How to think about new ideas
Ask these four questions when confronted with a new idea
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If there’s one thing education is not short of, it is ideas to try. You only need to venture onto Twitter/X for a few moments, and so long as you can avoid the spats about mobile phones, silent corridors and detentions, you will encounter an idea from a fellow educator. Then there’s the abundance of books, podcasts and newsletters, all crammed full of suggestions, not to mention any CPD opportunities you may be lucky enough to attend.
The problem with new ideas is two-fold. First, we only have a finite amount of time in and out of lessons, to try them out. Second, to determine if any change we have tried has been effective, it is sensible to only try one idea at once so we control the other variables.
So, with an abundance of ideas and these two constraints, how should we proceed? Well, here is a framework that I find helpful that I have started using in my CPD sessions.
Two key variables
Start by drawing a set of axes with these two labels:
Likely impact on learning
This will give you a sense of how effective you believe this idea will be. This is a measure of the potential benefit of trying out the idea.
How closely this matches with what I currently do
This will give you a sense of whether implementing this idea will require a significant change to your practice, a tweak, or barely any change at all. This is a measure of the effort required to try out the new idea.
Top-right: Can I do it more?
Ideas you encounter that sit in the top-right of the graph are those that you believe have a significant, positive impact on your students’ learning, and which you are already implementing. There is a danger that we think no further about such ideas because we are already doing them. I think a better approach is to ask yourself a question: Can I do it more?
If I am doing this idea with one class at a certain stage of the lesson, can I do it more times in the lesson? If I am doing it with one class, can I do it with more classes? If you have found something that is working, then squeeze the life out of it!
Bottom-right: Can I do it better?
Here we have an idea that you are currently implementing, but it is not having the effect on learning that either you hoped it would have or that the communicator of the idea suggests that it should. The question to ask here is: Can I do it better?
Could you implement the idea in a different way? Does it need a reboot with your students? Do you need to try it with a different class to find out what really makes it work? Do you need to ask someone who is also does uses this idea exactly how the put it into practice?
Here we have an idea that you are not doing, and which you do not believe will have a positive impact on your students’ learning. The temptation here - for me, anyway - is to simply dismiss the idea and move on to the next. I think a better approach is to ask: Why?
Why do I not use this idea? Am I sure it would not work with my students, or in my subject? Does it go against my core beliefs as a teacher? Are the practical barriers to implementing it really too high? Why do I believe it will not lead to more learning? Have any of my colleagues made it work?
Having considered all of this, you still might feel that this idea is not for you. But I think it is worth pausing to ask the question.
Top-left: What would I need to change to make this work?
Here we have an idea that you do not currently do, but which excites you. You can see the potential impact it could have on your students’ learning. You want to build it into your practice. The question to ask yourself is: What would I need to change to make this work?
That change could come in two different places. It may require changing some aspects of the idea to make it more suited to your subject, students or teaching style. Or, it may require changing what you currently do in the classroom to make room for the new idea.
Where to begin?
If you just encounter one idea, then this framework is useful to help you consider its effectiveness and the effort required. But what about when you read a book, or attend a CPD session and come away with lots of ideas?
First, to repeat what I said above, I would recommend restricting yourself to trying one idea at a time. Try it with a class that you have a good relationship with, who are accepting of change, and for whom it is not a disaster if the idea does not work out.
Then, I would advise starting with ideas in the top-right first. Doing these ideas more will require the least amount of effort and should lead to some positive outcomes. Next, I pick an idea in the bottom-right. Again, this is something you are already doing, so hopefully you can find a tweak or adaptation to make it even more effective. Only then turn your attention to ideas in the top-left. These will require a more effortful change, but the rewards could be big!
Is this a useful framework when considering ideas?
Have I missed anything?
Let me know in the comments below!
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