Knowing your children and your subject matter well is a pre-requisite of good preparation. Effective planning matches challenge to children. Collecting/creating your own resources allows the teacher to direct learning effectively, adapting the task challenge within the lesson. Good and better teachers do this almost intuitively, as they have mentally planned, rehearsed strategies and learning directions, even if it’s not all on paper. They are the lesson directors, unscripted, but responsive to needs. Some people just make teaching look easy. They have embedded the essence of teaching and learning and just do it effortlessly.
As a Primary/Middle trained teacher, I started teaching sciences in a Secondary school, but found that I missed many aspects of the Primary classroom. When asked what I taught, initially I’d reply “Sciences”, but on transfer began to answer “children”. Maybe something as simple as that offers an insight into some current tensions. Primary teachers, many in Special schools and some, dealing with individual needs in Secondary schools are dealing with the whole child all of the time, while a proportion, taking subject classes, especially for exams, have the imperative to impart a “body of knowledge” as well as a love for the subject. The body of knowledge can take a higher profile than the needs of the learners, especially as the exam gets closer.
Children in Early Years, and younger demonstrate independence in approaching learning situations. These are often exploratory, with an adult guide intervening. Experimentation leads to questions and seeking solutions. They are not absolutist in this, but they are building conceptual frames within which to lodge information. Play is an important element in learning, whether child or adult. Play is structured and unstructured engagement with a task, seeking to find pattern or match to earlier experience, applying prior learning to understand the new experience.
Children don’t necessarily see the world in subjects, that’s an organisational construct. Deconstructing the curriculum into subjects allows someone to determine the essential knowledge to be learned and to create a timetable within which it will be delivered.
Children in the early stages of learning, by definition, have not established a body of knowledge. They investigate the world from birth instinctively, and in a more determined way from the time they develop the skills of focussing and touching. Nobody “teaches” them, but parents put experiences in their way and help them to make sense of what’s happening.
For many years schools have adopted a “spiral curriculum” approach, with learning starting very broadly, experience based, embedding essential information at an appropriate time, refining the learning to the needs of the developing learners. This has some reference to the earlier Piagetian notion of concrete and abstract learners. Subjects, discrete or in themed topics, provided the vehicles for study. As an adult learner, I still find it useful to have an overview of a subject within which I can slot new ideas, a frame of reference. I like to know my “learning journey”.
Reference to prior learning is an essential aspect of new learning, developing the context, bringing the known to the fore, ensuring that there is a base upon which to found the next steps. Learners need to be enthused into learning, distracting them from the many external distractions; just think how you feel when it gets to “staff meeting o’clock” and the need to switch brains. How do learners feel, having a different lesson focus every hour or so? “I’ve just got my head around that, and now I’m in …” Is it a surprise that some children find learning difficult?
The subject based, hour by hour change approach is an organisational construct. Problem solving crosses subject boundaries and spans larger amounts of time, demanding a broad set of personal capabilities as well as some essential knowledge. Knowledge is, with the internet, easily available, with apps like “You tube” being almost ubiquitous in supporting a “how to approach”.
Can you be a teacher without learners? Can you be a learner without a teacher?
He couldn't move a mountain, Nor pull down a big old tree-ee
But my daddy became a mighty big man, With a simple philosophy
Do what you do do well boy, Do what you do do we-ell
Give your love and all of your heart, And do what you do do well Ned Miller
Over the recent past, this question has been circling around the parts of my brain not being fully utilised for other purposes, with an occasional nudge from bloggers sharing their slants on current education issues.
There seems to be articulation of dilemmas across the spectrum, from EYFS to secondary, to teach or not, to talk as a teacher or not, neuroscience and learning styles (love or hate), limits to learning, for and against some form of target setting.
It can be mind-blowing, but I have the feeling that it represents significant personal tension within classroom practice, some of which is caused by articulated expectations from higher up the “power levels”. Teachers want to “get it right” for the children whom they teach. This raises a range of issues and the stakes are getting higher, as Ofsted judgements are ratcheted up.
There’s often a feeling that “it works for them so I’ll copy it” is ok, while others are demanding evidence and absolute proof of the effectiveness of an approach before it should be adopted.
Perhaps this gets to the nub of my dilemma. Throughout my teaching career I have been fortunate to meet colleagues from other schools prepared to share their practice in detail, especially if there were outcomes suggesting that it was having an impact on their learners. Some attendees of training evenings would immediately articulate the view that they’d be using the ideas the next day. Where I did try this, quite often the impact was not as predicted, so I became more adept at collecting ideas, mulling them over and selecting those that would have impact, having prepared the classroom and class beforehand.
It’s a case of developing a “toolkit” and choosing the right tools for the job. A bad workman blames his tools and cheap tools support a botched job.
Bright ideas are not always immediately transferrable, because the place, the teacher or the learners are not prepared. You can appear to be teaching your socks off in a situation like this and it won’t work. Misjudged and mismatched, the teaching misses the point. Unless the approach is tailored to the local need, it has a possibility of feeding into poor learning experience.
You can’t teach if the learners aren’t ready.
Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.
Teaching will always include the need to impart information to a learner. That should always be done efficiently and effectively, utilising the best available resources, which includes the teacher voice, playing a game of “pass the parcel”, something I know, enjoy and understand and want to share. In many ways, because this is totally in the hands of the teacher, apart from unwarranted or unhelpful interruptions, it should work to script.
Learning is passed to the learners. The need time to mull over information, to make sense of it against known information, work with it, reshape ideas and lodge them into their memory for retention. Young learners need reminding what they know from time to time, as their memories are fallible. Overlearning for some is needed. Significant support for some needs to be considered; but how much, for how long and from whom?
It strikes me that we need to stop bickering in the playground and start looking at the learning journeys of children. After all, it will be their world and we’ll need them to take a lead.
Kahlil Gibran: Teaching:
Then said a teacher, "Speak to us of Teaching." And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.
And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God's knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.