Why small pedagogical changes are more likely to positively impact student learning.

When teachers make changes to their teaching and learning practice, the changes either positively impact student learning or they don’t. While there are things teachers can do in order to improve the chances that their changes will positively impact student learning there are no guarantees. Nor are there any guarantees that their changes will result in the high impact. The only way to know is to try…

It would seem that almost all pedagogical innovations don’t reap the desired or promised results. Such is the rate at which many schools implement innovations with great fanfare only for them completely disappear in a year or two.  Interactive whiteboards anyone? Thinking hats… direct instruction… student contracts…

In this climate it is hard for teacher innovators to keep fighting the fight, given the long history of over promising and under delivering, with many left asking, “what happened to the revolution.” If anything the explosion of innovative modern technologies only exasperates this problem, after all everything seems to offer so much promise, yet history suggests they will mostly under-deliver.

It is time for a new approach. An approach that learns from agile manufacturing and software design, an approach that rather taking big all in bets, prefers to take smaller steps of validating learning. An approach that even if it fails, will fail quickly and with little damage, but has the added advantage of resulting in learning that enables better future decisions to be made.

So what might a small change approach to pedagogical innovation look like?

1. Begin by identifying the crucial assumptions that are required to be true for the innovation to positively impact student learning.

For example, if you believe that collaborative writing digitally will increase the quality and creativity of student writing, then the crucial beliefs would be first that collaboration does increase quality and creativity, and secondly that writing digitally increases collaboration. We could just blindly believe this or we could test the assumptions, in order to be certain.


2. Use the simplest and quickest possible test to discover whether that assumption is accurate.

How might a simple and quick test be used to discover whether collaboration increases the quality of writing? Before the teacher bothered to set up blogs or Google Drive accounts, maybe a simple test might be to swap laptops periodically during the writing process. Sure it might not be an elegant use of technology but it might give us a better understanding of collaborative writing.


3. Identify the next biggest assumption that needs to be tested.

If the assumption has been proven to be correct, a teacher can then return to step one and identify the next most crucial assumption in order to test whether it is also true. In this example, a test might be constructed to see if and how blogging increases collaboration.  Of course, if the assumption proves to be false, rather than wasting all of the time implementing an initiative based on an ill formed assumption, the teacher can redesign and rethink the innovation.


At IOI Weekend Melbourne teachers will design and test their own small change innovation and learn how to identify and test the crucial assumptions that determine whether pedagogical innovations are successful.

A free fast paced three-hour taster on Friday night will provide you with a shorter experience of the IOI Weekend. This is a free event and will be held at:

May 15th 6PM – 9PM at New Era Melbourne
Level 2 141 Capel Street North Melbourne VIC 3051

Over three hours we will give you a taste the IOI Process highlighting:

  • IOI Pedagogical Quality Framework,
  • IOI Learner Development Profile,
  • the Modern Learning Canvas,
  • how pedagogical quality, effectiveness and capacity can be measured,
  • and get you on your way to develop an Innovation Thesis.

Please RSVP to if you intended to join us to help us with catering (light finger food and drinks.)

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Photo credit: Puzzle taken by Kevin Dooley CC By 2.0

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