Steve Brown recently made a case for anti-planning – essentially the unconditioning of teachers who have ended up believing that lesson planning is good practice. Now, I suspect that I am about to get seriously pedantic and I have every reason to think that on points of substance, Steve and myself are probably thinking along the same lines. So it needs to be said explicitly that this blogpost is more inspired by rather than a reaction against. What happened was that I read Steve’s posts and found myself nodding along with what he was saying. Then I wondered. Then I doubted. And now, because I am writing this inspired blog post, I took a position.
Just a brief one this week, largely to get the idea out of my head and down onto…errm…down into pixels. As usual, it is @thornburyscott who has been making me think, this time by asking if my new found conviction that it’s all about the knowledge and less about the skills is compatible with my extreme left-wing armed insurrectionist political philosophy. Inexplicably, this question has been instrumental in pushing me further into a calcifyingly dogmatic embrace of knowledge and I have been flirting with the idea of grammar teaching before – 20 years late- I have rediscovered the lexical approach. In this latest endeavour, I have nothing but huge admiration for the work of bloggers such as @leoselivan, @muranava, @hughdellar, @CELTtraining and @luizotavioELT. Continue reading
1. Teachers must ask (and answer) the following question when preparing or reviewing lessons, “What will my students know at the end of this class that they did not know before?” If the manifesto takes off, it will be possible to buy embroidered bracelets that read “WWMSKATEOTLTTDKB”. For obvious reasons, the bracelets will only be in Size XXXL.
2. Teachers must seek in every lesson to ground their answers to the above questions in hard, tangible evidence. Teachers’ whimsical notions that the students now know about the present perfect will not be accepted at the door. We need hard data.
3. Teachers must accept that assessment is at the heart of what we do as teachers. If they do not know very much about assessment, they must go away and study a little bit more. Having studied about assessment, they should be able to answer the question, “What do I now know about assessment that I didn’t know about before?”
4. When answering our guiding question, we are not allowed to come up with answers like, “The students now know about how the European preference for the solar calendar came about.” This is an English language cult; leave the history of time to other teachers. Vocabulary knowledge, on the other hand, is deemed to be acceptable. Our dogme brethren and sistren are well-placed to embrace the challenge: as they will be basing their lessons on the students’ lives, they will be less tempted to make sterile claims that “My students now know about their lives.”
5. As a corollary to Standing Order #3, it follows that the guiding assessment that we love above all others is the type that is known as formative assessment. This is the opium of our knowledge-driven classes. This shows us what the students have and haven’t learned. It will decide what we do and don’t teach. It is a precious peach. When we talk about Sweet F.A., we are not being disparaging.
6. Teachers must avoid all reference to doing listening and doing reading. They must look witheringly at those colleagues who persist in the illusion that reading and listening are things that are done. This Standing Order will only be rescinded when normal people, in answer to the question What are your hobbies, reply, I like to do listening to Gangsta Rap [genre of music is changeable].
7. When evaluating their personal pedagogy, teachers will not ask themselves the question Does it work for the students? They will be aware that virtually anything works for the students. They will instead ask themselves, How well does it work for the students? Again, we are not interested in self-serving declarations of genius. Hard and fast evidence, please. Ideally verified by another.
8. Teachers will apply virtually all of the above Standing Orders to their own practice as teachers. The best teacher may be the one who sits down at the end of the day and asks themselves What did I learn today about teaching that I didn’t know before? This should not be seen as a harsh injunction that leads to burnout and stress. This should be a joyful process of discovery and seem more like a hobby than an imposition.
9. Teachers must accept that sometimes the answers to the “What did I/they learn…” will be a variation of the rather bleak Nothing, Nada, Niente. That’s OK too. In fact, on days like this, teachers will want to look back and ask themselves why nothing was learned. Teachers will bear in mind, at all times, that while they are perhaps the single most crucial variable to learning, they are not the centre of a student’s universe and sometimes life interferes. It’s OK to be crappy from time to time.
10. Knowledge trumps skills. Knowledge incorporates skilful practice. This applies to the knowledge that our students gain from being in our classes; the knowledge we have about the knowledge that students gain from being in our classes; the knowledge we have about how to teach. But knowledge is not an abstract thing: for something to be known, it must be shown. We can all remember a time when the authorities said to us, Well, if you knew it was wrong, why did you do it? The authorities were right.