I said something really clever tonight to my wife and I said, “You should probably write that down…”
She did agree that it was clever but she seemed to think that I should be the one to write it down because after all I was the one who said it…
However, now that I’m trying to write it down…
It was something like how we can do all the big picture stuff and all the “this is a successful school because its data says this and I’m feeling like a bit of a failure because the school I spent so much time and effort into making great just went down the shit after I left (not just because I left but...) and I can feel like I didn’t make a difference but that’s just wrong because I made a difference to the people who were there when I was and that’s possibly enough for them and…”
As you can see, it was more succinct when I said it the first time and possibly even had meaning outside my brain…
Which brings me back to the trouble with education. Something that sounds good when someone says it may not make that much sense a bit later on when someone tries to work out what it actually means in practice.
I want to make it clear that I’m one of the first to challenge teachers and suggest that maybe what they’re doing isn’t working all that well and that it might be worth trying something else and seeing if it works better…
It’s always a worry when some politician announces that they have the answer and if only teachers would start doing this or that then all are problems would be solved and the promised land is just around the corner and if we can just get those teachers to stop what they’re doing and do what I tell them then we could fix all those literacy and numeracy problems and teach the lame to walk.
Often stories will be accompanied by a school which “turned things around” and went from being unsuccessful to showing great improvement once they all adopted the same strategy.
Of course the problem with this is that it’s like your average biopic. If you look at a winner then it’s pretty clear that what they did was a winning strategy but it doesn’t alter the fact that fifty thousand other people may have done the same thing and just fallen flat on their face. I mean “Billy Elliot” is a great example of triumphing in spite of everything around you suggesting that you should put your dreams to one side because they’re just ridiculous. Notwithstanding this, nobody is going to make a movie about me attempting to become a great dancer only to give up at the age of fifty after failing to show even a basic sense of rhythm and it just not working…
As for the school where the strategy worked, you need to have a look at what they were doing previously. To use an analogy here, if a football team hadn’t won a game for two years and nobody was turning up to training then adopting a strategy like holding a barbecue with free beer after training may actually lead to greater participation and an on-field improvement. However, even if the team starts a winning streak I doubt that many AFL coaches will be adopting it and throwing their sports science out the window.
The next big thing in education is what’s called “explicit instruction”. In simple terms this is a teaching method that breaks down complex skills into smaller, more manageable steps and provides clear and concise instructions on how to complete each step. It is a teacher-directed approach that involves modelling, guided practice, and feedback.
To put this into some sort of real-world situation. Imagine you’re going to teach someone to drive. I would think that this would involve a lot of explicit instruction before you let them turn on the engine and start driving. At the very least, you’d want to ensure that they knew how to steer and where to find the brake and accelerator and that they clearly knew the difference. I doubt that you’d throw someone the keys and say, “Take off and see what you can learn.” Swimming, on the other hand, may involve a bit of play to get them used to the water. Or, as someone once said, “I learnt to swim by being thrown into the lake… It was quite easy once I escaped the sack with all the rocks in it…”
As you can see there’s absolutely nothing wrong with explicit instruction. There are only two problems with a political push to introduce it into schools: The first is that it’s not appropriate for ALL learning. Learning to be an independent learner or learning to work cooperatively in groups can’t solely be taught by explicit instruction. (Although a good teacher can still offer feedback and guidance.) The second is the suggestion that somehow teachers haven’t been using explicit instruction at all. Of course, they may have been using it ineffectively or poorly but this idea that educators have embraced a whole range of other things and no longer ever explicitly instruct students is just a long way removed from what’s happening in nearly every Australian school.
By the time you read this, I expect that the date for the Voice Referendum will have been announced and it provides a great example about advantages and limits of explicit instruction. The Australian Electoral Commission have reminded us that we should write “YES” or “NO” in the box but if we do something else then it will be at the discretion of the presiding officer to decide if the intention of the voter was clear. A person who had a clear YE followed by an indistinct squiggle almost certainly is voting “YES” while a person who draws a Swastika may have intended to vote No, but it may just be that they’re making a comment on compulsory voting.
When it was announced that ticks may be considered a “YES” but crosses wouldn’t be a “NO”, Peter Dutton was outraged that this longstanding practice would be followed and accused Albanese and the AEC of trying to rig the vote. Apparently he’s concerned that in spite of the explicit instruction, the modelling and the examples many of the people intending to vote “NO” can’t actually follow what’s being said to them and will – in spite of being told in writing – to write their intention in words, that they’ll still put a cross.
It’s almost as if he thinks those voting with him are incapable of listening and understanding…
He may have a point.
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