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Mind fudge: my problem with the traditional v progressive thing

Now, I have to admit that I don't spend very much time reading a lot of theory, nor with engaging with the traditional versus progressive debate.  I'm simply a teacher and school leader who tries to do the best for young people.  I'm all for debate, as a geographer, the subject I adore comes under constant attack and us colourer-inners love nothing more than to gaze at our navels whilst enjoying a post pebble counting pint.  As a geographer though, I am aware of the many paradigm shifts that have occurred and shaped our discipline. Such shifts are not restricted to geography.  The subject has looked at the same phenomenon thought different lenses for ages and it is foolish to believe that anything is done independent of values or philosophy. It's what makes life interesting, wriggling through the different levels of debate.

From what I can see, much of the debate stems from the differences in pedagogy.  I have to admit that, although I was encouraged to use such things during teacher training, I have never really:

  • Used learning styles, thinking hats or brain gym.
  • Made students write down learning objectives. Ever.
  • Assumed that secondary school children need to 'discover' learning.
  • I'm not child centered, most probably.
  • Ever really used mini-plenaries every 20 or so minutes. Unless of course, being observed. You see, I figured out early how to jump through hoops and put on a show.  
At times, I have spoken for every last second of a lesson without asking questions (As a Welshman this comes easy).  Sometimes I have used:
  • Thunks
  • Group enquiries
  • Shed loads of technology - why wouldn't I make my life easier? I even sent out a bunch of students with iPads during an Ofsted inspection and insured that one of my colleagues took the Lead went up on to the roof.
  • I'm a great believer in a traditional approach to behaviour management with clear routines. Mainly because you have to in order to get on to the really cool stuff!
  • Stuck on a video with a fairly low level task (that I mark afterwards) while I spend the double lesson having an individual conversation with each student in the class.
  • I even use, (deep breath) textbooks.  Blimey.  Better sit down. (why waste time finding resources when I can have a glass of red wine in the evening and use someone else's stuff?)
I've never really believed in the 'busy' classroom but in students writing a lot and doing a lot of work.  I believe in them practicing a lot.  What I believe in is that I'll use whatever it is that will work.  I know what will work because I have always looks at the work produced and used carefully crafted assessments to figure out where I'm going wrong. You see, it isn't usually the students at all.

So, I use whatever pedagogy works.  

The trouble I have with the debate is that where others see two camps, I see a continuum.  I slide up and down it at a variety of timescales.  It's like being the Dr Who of pedagogical goodness.  I'll vary during a lesson; between different classes in the same year group and certainly over the whole year, unit or GCSE course.

Sometimes, taking a certain approach is just knackering and unsustainable.  But, I suppose, I am the teacher who gave his Year 10 class a mock examination on the last day of the Autumn term.

I believe that strong subject knowledge and the ability to build effective relationships with children are the most essential tasks.  To be able to show a bit of humility and humour.  If my non-teaching mates saw me in school, they would accuse me of being an imposter.  I think it was a post by Rachel Jones that spoke of teachers wearing different masks.

Thing is, I also believe that schools are more than the sum of their classrooms.  They are interdependent communities woven into the fabric of the local area and the personalities of the staff and students. The other stuff is very important too.  See me teaching in the outdoors and you'll see a very traditional approach. After all, it won't do to have young people falling off cliffs and dying. No, not even those ones.

In terms of teaching:
  •  a strong leadership and vision is required.  This includes the critical decision of what to teach.  The how is less important.  Teacher knowledge of both the subject and subject assessment is paramount. Assess those in your team and if knowledge is lacking, sort the CPD and badger your line manager until you get what you need.
  • Figure out how you'll monitor the quality of teaching to support teachers.
  • Start with assessment. Teachers must have an understanding of what they are aiming to get young people to do.  What skills, understanding and knowledge do children need to grapple with.
  • Most importantly, use what is known to work. Seek out the proof and not the anecdote. Every classroom should be a research centre.  Accept that some pedagogical approaches will work for others and not for you.
  • Understand that there is a beautiful struggle for education. Learning shouldn't be easy. It should be hard and young people of all prior attainment profiles should be pushed hard.
  • Get GCSE stuff in early and raise expectations through the roof. Young people have the resilience to meet it and we have the knowledge and skill to support those that can't. The worse thing to do is teach to the bottom. 
  • Model. Complete the activities yourself and write with and in front of students. Turn the projector off and craft things together.
  • Get a routine down - behaviour is really everything. The first 10 minutes of a lesson are critical.
  • Treat every lesson as a new lesson. We are the adults and whilst we need to challenge behaviour, we also have to be consistent. 
  • Understand that it's all about whizz-bang-humdrum ratio.  It's not about lessons at all but sequences of lessons.  Some activities will take more than one lesson to do.
At the end of the day: plan, do, review

So, you may think I'm a total loon with no place in education at all; who is doing irreparable damage to the young people of our land, but I'm a prog-trad continuum slider.  I use what works for the best of my students and I've always taken everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.  After all, just doing what one is told is a massive waste of effort.  The most important thing is that healthy debate continues because teachers need to think and have a philosophy of their own.

As a final thought, if it truly is a debate then it should be conducted in a proper manner over a pint or coffee.

Photo Credit from Flickr.


  1. Genius, now how do we get every teacher to have the same confidence? Not sure we have that much beer.

    1. Thanks Stuart. I'm not sure, but I suspect that it starts with school leaders simplifying expectations.


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