Buccaneer the trends

5th June 2015 at 01:00
Jo Brighouse

When I was at primary school there were no reading books and no reading schemes. These were thought to prohibit our desire to read, so we were left to "discover" reading for ourselves. Luckily, my first teachers weren't convinced by this theory. They kept boxes of reading books concealed behind curtains and continued to teach phonics with the aid of word cards stashed in tobacco tins.

It was against the educational thinking of the era but it worked. I was a fluent reader in no time and my phonics knowledge is still pretty strong (although I can't come across a pipe smoker without wanting to sound out "cat" to them).

I have taught through the rise and fall of countless teaching philosophies. I've practised child-led learning, teacher-led learning and gone from individual reading to guided reading to whole-class reading and back again. I've drawn figures of eight in the air, led meditation and run children around the playground in the middle of writing lessons on the whim of an English coordinator.

Half of what we are made to do is clearly barmy and is often discredited later, which makes me a bit cynical when I hear of a new teaching method that is going to revolutionise education. I'm of the generation that grew up watching Rolf's Cartoon Time and writing letters to Jim'll Fix It. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Maybe it's a backlash against governmental micro-management but I don't remember a time when there were as many new educational theories around. I went online the other day to check out a new way of writing that a colleague had told me about and got sidetracked. After an hour, I had discovered that class displays are vital and pointless; that intuition is the key to success and can't be trusted; that teachers should talk more, shut up more, stand in the corner and communicate only through hand signals. I felt hopelessly inadequate. All this time I've been teaching like a teacher when I should have been teaching like a champion, or a pirate (this is actually a thing).

I discussed my dilemma with a more experienced teacher who reassured me that I probably didn't have to change everything I was doing. She said that newfangled teaching ideas were always being peddled - some were great, some were horse manure.

Research is a good thing, as long as it's understood and applied in context. Start with the kids you have in front of you and do what you believe is best for them. You'll know soon enough if it's working or not. The really strong ideas are cyclical anyway.

So I'm going to carry on refining my current way of doing the job, safe in the knowledge that once every 10 years or so my methods will be the height of fashion.

I might find time to give that pirate thing a whirl, though.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands. She reviews Mike Kent's book A Life At The Chalkface here


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