It turns out that I was right…

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Yesterday I was at #PedagooLondon and I attended David Didau’s session which was entitled ‘You’re wrong!’. He challenged many areas in teaching that we perceive to be ‘right’ and proposed that in fact they may well be ‘wrong’.

One area he looked at was testing students and how frequently we do this in relation to the actual teaching/input.

To put my teaching in context I teach two subjects that are 100% exam. I have always believed that to prepare a student for an exam we must make them do exams.

As I explained to a colleague the other day, if you were training for a basketball shoot out, yes, you may spend time getting fit, stretching your muscles, working out where to stand and what angle to throw, but surely you should spend most of your time actually throwing hoops? When you miss the hoop, spend time working out why. Get someone else to watch and offer advice. Keep practicing. Keep throwing hoops. So when the shoot out arrives, you’re so used to throwing the ball, it becomes second nature. You know what a ball looks like. You know what a hoop looks like. You know what to expect. You know the ‘rules’ of success.

Consequently, particularly in my option subject teaching, where I get more time, a substantial part of lessons and learning come from doing practice exam questions and papers.

Yes, sometimes it is boring and I when I have piles and piles of papers to mark I wonder why I do it this way. But I do it because I believe it works. It is the right thing to do.

I once had an Ofsted inspector say to me “What’s the obsession with exams?” Other than nearly punching him for an utterly ridiculous question, holding back not slagging off the Government for things called ‘league tables’ it made me feel really bad. Should I not be doing this? Is it ‘wrong’ to prepare students for the thing that will determine 100% of their grade?

Some people might argue its ‘teaching to the test’ implying that that in some way that is wrong. So, yesterday’s session got me thinking what would make that wrong.

The implication is that if you teach to the test, there is no enjoyment, there is no real learning, you limit the breadth of knowledge for students and that you’re not teaching students to be ‘independent’.

I disagree. My student perception, feedback to my face and parental comments at parents evening tell me otherwise. many tell me it’s their favourite subject. They tell me they use the skills from my lesson in other subjects so they must have learnt something in order to transfer the skills.
An ex student emailed me from university. She told me that what we covered in the lessons formed part of her year 1 law degree and she had a huge advantage other her peers in terms of understanding. She also said she spent her time teaching them what I had taught her.
The teaching part of the course can be done in any way you want. That can be totally independent or teacher led. It can be book based or using videos. It doesn’t matter! It’s how you use the gained knowledge and skills that it important.

It would seem my teaching in this way doesn’t limit the students.

And finally to results. They’re fantastic. I teach year 10/11 students an AS level over two years. They’re an able cohort by definition. However, last year’s group achieved 70% A-C at AS level. In some cases these students did not even achieve a ‘C’ at GCSE level, including in core subjects.

So, if you were a Head teacher with knowledge of all of this teaching, learning and results in this subject in your school, what would you do with me/the subject?

Or maybe, I’m just totally wrong…….

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