Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Uncertainty: Radiators, Recorders and Loaves of Bread

recorderloafMy late head teacher, Geoff Spaul, once ironically remarked that as far he knew there were only three sorts of plans:

Long-term - in the car

Medium–term - in the corridor

Short-term - leaning on the classroom radiator

I laughed, but was also secretly relieved to find that others taught radiator lessons too sometimes. So I did some further research and every experienced teacher I quizzed, rather proudly admitted they had taught radiator lessons, and many claimed that they were among of the best lessons they had ever taught…

I was reminded of all this by a brief twitter shower caused by  @tombennet71 following his post about the diagram on the left


I tweeted back …alternatively no lesson plans at all  and a little later with Geoffrey’s joke about radiator lessons.

Thinking again about my radiator lesson ‘research’ I remember being intrigued as to why those unplanned, improvised lessons should be rated so highly by their teachers. I suspect I have a few more ideas now.

In a lesson with no clear plans or learning outcomes the teacher will more readily:

  • relinquish the trappings of expert knowledge
  • seize opportunities to build understanding with students’ contributions
  • ask questions that require real answers
  • value student reflectiveness
  • use talk to explore
  • display uncertainty

Most students are pretty sharp about authenticity and can usually spot when you’re faking. It is sufficiently unusual to feel your teacher is learning alongside you to generate a sense of genuine discovery.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting you should do this all the time… just often enough to feel the excitement of throwing the satnav away and striking out into the wilderness. Often enough to convince you to make time for uncertainty in your classroom, on a regular basis.

A good friend who, asked about his best lesson, at the end of a student teaching practise,  told the following story.

He was talking to a class of 5-year-olds. The time came when he had planned to play them some tunes on his recorder, so he announced this to the class. Opening his guitar case (where the recorder was kept) revealed to all… something he’d completely forgotten about…a loaf of bread. Snatching up the loaf of bread he began to play it. It still makes me smile to imagine the joy such a surprise would bring to a class of young children - and the joy they would bring to their teacher.