Why "The Importance of Teaching"?

Henry Stewart's picture
The title of Gove's white paper will have been chosen with care and it is worth examining. In education nowadays it is almost rare to hear "teaching" referred to on its own. People talk about the quality of "teaching and learning" or simply the quality of "learning". It reflects a welcome move in recent years to a student-centred approach.

This is important. If your class has been inspected in recent years you will have found the inspectors dwelled more on what students were doing than on what the teacher was doing. In the past it was possible to tick all the boxes and be assessed as a Good or Outstanding teacher. Nowadays you cannot get this, unless the quality of learning is Good or Excellent. This makes sense: how can teaching be good if students are not learning well.

Several teachers have commented to me on how changing the focus from assessing the teaching to assessing the learning has changed the nature of their lessons and vastly improved the experience for the students. Does the title of the white paper reflect a move back from a focus on the student, and their learning, to the teacher? I suspect it does and that this reflects an approach based in more academic schools, those which Gove seeks to use as his model for all.

This was embodied for me by the story a parent told me who moved their child from an inner-city comprehensive to a private school. The students were more strongly motivated, coming from more academic homes. However, she explained, the teaching was not nearly as good. Often the teachers simply asked students to copy from the board or take notes of what they said or work from worksheets. Their job was to teach the subject, it was up to the students to learn. In the inner-city school the teachers knew a key part of their job was to engage the students, and they used a range of inter-active and innovative methods to do so.

Does the focus of the white paper on teaching, rather than learning, reflect an old-fashioned approach and a move away from the focus on the student of recent years?
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Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 07/12/2010 - 10:45

In answer to your final question, the answer seems to be a pretty clear, yes.

And what a pity that will be, if it means losing emphasis on what the student is learning as opposed to what the teacher is commanding from the front of the class, in the style of 1950's or even 19th century.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 08/12/2010 - 21:01

I couldn't agree more with the points made here. The focus upon learning has really helped me improve as a teacher I think; made my lessons much more inter-active, much less of a one-man show. Again, it shows the administration's nostalgia for a by-era when teachers could supposedly fill children's brains up with knowledge as if they were empty vessels. Recent discoveries in neuro-science have shown that this is not the best way to learn anything at all.

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