Reminder to self: Understanding is not learning.

I’ve realised that recently I haven’t been practising what I preach, I’ve rather let the ‘traditional teaching’ side down. What have I been doing you might wonder, role play instead of essays? Have I stuck Bloom’s taxonomy on my wall?
I fear I have made the same mistake as as the most unreflective follower of Bloom’s.

I’ll admit it, I’ve talked too much! In teaching my yr13 political ideologies students I have over-prioritised ‘understanding’ and therefore spent too much class time in discussion. Admittedly we’ve had a lovely time and I’ve taken the classes to places they could never have reached alone. There has been a wonderful dialogue as the class ask questions and I use those opportunities to extend their thinking and make connections. I’ve loved hearing them ask such intelligent questions and explain back to me complex ideas. A few months back I felt quite smug. My class is far from the most able I have taught and they had shown the superb ‘understanding’ of the issues.

I’ve realised something rather fascinating that runs quite contrary to progressive dogma. There is nothing like great teacher talk to develop student understanding with an amenable class. I’m not sure an open dialogue between the expert and the learner can be beaten as a way of opening up unfamiliar ideas to students.

While I have been feasting my class on rich ideas my colleague, who teaches them the other side of the course, has been ‘beasting them’ (to use the students description of it.) He gives the class lots of independent work – by which I mean essays – huge piles of essays. He often provides them with scaffolding for their written work and sends them off.

The Mock exams suggest that while I got the class to ‘perform’ in lessons, my colleague secured more ‘learning’, long term. I hadn’t done enough to consolidate all they wonderful understanding developed in class.

I feel a bit silly and even embarrassed. After all I KNOW the importance of lots of practice for recall and have frequently criticised the progressive over-emphasis on understanding because it is prioritised over tasks to ensure recall and fluency. I’m the first to complain that my six year old has spent his numeracy time on one word problem and not done enough repetition to become fluent and automatic in procedures. However, I was just as seduced by exciting high level ‘understanding’ as a rookie trainee who has just been told Blooms is the paradigm through which all planning should come.

Fortunately the revision season is looming and my class will be getting LOTS of practice getting ideas onto paper. I may yet be able to capitalise on  the investment in understanding I made over the year.

However, I am amused by a realisation that turns progressive dogma on its head:

1. For understanding nothing beats teacher talk.

2. For fluency and recall independent tasks are great.