Here are the slides in PDF format from my talk at the Telegraph Festival of Education at Wellington College on 22nd June 2017:
Late last year I had a long conversation with Peter Hyman in which we looked at areas of agreement in our education philosophies and areas where we disagree. This conversation took place within the walls of Windsor Castle, a most un-revolutionary backdrop, steeped in history, a place beautifully unencumbered by 21st Century thinking, unless you count the aeroplanes preparing to land at Heathrow that must disturb a good night’s sleep for various Royals, their servants and staff. Peter and I agree on many things but we also have some significant disagreements too.
In today’s Observer Peter has an article, It Is Time for a Real Revolution in Britain’s Schools, in which he sets out many of our agreements but also hints at those significant disagreements too. The article begins at an event which I attended in the House of Lords, a pupil gave a beautifully crafted speech, the need for eloquence is something about which Peter and I wholeheartedly agree. Peter was formally a speech writer for Tony Blair and shares with me a passion for the Art of Rhetoric, though, perhaps due to Blairite revisionism, he calls it ‘Oracy’. I contributed to the English Speaking Union and School 21’s book called ‘Speaking Frankly’ (Available for free: online edition, here) In the book I make my case, in a piece called ‘the Age of Rhetoric’, for argument, debate, logic and eloquence but also for the teaching of judiciously selected texts and a well thought through curriculum. It is on these points that Peter and I have real disagreements.
Although I agree wholeheartedly with Peter when he says:
An academic education (the head) starts with the basics of literacy and numeracy, then builds out to a deep love of words and facility with the English language. It then develops a depth of knowledge of key concepts and ways of thinking in areas such as science, maths, history and creative arts. This knowledge should be empowering knowledge – knowledge that draws on “the best that has been thought and said” from the past, as the cultural critic Matthew Arnold advocated, but importantly is shaped and applied to the needs of the present and future.
I’m not sure that he means the same thing as me when he writes this. To me this means emphasising subject based teaching, teaching knowledge explicitly so that children remember it and, importantly, it also involves the need for reflection, absorption and silence. Peter prefers a project-based approach to finding the ‘best that has been thought and said’, the problem I have with this is that it doesn’t tend to find the best. Let children free too early on the task of academic knowledge acquisition and they are more likely to find stuff that isn’t that good and also quickly pass over stuff which is difficult to understand. This stuff needs to be taught in a systematic way, it needs to unfold in a carefully constructed narrative, so that children learn in real depth. For this to occur, it needs to be chosen by teachers, presented in a specific order, and referred back to often. It should not be left up to the child to construct, not if you want them to truly learn.
I also worry about Peter’s idea of a ‘noisy’ classroom. If he means a classroom in which children talk and are questioned as well as questioning, where the ‘noise’ is purposeful, then great. If this is just a rhetorical flourish to get a reaction, that this is not the default position, and that if he saw children working silently and diligently on their own in a classroom he wouldn’t worry about it, then fine, because sometimes we really do need to work alone and quietly, if we want to reach insight and understanding.
As a drama teacher, I love group work, yet I can also see its many problems and weaknesses. It is not a great way to learn stuff. Certainly not for every child in a group. It also suffers as an approach because a teacher can’t keep track of the ‘learning’ that is going on in a group and often quite fundamental concepts are distorted through a ‘Chinese whisper’ approach in which a nugget of knowledge is reshaped into a prize piece of nonsense.
However, we do agree that there should be debate, dialogue and conversation, these things have an important role to play. I worry that Peter has a slightly Utopian idea that his approach will make the world a better place, I’m not sure that we ought to try to make children more ethical and liberal, but we should certainly offer up the great issues of our time as well as the past so that they might be more informed but free to make their own decisions and, yes, mistakes as well as successes.
The great liberal arts tradition is, of course, an education that provides children with the means to learn valuable knowledge, to value discussion and thought, and appreciate the need for beauty and eloquence in their communications with the outside world.
It is great that we have a system in which a school like ‘Michaela’ and a school like Peter’s ‘School 21’ can coexist. I wonder if there is room for a school that seeks to put both approaches together and whether that would satisfy Peter’s desire for innovation?
Mortimer J Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book sets out to assist readers who want to read well.
Our subject, then, is the art of reading good books when understanding is the aim you have in view
In order to help the reader to do this the authors compare teaching to reading. When you are in the presence of a teacher, they write, you can ask him a question and if you are ‘puzzled’ by the reply: ‘you can save yourself the trouble of thinking by asking him what he means. If, however, you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself.’
The reader has to do the work of analysis and thinking for themselves.
This is the difference between a present and an absent teacher. For the authors this is summed up by the difference between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. If you have learned a fact, they argue, you have only exercised your memory and you have not been enlightened, this only occurs when:
in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.
You need to know what is being said, you need to know the fact, it is the:’prerequisite to being enlightened. The point, however, is not to stop at being informed.’ Instruction by itself is not enough.
Adler and Van Doren illustrate this with the following quote from Montaigne:
an abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it.
The first is the ignorance of those who can’t or won’t read and the second is the ignorance of those we could refer to as sophomores, those who might seem ‘bookish’ but are in fact ‘poorly read’. The Greek ‘sophos’ meant ‘wise’ and ‘mōros’, ‘fool’. The fact that the Sophists were often accused of being fond of rhetoric more than reasoning or knowledge, might also serve our understanding here. Adler and Van Doren are at pains to point out the difference between being widely read and well read.
If you assume that discovery is better than instruction because it is active, you assume wrongly.
Learning by instruction is being taught by speech or writing, learning by discovery is learning:
by research, by investigation, or by reflection, without being taught… In both cases, the activity of learning goes on in the one who learns. It would be a mistake to suppose that discovery is active learning and instruction passive.
They then go further deeming that instruction is, in fact, ‘aided discovery… it is the student… who must do the learning.’ So the difference is between, what they now refer to as ‘aided and unaided’ learning. When discovering with the help of a teacher the learner learns by being taught, either from reading or listening. Unaided discovery is the ‘art of reading nature or the world’.
Reading is therefore allied to ‘instruction, being taught, or aided discovery.’ In order to be an active reader one ‘thinks’. This is where people go wrong. The writers posit that people believe thinking to be an ‘unaided’ process of discovery which, they concede, it probably is when one reads merely for entertainment or information. However, it is not true of more ‘active reading’. This type of reading cannot be done ‘thoughtlessly’. The wise-fool would find the next step a challenge because it asks the reader to be be more involved.
During the activity of reading one also thinks, observes, remembers and constructs ‘imaginatively what cannot be observed’. The authors give us this lovely example:
many people assume that though a poet must use his imagination in writing a poem, they do not have to use their imagination in reading it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. They go on to say that all the same skills that are said to be required in ‘unaided discovery’ learning are needed for reading. Reading is discovery learning with ‘help instead of without it’. In order to do this best:
we need to know how to make books teach us well.
This requires effort, observation, imagination, memory, analysis and reflection. Reading is an active process. The rest of the book teaches the reader how one might read, actively and intelligently.
Think how useless a teacher’s greatest labours are now, when he tries to lead one single student back to the infinitely distant and elusive Hellenic world, the true homeland of our culture, and an hour later that same student reaches for a newspaper or popular novel or one of those scholarly books whose style bears the repulsive mark of today’s educational barbarism! Friedrich Nietzsche
In 1872 this was Nietzsche’s view, I wonder what it would be now? The teacher might wish to lead a student back to a time when they reach for a newspaper, a popular novel or even a ‘popular science or self help book’…
Or the teacher might have given up on even this meagre hope. Nietzsche has it in for journalists and describes newspapers as epitomising today’s [then] educational system with both as ‘servants of the present moment‘, taking the place of
the genius, our salvation from the moment and leader for the ages
That is some teaching and learning policy, though he meant it more as a gifted and talented policy, I like to think of it as an aim for all…
I can only think a reincarnated Nietzsche would stare in horror at teaching as entirely a servant of the present moment as argued for by some who wish to ‘engage’ pupils in anything that will occupy their time at school rather than uncover their inner genius. Yet servants of the present delight in keeping up to date rather than exploring the ‘true homeland of our culture’, as one can witness with a cursory glance towards the latest ‘craze’ to hit the nation’s classrooms.
Pokémon Go is pushing Minecraft to the back of the class, Edtech magazine states there are ‘3 Ways Pokémon GO Can Create Meaningful Learning Opportunities‘ these are that it can ‘promote data literacy skills’, allow children to ‘explore the natural world’ and ‘inspire digital storytelling’. That what follows each of these is rather thin gruel seems not to worry the writer of the article. In fact in all three cases the game seems to lessen the activity rather than add to it.
Will it “help students start to become familiar with the data literacy skills of data processing, data manipulation, data presentation and data analysis”? How often will they have to play the game in order for this to occur? How many hours? Are there better ways of achieving these aims, and in more depth? In many ways this is its most obvious use, and maybe I could be persuaded but it seems little more than a passing activity. It could be argued that for autistic children it will help “research habitats that relate to where Pokémon can be found in your local area, as well as learning how to observe in a natural habitat and sketch the living creatures that you find there.” But will it get in the way of observation of the natural habitat, would the painstaking exploration of our natural environment take a backseat because of a fight in a Pokémon Gym? And finally, it might: “…fuel students’ creativity and promote language, research and technology skills by asking students to write stories around the Pokémon they capture in the game.” Or it might be a lesser way of doing that than approaching the same aim by grappling with great literature; is it better to play Pokémon Go or to read Lysistrata or the Oresteia in order to fuel creativity and promote language and research skills? As for technology, I am sure working on a production of a piece of Greek theatre will offer all sorts of opportunities for use of cutting edge technology if one would wish to really ‘Go’ for it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed seeing my daughter play the game, we have had fun exploring and noticing things but none of this is in the detail or depth I would call educational, nor is it edutainment, it is play, and that is fine as far as it goes; I love play. But I pity my little ‘un if she has to go back to school and comes across an enthusiastic teacher who has come up with a term’s work based on Pokémon Go in order to engage her interest, it will more likely enrage her to disinterest.
In the classroom, instead of Pokémon Go, can we have Pokémon No?!! And, instead educate for:
the genius, our salvation from the moment and leader for the ages…
It seems some classrooms have embraced Brexit fully, these classrooms can be spotted easily because you need a passport to enter them and sometimes a boarding pass too. On exiting these classrooms you may have to line up at the departure gate with your departure card and undergo some rigorous, yet ultimately futile, bureaucratic exercise before you are able to enter the corridor. These independent Classroom States are meant to be ‘fun’ and ‘creative’ and ‘themed’ with all joining in the jolly jape ‘journey’ where all are engaged due to a clever conceit.
It is interesting that the extent of the conceit is to copy some of the most tedious parts of international travel as a way of motivating children. Children should learn that unnecessary bureaucratic exercises should be treated with the contempt they deserve. That this conceit is to distract from the tedium of learning Shakespeare, Angelou, Meyerhold, Mao, Stalingrad, Euclidian Geometry, Cunningham, Parks, and the Origin of the Species is even more worrying, mindless bureaucratic exercises to make learning fun might be rendering the whole thing a shallow exercise that can be summed up with an ‘exit stamp’ from the
customs officer teacher.
The tricks and gimmicks school of teaching and learning is a most peculiar movement in which the topic is deemed to need some sort of disguise, and often this disguise is ill suited to the subject matter. ‘Paper exit airplanes’ (sic) can be thrown to the front of the class at the end of a lesson on which are written three things you have learnt about climate change, the alimentary canal or gamelan.
I am not averse to play acting, I’m a drama teacher by trade, but by reducing some lessons to a collection of tricks surrounding some important learning I can’t help but wonder what the cumulative effect of all these (distr)actions might be?
Are we at a point where serious engagement with serious topics is sometimes avoided due to the extrinsic activities that might be detracting from students’ intrinsic involvement through in depth study?
Instead of ‘shallow’ play why can’t we indulge in the playfulness and joy of tackling difficult ideas through the pursuit of wisdom?
Instead of the Brexit classroom can’t we have a United States of Studying where all can study freely without having to have their passports and exit visas stamped as they
board throw their paper airplane to oblivion?
In her Essay on the Banality of Evil Hannah Arendt wrote that:
The nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.
Now, I’m not meaning to imply that bureaucrats are evil, but looking at this quote, away from its context, is useful for what I wish to say about ‘Character Education’. By trying to make Character Ed a thing that can be taught explicitly, measured, reported on, with data collected and dispersed to all and sundry, it could be said that the very idea of ‘character’ is transmuted from being a collection of difficult to define human traits that might emerge over time, to that of a bureaucrat’s idea of character. They apply, what Theodore Dalrymple calls: ‘a thin veneer of science’ to make character part of the administrative machine: Let’s call something ‘Grit’; let’s define it, measure it, report on it and collect vast amounts of data to show that a child’s ‘grit’ score has increased by 7% over the past year and celebrate this. By doing this we dehumanise the subject.
Character, taken as a whole, can be talked about but in the way that someone might talk about art – what they like about some work and what they don’t, it is through the conversations of people by which we judge ourselves and each other. We change as we respond to our daily habits and our daily tribulations, and how we meet those imposters triumph and defeat, illness and wellness, love and despair, and when we give succour and need it for ourselves. Through all this our character builds, breaks and builds again. Give it a score, a flow chart or a graph and it’s no longer character, it is its opposite – it is the dehumanised picture of what someone with a measuring tape and a calculator thinks character is. It isn’t.
I have long argued that by teaching a rich thought-through curriculum, involving a wealth of experiences and a rich access to the arts and humanities, indeed, a good number of subjects taught by teachers who invest their pupils’ time in the pursuit of wisdom that ‘character’ is developed. Here is a video in which I argue this very thing in a debate at Policy Exchange. So, it was gratifying to read this piece by Paul Tough, author of ‘How Children Succeed’, in which he writes:
No child ever learned curiosity by filling out curiosity worksheets; hearing lectures on perseverance doesn’t seem to have much impact on the extent to which young people persevere… there is growing evidence that even in middle and high school, children’s non-cognitive capacities are primarily a reflection of the environments in which they are embedded, including, centrally, their school environment.
Can we make all schools life-affirming and avoid turning them into banal little offices run by petty bureaucrats?
Yes, you can.
I could finish this blog there. But, excuse me going on a bit, I want to look at how you might teach it by exploring the relationship between knowledge and doing.
I suppose, for some, this is a chicken and egg issue, what comes first creativity or domain knowledge? Others argue you need a lot of domain knowledge before you can be creative, whereas others argue that one is creative intrinsically and learning domain knowledge can knock that creativity out of you. Creativity, the art of creating something, is an active idea. A child can ‘create’ something using paints on a piece of paper, but so could a machine. I wouldn’t call either of these activities creative; they might be fun or playful in the case of the child, whereas for the machine, it doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Knowing why is important.
The dichotomy between knowledge and doing goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is interesting to look at how Plato explained the difference. At first, in Xenophon’s Socratic dialogues the ideas of knowledge (epistêmê) and craft, art or skill (technê) are used interchangeably. The interchangeability continued in Plato’s early Socratic dialogues but it is later developed, and, although there is often a good deal of overlap it is interesting to explore how they began to have different emphases. What follows is by no means a full explanation of these terms and I am taking a rather simplistic approach to them. Technê is said to have a goal or ergon and becomes associated with ‘doing’ whereas epistêmê becomes associated with theory. For Plato an epistêmê or theory of the goal of the technê or art suggests an understanding, or gnôsis. The understanding of the art is tied up with knowing what you want to achieve. This is a distinct practice rather than just doing it. The Philosopher King is an illustration of this idea, the craft of Kingsmanship tied to an understanding of why one is doing what one does (the philosopher). I would suggest this connectivity of the practice and the understanding of it is essential in creative work.
I would argue that creativity includes epistêmê, you need to know the theory of the domain in which you are operating and other, associated, areas. It includes technê, you need to be able to do the art, which is the practical knowledge and/or skill of the art itself. The need for the goal or ergon, gives a reason behind what you are doing and I think that all three together lead to an understanding, gnôsis, of what you are doing. This gnôsis is where creativity lies.
Teach kids the theory, the how and the why, but what of chickens and eggs? If I am right and epistêmê, technê and ergon need to coexist for creative understanding and, indeed, creativity to take place, then does it matter in what order they take place? I think, no. As for whether one should be taught for a long time before the others are brought in, say a lot of epistêmê, before any technê then I would expect a truly creative approach will be lost. Twelve years of music theory before you touch a piano would be a disaster. However, the amount and the order of each will be domain specific and the likelihood is that simultaneous exploration might be taking place at any one time or a good deal of movement between the technê and epistemê. Interestingly, gnôsis, by itself does not mean you will remain at your creative peak – the need not to understand what you are doing fully, can help drive the creative urge. An understanding is reached at the point of creation but this doesn’t mean one fully understands the art.
“I’ve always cited who my influences are. I felt it was important for people to be able to see how things are put together at any given stage. I let people know what’s going through my head. I’ve been quite vocal about that through the years… I’ve always loved the process – to see how things are put together.” Bowie
Bowie was a gatekeeper for me. He opened gates into interesting worlds, ever interesting he was interested… A polymath, interested in art, all art… A truly Romantic figure, avant-garde, he opened gates into even more avant-garde worlds.
My school daze were a disappointment, I left formal education under several clouds at sixteen, but thank God I had teachers in the wider ‘popular’ culture around me and Bowie was my way in.
Heroes, the first album I bought of his, in 1977, was followed by Low then Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory… I trawled his back catalogue for extraordinary sounds, discordant then melodic, with a suburban south London drawl.
And the gates he opened for me… most importantly: William Burroughs and writing from cut-ups; Lindsay Kemp and his creative dance/mime; Bertolt Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble. Diamond Dogs opened Orwellian gates and a fascination with the dystopian, it was a Brave New World. Nic Roeg, Man Who Fell to Earth ‘weird’ movies; Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, Kubrick, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence; Camus, The Wasteland, Greil Marcus, Colin Macinnes, Andy Warhol, Pop Art; Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground; and Eno, Roxy Music, Robert Fripp; Bolan, Nina Simone, Scott Walker, Brel … all of these people, interested and interesting opened ever more gates. From Kraftwerk to Kafka to Kabuki, even his nightmarish cocaine fuelled thin white nazi caused confusion – ‘how could he?’ This leading to Rock Against Racism… and the ‘bible’ of all this, and the burgeoning punk scene, was the NME – Charles Shaar Murray, Jon Savage, Nick Kent, Parsons and Burchill and Danny Baker… The Clash, Pistols… more gates opened as this boy looked at Bowie, at Johnny, at Joe, at Patti, and my walk on the wild side.
Bowie has left us many a canon beyond just the music, for example his list of 100 books. For me he points to something essential that those in both popular, high, wider culture have a duty to open gates for those who have been somehow lost to education. Our public life, where we come together, needs to be interested and interesting and magpie like picking on a wide range of references – thoughts, ideas and works.
I did a ‘gig’ at a school the other day and was congratulated for my ‘polymathic presentation’, how I had included a wide range of references, thoughts, reading and examples, which included Bowie. It is him I have to thank for helping to broaden my horizons.
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.
Over a hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilisation. Isaiah Berlin
Yesterday I read a post by @teachertoolkit about a measure he employs in his school called ‘book look’. In his blog he wrote that the measure was to check on: “…marking, workload and quality assurance of feedback and assessment” As my main teaching subject is a practical one I thought I would ask the perfectly reasonable question:
My thought being that in subjects where much of the feedback, teacher, self and peer assessment is done verbally that instead of demanding those subjects should do unnecessary written work to fit in with the book look system, that the system might bend in a way to recognise the richness of this type of assessment.
Strangely, before I was able to receive an answer, this happened:
This was an odd diversion. Clearly Paul, who is an Ofsted inspector, had been into Teacher Toolkit’s school and had seen the ‘book look’ in practice, he implies here that he likes it. He also makes a leap from my tweet to imply that I meant practical subjects don’t mark. No matter, I had a right of reply:
And I expected it to be left there, after all, I was asking a question to which I hadn’t received an answer. My ulterior motive is to avoid subjects with a large practical component having to write everything down – where currently they are more effective by not having to log everything.
Now Paul has begun to question my understanding of ‘practical subjects’ – I have taught drama for twenty-five years, so this certainly ‘bristled’ with me. All I can think is that Paul is deliberately misunderstanding me because I’m asking about the practical component of practical subjects.
I know they all do written work. I am waiting for an answer from Mr. Toolkit about how they approach practical subjects, in other words do they want ‘everything’ logged in written form?
This is where things went mad and we went into meltdown. I had spent the day leading a course on the new exam specs for drama so Paul’s comment that I need to look at the exam specs was particularly hilarious.
From this point the whole discussion went even further down hill, it is on twitter for those you who wish to see a spat about ‘you said this’, ‘you said that’.
There is something far more important going on here, the original book look idea is a bureaucrat’s dream but it falls apart when faced with practical subjects. Either it means that subjects with a sizeable practical component will be asked to do more, unnecessary, writing or the system that has been brought in will miss the feedback given verbally and understood physically in, say, drama and PE. Will this result in teachers at the school putting too much emphasis on written feedback and ignoring the richness of other ways of teaching and assessing?
Paul Garvey clearly thought I had no idea what I was talking about and the best I can think of him is that he misunderstood the nuance of my question. He seems to have a huge vested interest in ‘book look’. As a consultant he had visited Teacher Toolkit’s school and, as mentioned above:
has given ‘book look’ his blessing. As an Ofsted inspector his word carries power, I can see many schools jumping on the book look book check and adapting it for use in their schools. This would be a disaster for practical subjects and, I would venture, for all subjects. Read this excellent blog from Greg Ashman where he examines the thinking behind ‘book look’.
Since I pointed out the problem with practical subjects Teacher Toolkit has removed the bit of the blog where he wrote about checking: “…marking, workload and quality assurance of feedback and assessment” maybe because it doesn’t work for a large part of the feedback that is done in practical subjects. However, the tool doesn’t cover practical elements.
The ‘yellow box’ areas don’t help for practical work – how could a ‘diagnosis’ of books pick up the improvement in a girl’s ball skills in football or a boy’s vocal quality in drama unless it is written down? The point is the writing down of these things interrupts the teaching of these things in the subject, slows them down, and, in all likelihood, lowers the standards of teaching and learning in the practical element of practical subjects. By writing about your practical work, you cease to truly understand it. It would be like teaching a child to walk by insisting she wrote all the stages down, set targets etc. when, in real life, the understanding of how to do these things is quite mysterious to us. Each child is different, they respond, in practical work, to coaching in real time, not to stopping and starting and writing about it.
That this check seems to expect teachers to spend a lot of time giving written feedback, and what is assessed will be what is done, I think the above book checking tool will mean that staff will have to spend more and more effort and time with written work and feedback and reduce the time and the quality of verbal feedback. This excellent blog by Andy Day reflects on how these checks distort education. What a pity to put all the effort into written feedback especially if verbal feedback is a far more effective method of raising standards.
Ideas nurtured in the stillness of a senior leader’s study could destroy the quality of education in a school. Unnecessary writing of targets etc. is the bane of practical work please stop it happening in schools just so that a leadership team needing something to do can check it and Ofsted inspectors needing to justify their consulting business sidelines can tweet about it. Hopefully the book look tool will ignore practical work and, maybe, ignore books.