Let’s not wait until the iceberg melts

July 1, 2009 at 11:32 am 4 comments

Icebergs small

Last night my 11 year old son told me that he had gone from hating history at school to loving it. When I asked him why, he said that he now had a good teacher. I haven’t yet quizzed him, as I will, on his perceptions of what was bad about the previous teaching and what is now good, but it is interesting that he makes that distinction. In my view teaching in a way that is interesting and motivating is not just desirable, but should be required of every teacher. I admire and respect teachers for undertaking a difficult job and when it is right in enhancing a child’s life. But I abhor bad teaching because of the serious harm it can do.

If we want to know what is good teaching or bad teaching we just have to talk to the young people who are being taught. They know what they like and don’t like, they know what switches them on and what turns them off. And we should listen to what they have to tell us about this and do something about it, even when we hear stuff outside our comfort zones.

As parents we celebrate each child’s individuality even if it’s only to extent of ‘he’s got his fathers eyes, but his mother’s nose’. Yet we force them to endure an education that expects uniformity, that expects an 11 year old to achieve the same standards in the same subjects as their 12 year old mates, or a class of 30 to express equal interest in all things.

We do this not because of any considered philosophy of education, but purely through means of practicality. How else can we ‘control’ a class of 30, a year of 120, but by imposing strict criteria on required outcomes.

My son also recently had a science test coming up and was told by his teacher to revise for it. That’s all. Not any guidance of how to revise, what to revise, even where to look for advice. Just ‘go away and revise’. Oh yes. There was some advice to try BBC bitesize, but not to do everything there because it was not all relevant.

That evening I caught him in our front room aimlessly flicking through the various folders of the work he had undertaken during the year not really knowing where to start, which things to concentrate on.

And then he asked me if I would test him so he could get an idea of what he knew best and importantly what he knew least. This is ‘assessment for learning’, a concept that he arrived at of his own volition, understanding that finding out the gaps in his own understanding could give him a structure for revision.

Unfortunately his teacher had not had the foresight to arm his pupils with some past tests in order that they could test their understanding in this way, but we were able to find some appropriate stuff online. In fact BBC bitesize was not the most helpful or structured. Many more structured resources were to be found on other sites simply by Googling ‘Year 7 science tests’.

Why do I say all this? Two reasons. Firstly on the question of practicality we do have the opportunity to really, seriously deliver (or I prefer to say ‘allow’) ‘personalised learning’ by appropriate use of digital technology. Going online to find appropriate revision materials is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Secondly, young people are wholly capable of being properly engaged in the debate about their own learning. So let’s ask them, listen to them, trust them, believe them, and act on what we hear.

And instead of just fiddling around the edges let’s do it now before they lose interest and before the global warmed digital iceberg disappears.


Entry filed under: Childrens, Digital teknology, Personalisation, Pupil voice, Teaching, Testing, Young people.

Play the ‘Mock the week’ Ofsted exam game Adding layers of discontent

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gill Strawford  |  October 5, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I’d like to see it taken a step further into pupil assessment of teachers. ‘Assessment of Teaching’ by the pupils. There are some cracking teachers who transform a subject and pupils learn and love it! How are those teachers recognised and rewarded? How can their success be spread to other teachers?

    • 2. Lulu Saldin  |  October 5, 2009 at 9:06 pm

      There are such practices in place in some schools. My last school had a ‘School Council’ made up of pupil representatives from all yeargroups. They hold regular minuted meetings with management, and are included on interview panels for new teachers, They also carry out lesson observations (after appropriate training) and present constructive feedback to the teacher observed. They bring concerns and share good news regarding the quality of teaching accross the curriculum to their meetings.. In addition to this, departments issue all pupils with a feedback form (usually termly), which they can complete anonymously if they wish, with questions such as ‘What has worked well for you this term/what did you like/not like/find difficuult/what kind of activities did you enjoy the most/the least/what would you like to see more of/what do you consider were the barriers to your learning this term, etc etc. It was all very laudable from the pupil-centred learning angle, but inevitably there were staff who felt threatened – just one more encroachment on their ‘territory’, one more threat to their position of responsibility and authority. So you are not just up against the decision makers at government level, there is also a generation of teachers who think this is a ‘step too far’, and will resist such changes in approach.

  • 3. Mick Landmann  |  October 5, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    My vision, Gill, is one in which pupils select from a range of resources, including teachers. They will nly select the teachers they perceive as being good. The others will have to either learn how to make their teaching ‘good’ by observing what their popular peers are doing, or simply become redundant.

  • 4. Mick Landmann  |  October 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Completely agree with you Lulu. In fact I would go further and say that as well as being up against decision makers at government level, who clearly have no idea what they are doing, and being up against those teachers who are being protective of their positions, we are also up against those parents who simply wish to maintain the status quo in respect of their children’s education.

    There is a long journey ahead yet.


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