Monday, 21 March 2011

Sir Ken Fanboy?

So far this year I've only posted 2 videos and one of those was Sir Ken Robinson. So I'm reluctant to post another video lest I be seen as an uncritical fanboy...
Sir Ken is undoubtedly popular.  He has some very persuasive arguments and  presents them in a witty, enjoyable way. In the video linked below he even manages not to laugh at his own jokes much (look out for the brilliantly timed Gove dig). He has millions of Youtube hits - although, as he points out, so do kitten videos.  Radio 4's Saturday Live has interviewed him twice by popular request. He both shapes and surfs the zeitgeist.
He describes, far more clearly than I, the problems in education which gave rise to the disquiet leading to my becoming a freelance teacher. To paraphrase one headteacher I know, we can spend so long worrying about the things we are bad at, that when we do find time to do the things we are good at they have rusted through lack of use.
There are no indentikit teachers. There may be a few who do everything well and still have a a good work/life balance but I haven't met them yet and would probably find them deeply irritating. There must be room for all kinds of teachers doing what they love most of the time.
Back in the early 90s, while class teaching,  I discovered a teaching technique by accident. Feeling really weary, and jealously watching the children involved in some art work I sat down at a table the middle of the room and started my own painting. Did the children run amok because of my dereliction of authority?  Absolutely not, instead they stopped what they were doing occasionally and came and watched what I was up to. Gradually an open learner-to-learner dialogue grew, them asking me questions and giving praise for my efforts, me talking about the problems I was having. I'd be lying if I said their work showed a dramatic improvement - I simply don't remember if it did. What I do remember is the relaxed, inquisitive and enjoyable atmosphere in the room - the kind that supports learning. It is a technique I've used a fair amount since, and a whiteboard showing your digital work in progress can be used to the same effect.  People have told me since, this is acknowledged good practice and is called modelling. I don't like the term and prefer to think of it as collaborative learning. How would Ofsted  rate it? Who knows, but I'm sure our goals are often too short-term, and that showing progress during a single lesson is far less important than the messages we demonstrate about long-term learning. As Michael Rosen put it ' I'm not really interested in how children read, I want to know do they read'.
Sir Ken's piece for the Learning without Frontiers group treads a familiar path  but there is also a panel and audience discussion after, with Mick Waters of the Curriculum Foundation and Keri Facer, Professor of Education at MMU, which digs deeper.