03 August 2006

On drilling or dancing

A couple of days ago, one of those juxtapositions which really get the reflective juices flowing.

I have been marking some assessments which require the inclusion of schemes of work and session plans. I have been both impressed and appalled by what has been submitted. I'm impressed by the precision of the paperwork, especially the required itemisation of the special needs and learning styles within the class. This one, for example, has "three learners with possible ADHD, and four with possible dyslexia, although none are yet fully assessed." Fine; I have little problem with that. The "little" problem concerns how the pre-emptive labelling is handled, and that is not revealed in the documentation.

Alongside that, we have session/lesson plans which are specified to the minute. Seven minutes to take the register and introduce the objectives of this session. Twelve minutes of PowerPointy presentation of the substance...

I have also just been reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" It's a well-written journalist's book. It betrays its journalistic origins in that any point made more that 1500 words previously has to be re-stated in case it has been forgotten; and it is peppered with quotations from interviews. OK; this guy took the trouble to go and interview his informants, but given that they have (almost) all published their results and findings, why? (OK, we know why--it adds that human touch, he told me, as he stirred his latte with four sugars...) The material was actually covered rather better in 1998 by Guy Claxton.

They come at it from very different angles, but dig beneath the surface, and there are very different views of thinking and learning implicit in these sources. It's easy to see the first as "mechanical". It's the sausage-machine model. Get the teaching right (including all the spuriously reified differentiation of learners--the must-know, should-know, could-know stuff, and the "extension activities" to stop any disruption from learners who manage to finish ahead of schedule) ...and they will learn. "Build it and they will come!" This is a bizarre inversion of the Field of Dreams idea.

In the interests of alliteration, for me it is the "drilling" model. I'm not going to get all touchy-feely romanticised naive-humanistic about this. My experience has been, I admit, mainly in "soft" teaching areas. Not with "soft" students and classes, by any means; but the bottom-line cognitive taxonomy issues have not loomed terribly large. And I know that they count for much more for other teachers, but...

Even in those areas, like teaching law (which is precise and even pedantic) the best laid plans are often waylaid by events (...oh boy! we've just moved into a whole different discourse. I'll leave it with this link) In the real world, as Gladwell suggests, teaching is more like a dance.

Dancing (at which I am very bad) involves (or did until 50 years ago, and I confess to being occicentric here --- hands up if you have encountered that term before) momentary dynamic flexible sensitive response to one's partner.

That's relatively easy one-to-one, of course. One Fred; one Ginger. And they rehearsed! Result--superb craft and perhaps art. One teacher; 30 learners? Can they dance?

It has been done. It is done every day; more often than one might think.

But a drilling ideology will never result in dancing.

So, on the whole, being an optimistic kind of guy; I look at those minute-by-minute session plans and think, "These are bureaucratic fictions". And when I sit in to observe teaching, it worries me if you follow them. OK; the minuet is a very prescribed dance. Oh pursue the analogy for yourself................

Interesting, isn't it?

3 comments:

  1. Renee Meyers9:55 pm

    Yes. I think this analogy (or metaphor) is quite interesting, and a very unique way of thinking about teaching and learning. In this response, I would like to “push” the metaphor just a bit further.

    When one learns to dance, it is actually very mechanical, isn’t it? One must learn a set of steps, ways to move, positions to hold one’s body, etc. Most dances are in many ways very prescribed. There is a certain way to do a waltz which is very different from doing a tango or a salsa or a polka. When one first learns to dance, one is actually “drilling” in order to learn the specific steps and movements. One often practices steps by oneself, in front of a mirror perhaps, to perfect the movements and positions. It is only when one has learned the “drill” that one can actually begin to dance with a partner. Even then, the first few practice sessions are more “drill” than “dance” as both partners try to remember “how to” perform while also listening and responding to their partner’s movements. With time, and patience, and lots of practice, partners are finally able to move beyond the drilling movements to the art. It is only then that they are really dancing.

    So how does this apply to teaching and learning? Well, perhaps students and teachers have to learn to drill before they can dance. That is, students need to learn some basic steps and movements before they can progress into more complex learning (dancing) opportunities. Teachers need to prepare detailed session plans when they teach (especially beginning teachers or those teaching a new subject or class) so that they can learn the basic steps and movements that will allow them eventually to dance.

    So there may well be a place for both drilling and dancing in our classrooms. Indeed, there may actually be a necessity for both in the teaching and learning process. Perhaps the “key” is for a teacher to know when to follow a prescribed lesson plan, and when to abandon it for the actual dance. It is true that one can only really dance if one’s partner also knows how to dance. If students are not ready to dance, then perhaps drilling (or more drilling) is needed. If students never drill, can they ever dance? If teachers don’t know how to dance (teach), then maybe prescribed lesson plans can help to foster that learning process. Without the lesson plan, and some experience using it, can a teacher really respond to his/her students’ attempts to dance?


    I agree that there is lots of classroom “dancing” done every day. That is the wonder of the teaching and learning process. But I would not completely abandon “drilling” as part of that experience. Drilling may well be a precursor to dancing—a necessary (but less pleasant) part of learning to respond flexibly, momentarily, and dynamically to one’s dance partner.

    ReplyDelete
  2. After having completed 18 months of uni and practicum to learn to teach trades in the vocational educational arena after 20 years of training in heavy industry (mininig) then I am utterly appallled at the cavalier attitude displayed to the Holy Grail of the "Lesson Plan".........
    Or basically, you have confirmed, what a learned academic took umbrage at, when I stated I was really a tap dancer when imparting learning to the self regualatory learners of 3d on a Friday afternoon.........

    To Renee and Mr Atherton I seek permission to use your comments as I will be shortly coaching mentoring "newbies" in the art and science of developing learning on internal training courses.
    Thank You

    ReplyDelete
  3. After having completed 18 months of uni and practicum to learn to teach trades in the vocational educational arena after 20 years of training in heavy industry (mininig) then I am utterly appallled at the cavalier attitude displayed to the Holy Grail of the "Lesson Plan".........
    Or basically, you have confirmed, what a learned academic took umbrage at, when I stated I was really a tap dancer when imparting learning to the self regualatory learners of 3d on a Friday afternoon.........

    To Renee and Mr Atherton I seek permission to use your comments as I will be shortly coaching mentoring "newbies" in the art and science of developing learning on internal training courses.
    Thank You

    ReplyDelete

Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.