The learning cycle

7th March 2008 at 00:00
Teaching A-level is like riding a bike: once learnt it's an indulgent trip in a fine breeze. You can admire the view, occasionally back-pedal and after your first year, it's downhill (in a purely positive sense) all the way. But teaching at key stage 4, getting a large group of working class kids through GCSEs, can be like unicycling while juggling with fire.

But that's another bugbear of mine - the bloody word "teaching". Please, take the emphasis off yourself, "the teacher", and think about the 30 impressionable folk in front of you, yes, "the learners". What goes through their minds when that geek stands in front of them on a wet Wednesday morning: blah blah noun, blah blah adjective. I doubt it's a profound learning experience.

I spent three days at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham at the height of the summer holidays. Amid the ensuite rooms, excellent food and courtesy coach to The Trip to Jerusalem (a pub, not a metaphysical experience), I learnt a few frightening statistics and a bit about emotional intelligence. In the first half hour of any lesson, the teacher speaks for 95 per cent of the time and 90 per cent of questions are asked by teachers. Is that how you've done most of the in-depth learning in your life? No, it isn't. Think about the most insightful learning moments of your life. I doubt it was in a lecture. Maybe it was a family crisis, maybe when your senses were bombarded with new music, colour and movement. It was not, surely, when someone stood in front of you spouting information.

And my point? Forget whiteboards emblazoned with, "by the end of this lesson I will have ... ". Leave that ellipsis dangling and let the kids complete it themselves. Returning back to my cycling simile, yes, you'll need to give them a map and a compass, but let them decide where they're going; let them question and let them think. Whatever you do, don't be their sat-nav device. Let them take a few wrong turns because they'll learn loads more and all 30 of you will enjoy an unforgettable ride.

Genevieve Lovegrove, Head of English, King Edward VII School, Coalville in Leicestershire.

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