The only constant in education is change

img030My aim is for this to be, by and large, a positive blog. However, this second post is a rant- so inevitably will come across as negative. And yes, I know I’m a dinosaur, out of touch etc. I wrote this a few months ago, before I retired. I lost it and have rewrittten it.

When I was at school, I learnt methods of computation which worked. I didn’t necessarily understand them.

I remember very little of what I did at teacher training college, but at least now I did understand how the computation methods worked.

In my first teaching job (with what now would be year 5), 38 years ago, we ‘did’ Fletcher maths. You tried Mike’s method, Jill’s method and Jamal’s method. Then you picked the method that suited you best.

In my second job, the maths coordinator had been on a training course and was an enthusiastic convert to multibase (and logic). Every sum was done in base 3, 4, 5 and 6 (I think) using very noisy plastic or wooden apparatus and often recording on sugar paper. With mixed ability junior classes of 40. In groups. On my own. The noise, in the cavernous, echoing 1920s classrooms, was amazing.

A new coordinator came in. We chucked out the multibase (there must be some still around), wrote some agreed methods of computation and taught them.

In my next job we did the same. Then the National Curriculum changed and we rewrote them. Then a new orthodoxy came in: flexible methods based on mental arithmetic. After that- or maybe along with that, I’m getting confused- came ‘chunking’ and ‘the grid method’. Then, most recently in my career, a return to more formal methods, much like those I used at school. Of course, the National Curriculum then changed for the umpteenth time, increasing the level of difficulty.

This is just an example of the bewildering changes in education that have happened in my career. I have focused on mathematical compuation because that is an area of (limited) expertise. There have been many others. English, particularly, has had its own multiple changes. Literacy hour. 15/15/20/10. DARTS. Guided reading. Shared writing. Modelling. Searchlights. Look and Say. Real books. Synthetic phonics. (Oh yes…. outside my experience, there was “ita” in the dim and distant past. Look it up.) But, as I implied, and is obvious, I have even less experience here.

Some approaches worked. Some didn’t. Most were quietly dropped as the next new orthodoxy came in.

Just about all curricular change is communicated to the classroom teacher by that excellent bunch of women and men, the subject coordinators. Or subject leaders. Or subject managers. (I’m told there’s a difference between these titles. An important difference.) Anyway, they have to learn the new approaches, intepret them for their school and then inspire their colleagues to use them. Poor souls. Especially when old Mark is sitting at the back of the meeting, thinking he’s seen it all before and trying to remain enthusiastic so as not to put barriers in the way of the important bit- children learning.

Please note that the change I am so vaguely writing about here is imposed external change, not change developed by teachers. I may have more to say about why this external change happens at a later date. I have no solutions to any of the problems I have raised here; this is just a rant.

The new curriculum (or method, or pedagogy, or whatever) is ALWAYS an improvement on the old one. It’s ALWAYS better. You’d think that we’d have so many curricula (or methods, or whatever) that it would all be perfect by now.

Inevitably, new research underpins the new curriculum (or method…) This enables us to ensure the children understand and retain what we teach. Like it did last time. And the time before. And…. And it always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS makes the job of the teacher easier.

Finally: “Don’t work harder- work smarter.” If I hear that one more time…. Oh I don’t have to. I’ve retired.

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