Modern teaching methods – do they work?

Sir, – William Reville claims that modern teaching methods don't work ("The reason why modern teaching methods don't work", March 2nd). As a very "modern" teacher, perhaps I could offer some insight. If I intended to educate my students to be best able to follow instruction, regurgitate information and to excel in a 19th-century factory-style working environment (this being the purpose for which the whole-class teaching model was designed) then certainly, modern teaching methods are not my best option.

What I actually intend to do, however, is instil in my students a passion for continued, lifelong learning.

I intend to prepare my students to be creative, innovative thinkers, able to collaborate in a world where segregated roles in workplace hierarchies have given way to dynamic team environments, and the speed of technological innovation renders human creativity its most lucrative skill.

The issue is not whether modern teaching methods work – there is a wealth of empirical evidence to affirm that they do – it is when we will be prepared to overhaul our assessment structures to support these methods and to certify their meaningful outcomes. – Yours, etc,



Sutton, Dublin.

A chara, – Prof William Reville’s article on modern teaching methods misses, I believe, an important factor. I do not dispute the findings of the studies which support the view that whole-class methods produce better results. However, my experience of teaching for lengthy periods in both Ireland and Taiwan has made me aware that the cultural milieu in which education takes place is a decisive factor which is often not taken into account by measurements of attainment. The Asian cultural milieu favours collective conformity with a compliant attitude towards authority combined with a generally very high regard for the value education. This is the hidden motor behind the educational statistics. This, as Prof Reville points out, was broadly the situation in Ireland 60 years ago. The decisive difference is that the present cultural milieu in Ireland is totally different. Now individualism, the questioning of authority and “romantic naturalism” are the order of the day. This is the hidden motor which makes the return to whole-class teaching nothing but the fantasy of politicians such as Britain’s minister for education Nick Gibbs, who on the basis of fleeting visits to Chinese classrooms are looking for a quick fix by appealing to the nostalgia of those pining for a return to the good old days. – Is mise,



British Columbia.

Sir, – What joy it was to read Prof Reville on modern teaching methods. Will someone please sit up and take notice before it is too late? Could I make a point in relation to this current “memory versus reason” nonsense? Did you ever see a car engine chugging along the road, with the driver sitting on top of it? Surely it needs the bodywork and non-mechanical bits to render it fit for purpose!

A rough analogy, maybe, but I hope it will help underline the fact that memory and reason must work together.

Otherwise we get nowhere – like the aforementioned driver! – Yours, etc,


Tralee, Co Kerry.

Sir, – In German-speaking Europe, we are experiencing a revival and intensification of reformist pedagogy and evidence has been gathered over the past 10 years that children who are supported in stimulating environments do exceptionally well on standardised assessments across disciplines and at different levels. And this, despite following no set curriculum, being free to choose what they learn at what time and other practices which only seem foreign to a mindset trained according to the principles of the industrial revolution.

We live in different times now and it is questionable whether memorisation of ideas should be one of our main aims at any educational level.

A yearning for education methods used in contemporary China or a wish to return to the days before the intellectual and emotional emancipation from different totalitarian institutions in the Irish context bear evidence to the underlying image of children promoted in absolutist systems. The task is not to raise obedient and functioning citizens, but to see children as a “mine rich in gems of inestimable value”. – Yours, etc,


School of Applied

Social Studies,

University College Cork.