Routine? Ritual? It got my goat

24th October 2008 at 01:00

A friend of mine is a member of a secret society. I didn't know this when I first made his acquaintance, and for two years he stoically listened to me expound my views that his brethren did little more than ritually roll up their trousers, shake hands in odd ways and say secret phrases to traffic cops in order to avoid speeding fines. Indeed, I may even have suggested that they were not averse to molesting the odd goat.

It was only when I dropped in unexpectedly one Friday evening just as he was making his way out that I realised I had been insulting, in a way that I now believe was largely unjustified, something quite important to him. And his goat. Ha ha.

Many people take comfort in ritual. I used to find the ceremony of the Banda Spirit Duplicator quite therapeutic, or perhaps that was just the fumes. Its ritual had a purpose. The duplicator wouldn't duplicate properly if you didn't carry out all the required stages.

I suppose I'm really talking about routine. I'm sure I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue's late, great chairman Humph could have wittily distinguished between ritual and routine, or perhaps one of the panellists would have defined "routine" as "an adolescent marsupial".

Whatever I mean, I'm not sure if too much of either is a good idea in group discussion. Group discussion is the new rock and roll, even in many secondary science classes. One of its proponents whom I particularly admire is Stuart Naylor, of Concept Cartoons and Active Assessment fame. We invited him to talk at a course at our base in Dunfermline. Tie your goat up outside.

He demonstrated a number of simple strategies to encourage talk in the science class. At one point, he commented, without naming specific packages, on some of the initiatives for creating effective group discussion. I will have to paraphrase him. He was not doubting either their aims or their effectiveness, but did comment on how formalised their approaches were.

I think "formalised" was the word he used and it is probably the idea I should have invoked from the beginning. Sadly, had I done so, I would not have been able to make cheap jokes about goats.

Gregor Steele's knowledge of secret societies comes largely from a Monty Python sketch.

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