in 'Teaching strategies'). Applications of this approach use phrases such as 'guided participation' and 'assisted learning' to emphasise this particular learning/teaching relationship.