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Making a meal out of lessons

A GROUP of heads strolled along to a training session on how to identify good teachers.

Enter, stage right, chap with armful of overhead projector transparencies, stopwatch, written schedule: three minutes to talk about slide 4a, 90 seconds for slide 12b.

"Flustered" was the word used afterwards to describe his performance. It seemed the ultimate irony that the person purporting to be an expert on the identification of effective teaching was himself a poor exponent of it.

Even worse was the reason for his downfall: practising the current belief that teaching is merely a formula, reducible to a dreary sequence of pre-timed globs, detached from any context, unresponsive to audience (unless it says so in the handbook).

It reminded me of the errors made by some trainee teachers who, through lack of experience and confidence, feel obliged to stick like superglue to their lesson plan, irrespective of how it is progressing.

"What do you do if children throw paper aeroplanes at you?", I was once asked by a student teacher with discipline problems. It was like a head teacher wondering what to do if 400 pupils storm the platform during assembly. "Run like hell" is the answer, but once in a safe sanctuary, work out why it happened.

In this case, the hapless student had pre-planned 20 minutes during which to introduce her worksheet. In reality, five minutes would have been plenty but she was so worried about running out of material before the end of the lesson that she flogged on, against the evidence of her own eyes, as bored pupils turned worksheets into flight craft and floated them around the room.

Effective teaching is dynamic and responsive, not static and over-programmed. Should every lesson end with 15 minutes of review, as some advocates of the robotic approach suggest?

It would be death by a thousand revisions.

A heavy session on Boyle's Law might well merit this amount of review, but different topics could require regular shorter revisions along the way. I often end lessons with one or more questions: "Do you know why . . . ? You don't? We'll find out tomorrow".

This, and other appraches, are not always in the androids' handbook. There is an argument, of course, that atomising something too finely, like our friend with his armful of transparencies did, is not only an unsuccessful strategy, but may even confuse people about what they already know.

Some subjects are best learned in discrete bits, others need a more global approach.

Here is my pre-programmed course on how to make something familiar, in this case eating a meal, a touch more formidable by dismembering it.

I shall leave out numerous steps for simplicity.

Preliminary set-up (15 seconds): (1) Approach table, (2) pull back chair approximately one metre, (3) move to front of chair, (4) lower bum until resistance encountered, (5) shuffle forward to comfortable position (see separate handbook for definition of "comfort" and on approved method of performing this operation), (6) thank meal server for presentation of food or serve self using implements provided and following methods in handbook.

Consolidation and empowerment (30 seconds): (6) Take fork handle (not pronged end) in left hand, (7) grasp knife handle (not blade) in right hand, using Thoroughgood's index finger grip (Steinberg's penholder variant not permitted), (8) visually select first piece of food to be tasted, (9) insert fork to a depth of up to one centimetre, (10) draw knife backwards and forwards across food four times, (11) sever bite-sized piece.

Consumption (10 minutes): (12) Using fork only, transfer severed food from plate surface to mouth (orifice immediately below nose), (13) open mouth and insert food, (14) close mouth and bring upper and lower jaw together 30 times (meat), ten times (mashed potato), 0 times (school lunch, just close eyes and swallow whole, inserting two Rennies immediately), (15) repeat process until plate clear, (16) on conclusion, slide either side of knife across tongue (working class diners only), or emit noisy explosion of wind from mouth, saying "By gum, that were a decent bit o' snap" (Yorkshiremen only).

A full set of OHP transparencies is available.

I hope you enjoy your pre-programmed cock-up au vin.

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