Teachers are having a tough time educating modern high school learners. They face a whole range of new challenges that previous generations have not encountered. Technologies such as ChatGPT, mobile phones, and social media have led to an over reliance on digital tools, reducing attention spans and the time learners spend developing their writing skills. In addition, COVID-19 lockdowns have had a negative impact on their mental health. ADF instructors face the same challenges as they educate current learners.

While I was looking at this issue, I came across the podcast "Sold a Story." This is a six-part series on "The Reading Wars" that explores the ongoing debate in American schools about the best way to teach reading. On the surface, this podcast doesn’t appear particularly relevant to ADF instructors as hopefully most of our students have already learnt to read by the time they join the military. However, the lessons gained from the American schools can be a useful case study for ADF instructors and learners.

The podcast argues that reading is a fundamental skill that can set up students for either success or failure in their learning journey. Students who learn to read early are more likely to enjoy reading, learn more effectively, and achieve better results. Like reading, planning is a fundamental skill that is taught to junior leaders early in their careers. Some learners easily understand and use the Military Appreciation Process (MAP) in theory and practice. Other learners struggle and learn the process through trial and error.

The podcast opens with a discussion on the debate between two theories of teaching reading. One way to teach reading is through phonics, where students sound out words and decode their meanings. It relies on teacher-centred lessons and where students learn by rote. This leads to a perception that it is an outdated mode of teaching.

The other approach is the cueing method. It argues that students decipher the meaning of new words by looking at the context they appear in. The approach became popular because it incorporated student-centred learning. Teachers viewed it as a modern way to encourage students to enjoy reading.

The second approach became very popular and was employed by most American schools. Unfortunately, extensive research has shown that it doesn't work. As a result, students were often misdiagnosed with learning difficulties, which led to poor learning outcomes for a generation of learners.

The debate over which method teachers should use echoes many discussions I have had with peers and learners over how best to instruct and apply the MAP. Key questions include:

  • What are the benefits of a linear step by step process vs the greater use of intuition?
  • What is the best way to assess students objectively, and how do you remove instructor bias?
  • Does the Individual MAP (IMAP) workbook continue to be useful after initial lessons or does it unnecessarily slow down the process?
  • Where are student-centred learning strategies useful in military instruction?

The Sold a Story podcast promotes the "science of reading" method to address similar questions. This uses scientific evidence to analyse how reading skills develop. It studies why some students struggle and seeks to identify the best methods for teaching and measuring student progress.

However, supporters of the cueing method became convinced that their approach was correct. They relied on bad research and refused to accept conflicting evidence. They were unable to remove their biases and consider how a student's background affects their needs. Military instructors should be wary of the trap of confirmation bias. We need to analyse our teaching and assessment methods and adapt to meet students' needs.

The ADF’s approach to planning is currently in review, with an update to LP 5.0.2 Military Appreciation Process due to be released in 2024. This presents an opportunity to review the way we teach planning. Throughout this process, we must apply the lessons learnt from current high school teachers. Educators report students who have shorter attention spans, less developed writing skills, and rely heavily on digital tools. As military instructors, we must continuously evaluate our approach to meet the needs of learners and grow future leaders.