Chalk and talk

Good lessons need space as well as pace, writes Phil Revell.

Ever climbed a mountain with a dedicated walker - one who strides ahead giving a commentary on the view while you lag behind wondering who pinched one of your lungs?

It's all about "pace", a word that passed into eduspeak in the early 1990s. Ofsted was terribly keen on pace. Teachers were exhorted to put pace into their lessons - three minutes for the introduction, five for the resume. All this involved changes of activity so children doing creative writing would be asked to follow the muse for 10 minutes, then break off to report back in groups.

Lessons without pace were said to lack rigour, and to be slack and insipid. And some were. We are all ex-pupils, and the lesson in which the teacher droned interminably is all too familiar, much like those made up entirely of brisk dictation. Lessons that ignored ability range and simply lobbed nuggets of knowledge somewhere into the middle ground left the bright and the less able equally frustrated. Pace was the answer to this problem, and the literacy hour was the Government's stamp of approval.

Yet the history of education echoes with the sound of babies being flung out with bathwater, and disciples of the new policy should remember that the term "pace" can be prefixed by the adjectives "fast" and "slow". Anyone who has been spellbound by a good storyteller will know the value of allowing time for unstructured listening, without the need to reflect or report back in groups. I don't think Shakespeare's sonnets were composed in 10-minute writing sessions either, or that da Vinci's designs came out of regular planning reviews.

Lessons do need pace, but they also need space for pupils to follow their interests. And teachers need to build space into their lessons to ensure that the weakest learners don't get left behind. It's a crime to leave bright children twiddling their thumbs, but an equal offence if struggling learners never get to finish anything because the teacher always wants to move on.

On the mountain, the skilled leader makes sure the huffers and puffers also enjoy the climb. They know that reaching the summit isn't the only goal - how you get there matters too.

phil.revell@ukonline.co.uk

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