Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Less is more!

I just feel compelled to write down  a few thoughts related to news from the UK this week that the education secretary, the infamous Michael Gove, plans to lengthen the school day and the school year! (My attention was drawn to this via this Telegraph article which someone tweeted about and a forum of reaction on the TES)

Whilst this is a whole school issue, it is one that often comes up in mathematics teaching. Does 'more hours' equate to 'more learning' or 'better learning'? I know where I stand on this issue and I wonder why this question seems to have escaped analysis in anything I have read on this issue so far. I am often giving to saying that a student might receive around 500 hours of maths classes in secondary school between the ages of 11 and 16. Dont tell me that isn't enough. The greatest challenge facing teachers and students a like is to make effective use of that time. There is a whole other blog post (and more) about this, but for now I want to concentrate on the question above.

In recent years, I have aspired to working towards the very best learning experiences. Whilst many of the elements of these are unpredictable, many are not and a great deal of thought and creativity is required to develop activities that you have been doing for years in to really rich tasks. Unfortunately, the reality is that I cannot deliver these all day long, all week long because they take so much thought and preparation. I hope only that I can manage more and more, the more I build them. Sometimes, I am prepared to take my foot off the pedal - as far as students are concerned - for a couple of lessons so that we can all work towards one of these great tasks. I always find it is worth it because we all get so much out of these rich activities.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that 1 fantastic lesson can be worth 3 or 4 more ordinary ones on so many levels and that I often wish I had less hours to teach so that the ones I did teach were more likely to meet these high standards. 'Less is more'!

On Gove's idea and the reaction there are a few things that bother me....

  • What evidence does he have that a longer day and year would improve standards of education?
  • I would recommend that anyone who thinks this is a good idea shadows a typical student for at least a day but preferably longer to try and get some perspective on what demands are made on the learner 5/6 hours a day and then homework.
  • The idiotic responses of so many of the teachers on that TES forum made me pull my hair out. It is no wonder teachers are given so little credence when so many react like that. How frustrating.
  • Whilst there is no doubt that any such increases would have a have a huge impact on teachers  so few (1 or 2 out of the 60 or so I read) make any mention of the impact on students - surely the central point in this debate. Again - I find this frustrating.
  • One sharp observer did point out the savings on child care that would be made by so many if this was implemented. I am cynical enough to believe this must play a part. How sad if true.

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