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The Importance of Innovation in Everyday Teaching

Updated: Nov 15, 2018


At the end of last month, we were lucky enough to attend a lecture delivered by Alejandro Paniagua - Consultant at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) and EPPE Network Associate Fellow - on the power, importance, and feasibility of innovative pedagogies. For those who were not able to join us, this week’s blog provides an overview of Paniagua’s work.


Alejandro Paniagua delivering his lecture at the University of Glasgow. Source: EPPE Network

As education policy discourses increasingly focus on ‘21st Century skills for the Global Knowledge Economy’, there has been growing emphasis on curricular reform aligned with new learning goals. At the OECD, this has meant a particular focus on designing new assessment frameworks that better capture and measure the broad range of skills deemed valuable and necessary in the changing global context. However, there has been a lack of work linking teachers’ pedagogies with new assessment frameworks and reformed policy goals. This is the case despite increasing recognition of the role that teaching and pedagogy can play in both exacerbating and mitigating the influence of social disadvantage. Paniagua was keen to highlight that while it is important to empower and encourage teachers to take responsibility for what goes on in their classrooms (supported by effective professional training), innovative pedagogies are not a cure-all, and blame for systemic inequalities should not be laid at the feet of individual teachers.


Instead, the CERI project led by Paniagua and David Istance seeks to demystify the concept of innovation in education, shifting focus from ‘transforming schools’ to quality teacher training. While innovation is often framed as exceptional and individualised, Paniagua argues that this perception is unsustainable and unrealistic. Instead, innovative pedagogical practices are those which are novel to the individual context of the teacher and classroom, and should be regularly incorporated into teachers’ professional assets. In other words, innovation is about making a commitment to try things which are new (to you) and which could benefit your students’ learning.


After extensive desk-based research into innovative teaching practices all over the world, the duo produced the report Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies. Having drawn together varied examples of successful innovative practice across 27 networks of schools in 21 countries, Paniagua and Istance set about bridging the gap between broad theories of learning and the everyday discrete practices taking place in classrooms. To do so, they developed six clusters of innovative pedagogies that both describe the innovative practices found in their research and document the theoretical influences that link them.


The six pedagogical clusters developed in Paniagua and Istance (2018) Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies.

Source: presentation delivered 23.10.18 by Alejandro Paniagua, used with author's permission

For example, in the case of Experiential Learning, theories of Concrete Experience, Abstract Conceptualisation and Active Experimentation (among others) are drawn upon to to produce practices such as Project-Based Learning. Practices and theories relating to this cluster all place emphasis on the importance of learning as a holistic experience and form of active experimentation.


For a moving and insightful account of the power of Embodied Learning, we recommend the documentary Five Days to Dance, which follows high school students as they take part in an innovative dance project that promotes self-expression and a re-imagining of what learning looks like.


Nonetheless, Paniagua was quick to point out that the clusters are not to be understood as distinct and exclusive, in many cases overlapping and combining to produce particular practices. The clusters are intended to provide a novel lens through which teachers can review their current practice and begin to construct new approaches. Educators are encouraged to make use of the examples published in the report and contact schools that have already found success with given pedagogies.


In discussions after the talk, some questioned the usefulness of the term ‘innovative’ to describe these kinds of pedagogies. Often associated with technology and educational fads, is innovation just a distraction from the core issue - pedagogies that help students learn effectively and inclusively? Equally, some called into question the usefulness of the featured pedagogies for educators working in contexts with extremely limited resources and large class sizes - are such ‘innovative pedagogies’ achievable in developing education contexts?

In response, Paniagua reiterated the deliberate emphasis on a less rarified understanding of innovation. Innovation does not equate to high resource needs, powerful technology or passing fads, instead it is a foundational element of teacher professionalism. Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments is intended to demonstrate to educators that innovation is possible according to every context, providing a simplified framework for reflecting on our own practice and drawing inspiration from elsewhere.

Many thanks to our Associate Fellow Alejandro Paniagua for his time and insight on this topic. If you wish to contact him regarding the report or learn more about his work, you can do so here.

We would also love to hear your thoughts about the report and the questions raised in discussion. You can comment below or join in the conversation on Twitter.

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