I “do”

Turns out I’m a bit pedantic about letters and words. No surprises there, I guess, given my English teaching background. Today I’d like to level my sights at an insidious little verb: to do.

I hear this a lot. Heck, I’ve used it a lot. I’m thinking about sentences like: ‘We’ll start off with some poetry, then ‘do’ some creative writing tasks, before ‘doing’ the assessment.” I was listening to a really interesting piece on the radio the other day about the importance of oral language rich childhoods. Some of this was qualified by explaining that strong oracy skills gave learners an advantage when it came to ‘doing’ reading and writing later on in school. It becomes a short-hand way of lesson or programme planning: we’ll ‘do’ this content, then ‘do’ this task.

Argh!

So I’ve been thinking about why ‘do’ drives me nuts. And I think I’ve figured it out. It’s because it makes the items become a ‘to do’ list: a tick box mentality. It compartmentalises the ensuing nouns into discrete areas. This all harks back to my other rants about timetables and silos.

When we talk about ‘doing’ learning, it prevents us from so much. It foregrounds content over skills. It implies we impose the learning on our students. It isolates knowledge from its context. It infers little personalisation, authenticity or relevancy.

So I challenge you to listen to yourself when you use the verb ‘do’. I know it’s an easy short-hand, and that you don’t intend to insinuate any of the above concepts. But listen and reflect. Is there another way to phrase your ideas so that you don’t ‘do’ ‘do’?

(And notice I didn’t use the word ‘try’ – that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another time…!)

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Timetable Mentality

While not originally conceived of as a companion piece to my most recent blogpost, this does work alongside quite naturally. Again, this is not intended as a criticism of any particular school nor teacher. This is my own personal opinion, and I invite your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

Ah, the timetable. I’m in awe of the immensely hard-working teachers who construct these. I love getting my timetable in the last week of school seeing what’s ahead for me in the new school year. I love to colour-code my timetable. See when my non-contact lessons are. Check out what I’m teaching Period 6 on a Friday. And Period 1 on a Monday.

Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Stundenplan.PNG

As a thoroughly Type-A personality, the organisation and structure of a timetable brings joy to my heart. By this means I can figure out what’s happening when, how to allocate my time, my efforts and energy. I know what classes I’m teaching, and I can know where any student or colleague is meant to be at any given moment of the school day. What a thing to behold.

Of course, the timetable is far more than the piece of photocopied paper in front of me. It is a whole system. In a timetable, students are allotted their chosen subjects, and are organised by their age, and sometimes by their ability. In a timetable, teachers are allocated their classes for the year, which places them within subject disciplines and departments. A timetable files people very well.

And by this ability to file people, a timetable becomes more than a system. It becomes a mentality – and possibly a fixed mentality at that. A timetable can limit the way both students and teachers see themselves and see their learning. Whole schools of thought are broken down into terms, weeks, and lessons. Learning only happens in 55 minute slots. Science and English are discrete subject areas. It is lunchtime and learning must stop. A timetable can be as rigid as the ‘cells and bells’ of traditional (secondary) schooling. Learning becomes assessment driven in a timetable. It is much easier to teach via direct instruction as a time efficient method of conveying the required content.

A timetable is a completely legitimate way to deal with these immense pressures. But I would like to pose a key question. Does a timetable suit an adult or a learner best?

What if…

  • We saw the barriers (timetable, assessment, university requirements) as enabling constraints?
  • We put learners at the heart of the system and built our schools genuinely and authentically around them and their needs?
  • We worked within the flexibility afforded by the New Zealand Curriculum and possible under NCEA to find creative, innovative structures and systems?

Because ultimately I believe that the big picture of education is really the small picture: start with the learner, not with the timetable.