Why do teachers like to create so much extra work for themselves? What is the obsession with tinkering and dabbling? Why do we insist on creating absurdly detailed wall-displays, colour-coded, laminated card-sorts and PowerPoints with fifty separate animations per slide? Teachers don’t just re-invent wheels: they invent new wheels which require new physics.
I like a display that is useful: maps, timelines and key words might be worth investing in. A well-thought out card-sort, which I’ve written about previously, can essentially run a whole unit in the same way that a knowledge organiser might. In fact, it is a knowledge organiser, a least in the way I’ve described it. And I do use PowerPoint, if only to save money on printing costs (actually, that’s a whole other blog – coming soon).
But aside from the obvious exertions we inflict on ourselves – and forgetting those which others inflict upon us – there are other, sneakier, more Devilish ways in which we place *insert-faeces-here* upon our own doorsteps.
Take group work. GROAN. Okay! I know, I know. It’s been done; the ‘neo-trads’ have had their way with it; it’s the new non-orthodoxy; the Emperor’s old clothes: mega-transnational corporations are now creating £500 per-day CPD sessions on how not to do group work in an attempt to further grey the formerly bright futures of our children, says whats-his-name, that guy who complains about anyone who tries to actually increase equality.
My problem with group work, however, was never its lack of efficacy, at least in the first place. It was, from day one, the inordinate amount of effort that went into setting it up only to then garner poor results. So-called ‘market-place’ activities are a great example. The idea – that students essentially teach themselves and then each other in a round-robin type scenario, thereby building all sorts of CBI-accredited NOWSkills(TM) – sounds, to the young teacher, desirable. It also sounds great to the teacher whose experience is that of fulfilling Ofsted-ready supa-lessons, complete with all sorts of “Give it a ‘1’, inspector!” moments: y’know, that hard-working, late-night-staying, Doing It For The Kidz teacher whose sweat and blood makes up for the RI on the last inspection.
But let’s think about the time spent setting this up. First, Mrs Wondateach has to gather and/or make all the resources for each group. Then, she has to organise her students into separate groups, perhaps of five or six, which will work well (or at least not work badly) together. Next, the activity’s parameters have to be set: the timings, the movement, the roles of each person in the group, the pens and paper needed, etc. Finally, before the activity has even begun, she has to have the whole expectations chat, about how this is no different to a normal lesson and that best-behaviour is paramount (because otherwise the whole thing will just fall apart) and that anyone who takes the piss will sit on their own and work from a textbook.
Let’s just repeat the most important part: this is before the activity has even begun.
Ah! But if she’s just photocopying pages from a textbook then that saves time! And if she sets up groups at the start of the year then she won’t need to do it again – they could even have teams based on their tables, and maybe even a class competition (BOYS ALERT) could be set up, with a laminated league-table on the wall. Once this has been done a few times the children will know the expectations and, actually, there will always be someone who will misbehave so that’s to be expected – just have a textbook and table ready in the corner.
Yeah, okay. If you really want to go to all that effort for negligible gains then be my guest.* But activities like this just create more work for everyone, and I haven’t even started on all the behavioural paperwork that has to be done once young Jonny Cabbage has been sent out for screwing up his team’s poster.
What might be better? Just tell them what they need to do in your best, most personable self, and then get them to practise. A lot. Oh, and all the other group work criticisms will also be sorted with this approach.
These new physics we create to allow complex activities to work (to an extent, perhaps – maybe) are needless. Teaching isn’t supposed to be about having endless chances to show off how creative we are. No: it’s the one and only chance children have to learn. Let’s not waste our own precious time, and let’s not waste theirs.
*Oh, and don’t. Don’t do this. You’re not my guest and this kind of nonsense is not welcome in my classroom.