I have become very tired of a great many edublogs over the last year or so, but Doug Belshaw’s is still one I always enjoy. He posted nine questions the other day that I thought were interesting. Here’s my reponses. Apologies to anyone looking for Indiepop. There will be a post about that very soon, no doubt.
1. Why do we have a system that trumpets ‘personalised learning’, ‘Every Child Matters‘ and the diversity of society, and then insists that each cohort must do better than the last in public examinations?
Until you have 100% ‘success’ rate (by whatever criteria, or range of multiple criteria, you choose) you should be always striving to make improvements. If you are not, ask yourself why not? Why would 60% or any other arbitrary figure be ‘good enough’? Personalizing learning goes hand in hand with that, surely. It’s about maximizing the potential of each individual, and that’s about striving for that 100%. Also, it’s not really about hitting the 100% mark anyway – it’s about the striving.
2. Can you think of another profession where day-to-day web tools such as Flickr (that have been used unproblematically and without complaint) are suddenly made unavailable by persons unknown (and unaccountable)?
As teachers we are tasked with being responsible for young people in our care. It would be irresponsible to give them carte-blanche access, just as it would be if parents were to do so. I’m not in favour of blocking web resources simply because they MIGHT be abused, but there must be some monitoring and control. We have instigated a huge sea change in my school with regards this – so now our students know that they have much more freedom with web access than many other schools. I have been using FLICKR with my Art students for years now (since it was still Beta!) and love it. But still, students do need to be constantly reminded about responsibility and privilege etc. Also, the buck will stop ultimately with the Head Teacher of any school, not a network manager, individual teacher or other SLT member who has a whole school responsibility for such things.
3. If we know that children learn ‘academic’ subjects best in the morning and do better in artistic, athletic and creative activities in the afternoon, why don’t we arrange our lessons accordingly?
Time and space, as already noted. Also, as an Arts teacher and practitioner, I’d be somewhat put out by anyone suggesting I could only teach my subject in the afternoon… Many of my most successful Art lessons have been in the mornings. So I’m not sure how much store I would put in the research… Not that I’ve read any of course :) Also, how do you define a ‘creative’ activity? Is History creative? Is Geography? English? Art? Maths? I’d argue that you can be creative in any area. See my now ancient study for the British Film Institute. I still stand by most of that, incidentally.
4. Why must every intervention and way of teaching lead to ‘better results’ (measured, of course, by examination)?
It’s measurable, as much as anything else. And the data can be analyzed. I’m being partly cynical in that response. But only partly.
5. Given that headteachers, colleagues, parents and pupils all know who the very poor teachers are in a school, why is it so difficult to remove them from their extremely important position of responsibility?
It is a very long and arduous journey to encourage a member of staff that perhaps teaching is not the best career for them, but that’s okay. Everyone has to be given every opportunity to make improvements etc. Personally I think some of the problem lies with teacher training courses passing student teachers who are clearly very weak and unsuited. Not that there are not older, more experienced staff who are weak, but heh.
6. Why are politicians in control of the majority of what goes on in education?
Everything is political. A great many things are Political. All educators are political and a great many of them are Political. And how would you fund public resources like education if not from Central Government, and still make it as fair for everyone as possible? I agree that a Parliamentary Democracy has its downsides, but the fracturing of responsibility, of giving increased levels of autonomy at ‘local’ levels is not something I agree with. Where does it end? Chesterton’s ‘The Napoleon Of Notting Hill’ is a marvelous fictional satire on this.
7. What makes a ‘good’ teacher? Should decent results in public retrospectively justify or condemn the methods employed by teachers?
Good teachers are surely those who care about what they do and continually reflect on their practice and strive for improvement. It seems to me that by doing this, ‘decent results’ will inevitably come. If ‘results’ are not good, it seems to me that the stakeholders (line managers, parents, governors, students) are entirely justified in asking why. I should stress however that none of this should be about blame and must always be solution focused. ‘What can I do to improve?’ should always be the primary question.
8. Most private schools do better than state schools. Research shows that this is largely down to smaller class sizes. Why, in a wealthy western world, do we not do something about this?
I have little or no experience or knowledge of Private schools. However on the occasions I have been in some for training courses or conferences I always feel like I have gone back in time twenty or thirty years. Or more…
9. Do students always know what’s best for them? Shouldn’t professionals guide their option choices and advise them based on experience? Has ‘learner voice’ gone too far?
If educators abdicate all responsibility for using their own experience and knowledge and act solely on what students say they want, then they are failing themselves, the student, and the profession. As someone else said, it’s all about balance. Having said that, I remember being sixteen/seventeen and thinking that my parents didn’t know what they were talking about; that I would not ever think the same as them. Oddly enough, as the years go by, I realize that in many, many things they WERE right. But being sixteen/seventeen is all about knowing better than adults and it would be a terribly dull world were it not.