Real learning is a risky business

20th September 1996 at 01:00
As Philip Gammage mentions in his article (TES Primary Update, September 6) "good learning is about questioning answers rather than answering questions".

Teachers and children both need to have time to reflect on what they are doing. Children should be encouraged to raise questions. Teachers should help children to formulate the correct questions in order to help them learn. Teachers should also have time to reflect or ask pertinent questions to improve their effectiveness. A good learning environment must be a questioning environment for all. Questions should be at the heart of any primary school curriculum and all planning should involve the children in the formulation and answering of questions. If children are fully involved in the process of education, planning, teaching and evaluation, then good learning will take place.

My concern over the past five years has been that we teachers, have had so little time to involve the children fully. In order to carry out the reflection which is desperately needed, we all need time. Teachers need time to consider the curriculum which they must adapt for their class, children need time to consider and share with the teacher what they already know and what they need to know next, parents need time to talk to their children about their learning. Above all, they all need time to evaluate what they have learned.

I believe that content has an importance as there are certain elements of our culture which we need to pass on to our children and, therefore, it is not enough to merely concentrate on the process. It is important, however, for teachers to reflect on whether or not the factual knowledge means anything to the children. By asking the right questions and helping children to ask those questions, too the content can come alive.

This means that we need to do a lot less and do it better. The content of the national curriculum is still far too ambitious for all age groups and should be drastically reduced.

The advent of accountability, under the Office for Standards in Education inspection scheme, has mitigated against reflection. To be truly reflective with children one must take risks. Who is going to take risks when one is being measured against set criteria of efficiency and effectiveness judged by strangers who one will meet for three or four days once every four or five years? At worst, the reflective school will stand still for the period of an OFSTED inspection which could mean two or three terms, when the full process is taken into account.

People learn best in an atmosphere of trust where the ability to learn from mistakes is accepted as a major part of learning. We have all been "level 6" teachers (the current measure for unacceptable professionals) at least once and will continue to be if we are interested in real learning. Real learning is not safe. To learn anything new we all jump into unknown territory. Children make that jump every day with a reflective teacher who is prepared to go with them as a confident, sympathetic leader. How sad that the one group of people who could be supportive to that teacher are so often feared and create such an atmosphere of safe stagnation.

F N SANDALL Primary school headteacher Kent

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