A Maths Teacher writes…June 15, 2013
This comment appeared below the line on my reblog of Joe Kirby’s review of Daisy Christodoulou’s book “Seven Myths about Education”. It refers to that book and the analogy of educational methods as a “cargo cult”. I liked it so much I thought it worth giving you a chance to see it above the line.
This looks like a very interesting book and one which I’m sure will confirm all my prejudices concerning the pedagogical model now being pushed by OFSTED. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years, and have encountered some fairly incoherent and damaging ideas from ‘experts’, yet it’s only over the last couple of years that I find myself literally stunned by some of the words coming from the mouths of inspectors and ‘consultants’; to the point where in the last week alone I’ve had to ask them three times to repeat what they’ve said just to make sure I heard them properly. I simply can’t accept that rational human beings can believe in a non-conflicted manner that good teacher explanation hinders learning and progress if it strays past ‘the 5 minute limit’, which was a phrase that was thrown at me six times while being given feedback.
I’d been observed introducing vectors to a year 10 class of relatively able students. It’s not an easy school by any objective measure. I was given a 3. Apparently it would have been a 2 with outstanding elements except that my introduction, all told, with modelling, questioning and mopping up a couple of misconceptions lasted 8 minutes and 34 seconds! (Seriously) This means I require improvement. Short of recording my introduction and playing it back at double speed, I fail to see what I do. The consultant, who was Maths specialist, told me how he’d have done it. His explanation lasted 25 minutes. In fact, he eventually conceded that he couldn’t actually have done it himself any faster, so suggested maybe I should have broken it up over two lessons, despite having commented that all the class had grasped the concepts and made good progress. When I pointed out that his idea would halve the rate of progress he sort of smiled apologetically and gave a little shrug.
This man was not unintelligent. I think the shrug was a tacit acknowledgement that he was giving me inconsistent and contradictory advice. It was by way of an apology, but, in the name of consistency, he had to come out with this bullshit. He’s helping implement our new teaching and learning strategy.
Now, other than the fact that all this stands in direct opposition to everything Wilshaw has said about no fixed teaching models and the acceptability of a didactic approach, it is the sheer lunacy that sticks in my craw. I could not believe what I was hearing. I nearly grabbed him and shook him just to see if he was actually real and that I was not temporarily delusional. It’s just not acceptable that I should be forced to suffer such blatant assaults to my intelligence. Wilshaw makes all the right noises, but he seems to be spending too much time composing sound bites and none at all in ensuring his message is reaching the ‘frontline’.
The book looks great, but I can’t see its message ever getting through. OFSTED is now precisely the problem in education. I’m not entirely sure the cargo cult analogy is apt. Certainly, it’s a cult now; a cult whose dogma and ideology is far from fixed. It shifts according to whims of fashion and the subjective interpretation of the local priesthood. But it seems that even when its catechisms demand the impossible, the self-defeating or the contradictory, it’s very much a case of extra Ecclesiam nulla sulus.