04 December 2007

On the perfect lesson

Last night I watched Heston Blumenthal producing the "perfect" chilli con carne. There is of course no such thing. (I had not thought of using cumin, I admit.)

And the notion of "perfection" (whatever it means, pace any surviving Platonists) is one which can appeal only to commercial caterers, to whom the food consumed is the single criterion by which a "meal" might be judged. The rest of us know, of course, that as long as the food does not fall below a certain threshold, we will judge the meal by the ambience and the company much more than their gastronomic pretensions.

Similar considerations apply to the evaluation of teaching sessions. Yes, there are clear(ish) thresholds below which practice fails to contribute to learning and may indeed inhibit it. But beyond that we can judge only very broadly. And that is where Ofsted inspectors and QAA reviewers (now of blighted memory) get it all wrong;
  • They tend to assume that the perfect lesson is the result of following a standard recipe (they deny it, of course, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary). For Blumenthal, it may be true. The "perfect" chilli is contained in his recipe. But there is no guarantee that the diner will like it. Technically, the system is defined too tightly, according to that which lends itself to measurement/judgement.

  • They assume therefore that the process of teaching (and learning) is a series of tableaux or set pieces, which can be judged independently. Were the lesson objectives spelt out at the start of the lesson? (Yes = good; No = bad.) Thus we inculcate ritual knowledge (Perkins, 1999) with no understanding of its significance. Are the experiential targets spelt out at the start of the opera? the stand-up routine? the liturgy?
I could go on (I have just done you a favour and deleted five more bullet points), but, from Socrates to Laurillard (how is it to be in that league, Diana?) the highest-level learning is a conversation. It's dynamic, it's fluid... Time, and its story, is of the essence.

And the best chilli is rarely the hottest.


At 3:42 PM , Blogger Lionna Barney said...

Just stumbled upon your blog while
supposedly gathering my own thoughts for a presentation on my vision of education. It's been a very entertaining way to spend a grey saturday afternoon. I absolutely agree with you and the philosophy boys on the centrality of conversation....how often are the most fruitful explorations closed off with a'now we must get back to the lesson!!'

Well I must get back to my presentation...Slan go foill

Thanks for the link to the TED site..lots of food for thought there too.


Post a Comment

Comments welcome, but I'm afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I'll process them as soon as I can.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home