“Oops”, definitely worth a read!

Picaxe chip controlled design from on of our 16 year old students.

Trawling through the internet searching for inspiration can lead you to a misunderstanding.  I found myself coming to the conclusion that almost all teachers and educators around the world thought about the process of teaching the way that I do.  Not true, of course.  Simply that in my searching I automatically dismiss any blog or site that gives itself away as, “not interesting”, in other words not my way of thinking.  Sometimes, however, you do run into one of those moments where you find yourself engaging in conversation as you read something.    Any book, website or blog that has you shouting out, “Yes!” or, “At last!”, preferably in the quiet spaces of your head rather than out loud, has to be a treasure.  So it was with “Oops”.  This is a book by Hywel Roberts subtitled, “Helping children learn accidentally”.  A touch disingenuous as the whole tenor of the book is to prepare, plan and learn how to facilitate these so called accidents.

Not to worry, one of threads running through the book is the idea that teachers can beguile children into deep learning so a little of the same sort of thing in the title can’t be a bad thing.   The truly wonderful thing about this book is that it explores what outstanding teaching looks like and how it relates to outstanding learning.  Make no mistake, Roberts is unfailingly optimistic about the capacity of children to learn and the ability of teachers to capitalise on that learning, but there is the key.  The sort of directed, fact heavy curriculum that we seem to be heading inexorably towards in this country, in spite of the ever growing body of opinion that wants us to educate children rather than turn them into shipping containers of information is anathema to Robert’s approach.  One of the strengths of the thinking that underpins the book is the certainty that teachers need to have the capacity to both lead learning and follow it.  The example of a troublesome student who, during an ICT lesson, asks whether Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter or a terrorist and gets shouted down by the teacher makes the point elegantly.  Some teachers would want to focus on the idea that PowerPoint was the subject of the lesson and suggest that the question is irrelevant, I hope most of the readers of this blog would agree that it is perhaps the most significant question that could be asked.  Moreover it arose out of a genuine moment of perception as the child suddenly sees the issues from two sides and wants to explore the issues.  You might not learn too much about PowerPoint if you seized on this question and tabled a class discussion but surely you would have a more educational experience if you did.  Surfing the moment or sitting on the syllabus beach?

Another really productive thought is the idea of protecting children into learning.  Using imagery that every parent and almost all children will recognise Roberts teases out the basic relationship for learning that should exist between teacher and pupil.  Almost every aspiring or trainee teacher that I work with will confess to a nagging worry about managing behaviour.   Much is written about how to organise behaviour for learning and it is true that thinking of things in this way is productive.  I can’t help feeling that the sort of teaching that is modeled in this book would shift the emphasis from the behaviour to the learning.  Twin themes emerge: that learning is an activity so engaging of the human being that behaviour ceases to be an issue and that relationships matter.  Most of us will recognise the scenario I was told as a student; a teacher bursts into a staff room and vents their frustration about class 4B who are a nightmare only to have some old teacher say, “4B old boy, not a problem”.  We all know that trying too hard to be friends with our charges is a recipe for disaster.  What children want from us as teacher is an appropriate adult relationship which will give them the opportunity to learn safely.  Many of the ideas in this book will lead you towards that sort of professional relationship.

You will have gathered by now that I am a fan of Hywel Roberts, or at least of this book.  That is certainly true and I will be giving this book to several of my colleagues and friends.  No book is without it’s problems and as this blog is concerned with Design Technology I should say that the endeavour to suggest curriculum themes for a given topic might lead you to reflect that Roberts is after all not a Design Technologist.  However I do not want to pick holes in his thesis on those grounds.  It is my task as a subject teacher to work out how to apply what he suggests and indeed to decide what is or is not productive in my classroom.  I would suggest that any teacher of any subject could learn a lot from this book and enjoy the process.  The book is dotted with lists that are a potent device for making you think, the ones to do with questioning in the classroom are a great example.  It makes good use of diagrams for us visual thinkers, once again they will give you pause for thought.  The design of the book also allows plenty of room for you to add your thoughts, scribble buzzing ideas or protest your disagreement, whatever applies.

In conclusion let me say that any book which has these ambitions, one of the early lists,  must be worth a read.

“What this book is about.

  • Raising your game in the classroom around learning and teaching
  • Being brave
  • Enabling independent thinking
  • Getting children to expect to learn when they are with you
  • Getting a bigger boat
  • Finding conventional curriculum in unconventional places
  • Tricking children into deep learning
  • Embracing the unpredictable
  • The choreography behind an engaging curriculum, tried and tested.
  • Catchy lists.

And if any of those don’t make sense then you will just have to buy the book.

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