There seems to be a battle raging on twitter with a divide between didactic and interactive teaching partly stoked by Daisy Christodoulou’s book Seven Myths About Education. I don’t really get it. Delivering purely one or the other doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a bit like arguing over whether a saw or a drill is the best tool. Simply be the best that you can be at both, make the most of what you are good at and get better at the rest. To borrow and corrupt a term quoted by David Didau (If it is not perfect, it is not finished) if you are not perfect, then you are not finished. In any lesson I need to impart some knowledge and also need students to explore their understanding, to do something with that knowledge. If I don’t do this it is like teaching them how to swim but without water. They can answer exam questions on the technique of swimming, but they cant actually swim, nor know the joy of applying it to be able to snorkel, scuba dive, surf …
This post is based purely on my own beliefs and experiences, because it is the only thing I feel qualified to write about. I am still not a finished product, nor will I ever be, irrespective of books read and experiences encountered. That is to me the endless fascination of teaching. I am still a long way off perfection, but twitter and blogs are helping me go in the right direction
I am not a huge fan of educational research as I cant see how we can evaluate the effectiveness of strategies that can work brilliantly with one class and bomb with the next. The variables that can affect the outcome can be the weather, the temperature, the wind (?) , a fight in the morning, the teacher in the lesson before you, a boring assembly…. this is before you even start to consider the moody bunch of young people in front of you. How on earth can we ever get valid results with this many variables?
I can see that google can replace the learning of facts if that fact does not interconnect with anything else , but I cant think of a single example in science where this is the case. I will never be able to see how things fit together if I rely on google. It would be like trying to construct a jigsaw puzzle but some of the pieces are in different boxes and I have to find them myself by searching. This is compounded by not even knowing what the piece looks like. I would argue that it is more important to consider when the knowledge is taught and to me this is when the students realise they need it. When they realise there is a piece missing as I wrote here , however this may just be me confirming my bias as this is the way I learn best.
I have seen too many lessons where students carry out experiments for no real purpose, but also ones with students totally switched off as a teacher drones on. From a personal point of view I would rather have exploration, as in this case I am not restricted by the teacher and may will learn something. In some elite schools I have seen brilliant teaching, in others the students have learned despite their teachers, doing well in exams but not considering carrying on in science at a higher level.
There is a lot of fantastic debate intellectualising teaching and I have learned hugely from this, but some seem to ignore the complexities and motivations of those young people in front of us.
I teach young people science, not science to young people. There is a fundamental difference; it is a two way interaction between human beings. I see in front of me, fragile, beautiful, complex, frustrating human beings hormonally programmed to fight me. I treat all of them as I would want my own children treated. I don’t always like them, but I have a duty to them. They have one shot at education and I can inspire or destroy. It may sound corny , but I like Khalil Gibram’s ideas – I am the bow and they are the arrows. I send them forth into the world, hopefully equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of life, but not dependent on me. Their success goes beyond exam results, if they give up and don’t see the relevance of my lessons I have failed them.
It may or may not be more efficient in terms of their scientific knowledge to treat students as vessels to be filled and indeed it may improve their performance, but I am interested in learning above performance. I want my students to do more than pass exams, to be able to apply scientific reasoning to all situations. They shouldn’t be vulnerable to exam questions worded differently. This is science for life, not as an abstract concept. I also firmly believe they need knowledge, lots of it otherwise they will never see the interconnections between concepts. However the giving of knowledge without a clear purpose approach seems strange to me. Like teaching them how to use all the tools needed to build a boat, the drill and the saw, but they never get to see it, let alone build it.
I dont seek to make them like me or to compress them. If they surprise me I know I am teaching well as I haven’t limited them. I don’t want or make them do things simply to show that I can, to force compliance. I am in charge , I am the leader with non negotiable rules and this is about learning. I cannot make them learn, but I can stop them interfering with the learning of others. I have taught many students who are more intelligent than me, but few I consider wiser, wisdom comes from experience and failure. I want my students to be resilient and not see failure as the end, simply as a learning experience. I am a product of failure, because I have taken risks, have gone too far, learned from it and have then gone too far again.
@oldandrewuk one of Mr Gove’s favourite blogger talks a lot of sense but I have to take issue with some things in this post
He says not to assume these are true, I feel we should assume them to be true unless there is evidence they are not.
- Children learn better when they are happy. – I’d rather my kids were happy as there is no evidence that happiness is a barrier to learning.
- A good lesson is entertaining – No, but it has to be engaging.
- Good lessons result in good behaviour – Not always true, but bad lessons usually result in bad behaviour
- Behaviour is determined by the relationship between student and teacher. – Depends if you are looking simply for compliance or engagement. A shared journey based on mutual respect vs a whip.
- Lessons need a variety of activities. There is evidence for multi – modal learning being more effective and a fundamental of human fulfillment
- Learning will result from discussion between students. – See the work of Prof Mazur
- Children are more interested in topics relevant to their lives. I feel they are better at applying concepts to things they can relate to.
- Knowledge and understanding can be distinguished and taught separately. Interlinked
- Children like using technology. – Their future will be digital and interconnected if we dont teach them to use the tools we are failing them.
- If you teach well, your students will like you – It’s not a popularity contest it’s about equipping them for their future, but if you teach badly they wont like you for good reason!
Advice given to me by my father (a teacher ) : Be yourself, be the best that you can be and never stop learning
5 blogs, chosen out of the many I have found useful that you may want to read
Tom Sherrington www.headguruteacher.com
John Tomsett http://johntomsett.wordpress.com
David Didau www.learningspy.co.uk
Kev Bartle www.dailygenius.wordpress.com
Mark Anderson http://ictevangelist.com