I didn't learn a lot

10th February 2012 at 00:00

We've just had a twilight session entitled "What is learning?" I suspect that if we spent a bit more time delivering it and less time defining it, we would be top of the Pisa charts and the kids would be able to write "Class 5" without contemplating an apostrophe. But apparently we need two hours and a full staff turnout to agree what we mean by the term.

Cue tray-bakes from Costco and a preview screening of the boss's epic new teaching and learning policy. Since the size of the Inset buffet correlates directly with the content of its session, I knew we were in for a tough time. A couple of Twiglets and you're in for a quickie; but a sea of Danish pastries tells you to pull on your compression socks and prepare for a long-haul night.

The obvious problem with asking teachers to define what they mean by "learning" is that they will simply grope for the nearest metaphor. And the farther they are from English, the more ludicrous their choice. We non-scientists wouldn't dream of playing fast and loose with the periodic table. But thanks to my colleagues, learning became a light bulb, a journey, an adventure, a bicycle, a spark plug, a map, a lava lamp, a fondue set and a yellow brick road to Oz. I'm hoping that the last three were the design and technology lot taking the piss, otherwise I need to find a new job.

Oddly, my husband has just had a similarly unsettling experience. He was attending a training workshop in London where attendees were invited to sit on the floor. The fact that the men initially resisted while the women happily complied was commented on by the female facilitator, who explained that this was "because women are more rooted to the Earth". My husband wanted to set fire to her and I would have handed him the match.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. And this whole "What is learning?" thing really gets my goat. We are no longer allowed to say that learning is what happens when we teach because that's like saying you believe the Earth is flat and women look nicer in wimples. Nowadays learning has everything to do with everything else, and nothing to do with the teacher, which is just as well since, apparently, many of us are too scruffy and inadequate to command authority. What schools need are disciplined professionals: the sort who like marching, summer camps, accordion sing-songs and hiking in the Alps.

The other thing I hate about Inset sessions is the group finale where we are invited to describe what learning looks like in our lessons and some poor sod has to record it like it's the Lindisfarne Gospels. Management is secretly hoping for some kind of miracle formula, like your nana's secret recipe that reliably transforms a cup of sugar and a knob of butter into mouth-watering toffee. But there's no such thing. Learning happens in our classrooms when the deputy head gets his finger out and puts the bad lads on report, and IT get off their arses and finally fix your projector. That's when kids learn best.

The principal finished the session by announcing a "war on froth". Ever since Ofsted declared that the tigers of froth are less effective than the horses of progression, we've been told to replace our flashy animated weapons of mass instruction with tools to calibrate learning.

"Progression," said the boss without the faintest flicker of irony, "is the way forward."

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

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