The Educational Cat-Walk

It’s seems that education is littered with initiatives, ideas and approaches that were once heralded as the ‘big new thing’ only to be derided a couple of years later because a new initiative has usurped its predecessor. Not unlike a fashion Cat-Walk, educational fads and fashions come and go; one day it’s fashionable to follow the trend, the next it’s positively cool to hate it! 

Take the following examples; VAK and Mini-Plenaries. In their pomp they were the mainstay of all ‘outstanding’ lessons but a quick scan of Twitter will soon find tweets mocking the idea of VAK and the idea that mini-plenaries show progress. Of course some of the tweets make perfect sense, trying to pigeon hole students as ‘Visual’ learners is a dangerous thing to do, it can lead students to believe they can’t learn from listening, that can never be right! However, whilst VAK is certainly out of fashion, it would be foolish to ignore it entirely; few would deny that trying to plan a lesson using a multi sensory approach is wrong; indeed it can inspire pupils to engage with learning, help contextualise lessons and make the whole learning experience more memorable. 

Mini-plenaries have suffered a similar fate. The name is a little silly (in our opinion) but helping pupils to reflect on their learning, questioning their understanding and adapting lessons to meet their needs is never a bad thing. The problem faced by mini plenaries was their association with Ofsted gradings ;it therefore became the ‘must have’ accessory for any lesson – whether it was necessary or not! Lessons may or may not need such a plenary, it should be for the teacher to decide – the idea that a lesson must have one has led to the mini-plenary being heckled from the sidelines. This is a little unfair – used wisely and perhaps without the silly ‘label’ – talking to students about their learning can support great progress. 

The next ‘big thing’ it seems is mastery. And we’re all on the bandwagon! Schools across the country want the latest ‘Mastery’ range and the word is popping up on planning, assessment and CPD. One thing we’re clear on is that the approach is not a bad idea, we just don’t like the name. I also take issue with using it as part of new assessment labels – how do we really know a student has mastered anything? 

What does mastery mean? 
Ask ten professionals and you’ll get ten different answers. So what’s the real answer? Has anyone mastered mastery? Our take is simple – it’s about the depth of learning, it’s about going beyond knowledge. (I can already hear people shouting ‘progressive nonsense’) Of course knowledge is critical, after all, pupils needs this as a vehicle on which to think. It’s seems maths departments across the land have taken mastery to heart and why not? When done well pupils knowledge and understanding is enriched, they’re challenged, they get confused (we believe this is important because it can drive curiosity) and learning is deeper. As a result the learning sticks and that’s what we all want – not only that, the transferable skills/habits (I’m aware this phrase is unfashionable at the moment) pupils develop whilst they’re comparing, analysing and debating will, over time, become more valuable that the answers on the worksheet. At present were working on some approaches to mastery using Bloom’s taxonomy as a scaffold on which to plan learning. Again, Bloom’s Taxonomy is divisive; popular with some whilst others dismiss it. 

Our point being is this; educational initiatives, ideas, approaches shouldn’t be like a fashion parade. They should be seen for what they are; the thoughts and research of others, the result of tried and tested practice or simply someone’s hunch. Our job as educators is to critically evaluate them, use them (or not) and try to get the very best out of the student we teach. Be brave, go with what you believe, whether the idea is ‘fashionable’ or not or whether the idea is 2, 5 or 50 years old. It’s your classroom! 

The Thought Weavers.


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