Combining Tradition and Innovation

Teachers who think knowledge, memory and practice have been neglected in schools, tend to be seen as adamant traditionalists – to quote one blogger recently, “the shock-troops of neo-traditionalism!”

Whilst I think it’s important to bring the best of tradition into education, I also think we should try to bring the best of innovation in too. In fact, I think that combining traditional subject knowledge-led instruction with innovative digital online technology has great potential – as long as we are selective, and not seduced by transient vogues.

Here’s how we combine tradition and innovation at Michaela:


The danger of innovation, as Daisy Christodoulou points out, is that ‘nothing dates so fast as the cutting edge’. Algebra and the alphabet have existed usefully for hundreds of years, and will continue to be useful for hundreds of years to come; iPads and interactive whiteboards have been around for ten or so – and are less likely to be around in a hundred years’ time.

So how do we decide on the best innovations to pursue? Which are most likely to endure? The best guide is the findings of 125 years of scientific research into learning. The research is unequivocal: learning requires long-term memory retention, and what most aids retention is frequent retrieval practice – put simply, quizzing.

Take smartphone apps like Quizlet. These allow pupils to quiz themselves anywhere, anytime online – on the bus on the way to school, on the bus on the way back from school, on weekends, in the holidays, or when they are absent. Such technologies are most powerful when combined with the strong tradition of tough subject knowledge, selected and sequenced carefully for schemata in long-term memory, by Department Heads and other subject experts.

Advocates of traditional knowledge see the benefits of innovative technology – we just set a very high bar of scientific evidence for selecting among its applications.

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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16 Responses to Combining Tradition and Innovation

  1. Joe Kirby says:

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Do you set the same very high bar of scientific evidence for ‘tradition’?

  3. Norbert says:

    Reblogged this on nobsters and commented:
    LA 2015

  4. Why no interactive whiteboards?

  5. Dominic Salles says:

    A bit strident. What is the impact so far?

  6. Mr Sugden says:

    Reblogged this on petersugden.

  7. Mr Sugden says:

    Thanks for sharing. Big fan of Quizlet, Memrise, CGP apps and Tassomai. These fit in very well with students learning by repetition by quizzing themselves. A great use of mobile and tablet technology.

  8. rgslearning says:

    Reblogged this on RGS Learning and commented:
    Blog of the Week via Joe Kirby

  9. Pingback: Mooie oefening die elke school kan inspireren: wat van traditie, wat van innovatie? | X, Y of Einstein?

  10. Saskia says:

    Hi Joe,

    Would you mind contacting me by email? I’d love to talk to you about a possible collaboration between your blog and our educational start-up.



  11. Pingback: A guide to this blog | Pragmatic Education

  12. Reblogged this on BlogBJMock – Y Byd a'r Betws and commented:
    Traddodiadol v Newydd

  13. Very sensible and balanced piece that I have enjoyed reading. It reminds me of a Bible quote I remember about the wise man always brings out the old with the new. As I have blogged recently myself – being polarised with any one approach or style is silly. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Pingback: How can we increase a child’s vocabulary? | Tabula Rasa

  15. newton says:

    Indeed , innovation is important in changing education outlook especially with advent of smartphones and tablets. For instance, at kenyatta university( the digital school through provision of tablets has enhanced learners educational experience.

  16. Pingback: Articles | Joe Kirby

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