03 August 2006

On drilling or dancing

A couple of days ago, one of those juxtapositions which really get the reflective juices flowing.

I have been marking some assessments which require the inclusion of schemes of work and session plans. I have been both impressed and appalled by what has been submitted. I'm impressed by the precision of the paperwork, especially the required itemisation of the special needs and learning styles within the class. This one, for example, has "three learners with possible ADHD, and four with possible dyslexia, although none are yet fully assessed." Fine; I have little problem with that. The "little" problem concerns how the pre-emptive labelling is handled, and that is not revealed in the documentation.

Alongside that, we have session/lesson plans which are specified to the minute. Seven minutes to take the register and introduce the objectives of this session. Twelve minutes of PowerPointy presentation of the substance...

I have also just been reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" It's a well-written journalist's book. It betrays its journalistic origins in that any point made more that 1500 words previously has to be re-stated in case it has been forgotten; and it is peppered with quotations from interviews. OK; this guy took the trouble to go and interview his informants, but given that they have (almost) all published their results and findings, why? (OK, we know why--it adds that human touch, he told me, as he stirred his latte with four sugars...) The material was actually covered rather better in 1998 by Guy Claxton.

They come at it from very different angles, but dig beneath the surface, and there are very different views of thinking and learning implicit in these sources. It's easy to see the first as "mechanical". It's the sausage-machine model. Get the teaching right (including all the spuriously reified differentiation of learners--the must-know, should-know, could-know stuff, and the "extension activities" to stop any disruption from learners who manage to finish ahead of schedule) ...and they will learn. "Build it and they will come!" This is a bizarre inversion of the Field of Dreams idea.

In the interests of alliteration, for me it is the "drilling" model. I'm not going to get all touchy-feely romanticised naive-humanistic about this. My experience has been, I admit, mainly in "soft" teaching areas. Not with "soft" students and classes, by any means; but the bottom-line cognitive taxonomy issues have not loomed terribly large. And I know that they count for much more for other teachers, but...

Even in those areas, like teaching law (which is precise and even pedantic) the best laid plans are often waylaid by events (...oh boy! we've just moved into a whole different discourse. I'll leave it with this link) In the real world, as Gladwell suggests, teaching is more like a dance.

Dancing (at which I am very bad) involves (or did until 50 years ago, and I confess to being occicentric here --- hands up if you have encountered that term before) momentary dynamic flexible sensitive response to one's partner.

That's relatively easy one-to-one, of course. One Fred; one Ginger. And they rehearsed! Result--superb craft and perhaps art. One teacher; 30 learners? Can they dance?

It has been done. It is done every day; more often than one might think.

But a drilling ideology will never result in dancing.

So, on the whole, being an optimistic kind of guy; I look at those minute-by-minute session plans and think, "These are bureaucratic fictions". And when I sit in to observe teaching, it worries me if you follow them. OK; the minuet is a very prescribed dance. Oh pursue the analogy for yourself................

Interesting, isn't it?