This is the first in a series of articles concerning teaching skills. It is not intended as the definitive 'how to' series but as a collection of my personal experiences and beliefs built up over a period of 30 years teaching children from age 9 up to 18 in UK middle and secondary schools, followed by 11 years working as a driving instructor, mainly on a 1-2-1 basis. I hope to dispel some myths and challenge some beliefs, and I actively encourage you to challenge my own beliefs and teaching methods too. I use the word 'challenge' not in any kind of aggressive way, as has been interpreted in some Facebook groups when I have used this word, but in a way which invites you to offer a different perspective where you are attempting to guide me towards your way of thinking. Debating is all about challenging those with differing views to your own to change their view to match yours, so this is the challenge i should like to set for you.
I trained as a teacher in the era where 'child-centred' learning was advocated, following the education report from a committee chaired by Lady Plowden in 1967. These were my formative years in teaching, and I make no apology for being a supporter of Plowden. My primary teaching years (well middle schools in fact) took me just a year short of the 1988 education act, and I now have many 'friends' on facebook who were pupils of mine back in those days and, as successful adults themselves, frequently heap praise on the style of education they received. The 1988 Education Act started the decline for me, with its over-emphasis on the same diet for all (in the form of the National Curriculum), testing (SATs) and league tables (GCSE results). Nowhere can I see the individual in all of this, and I see little evidence of the rounded individuals we produced during the 70s and 80s. I finally gave up, demoralised by the whole system, in 2001, continuing only as a supply teacher whilst I trained for and developed my driving school business.
So now we reach the point where, in our industry, we are faced with change, but this I personally see as a positive change because it embraces the principles of Plowden whilst using the proven methodology of coaching within the client (as opposed to 'child') centred learning process. By incorporating an acceptance of each learner's individuality, as displayed in their preferred learning styles and their personal desire to learn and achieve, then, as driving educators, we have the chance, like Plowden, to allow the learners to 'learn by discovery', whether that be by means of doing or questioning or both.
The following are quotes from papers and reports referring to the Plowden Report and the subsequent debates, together with some current academic thinking which is highly in favour of the principles of Plowden (as opposed to the dictatorial backward thinking of our present minister for education, Michael Gove!). Within these quotes you will, I am sure, recognise the correlation with the current changes within our own industry.
"...teaching style studies assume a direct relationship between teaching behaviours and pupil learning which, paradoxically, carries with it an implicit denial of the influence of pupils in their own learning."
"...is there any genuine conflict between education based on children as they are, and education thought primarily as a preparation for the future? Has 'finding out' proved better than 'being told'? Have methods been worked out through which discovery can be stimulated and guided, and children develop from it a coherent body of knowledge? Do children learn more through active co-operation than by passive obedience?"
"...there should be less emphasis on what the child learnt than how s/he learned and developed a questioning frame of mind."
This reflects the child-centred viewpoint that young children learn best when they pursue self-initiated activities intended to answer the questions they wish to ask about the world about them. In the Plowden Report this is usually referred to as ‘discovery’ learning.
The sense of personal discovery influences the intensity of a child’s experience, the vividness of his memory and the probability of effective transfer of learning. (CACE, 1967; para 549)
The Report proposes that, in contrast to traditional teaching strategies which simply transfer information from the teacher to the pupil, an approach that respects, and is led by the pupil’s actions, has greater educational value because it engages children’s interests more effectively and teaches them to ‘learn how to learn’ (CACE, 1967; para 529).
Although the focus of the Plowden Report was on primary education, much of its rhetoric about the purpose of education and its relation to wider society, and in particular, the need to respond appropriately to each individual pupil’s interests, needs and abilities was and is relevant to all sectors of education.
However, despite being received with great enthusiasm by the majority of primary teachers (and many secondary teachers who were in sympathy with progressive ideals), the Plowden Report was the catalyst for a period of intense, and often highly confrontational debate about the purpose and nature of compulsory education in England and Wales.
This debate culminated in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which was a wholesale rejection of the educational philosophy expressed by the Plowden Committee and their supporters.
Change can be scary, all that we have known is under threat, but how will you know if the change is for the better or not if you don't try it? True, it can be more threatening when change is forced upon us, but by making an active decision to embrace the change, learn as much as possible about how to make this transition, then put into practice what you have learned, only then will you be able to make an informed decision as to whether the change is for the better or not.