Lefty child-centred teaching, indeed!

A response to the Telegraph article: Ofsted chief: we don’t want ‘lefty’ child-centred teachingwhere Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, says that 60s-style “child-centred’ teaching damaged generations of schoolchildren as he unveiled a major overhaul of the inspection system.

(Sir Michael’s original statements are in green)

In the Surreal Secondary School, Michael and Jakob oddly find themselves in a class doing a discovery exercise on the concept “Student-Centred Learning.”

surreal school

It’s Michael on the right

Students are seated in heterogeneous teams of four, mixing gender, ability and social background (the two girl opposite are Brenda and Marina). The morning starts with a pair-share:

Teacher: All right, everybody. Turn to your shoulder-partners. Ping-Pong-Pairs, so stay concise and on-point, maximum 4 sentences per turn. Ready? … “Based on your current take on student-centred learning, assume you are the head of Ofsted and bounce some opinions back and forth”. Two minutes, go!

Michael: Ok, I get to start! If you ask me, Ofsted  should root out inspectors who champion trendy teaching!  

Jakob: Trendy teaching…uh, is that a method I haven’t heard about…?

Michael: Very funny. I mean so-called “child-centred” learning. A characteristic of many classrooms in the 60s and 70s (…) I am part of a generation of people who experienced that sort of ideology which ruined the lives of generations of children at that time. You must agree, Jakob, given that sociopathic skills rant I read from you!

Jakob: I wrote that rant to point out that just leaving the students to their own devices is in fact not doing them any favour. You are now hijacking my story to attack whatever you perceive as “child-centred learning.” I mean, what is “child-centred” or “student-centred learning” to you?

Michael: It’s what lefty, hippy-types do – you know,  left-leaning progressive techniques in which children are left to work alone or in groups for long periods with little leadership from teachers. 

Jakob: Well, that just sounds like the disorganised group work to me, which is what you mean when you use the term “student-centred learning”. But if you want to be taken seriously as Head of Ofsted, you need to be precise about how you use these terms.

Michael: So, if you were Head of Ofsted, you’d just allow children to just sit and talk…?

Jakob: No, but if we hadn’t been allowed this conversation, we would not discover how differently we perceive the concept of student-centred learning, would we? You would have assumed anyone who disagreed with you was happy with total chaos in class. You’d make any further conversation impossible!

Michael: But us discussing the subject would not even be necessary if (whispering) …if the teacher would just read out the definition of student-centred learning to us from the board. This chatting is totally inefficient in comparison. In fact, on occasions, (…) pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. 

Brenda (interrupting): Sure, Michael, like that science lesson when you slept through Ms Picards 30-minute presentation and when you woke up you thought amino acid was something people did at Woodstock and accused her of being a communist!

Teacher (She’s been unobtrusively monitoring, you see): Brenda, your shoulder-partner is Rose. Stay with her.

Jakob: Sorry about that – I think Brenda wanted to point out I’m just saying we don’t all get the same same thing from the material, ok?

Michael: I just insist I want to see structured, teacher-led activities.  Here the teacher is just letting us mouth off opinions…

Jakob: Do you agree with the teacher?

Michael: What?

Jakob: Do you agree with our teacher about student-centred learning?

Michael: No, I don’t want her ‘’independent learning’’ in all lessons  – and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. 

Jakob: But if she just gave you her definition, you wouldn’t get a chance to voice your alternative opinion and discuss it with anyone, would you?

Michael: … Any lesson of hers I can think of,  I think it was unstructured, it wasn’t teacher led…

Teacher: Ok, shoulder-partners, your two minutes are up!

Michael: Aww…!

Teacher: Spend one minute recapping  your conversation to your front partner, and then we’ll move on to share the homework assignments.

… to be continued in “Lefty child-centred teaching#2”, where it transpires that Michael didn’t do his homework.


PS: For those following the workshop debriefing, you are not forgotten, but I couldn’t let that article go.

(And thanks for the notes, N. I’ll make all available and look at collaborative online notesharing and commentary.)

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