A huge amount of energy is currently being expended by groups on social media, using the written word, often through a series of 140 character tweets, to seek to score points over those they see as “opponents”. The sadness, to me, is that they are all, supposedly, on the side of educating children, seeking the maximum progress for each child for whom they are responsible.
It’s interesting seeing those who seek to identify as “traditionalist” seek to portray those that they would call “progressives” as having a laissez-faire attitude to all things learning, recycling the myth of Summerhill or William Tyndale-style education onto anyone who seeks to argue differently.
Sadly, I am of an age where my educational experience is now getting to the sixty year mark, as a pupil, then as a teacher. My Primary education, in the 1950s, would have been seen as traditional. Classes of 45 children with one teacher. In those days, one lesson for all was the norm, but, if you finished early, you were likely to be sent to the book corner, or to the art table to do some kind of time-filling activity, while the others had enough time to catch up, or not. I spent many happy days outside with Janet and John, having done my maths or English with time to spare.
I started teaching in 1974, with classes for several years that were close to 40, with no TA and no technology; even a single tape recorder was a luxury. Resources were very limited, not least by the relatively small budgets available to schools to by consumables. Conkers, buttons, pebbles and shells acted as counting materials.
An interesting side to the traditional/progressive debate today is that class sizes are significantly smaller, TAs are a regular support feature and resources, including technology are available to support every conceivable need that is identified. Whether the latter elements are used to best effect can be debated.
The curriculum has been a constant talking point, throughout my career, from Schools Council publications, through the 1987 National Curriculum, and the various incarnations thereafter.
One feature throughout my career has been the centrality of knowledge. Although this might have been less obvious to some, as topic headings might have been apparently non-specific, eg settlements, they were premised on the acquisition of information that would support a variety of activities that sought to embed this knowledge in longer term memory. The use and application of knowledge, in itself, acts as a form of test situation, where an engaged teacher can see, from verbal, written or diagrammatic outcomes, what children have secured over time. And yes, from time to time, tests were used, to look at specific elements.
Undertaking a secondment to the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU) looking at science investigation approaches with children, allowed considerable insights into children’s thought processes within an investigation, as the participants were encouraged to articulate their thinking through a problem.
I have taught in schools that have had a traditional slant and some that would have been seen as more progressive, even becoming head of an open-plan school…
In almost every setting, securing the maximum of progress in outcomes across all children has been a feature, and, to be honest, where this was compromised by top-down dictat of pedagogies, I left the school early, as I felt abused as a teacher, unable to deal with potentially significant needs appropriately.
Progress was premised on ordered and organised planning approaches that ensured the coverage required; it also embed a natural linearity of delivery, for any pedagogy.
In every situation, specific lessons would start with teacher input, to ensure that every child had a baseline of essential information; sometimes developing into the “three part lesson”. Dialogue, questioning, enabling articulation of thinking was necessary feedback to the teacher. It was important to know that children were secure before moving on.
In other lessons, children might be peeled away to specific tasks that allowed for some, independent challenges to use/apply knowledge, while others might have a greater scaffolded approach. When there’s only you and a class, using independence is an essential good.
Continuous tasks supported elements of independence. For example, a story might be developed over a whole day, a week, or a fortnight, within a National Writing Project approach of drafting, edition and redrafting before presentation. Art and DT tasking would also be longer term, capable of being returned to if time was created by early finishing of a singular task.
The freedoms of earlier education were available simply because fewer elements were so rigidly timetabled. Moving to the hall for PE and music/dance/drama, or the field for games were the main, immovable chunks. There was time to allow a child or children to have an extra ten minutes after play to finish one piece of work properly, before starting the next. Or if one task finished early, moving onto the next was sensible.
Fitting always purposeful tasks into a set period of time may actually mean, for some children, that they either finish early and have to fill time, or do not finish, so, either way, are regularly frustrated, or frustrating to the teacher.
The underlying planning from 1990-2006 for my school, and as examples for the previous two, can be seen in this blog. Planning was a strong feature of the school, supported by what we called “Topic Specifications”. These are now being called “Knowledge Organisers”, but do similar things; stating the essential aspects to be covered. Every teacher had a file for their year group which they could organise in any order that they wished; some were particularly skilful in coordinating several topics into one theme. Our topic lasted as long as they needed, from one week to perhaps four or five. This flexibility allowed appropriate coverage and access to a broad curriculum.
Elements of my approach to school could be seen, by an outsider, as traditional. The difference was probably in the way in which children who struggled with learning, as presented in the regular input, were accommodated. Where there was a need to revisit an idea, this would be done, if necessary using a different resource or model. If this was unsuccessful, further adaptation might be tried, at each stage noting the working and thinking methodologies and outcomes. It was a constant state of investigating, in order to start making incremental improvements, from which the child might find a personal motivation for taking on the learning, rather than it being external exhortation to succeed.
Perhaps that’s the main difference between some teachers. Some are more presentational than others, while some are prepared to go deeper into investigation of pupil needs. But, and it is a big but, the need to be investigative, as a teacher, can be inferred from teacher standards 2, 6 and 5; getting progress and outcomes through engagement, advice and adaptation to needs. It is easy to make assumptions about children and learning. It is better to develop the skills of investigation, but also to be sufficiently humble, to ask colleagues for time to reflect, think and plan alternative methods.
I don’t like extremes. The trad-prog “debate is at best an irritation, at worst it is potentially destructive over time.
We encourage bright, creative, young people to become teachers. They bring with them enthusiasm and investigative potential that earlier cohorts would envy; just read a few blogs from newer teachers. If we tie them to a delivery model, we are effectively recreating aspects of the 1950/60s where radio or television lessons brought an “expert” into the classroom. Using the IWB, with centralised teachers and classroom behaviour monitors would not be my preferred methodology, but it could be seen as a natural progression, should pedagogy become more prescribed.
Thinking through challenge is an engaging activity. We need classrooms where high quality thinking, and dialogue within and across subjects is enabled and led by high quality thinking communicators.
Thinking, dialogue and investigation support all approaches and enable incremental improvement…