Who Taught You?
I am in the middle of Portsmouth Habour in a 4.2 metre Laser Class dingy. A 128 metre, 6000 tonne ferry is heading towards me. It sounds five short blasts on its horn. This means danger or doubt – I don’t understand your intent. I can sense the captain pulling a cord or pressing a button with her big thumb. Each pull or push (or whatever she’s doing up there on the bridge) is just long enough and hard enough to communicate total and utter incredulity that I am in her way.
Then I hear my Navy instructor shout, ‘Who the f**k taught you to sail?’ I decide not to reply with, ‘You did mate,’ because I’m actually very scared. Then he shouts at me again, helpfully, with information detailing how I might avoid a collision. I survive and the ferry is un-dented; though I sense it rolling its eyes and shaking its head in disbelief as it heads off to dock.
Several weeks later I’m out on the water again this time in the Lake District. Wind conditions exceed my skill and experience. A gust takes hold of the hired boat and it begins to flip. I’m scared. But then, without a thought, I somehow follow the same Navy advice and get back in control. I survive one more time.
Learning with Fear
I’ve not served in the military but the Navy Sailing school in Portsmouth, UK taught me to sail small dinghies. And it taught me well. The instructors did a superb job using a teaching style that combined fear, ridicule and humour. It worked (see above). What I learned when I was frightened was triggered again by fear.
What is your first memory? Getting lost? Being found? Love? Pain? A colour? A smell? Chances are it’s linked with a very strong emotion like fear. Emotion triggers memory. Memory is learning. So why don’t we see emotions referenced on lesson plans?:
- Use humour to develop a practical understanding of fronted adverbials;
- Cultivate the absolute horror of a grade U to motivate your revision this week;
- Expand vocabulary through an ethos of ironic melancholy.
If only effective teaching were this simple.
What is Effective Teaching?
I want to ask this question and keep asking it. In fact I’m going to ask it twelve times this year; once a month until July 2019. I absolutely guarantee that I won’t find a definitive answer by then. It’s a wicked problem anyway: the only way to approach it is to poke it and see what happens. But the process of trying to find an answer is where the learning value is found.
So far I’ve come up with eight features that might, in some small way, possibly, start to hint at the likelihood of a proposed draft answer to the question. Maybe. I’ll talk about the first one next time. I’ve also been looking at the diverse views and research of other people – educators, academics and people I meet at BBQs.
So why bother investigating effective teaching at all? For me, it’s down to three questions. I can’t think of three more relevant ones for educators. Here they are:
1. What do your pupils need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors?
2. Which teaching practices work best?
3. How can we learn to use 2. to provide 1.?
1. gets very messy. Politicians, business leaders, parents, teachers, futurologists, journalists and historians each have a different take on it. Quite often they debate it loudly and we don’t get anywhere new. 2, we can do something about so why not make a start:
What, for you, is the most important feature of effective teaching?