A teacher reflects on the times he has encountered attempts to revolutionise teaching and learning by removing the walls of the classroom. The first he recalls from his own childhood, and the last from a recent newspaper story. The same sequence of events happens every time. He explains why it doesn’t work and how the walls always go back up again – and asks why people keep trying.
I have to declare an interest in this one; I am the (unpaid) editor of the Labour Teachers website where this appears. This posts grasps with the latest craze among politicians: character education. The author argues that while schools cannot avoid contributing to the formation of their students’ characters, much of what passes for good character only reflects good habits. She suggests that schools can, and should, teach good habits through their discipline systems. Punishments can be more useful than teaching in this respect.
Toby French, a history teacher, describes a recent job interview. Having taught a lesson about the Arab-Israeli conflict to an unfamiliar class of year 10s, he is asked how he knows the students he’s taught for 25 minutes have made progress. Bravely, he admits that for all the positive things he could say about his lesson, he does not believe that anybody can demonstrate genuine progress, rather than observing performance, in such a short time with an unfamiliar class. Read the post to find out if his audacity is rewarded.
An English teacher, who has in the past worked at a boarding school, describes the practice of prep time. He explains how he has seen it turn into a period of online chat rather than silent study. “If such silent periods are firmly established, we can also help our pupils to develop the good habit of getting on with the work they have been set promptly, not leaving it too late on the night before it is due. And perhaps, even more importantly, we can establish the principle of finishing work at work, so that there is time to spend with family in the evening: a healthy work-life balance.”
A primary teacher argues that, particularly in primary schools, the extent to which it is assumed that children can be left to learn naturally is over-estimated. The teaching of basic skills and the expectation of self-control are both neglected under the mistaken belief that children will naturally acquire the relevant capacities as they get older. The author contrasts this with how other cultures directly guide children to develop adult dispositions. “I have always wondered why, in the West, we think it is natural to have physically mature humans with the brains of children.”
Another tale of an interview, this time by a teacher recalling the interrogation when applying for a PGCE place some years ago. The interviewer did not hesitate to ask difficult questions. However, the account of how they imitated a defiant 15-year-old boy, right down to the swearing, makes the interview sound terrifying.
In his latest bout of iconoclasm. consultant and writer, David Didau challenges the rituals required by marking policies in this country. Do they all actually serve a clear purpose that justifies the effort? Do they value classroom performance over actual learning? “Teachers probably do need to mark some work, if only so they understand the process of assessment, but I don’t think the process needs to be nearly so onerous or widespread. Marking is only a proxy for what we actually want.”