Category Archives: Silliness

Are Schools Exam Factories?

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Are schools exam factories?

Take a look at a picture of a contemporary factory production line, how does the analogy pan out? Are the robots teachers? The products, children? The outcome, the exam? If a car factory makes cars, an exam factory makes exams, Pearson?

Well, no, the child must be the outcome, but not any colour as long as it’s black… Isn’t this the metaphor, the Fordist idea? These days factories churn out cars that are seemingly personalised for the customer… any colour as long as it suits your personal choice, different engines, seat coverings… and then the customer can add a smiley sun ‘smell nice’ to add to the character of their car…

Some car companies even cheat at exams…

The metaphor should not be exam factories, it should be ‘Child Factories’… Our factory child is clearly a child though seems different to other children, shaped around customer choice… and the customers? Parents? Or ‘Society’? Can we buy the product? What if we don’t want it, can we reject it to sit in a car lot for the rest of its days?

The robotic teachers all doing the same thing, day by day, wielding exactly the same moves day in day out, hammering the child with exams, the nuts and bolts of curriculum, the soldering on of character, the spray painting of happiness, the dark leathery interior of romantic poetry, the engineering of physical education, the computer brain ready to be plugged in to the hive mind. The robotic teacher – provided by an edTech company near you… The child sits lazily on a line, prodded and zapped, it passively passes through – splitting infinity.

Add to this that there are many factories with many products, not just cars, there are bags of crisps, many flavours, there are computers, pork pies, plasters, and plastic things, factories make so much stuff…

And there is a lot, too many, the tyranny of choice?

To reject this analogy, what would we have to do?

Would we want to reject the many different products, the vast and troublesome choice that floods our shop shelves? Far too much? A lot of it is exactly the same too… for all that choice there are many boxes of Persil and Daz.  So produce less, take more care, educate fewer? Make each teacher not a robot but a craft’s person – turning wood or clay into unique products… fewer in a lifetime, but each product worth so much more… taking time and care… And each craftsperson  supremely able and talented; not mechanistic, artistic.

The child, crafted into a unique individual, on the shelf of a select arty shop, fewer but more discerning customers picking them up and appreciating the craft that has gone into turning them into these precious pieces…

Or reject the analogy altogether?

Each child for themselves! Not made by others – free to roam, to be out in the fields and forests shaping their own destinies through the force of their inner spirits…

 

No more teachers, no more school…

 

Or find a different analogy?

 

 

Gimmicks: A Thousand Techniques Bloom

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Hey Jimmy, gimme the gimmix
Another day – another fad:

John Cooper Clarke

How many gimmicks can one teacher get through? The short termism of ‘fill the lesson with gimmicks’ approach does untold harm to teaching and learning. That books and websites extol the virtues of little techniques you can use last minute for ‘starters’, for ‘plenaries’, and for that, ‘long dull bit in-between starter and plenary,’ should worry all who value thoughtful teaching.

The danger is not in some of the techniques per se, but lies in the fact that the short term gimmicks might be all or most of what there is. Why search for gimmick upon gimmick to get through a lesson with no thought to the overall need to teach something and for pupils to learn something? If a teacher doesn’t have a view as to how the whole of the course she is teaching unfolds over the years then she is more likely to seek out gimmicks, instead of every minute being precious, every minute is filled with activities. Instead of the gentle unfolding of interesting and/or difficult concepts, ideas, facts and skills, the lesson is about pace, engagement and getting through. Quick, grab a Bingo game! A last minute group game! A sponge ball to chuck at kids so that they have to answer a question in the plenary game!

The three part lesson adds to the problem, I mean what is a starter? In drama I would begin lessons with pupils standing still with their eyes closed, feet shoulder width apart, shoulders straight, heads straight… This was a starter ‘inactivity’ I suppose, but it served a purpose: focus, and I used the same beginning for nearly every lesson. Rather than a gimmicky starter, I would ‘begin at the beginning’ in a ritualised manner. I wasn’t desperately searching for a starter activity five minutes before I went into the classroom.

The queue at the photocopier is telling, does the queue consist of teachers holding meticulously sought out material that will aid understanding of the topic in hand, or are they clutching a word search that they needed five minutes ago? Do the teaching library shelves contain well thumbed copies of Teaching Gimmick books hastily read whilst spilling coffee and thinking about how to get through that lesson with 9Q last thing on Friday? Or is the staff room full of teachers talking about and sharing material to teach, about the content of the course, adding depth or breadth to what is being studied. Thinking about content might be last minute, it might be discovered during a lesson as the teacher gets further insight into the material being studied, this intellectual process is not aided by inane activities. A staff room full of teachers laughing, discussing, thinking, talking about other things than teaching too is undoubtedly healthy, though shouldn’t be forced by gimmicky happiness or mindfulness initiatives.

Gimmicks detract from teaching and learning and we let these thousand techniques bloom at our peril, for they stand in the way of a thought through pedagogical process. The thousand pacy ‘fun’ distractions that are being used in a classroom near you end up in with pupils looking for short term entertainment rather than the deeper joy to be found in getting to grips with a subject.

If you’re into gimmicks drop them now and get a grip.

 

Michael Gove Looking Great

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It is such a shame that when he was Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove was not able to dress up, the finery suits him and his rather quizzical look. Perhaps we can remedy this sad state of affairs for future Education Secretaries and demand that they dress up in Academic Garb as befits the post.

I vote that ‘Gown and Mortar Board with Ceremonial Cane’ should be worn from now on and I am sure such smartness will help raise the status of the job and also of teachers especially if such garb was to catch on throughout the profession.

Nicky Morgan you know what you must do:

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