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I’ve been thinking a lot about this post today. Here’s why. 

After school I had a conversation with an NQT (hello, chief!) who, marvellously – astonishingly? – hasn’t been taken in by the bells, whistles and tinsel of active learning. He told me how on his PGCE a lesson where he just taught science was criticised because there wasn’t any active learning. A later lesson, stuffed with card sorts, dripping with group work and sizzling with role play, was judged Oustanding™. And yet, despite all the flavours of success, those engaged students in their Taste The Difference lesson subsequently performed poorly on the test. What does this tell us? Nothing, really. It’s too anecdotal and, unfortunately and unreasonably, divisive: it’s my teaching is better than your teaching and I’m not really interested in it.

But.

What this, and countless other stories like it, might demonstrate is what I keep thinking of as a poverty of understanding, a paucity of effort and a scarcity of attention paid towards what should be simple principles of learning by those who should know better. Take active learning: as opposed to what? But seriously! If a child isn’t actively learning then they can’t very well be passively learning either, and so to criticise a teacher for this is quite astoundingly dull. They’re either learning or they ain’t, and given that we can’t observe learning it’s pretty pointless to comment on it in the first place.

Your magic trick hasn’t made the rabbit disappear in a puff.

But the rabbit has disappeared, no? 

Yes, but this is passive magic. 

Hang on: I just made a rabbit disappear into thin air! Isn’t that enough?

It needs to be active. We’re sending you off to watch some top active magic practitioners. See how they do it.

Ok, this is mental. You do realise that magic doesn’t exist, right? You realise that you haven’t just watched any real magic? The magic is in the eye of the beholder – that’s the trick.

… Yes, err, but where’s the evidence of the trick?

Here’s the thing. Evidence is the answer to a particular question posed of a particular piece of information, often with that particular answer in mind

And so it is with absolute delight that I read this from the Deans for Impact. Remember when Ofsted released their new observation criteria regarding lesson observations? Remember all the blogs urging teachers to pin this up in the staff room/kitchen/loos? I think we should all do the same with the Science of Learning PDF. I think any idea or policy which is based on a misunderstanding of evidence should be questioned. We all have the responsibility, as David Didau wrote today, to do this, for the good of our students and ourselves. Let there no longer be any excuse for a poverty of understanding.


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