When it comes to education (and children’s behaviour in particular), it seems that society is desperate for a ‘magic wand’. A neat, perfectly formed, and preferably instant solution that will solve all our problems overnight. Often, the magic solution will come couched in mysterious, esoteric language (I’m thinking ‘Transactional Analysis’ - huh, what that?) or it will have a registered trademark (Brain Gym® I’m looking at you with your fancy circled R).
A forthcoming programme in the BBC Two Schools Series (‘The Classroom Experiment’) shows ‘radical techniques’ being used. Hummm … radical, did you say? The Professor bans the children from putting up their hands and uses a random system (lollipop sticks in this instance) to decide who answers instead. Ah, I see, you mean the ‘anyone answers’ technique? I’ve heard that idea bandied about for at least the last five years (more interestingly, using a pack of playing cards rather than a set of lollipop sticks). And yes, it’s great in some situations, but it’s also completely hopeless in others. If I’m working with a bottom set full of disaffected teenage boys, they’re as likely to tell me where I can insert the lollipop stick as they are to answer my randomly asked question.
Centre stage in this ‘I’ve got a radical solution to solve all your problems’ approach comes the youthful Gareth Malone. Yes, the camera loves him. Yes, his ideas are great in theory. Yes, he seems like an awfully nice boy. But once again, this is not some radical new solution that will solve all our problems. And once again, there is no radical new solution that will do that for us anyway. I (and many other authors/trainers/teachers) have been advocating active learning, taking children out of the classroom, making lessons dramatic and engaging, bringing learning to life, for years. And the vast majority of teachers I meet already aim to do this, when they can, within the constraints of our education system.
The thing is, though, there is no magic wand and who would want one anyway? Classroom are messy, complex places, full of those strange, unique, magical beings called children. What works for one teacher, on one day, in one school, with one child, will often have little or no relation to what works for another teacher, on another day, in another school, for an entirely different child. Teaching and learning, behaviour management, classroom control: these things are about a hugely complex range of different strategies and approaches, rather than one single, unique solution. And thank goodness for that! I rather like it messy, you know.
Elephants in the Classroom
You know that saying, about there being an 'elephant in the room': something everyone knows is there, but no one wants to mention? In teaching, there isn't just one elephant in the classroom, there's a whole herd of them, rampaging through the room. In this blog I plan to turn a spotlight on some of the unspoken and sometimes unpalatable truths about our noble profession (and the good stuff too). Because if we can't be honest about what makes a good learning experience, an effective school, or a good teacher, and equally what makes a bad one, then everyone loses.