Every lesson should find its own pace

26th October 2012 at 01:00

The parallels between fast food and modern education are almost too obvious.

Teachers complain that the test-driven culture in schools can force them to chop their subjects into bite-sized chunks. Like staff in McDonald's they can feel trapped into following a narrow script, churning the material out fast then moving on to the next customer.

The menu can seem monotonous and looks exactly the same wherever you go in England and Wales.

For the young customers it fills a gap but can feel unsatisfying and forgettable. And it leaves adults worrying that there is something deeply unhealthy about the whole thing.

I mention McDonald's, incidentally, not because they are any worse or better than Burger King or KFC - they just happen to be the only restaurant chain to have run management training days for headteachers, establishing an actual link between approaches to fast food and education.

Given the obvious parallels, it is easy to see why "slow education" is gaining ground. The campaign is directly inspired by the Slow Food movement, a Continental revolt against the dominance of burger chains and microwaveable meals.

Slow Education provides a handy label for the deeper, richer types of learning many teachers want to provide. It places the teacher in the role of master chef, rather than burger-flipper.

But does Slow Education have to be slow? A lesson could be pacy (to use a word Ofsted loves) and still have depth.

It would also be wrong to ignore altogether the research done by Monkseaton High School in Whitley Bay on "spaced learning". Its approach, where pupils are taught test-relevant material in 10-minute intensive blasts, looks like the very epitome of fast education. However, it would be wrong to remove all such weapons from teachers' armouries if they work.

As with food, there is a lot to be said for the slower, healthier option - but sometimes you may just really fancy a burger.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro

michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

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