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Today I had a lovely trainee primary teacher observe a Y7 lesson on the Black Death. It was all pretty basic stuff: what the symptoms were, where it might have come from, etc. For one part of the lesson I had them out of their seats. I told them we were going to do something silly, which is rather uncharacteristic of my lessons: we were going to act out the symptoms.

I don’t normally do ‘fun’ because I worry about children remembering the wrong thing, but over the years I’ve found that this particular silly activity sticks in their minds, perhaps because they’re physicalising physical conditions. I’ve tried to come up with something else but every other idea seems very long-winded. I could just tell them, of course, and I usually would, but I’ve found that they forget the order.*

Anyway: this works and I have no need to change it, no matter how much I might want to.

At the end of the lesson the trainee asked the inevitable question: are your lessons normally like this?

Well, no.

Because, he said, at uni we’ve had it drummed into us that this is what engages children. We need to design multiple activities that best fit how children want to learn.

I explained the above – that this just happens to work – and then asked if he is told to consider learning styles, brain gym, NLP (thankfully he hadn’t heard of that one), different coloured pens, that ‘cone of learning’, Hattie’s feedback effect sizes, metacognition and reams of differentiated worksheets.

Yes, of course he had.

But why, the poor chap asked, is this so wrong? ‘This is what we’re told every day. You’re completely disagreeing with my training!’

I did my best to explain over the course of break.

Because I used to think this.

Because I was told that group work was better.

Because I was told that co-operative learning was more effective.

Because I was told that the students should ‘do the learning’ and that I was just a facilitator.

Because I was told that skills are more important than knowledge.

Because I watched Shift Happens and Ken’s TED talk and fell into line.

Because I eventually realised that my students weren’t producing what I’d expected or what they were capable of.

By 11:25 he said: ‘In 20 minutes you’ve demolished two years of my degree. Have you got anything you can send me?’

I’ve emailed him a few articles as a start, suggesting as well that he get on Twitter to find out more.

So, just think: there is at least one whole cohort of primary teachers-to-be out there being fed this nonsense and they need our help! I know that not all universities still promote learning-styles but that doesn’t change the fact that some do. I think this is both dangerous and – given the cost of training – a pretty poor service.

It’s bad enough that some leaders still peddle this snake oil. That a university does is scandalous.

If you’re interested the links I provided were as follows:






* If you have an idea please let me know!