Teaching lessons v educating

I have some half-formed ideas floating about in my head that reflect some misgivings I’ve had for some time. These relate to dominant ideas about teaching, learning and the whole nonsense of ‘lessons’. When I met a new head, many years ago, I remember her saying to me that what she wanted to see was ‘at any given time, there was learning going on’. Well apart from it being highly unlikely that there would be no learning going on (unless, I suppose one is unconscious), I took issue with the whole idea of ‘snapshots’ showing anything useful at all. This is because I don’t believe it’s all about lessons and particularly not about whether learning has taken place between the start of the lesson and the end of the lesson. For ‘lessons’ read ‘sessions’, since this is what it seems to mean to school leaders, OFSTED and many teachers.

I don’t want to see that my pupils have made progress from the start to the end of the session. I don’t care about that. I want to know that I’m educating my pupils – something which is not defined or limited by their behaviour changes within periods of time assigned to sessions. To wax anecdotal for a minute, I know where some of my best learning came from in my own primary school and it wasn’t about any single lesson. It was about taking a subject area, whatever it was, driving it forward over a period of time and taking it as far as we wanted to go. It required teacher expertise and access to quality materials. There may have been ‘lessons’ or even ‘sessions’ but I wasn’t aware of them as discrete events.

I think, for a long time, we’ve been forced (particularly for observations) to teach ‘show’ lessons; to perform a lesson, hoping for the best and hoping that they see what we’re trying to do and that it doesn’t end in tears. I’m glad that OFSTED are suggesting a move away from this focus, but it’s taken long enough. I may also have finally persuaded leaders in my own school to look at lessons in context and to hold a discussion with teachers about what they’re doing and why – where they’re going with the lesson – where it’s come from. That’s also taken long enough. But it’s still about observing lessons – about snapshots – and they’ll still expect to see whether pupils ‘have learned’ within that lesson. As if that’s something that can be seen, anyway. What if the learning were being measured, even according to the greatly flawed, ham-fisted, descriptors we’ve been given? What if they all showed ‘learning’ at the end of the lesson? Are they actually being educated? I wonder if much of the frustration at the failure to embed effective AfL practices can be laid at the door of this type of lesson. We’re still not doing it properly, apparently. We don’t have time for it in our lessons. We’re not assessing the pupils’ learning properly. It’s all a bit of a shoe-horn operation. But I wonder if we’re focussed on educating, rather than teaching lessons and measuring learning, whether the formative assessment wouldn’t just be a part of the whole process.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching lessons v educating

  1. Hi, I have seen you commenting on Quirky Teacher’s blog a few times and didn’t realise that you had a blog yourself. Fair play – this questioning of the current orthodoxy is necessary. What’s clinched it for me in terms of observations is that they are simply being used as a stick to beat teachers with in many schools and the potential for abuse to refuse pay promotions is high and can only lead to more teachers moving away from the profession. If there was one thing that has clinched it for me more than any other is that I currently work in a school where my old A-Level teacher (who turned primary teacher) teaches. You know the truth is that she is still a fantastic, thorough teacher with extremely high standards and care for her pupils. She didn’t all the guff of the current education system to help me get an A (which with my other A-Levels opened many doors for me then and since). It made me so angry to see her have to jump through the hoop of observation – it’s all so real now. I wonder how many other people would really believe that their own teachers would have done a better job having to go through the rigmarole of the current system. The ability to put teachers through capability and removing them has always been there and there is a limit to what the unions can do. It is more to do with people who are too spineless to do anything about the situation. Funnily enough – these same leaders would prefer less confident than confident teachers because they don’t know how to deal with them!

  2. It takes a confident leader to have faith in seasoned, dedicated professionals. Otherwise, yes, you’re right, they prefer the cap doffers and subservient newbies, so that they can have control over everything. Currently the initiative and creativity of experienced teachers is being stifled and management are very slow to catch up to the idea that increasing the workload and hyper-scrutinising is counter-productive. They’ve created a profession where the best want to leave.

  3. Well I am one of them currently!! I just felt so exploited in the end and to be honest all the ‘what else can you do’ attitude is a nonsense in teaching which I have not experienced elsewhere – I am sure it is part of the problem. If I mention this to people in other jobs they think it is insane that anyone would think that they are only capable of doing one job.

    I can’t bear the nonsense any longer – to say that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater is an understatement. I suppose it was inevitable that the progressive regime would eat itself in the end – being so child-centred that they mimic the immaturity of the children they teach!! Having read more and more around the issue – I can see the ridiculousness of the current system and how it has changed to ensuring that someone with my background would not go near a university never mind achieve a masters. It’s awful to see how backward we have ended up.

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