Tick boxed into a corner

18th May 2007 at 01:00

Grrr! i think that bears repeating. Grrr! It's the first word that comes to mind these days whenever I think of the knotty topic of lesson observation.

For teachers, the "spy" in the classroom is nothing new, of course. Right from the earliest days of training, teachers have to put up with visits from the unsmiling stranger, scribbling away at twice the rate of even the nimblest of students.

The problem now, though, is that those doing the observing are being trained to leave their brains at the door. Either that or they are specially selected for their absence of grey matter in the first place. And to that gaping void you might add imagination, understanding, empathy and just plain common sense.

In their place, the observers come armed with tick lists of "must see"

items. The absence of these flavour-of-the-month enthusiasms will damn you forever. So, however wonderful your class may be, if you fail to get a tick in one of the boxes, you are instantly up to your neck in the sticky brown stuff.

Sadly, the phenomenon is not confined to further education. Far from it.

School teachers have to put up with exactly the same inanities.

In primaries, for instance, I am told that no child can possibly learn anything any more unless the teacher is employing Assessment for Learning techniques. This involves, amongst other things, the pupils being encouraged to give a thumbs up, or thumbs down, according to whether, or not, they have grasped what is being taught.

While this might sound like a perfectly good idea, the problem is to get the dumbo with the clipboard to see that it is not the only idea and that generations of children have managed to get themselves educated without using their thumbs for anything other than sucking.

For us in FE, it is still the twin untouchables of information learning technology and differentiation that we must learn to suck on (though I have noticed our own version of "rule of thumb" creeping in, too, of late).

Quite where this can lead us is exemplified in the tale of the virtual milk bottle.

A friend at a college told me how she was inspected while teaching an introduction to poetry session. One of her props was a milk bottle with a note to the milkman tied to it. The idea was to show the difference between a functional piece of writing and a short poem.

No! No! No! cried the inspector afterwards. Where is the information learning technology in that?

All right, so there was no interactive whiteboard in the room. Surely she could use a laptop instead to display an image of a virtual milk bottle?

Virtual nonsense! was her response, though not of course to his face. She had already been told that her ILT solecism meant she couldn't expect higher than a grade 3 for her imaginative lesson.

As the late Ted Wragg was so fond of saying in these pages, you couldn't make it up. To put it another way, Grrr!

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