Moments of magic cannot be measured

19th February 2010 at 00:00

It seems that teachers are no longer encouraged to have unrecorded moments of delicious inspiration in their classrooms. Everything that happens there has to fit with the "tick-tick-we've-done-that" routine, minuted, filed and signposted stages as steps on the Journey to Excellence.

Having to shoehorn moments of successful learning into an outcome or an experience diminishes the engagement of the pupils. Yet perplexingly, Curriculum for Excellence is overloaded with outcomes and lacking in clearly-delineated three-dimensional experiences.

There is no magic in an approach which measures everything that happens in the classroom. I recently read Building the Curriculum 5 and, as with tripe, the appeal is lost on me. The lexicon is pallid and substance is lacking. The document numbs the frontal lobes and moves us forward not an iota, because it scarcely makes a single concrete statement.

How then do we find the sparkle and the verve which signal pupils thrilled with the sheer joy of the learning experience? Two recent events in my school facilitated these snap, crackle, pop moments of epiphany. A Burns Supper for staff and S6 pupils will be remembered as a thoroughly- enjoyable evening. The lasting memory will not be of the traditional format of meal, speeches, music and dancing, fine though all of that was, but of a spontaneous camaraderie between teachers and pupils.

That sense of warm bonding outside the classroom creates the connections to make it possible to teach practically anything in the classroom. Such empathy can't be generated by anything other than a mutual regard for what it means to be human. That collaboration comes when pupils see their teachers modelling the best of social skills in terms of communication, personal warmth and enthusiasm for their subjects. Ethos and curriculum converge harmoniously.

The other occasion was a motivational talk given to our senior school by Jamie Andrew, the Scottish mountaineer who, in 1999, had his hands and feet amputated, following a horrific accident on Les Droites in the French Alps. I watched their faces as our pupils processed the inspirational words of a man who has successfully returned to his passion of climbing, even making an ascent of Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in 2004.

His incredible survival instincts shone through everything he said. You could sense he was touching hearts and stimulating minds. He challenged his audience as he described how he overcame one obstacle after another. Maybe his most moving observation was that our greatest limitations are the ones we impose on ourselves.

And that's just it. Curriculum for Excellence, with its lack of substance and guidance, is frustrating teachers and impeding progress for pupils. Policy-makers in the highest echelons of Scottish education need to address the complete absence of exemplification.

If Jamie Andrew can achieve it during a two-hour lecture, and an event like a Burns Supper can encapsulate it in an evening, then surely it is not too much to ask for the present empty experiences of the documents to be exemplified so that the pupils are enriched by their encounter with Curriculum for Excellence.

Like the snow, the endless documents keep falling, covering us in deep drifts of empty talk and failing to find the transformation in education that we aspire to. It's easier to talk of a radical game than to play one. But someone needs to.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology in Forres Academy.

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