I know that it is a fool’s errand to try and argue with anything that Old Andrew says, for fear of being called a phonics denialist, Gorilla, or enemy of promise reinforcing low expectations in the face of “all the evidence”. Well, here goes…
In making “The Case against Michael Gove” our anonymous blogger makes the following argument about what is currently wrong with the teaching profession:
Nobody is going to rise up the ranks in teaching for saying that the highest priority is the recall of knowledge and that teachers should explicitly teach knowledge without regard to whether it is enjoyable.
There is nuance to this argument, so let me make something plain – I am not against teaching knowledge. I am all for explicitly teaching knowledge. But teaching anything without regard to whether it is enjoyable? Yikes. In my book, that is bad teaching. Anyone who plans a lesson without regard to whether it is enjoyable should, in my view, think again.
Don’t misunderstand me, please. I accept that there are some parts of our curriculum, no matter what subject you teach, which are really hard to make “fun” but are nonetheless critically important. Sometimes, in front of class, we have to say: “you know what, you just have to learn this, so let’s get on with it as painlessly as possible.” I know this. I accept this. I teach like this. But that is very different to teaching without regard to whether it is enjoyable. That is the result of a planning process where I have decided, after careful thought, that the most effective way of getting this learning across is through simple direct instruction and cyclical reinforcement. You just need to know this.
It’s also important to state that I’m not a “progressive” in that I’m all for direct instruction. I believe direct instruction is a vital part of the teacher’s repertoire. But direct instruction is not incompatible with enjoyment, surely? Some of the best teachers I have worked with can hold a class rapt as they talk, from the front, for half an hour on a key learning point, enthusing and carrying the learners with them as they probe and develop their understanding. Students can walk away from lessons like that with their heads spinning with new ideas, and have really enjoyed the experience.
My point is this – children should enjoy learning. Instinctively, they do; everybody does. But this enjoyment needs to be nurtured or it will flicker and fail. Not at the expense of high expectations, but in conjunction with them. One of my favourite blogs at the moment is Rachel Jones‘ newly-revamped CreateInnovateExplore, which is full of posts where she looks to try and engage students in their learning by finding a way to make the content memorable and – yes – fun. I was first hooked as she hand-made a parachute so that her students could bounce revision questions around to one another. Of course, it would have been easier and more time-efficient to sit them in rows and just ask them the questions, but classrooms should be about more than that. The same is true of Lisa Jane Ashes’ Thought-Bombing, or Isabella Wallace’s Poundland Pedagogy, or so many other examples of teachers planning with enjoyment in mind.
I do not think that fun should be the point of the lesson. “Can we just have a fun lesson today?” is student-speak for “can I opt out of actually learning anything?” My stock response is always “every lesson with me is packed full of fun, so turn to page 394.” No, learning should always be the point of the lesson, and if the learning gets lost then the lesson is unsuccessful. But if I can find a way to make the learning engaging, “stickable“, pleasant and, yes, enjoyable then I’m going to use it.
Of course, I am a Deputy Head. I do agree with Old Andrew on much of his argument beyond the enjoyment point: “while good leadership is so important to schools, bad leadership will only become more toxic as the power of SMT is increased” does ring true to me. But good leadership to me includes valuing, praising and encouraging teachers who can engage, motivate and inspire young people not just with the knowledge and skills they need, but with the enjoyment and pleasure that taking on the challenge of learning brings.