09 December 2022 | Teacher training blog
The teaching profession loves buzz words and catch phrases. They seem to capture movements, recent research and provide headlines which summarise our new ways of thinking. It is fascinating to think about the evolution of our language toolkit when discussing education and how from personal experience, I talk very differently now to how I did when I was an NQT some 18 years ago. When we hear respected colleagues using new language repeatedly, it turns our attention to new ways of thinking and before long, their language becomes our own and new cultures evolve. I remember vividly, the first time I heard “pace and rigour”, delivered by a strong Irish accent and body language that reminded me of a sergeant major with a smile. When “knowledge rich” and “broad and balanced” were added to our common language, it became a common thread amongst schools to “do more” and this meant increasing the pace of lessons and learning, in order to meet the demands of enhanced curriculum content. In recent times, we have begun to realise that having high pace and challenge, whilst essential, can often leave some pupils lagging, and can result in pupils becoming mentally truant in lessons, not engaging and often fearful of being “picked on” when a teacher engages them in conversations about learning.
So how do we balance pace and rigour with recognising that student’s capacity to learn can sometimes be in conflict with cognitive overload? How do we balance the weight and size of the curriculum without this amplification of content deafening our learners. Well, more recently, a new phrase we are using more is “do less, do it better”. What a challenge for us as professionals, let alone the students, to balance a bigger curriculum, pace, challenge and yet do less and improve the quality of outcomes. If this is something we are finding challenging, how then do we manage this cognitive puzzle and present it in ways which still unlock the curriculum and success to students without wearing them out?
The answer to this quandary will no doubt be a source of wonderful and exciting research in the years to come, but my thoughts on the matter are this. If our students are working in the “stretch zone” and are appropriately challenged and engaged in lessons, how much more time might this buy back in lessons? Finding time in a lesson to have the quiet conversation which builds relationships, creates space for abstract thinking or perhaps providing opportunity to wrestle with misconceptions needs to be prioritised. Students need to have space to reflect, download and upload information. Like a rubber band, if we are stretched, we also need to retract. How much more learning could be achieved, if, as a result of good behaviour and increased challenge in the deliberate practice phase of lessons, could we create those quieter moments to probe and consider. The more experienced teacher knows when to halt the pace of the lesson plan to invest time in deeper thinking. My challenge to ECT’s reading my blog would be this- are you sensitive to the learning needs and broader conversations that enhance and facilitate learning, or are you stuck in a “pushing for more” mindset. If learning is powerful, the “pull” of this will create the space you need. In short, you will have found the balance and means to achieve both pace, rigour, probe and consider.
Holsworthy Community College