In a world of knowledge, the supposedly knowledgeable will be queen or king. There is significantly more knowledge today than when I started school. One only has to look at the current year 6 SATs to see that significantly more is being demanded than when I took the 11 plus back in 1964. Equally, the curriculum is organised in such a way that knowledge is the most significant factor.
Information is available at the click of a button, on a tablet, PC or smart phone. There is so much information that reflecting on it, distilling it and even considering it’s worth can take considerable time. It is very easy, for an interested teacher, to discover a world of facts on any subject that can be shared with the children.
My first wife came from a farming family. There was an apocryphal story told about one youngster going to school. The teacher, knowing the farming background, prepared some flash cards with pictures of animals, to support the learning of early words, such as cow, pig, horse, chicken and pig. As the teacher turned over the flash cards, the other children happily answered with pig, chicken, horse, until it was N’s turn and the cow picture was placed on the table. It elicited no response. The teacher was astonished. “You see these every day, N, you must know what it is.” “Well, I can see that there’s some Hereford in there, but, can’t decide what it’s been crossed with.” Out of the mouths of babes, etc. Nearly five years of farm experience had instilled a great deal of detailed knowledge; considerably more than was expected and probably more than the teacher at that stage.
Pre-school children encounter knowledge in a haphazard way, often dictated by family circumstance, sometimes through attending a pre-school experience. If you live in a family that takes weekend walks into different environments, camps, goes on holidays, visits museums, galleries and other places of interest and all the while talking about what is being seen in nominal, descriptive and questioning terms, it is highly likely that these children will have a language advantage and be capable communicators as well as explorers, even at a young age.
Young children enjoy sharing what they have learned. “Did you know that…?” can promote a conversation that, in itself, becomes an opportunity to insert additional information, or offer a new strand for the child to consider. It is likely to be tuned to the evident need and interest of the child. Effectively, the adult gives to the child what they ask for.
School is usually different, in that while there is the mantra that “learning is not linear”, information, or knowledge is more often presented in a linear manner, lesson by lesson, week by week, term by term. Topics are ascribed to year groups, which might dictate the level of knowledge being disseminated.
Processing the volume of information that is offered during the course of one day can cause some difficulty, with some slippage between lessons. The process of learning, therefore, has to run hand in hand with the knowledge, so that each child can have the chance to keep up with peers.
Education has never been a simple act of tell, remember, test, as long as I can remember. Even in classrooms that would have been described as “traditional”, there was considerable discussion, often led by the teacher, but also facilitated discussion between peers. This discussion opened up avenues that enabled the teacher to add information into the discussion that was relevant and kept the thinking flowing. As a result, we learned the processes of learning, so that independent activities, such as homework, could be attempted with confidence.
In many ways, what this describes to me is the value of interaction and the relationships between the teacher/coach and learners. To be able to “infiltrate” a discussion, as an active participant, rather than a leader, is a particular skill, in order to understand the nature of the discussion and to be able to add, without providing a diversion. Teaching requires a variety of approaches, which have to be honed in practice.
Teaching, at heart, is knowing stuff and having the skills to get the knowledge across, in ways that the learners can assimilate and be able to act on their new knowledge. It is a communicative act, engaging minds, linking with earlier understandings, adding to or altering these, so that, after the period of thought, some change has been wrought that we might call learning, a change of state.
Putting these interactions in order is a series of lessons which require the planning of a scheme of work, a medium term, or a topic plan. Into each, the teacher injects the appropriate next step being sought. As there is always so much knowledge that can be incorporated, it is sometimes the case that teachers fill the available time with their available knowledge, whether useful at that point, or not. In so doing, they may well be in danger of wasting learner time, which is needed for reflection and assimilation.
In another blog on Planning Learning, I argue that looking at planning over different timescales enables concentration on the lesson in hand as the dynamics of the year have been considered.
The National Curriculum falls into topics, which, as a school, we developed as topic specifications that, when placed end to end, formed the whole school curriculum map, so every teacher knew the essence of what they had to cover.
It is worth considering planning at different levels, too, the management need and that of the teacher going into the classroom to teach. These needs are different. Management needs to know that the overall planning has been done, that ensures the curriculum for the year group has been covered. In my planning model, this is done in late June/July, before the start of the next academic year. This is the simplicity, from which amplification occurs.
The next level of planning is a composite, in that the medium term plan is an overview of more detailed intentions, for the curriculum, with some awareness of anticipated learner needs. The autumn term plans were created on the second Friday of the autumn term, after a “settling” project enabled the teachers to get to know their children as well as possible after the holiday.
Teacher day to day plans are aides memoire, and can be as complex or as simple as the teacher requires in order to create the best possible lesson and each lesson may require a teacher to think and plan differently. A prepared format can inhibit their thinking. However, should there be evidence that lessons are not planned, leading to poorer learner performance, formalising the process is usually an easy option.
A teacher needs the clarity of a stand up performer, to go into each lesson with the essential lesson structure that can then be moulded through interactions with the audience responses, in order to ensure that every interaction has purpose and a positive outcome. The simplicity of the storyline is amplified through the integration of an enhanced vocabulary/knowledge in response to evident awareness and need, adding value to the sum of learning.
It is the gentle teasing of the threads that ensures the warp and weft of weaving that supports learning over time. Each child's life is different, so poor working on the warp and weft may have created small holes which may require attention, the job of the teacher, acting as a learning coach.