It’s time to put on the woolly jumper of traditional education

I moved recently into rented accommodation and the whole process has been incredibly stressful, even though I have tried to be super organised about it all. Firstly, the circumstances underpinning my house sale were stressful. Secondly, I’m working full time and I have children; not being able to make a phone call or being too tired at the end of the day is difficult because it feels like I have no control over the some aspects of the process. Lastly, the fact that we’ve had a few teething issues and are still surrounded by boxes despite being here 2 weeks also stirs old forgotten, deep feelings of despair that I experienced when I lived in a hostel nearly 20 years ago. Why would this happen and why the hell can I not just pull myself together and think about the positives? I think it might also be because it’s dark, cold and I’m feeling a bit flat anyway. Also, the sense of being in a house but not a home, and having to spend a short amount of time coping without heating mirrors the grind of trying to look and act normal when you live in a hostel. The upshot is that I have found it hard to maintain the same energy output needed to be a decent teacher in a primary school.

It occurs to me that if I didn’t have to be so creative all the time and if we had more established routines and expectations, then my teaching wouldn’t be so affected by my stressful life right now. Surely this logic also applies to children? The nature of progressive education assumes that little children love the high energy demands of groupwork, discovery learning, constantly changing projects and cross curricular lessons, incessant chatter, having to try and understand concepts on your own, ‘active’ learning, high RAM requirements due to lack of basic knowledge being committed to memory, outdoor learning, the assumption that everyone must develop into an extroverted public speaker and that nobody wants to spend time peacefully, quietly thinking. To be fair, part of this set of assumptions is more to do with our cultural belief that all little children need and prefer to be jumping up and down all day long while surrounded by bright flashing lights, gaudy colours and great clanking noises. Regardless of the ratio of prog ed to Western culture in terms of children’s primary school experiences, I really think that many children who live and cope with difficult circumstances at home would prefer and benefit from traditional education, not just because their academic achievement would be vastly better, but because traditional education would, in my opinion, be better for their mental health too.

Admit it. You cut corners! We all do. Even when you walk to the shops, you physically cut corners because your DNA, honed over thousands and thousands of years of evolution, programmed you to conserve energy and continuously become more efficient at everything you do. Adding a random loop to a walk to the shops would only happen because of a conscious decision or because you were drunk. When it comes to clothing, we all try to make a conscious decision to jazz up our outfits, but when we’re feeling exhausted in the middle of winter we reach for that old familiar woolly jumper, a known garment that requires no decision making and that is trusted to complement any outfit. I really believe that this natural inclination towards being more efficient should also be acknowledged in primary education. We are all creatures of habit, including children, and the efficient nature of traditional education should surely trump this inherent rhetoric of progressive education that being deliberately inefficient and expecting children to want and be able to work at 3000rpm doing different activities all the time is a good thing.

I find that as cohorts of children go through a primary school, they are more and more inclined to burst into chatter and that the chatter becomes louder, more raucous as their bodies get bigger. It happens a. because we tend not to make a decision to reign in that tendency in the belief that children will ‘naturally’ calm down as they get older and b. because of standard practices in primary classrooms associated with progressive education. For example, I find that my own class really don’t understand the concept of actually being taught new knowledge and skills. They are so used to being asked, ‘What do you think? Discuss with your talk partner!’ that they now instinctively jump in left right and centre when I’m explaining how, for example, gravity works such that you can’t get a word in edgeways because they all think they know everything already. Not only does the philosophy of progressive education and the ‘teaching’ methods associated with it cause children to develop habits that actively inhibit the transmission of knowledge from an adult authority, but it also makes teaching and learning inefficient and utterly exhausting.

Likewise, low level disruption means that teaching is constantly punctuated with having to asking various children to stop doing various things and those children who are trying to listen are then being required to stop and start thinking about the subject content over and over again. I watched a Nativity play recently and it also suddenly dawned on me that perhaps all children also need to have traditional dance lessons delivered by experts so that they can learn to properly control their bodies; the amount of constant wriggling, fidgeting, poking, randomly jumping, flailing of arms and turning round definitely represents a deterioration in terms of body control compared to Nativity plays I saw a decade ago as a parent and the plays I have seen on video from the 70s. Even constant body movement (where children have not been taught the habit of sitting still because of the belief that they will mysteriously learn it for themselves) must be exhausting for that child who is already tired due to having to cope with difficult home circumstances.

If you’re a prog, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you already have some routines etc on the go and besides, surely children who live in difficult circumstances would like to be cheered up by a lovely bit of fun maths groupwork? To you I would say, ‘Are you actually having a giraffe?’ When an adult is feeling exhausted, stressed and generally down, do we expect them to suddenly want to throw a party? No. They just want a hug and a bowl of pasta and it is the same with children. Returning to the topic of low level disruption mentioned above, the more authoritarian nature of traditional education facilitates better behaviour (look at MCS as an example) which actually means that teachers can be more themselves and this means calmer, friendlier interactions with children. I know I’m not the only teacher who detests the sound of my own voice asking children to behave because I have to, in the absence of support from SLT, make the decision to either allow the low level disruption (or just choose to say ‘It never happens in my class, harrumph!’), be some kind of ‘edutainer’ (I refuse to act the clown) or to be that exhausted, strict teacher.

So, my argument in this blog post is that we should acknowledge that children are human beings who, just like us, yearn for routine, efficiency, simplicity and that sense of ‘home’ that comes from knowing exactly what you’re doing, where you are and who the person in charge is. This is especially true for those children who are exhausted because they live in a hostel. It is time to let children wear the comforting woolly jumper of traditional education.

Who’s with me?

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9 thoughts on “It’s time to put on the woolly jumper of traditional education

  1. La plus ҫa change la plus ҫa reste la même chose… For all the talk of traditional education, the whole thing is still based on the philosophy and outlook of progressives. This is a damned difficult job at the best of times – the really exasperating bit is when the zealots insist on making it a multitude of times more difficult than it needs to be. The bit they have forgotten is the art of the possible.

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  2. “So, my argument in this blog post is that we should acknowledge that children are human beings who, just like us, yearn for routine, efficiency, simplicity and that sense of ‘home’ that comes from knowing exactly what you’re doing, where you are and who the person in charge is.”

    Agree 100%.

    Look after yourself quirky and keep safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “They are so used to being asked, ‘What do you think? Discuss with your talk partner!’ that they now instinctively jump in left right and centre when I’m explaining how, for example, gravity works such that you can’t get a word in edgeways because they all think they know everything already.”

    Yes! Yes! I have noticed that at Ravinia Reading. Literally. We’re all set to teach, for example, why they is spelled with an e. Instead of waiting a half second for us to impart some knowledge, some students go on and on with all of this ridiculous made up stuff. It’s as though they feel that’s what’s expected. It takes time, but eventually our students get it that we’re there to teach them stuff.

    Reach for the woolly jumper, people!

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  4. I recently told my pupils about how we were expected to put our hands on our heads to show that we had heard the teacher and were ready to focus. I told them that I couldn’t possibly enforce that practice in my classroom in the 21st century. I’m very amused to notice that some of them have begun to do it. It’s even more amusing to note that those who initiated this, were the ones who needed it most!

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  5. Maybe we work in places that have very different cultures but in my long experience of primary education I reall think that the predominant paradigm is closer to traditional than progressive. In my neck of the woods anyway. Especially (but not only) for English and maths – which take up more than half the day anyway. I’ve just finished reading the Michaela book and in the chapters on drill and direct teaching there is plenty of practice that makes me want to help teachers up their game, it’s not like we don’t teach from the front and impart knowledge already. There may be the occasional bit of ‘ progressive’ window dressing just to add a bit of variety – year 6 analysed a rigourous text in a group yesterday for example, attempting to elicit the meaning rather than listening to the teacher ‘ think out loud’ as she analysed a text. After all, in tests they need to be able to analyse an unseen test without prior teacher explanation. Doing so in a group with a dictionary and teacher guidance is a good half way house. (The text was the Magnificat in 17th centuary English, by the way- part of our end of term two week Christmas unit).

    Hands on heads? Our year 1 teacher does that occasionally- other classes it’s more usually 1,2,3, hands free, eyes on me…are these sorts of things frowned upon outside of the great metropolis?

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  6. Rest assured that, while your life may be in a slight state of flux at the moment, your thoughts are far from chaotic. My current book at bedtime, ‘Making Every Lesson Count’, and your blog are my own comforting ‘woolly jumper’! Of course, when I need ‘woolly socks’ as well, I reach for the Miss Read books! Slightly off piste, but do you think there may be a correlation between empathy and outstanding teaching? In other words, we all need ‘jumpers’, but not necessarily the same ones.

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  7. It’s not just chatter by small people it is the constant edu-waffle about let’s have a school without bells and more this that and the other for the little darlings. This is compounded by the fashionable posters for (UN) human rights for the child which are examples of poor grammar and sequencing & simply OTT. Then there are the books that are churned out for student-teachers to learn from. And don’t get me started about the Head of Ofsted ….

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  8. Its really interesting that consistent & reliable routines and language are also one of the hall marks of high quality early years provision. It is the predicability of what is going to happen that releases children from anxiety of guessing what to do next, and especially for children who may have attachment issues or SEND. T Many of these strategies are not in the sole possession of traditionalists.

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