I’m not very well. Woe is me! After my sandwiches decided to eject themselves with gravity-defying energy, I spent yesterday (and am gearing up for today) at home, doing the shiver-dance. As such I’ve had chance to read a bit more, and came across a blog that really puts this into perspective. Here are my thoughts.

Apparently #NoTalkWC (i.e. don’t talk to the whole class from the front) is a real thing. I came across the idea here, although the blogger in question points to another source of origin. Some of the claims made in the original are, I think, astonishing, and so I’d like to have a look at each point separately.

  • The class culture from the start should be ‘student-centered’.  I’ve never understood this phrase. If your lessons aren’t focussed on helping children learn then it isn’t teaching. It’s like ‘teaching the whole child’ as opposed to her elbow, or ‘quality-first teaching’ as opposed to ‘shit teaching’.
  • The teacher should not make students face her. What? Why not? Apart from anything else, not facing someone who’s talking to you (apart from whispering in a cinema, which you shouldn’t do anyway, or driving, etc.) is just bloody rude.
  • The students should feel more important than the teacher. I don’t ever feel more important than the children I teach – they’re the reason I’m in the room. But there really does have to be some sort of hierarchy (i.e. me at the top) in order to effectively and safely manage behaviour. Anything else is just dangerous.
  • Introducing ourselves to a class may be efficient, but it is not personal. Yes, it is efficient. Tick! Why is it not personal? And is the personal touch really something you want in the first five minutes? I had a teacher in Y7 who actually introduced himself by saying he liked The Prodigy, Adidas and Puma. Yes, really! 11 year-old farmer-boy Toby, who wore Hi-Tech and Mercury trainers, was not impressed. Personality is a byproduct, not an aim. 
  • If we wouldn’t stand in a shopping centre yelling things about ourselves, why would we do this in a lesson? This is a very poor analogy. It’s completely different: ‘If you wouldn’t see thirty 14 year-olds writing in a skate-park, why would we make them do this in a lesson?’
  • It’s better to give the same instruction 5 times than it is to say it once to the whole class. Is it? Really? Surely this is a recipe for having to say it even more often.
  • That ‘active-engagement’ happens when a student is taking part in an activity, not listening. Urgh.

The second piece makes these additional claims:

  • ‘We know that teaching is better differentiated and more personalised when we speak to fewer students.’ Do we? Sure about that? And also – again –  is being personal an aim?
  • Talking from the front is a bad habit. Why? What if it works? 
  • Giving whole-class instructions is a ‘teacher-centred waste of time!’ Right, this is bizarre. Firstly, by teacher-centred does the author mean that the teacher is, what, cracking one-liners? Talking about their cat? Should we instead be talking about our students’ cats? And secondly, is it a waste of time because the teacher should instead waste more time by talking to every single student individually? I mean, yeah, I try to talk to every child every lesson, even if it’s just the ‘hello’ at the door. But wasting time? Really?
  • Very little of what teachers say is relevant to all students. Then you’e saying it wrong. Seriously, if it isn’t relevant then don’t say it. And if a few have already understood, then get a visualiser out and use their example: see what Jasmine did? Cory, your answer was slightly different – how? Why?
  • Even if information is relevant to all students, communicating it in smaller groups is more personal. Again, why is this an aim? You can still talk to students as they’re getting on with things!
  • Technology has the answers! Hmmm.

These two blogs are exactly the reason why debate about methods and ideology in teaching matters. The authors – well-intentioned as they may be, and loved by their students as I’m sure they are – are clearly aware of different styles of teaching. They happen to believe in the ‘it works for me‘ mantra, which I once-upon-a-time thought as well. The thing is, though, some of these statements are so sweeping as to make no sense. Whichever side of the debate you hang your hat on (and even if you think that you’re a bit of both) the claims made have to stand up to argument.

When I started teaching I had all the progressive aims and methods, but a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until others questioned – mostly indirectly, and mostly through Twitter – my practice that I recognised the importance of both debate and the debate which I was hitherto unaware of.

Talking to children really doesn’t have to mean ‘lecture’ or ‘boredom’. The world is interesting enough.