Anne Thrope (Ms) The dark side of the whiteboard - God save us from experts

30th April 2010 at 01:00

There are three tell-tale signs that your colleagues have too much time on their hands: laminated colour resources, animated PowerPoints and matching shoes and handbags. Generally speaking, the heavier the timetable, the more ill-attired the teacher. My department is sartorially split: while our advanced skills teachers look like catwalk princesses, the rest of us ordinary mortals bumble around in polyester tops even Ann Widdecombe would baulk at.

On one particularly frenzied morning last term, I arrived wearing odd shoes: the same size and shape, but sadly a different colour. I managed to survive the day only by screening one foot behind a well-placed paper recycling box. Another colleague with a similarly onerous timetable regularly comes in wearing her breakfast. We are vying for the worst-dressed teacher of the year award. She may well win. On our last non-uniform day, she played her ace card: a Mighty Boosh T-shirt twinned with tangerine maxiskirt and the dippy part of an egg.

But when senior management teams have too much time on their hands, it is the curriculum and not their wardrobes that get a spring clean. Recently, ours have been sprucing up the thinking curriculum. Our old thinking-skills vocabulary is now in a cardboard box on its way to a car boot sale while a new dictionary of gleaming terminology has taken its place. I suspect this innovative pedagogical re-brand may have been put together by the people who decided it would benefit humanity to turn Jif into Cif.

As a result, we are now teaching our pupils to use the key point tool (the thinking tool formerly known as spider diagram), the key point plus tool (aka mind map) and the sequencing tool (hitherto known as the flow chart). We have also introduced the slightly more edgy comparing tool (the bastard love child of a double bubble chart and a licentious Venn diagram).

As you may imagine, these developments have caused confusion among children who struggle to remember their dinner money let alone complex lexical fields. While pupils will eventually benefit from our whole-school adoption of a shared language to describe these cognitive tools, in the short term our thinking curriculum lessons owe more to an episode of 'Allo 'Allo than to the promotion of any higher-order skills. While we toe the party line, explaining cognitive processes and sketching out cause and effect diagrams on our whiteboards, pupils can be heard muttering "What is that?", "Oh, it is a wonky spider diagram" before losing interest and reverting to forging their parents' signatures in their planners.

Last week I modelled a sophisticated key point tool on the board and wrote in capitals: THIS IS NOT A SPIDER DIAGRAM. Somewhere in the deeper recesses of my mind stirred the memory of Magritte's painting of the pipe with the provocative phrase Ceci n'est pas une pipe beneath it.

I was so struck by the bizarreness of what we were doing that the old light bulb joke came to mind. "How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?" The answer is, of course, "a fish." It made me wonder how many thinking-curriculum consultants it would take - one to identify the cognitive processes, one to invent a toolkit and a third to ship it to the QCA. Alternatively, given how surreal "thinking about thinking" has become, the answer might be a spider.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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