Last week I spent two days up in Stirling for the ‘Better Movers and Thinkers’ (BMT: see last blog article for more info) introductory training as part of the Education Scotland staff tutor group. It was an awesome course spent in the company of like-minded folk who had given up two days of their summer holidays to develop their professional knowledge and skills.
After the last seminar of the first day we headed to the bar for some much needed refreshment. After a couple of lemonades we got to chatting and debating the Process Vs Product argument which is an integral part of the BMT philosophy. I think all agreed that the teaching process is extremely important but some placed a higher value on the product than others did.
Nailing my colours firmly to the mast I am a believer that the learning process is the most importance facet of education no matter what level. This doesn’t detract from how important an end product is but borrowing some words from a fellow BMT staff tutor…surely if we get the process right the product will follow? The logic seems simple, however I can see how in the real world of teaching this logic can become clouded.
At teacher training (something I may write about in the future) we are reminded how important the learning process is…but also how accountable we are as teachers and EVERYTHING we do has to be justified with evidence. That’s all well and good at university where as trainee teachers we have little in the way of real responsibility and can live in our own little student bubble. But then we move on to our probationary year where for the first few weeks (months?) I would suggest most of us are like a deer caught in the headlights…surely it can’t just have been me?! Suddenly we have entered a world where the product is given much more of an onus than had ever been discussed at university…welcome to the real world eh?
There is a real struggle, in my opinion, between teaching for understanding and teaching for results. Of course I would expect any professional to place understanding ahead of results but is that the reality of the situation? Until we find a way of measuring the quality of schools which does not rely on test results then this struggle will continue. Schools should be held accountable without doubt. We have an excellent education system in Scotland filled with wonderful teachers, many of whom suffer from a very Scottish trait which is the inability to shout about how awesome they really are! Nonetheless, until we can measure school performances on something other than exam results, test scores, levels attained etc then we will be forever fighting to place process before product.
I would like to highlight one example which I think goes someway in highlighting the difference between process vs product…the ‘learning intention’. You may call it the ‘learning objective’ or have some lovely abbreviation such as WALT (We Are Learning To). It is essentially a short succinct statement of what you expect those in your class to learn during that lesson or day. I shall call them ‘learning intentions’ as it’s what I am used to. Now ‘learning intentions’ are useful, if used correctly to promote a focussed dialogue between teacher and learner. I do not feel they should be plastered all over the classroom in every corner where a child’s wandering eye may stumble upon.
“Posting a learning target before a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it’s opened. Post a question. Bring curiosity and thinking back to the classroom.” (Anon)
I like the quote above, it is one of many that adorn the walls of my classroom. I am not saying we copy this example in every single lesson but there are times where it would be useful to pose a question rather than telling children what it is they are supposed to learn. <Rant Alert> What is the point in spending time writing learning intentions up on the board, and probably group task boards as well if you’re anything like me, as well as orally recounting them to the children in case they can’t quite read the three of four copies you’ve placed around the classroom, to then have the children copy it verbatim into their jotters just for good measure. Then at the end of the lesson asking the question: “So what did you learn today?” Only for the child to answer the question by re-reading off the board (or task board, or jotter) exactly what you told them they were supposed to learn. This to then be repeated 20-30 times a week depending on the number of lessons taught! <Rant over…sorry>
I feel in the above example we ignore the learning process and place too much emphasis on product. Assumptions have been made that if children can regurgitate, in curriculum friendly language, what it is they have supposedly learnt to others then they have been successful in their learning. Rubbish! As educators should we not be equipping children will the inquisitive skills needed for lifelong learning? I do not think we can do this with strategies, such as posting ‘learning intentions’, utilised with little or no thought. In one lesson the learning may be completely different for every child. A child may have picked up upon something which you as a teacher hadn’t intended so why should we limit their learning experiences to our own rigid ‘learning intention’? Dialogue and questioning should be used to promote critical thinking, independent thought, confidence and a genuine love for learning. Of course the utilisation of ‘learning intentions’ can support this but only if used correctly.
I am not naïve to the fact that there is an overwhelming pressure to produce results (an end product) but for who does that serve? Let’s focus on getting the process right then the desirable product will follow. I just feel we are too concerned with the destination children should reach rather than the journey they are on – rubbish analogy I know but you get the point.
Wow…this blog post has turned out much longer than anticipated. However, it is a topic which has been on my mind for a while and our “lemonade” fuelled discussion earlier in the week had spurred the desire to write about it. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions. Even if you agree or disagree then leave a comment, it would be great to hear other thoughts. Obviously all opinions shared in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.