Thursday, 1 July 2010

We enjoy the lesson. And skip the test.

I started teaching when the National Curriculum was introduced into England.

At the time, it seemed a mostly benign affair; it issued little more than statements of accomplishment. Stuff like 'pupil can express an opinion'.

At the end of the school year, we sweated teachers filed paperwork statements on how the National Curriculum was applied to each pupil. We called them Gas bills.

You could twist the statements round to fit what had happened in the classroom. Tinkertop can express an opinion. Tinkertop actually threw Buddy at the wall and screamed I HATE THIS SHIT! Sounds like an opinion to me.

But most importantly, nobody told you what should be in any lesson, nor how to teach it.

Then the years went by, and bit by bit, nibble by nibble, teachers were no longer the professionals in charge of their classrooms, thinking up exciting and interesting ways to get Crusher to read Buddy, even when Tinkerbell opines that it's crap. They had a prescribed lesson content to deliver.

The content was pre-determined; at one point you could pull lessons off a government web site. So I guess it didn't matter if the PE teacher was covering the English class again. Anyone could drop them an email saying here's the lesson you're delivering today at 11.15.

That shift - telling teachers what to do, when to do it, and how - was to try and stitch everything up, all round. The teachers could be monitored all the better, control over the curriculum could be tightened, Ofsted could be given an earner, and exam boards had a ready-made brief to run a tighter business.

The irony is, the tighter they stitched it, the looser it became. Private organisations up and down the country started to offer the very same targeted and attainment-focused lessons, particularly at primary. They offered them as an outdoor alternative to the drear of the classroom, and they offered them without assessment. Teachers may as well deliver that; that's what schools are for, isn't it, to be assessment centres?

Now you can probably email your local wildlife park Education Officer asking what modules they make available for Key Stage 2. They have it all sorted.

So this is what we did today, at Stanwick Lakes. It's a pre-set packaged module, off-the-shelf, available to schools, community groups, home educators. A school could call it the term's outing for Key Stage 2 Geography.

We call it meeting a ranger, hearing about the history and work of a quarry, the restoration of wildlife areas, the leisure industry, then a short walk across the site to identify areas in the talk.

After that, the home ed kids went off to play around the site for hours in the sunshine.

The school kids went back to school, probably to be given information about the assessment.


Rachel M. said...

Your comment about regulation brings me back to my favorite teacher who I had for 4th, 5th and 6th grade. She is the most gifted and talented teacher I've ever known and I say this because of the large variety of things she introduced as learning tools into the classroom. She had a board where she'd put up a question/puzzle and attributed a prize pending difficulty. There was no requirement to do said questions, just the prize. I remember I won a bag of candy for correctly identifying Opals as the described stone in the 4th grade. See that lesson never left me! She would read for one hour per day to us from a large variety of books and she'd conduct weekly game shows with combined content from the 3 classes (since we were all in one room) so the youngest would get quite a range of information. So when you speak of regulation and taking away creativity from teachers I get worried because that's the teacher I learned the most from! Most of all, she gave us a hunger for learning. She made me want to write a 10 page report in the 4th grade with perfect penmanship and perfect boarders. Here we are 9 in the 4th grade.

sharon said...

The National Curriculum in its current format makes me wonder why anybody signs up for teaching as a profession these days! Certainly isn't how I remember either my schooldays or my truncated foray into teaching.

Grit said...

hi rachel! it's nice to hear stories like this; i think teachers who do bring a bit of their life, lifestyle, outlook and attitudes into the classroom are more interesting people to learn from. i think there's been a lot of work done to eliminate this in the classroom - the more maverick staff are not encouraged. the staff who can deliver the lesson with all the bits attached get the better ofsted! i say this with no bitterness whatsoever, since i chose to leave the profession, rather than get kicked out. i admit i probably would have been kicked out had i stayed.

i certainly wonder that too, sharon. i am sure a huge reason is wanting to help society, wanting to put something back, wanting to support children with skills and ideas you have. one of the reasons why i left is that i felt the institution of school got in the way of those motives.

the new government say they will strip back the requirements of the national curriculum, so that it is less demanding in detail, and more in tune with the requirements of these original statements. i hope so. i want teachers to be able to feel they can use their originality and creativity in the classroom without sanction.

dawn said...

what a lovely day :)
mmmm grrr ruined teaching they did, that's why i escaped :-)
I met up with my job share partner of 7 years ago last week and outr conversation was pretty much what you've put here, what happened to flair and chosing how to do it - that's why we do home ed and my friend only now teaches one day a week !

Kestrel said...

Ah yes, we did exactly that last Friday too (blog post to come when I get around to downloading the photos) - the school kids left to go back to school, my kids spent the next hour playing and asking more questions. You are so gorgeously on point about school.

I had no idea you were a teacher once upon a time.