Here is the headline and image:
I exchanged a number of Twitter comments with Tom about this article, as did many other people. This post contains some thoughts about my exchanges with Tom and others.
I'll start with this comment from @ProfDanielMuijs:
If the article is 'perfectly sensible', why has there been such a strong reaction?
The tone of the Evening Standard article
I came to the TES article via the Evening Standard. I was caught by the headline: the 'Government's education/behaviour czar' appears to be 'warning' us about what is and isn't 'proper' teaching, and that students who do "group work" are not being taught properly.
Clearly this headline is designed to get a reaction. Perhaps some people did not read beyond it? There is plenty to get worked up about in the title - but it does not bear much resemblance to the body of the original text of the TES article.
(Incidentally, Tom did not see the Evening Standard article in advance of it being published.)
A lot of group work is "not teaching"
In the body of the TES article, Tom suggests that some activities such as DVDs and posters are not a good use of lesson time. I personally do not use posters or DVDs in my teaching either, as I have not found them particularly useful.
However, there are some parts of the article that I do have issue with, such as this comment about group work:
To be honest, a lot of group work is “not teaching”. It just looks like it.
I think it would be difficult to argue that developing students ability to work with others is not an important aspect of education. Of course, some group work may not be effective, but this is the case with all approaches to teaching; why single out group work if this is not a negative evaluation of group work in general?
The negative evaluation of group work brings to my mind concerns about the individualisation of learning, as described by @gbiesta in his paper Interrupting the Politics of Learning:
To highlight these aspects of the politics of learning – that is, the political work which is being achieved through the notion and language and discourse of learning – is not to deny that there may be some good aspects to learning (although I am becoming less and less optimistic about this, precisely because of the problems outlined above), but to be aware that the language of learning, which fundamentally is individualistic, individualising and process-oriented rather than substantive, is not an innocent language, but actually a language which exerts a powerful influence on what we can be and how we can be – one that tends to domesticate rather than to emancipate.
This quotation leads to other underlying issues I have with Tom's article. Perhaps I am reading too much into the text, but the tenor of the article to me is a language of learning that is process-oriented, not substantive. It suggests (to my reading) that the only aim of teaching should be the transmission of content, where every second counts, where student engagement - the 'holy grail of zany education' - necessarily requires the 'sacrifice of content'.
Of course we should not waste students time with ill-thought out activities, and of course knowledge matters, but I also think it is important that we aim to provide children with a meaningful education, rather than aiming to fill them with as much content as we can in the time alloted.
Politics not posters
Some of this might explain why there was a number of negative responses to the article; teachers agree and disagree about this kind of thing all the time. However, I would argue that the particularly strong reaction to this article may have been a political reaction.
This week the government has proposed some highly prescriptive measures on those working in education. Perhaps this article was perceived as yet another prescription on a profession that feels as though it is being stripped of its autonomy and creativity. I think this might have been why I was initially motivated to respond to the Evening Standard headline: Here is the government's education/behaviour tsar/czar, espousing what is and what is not proper teaching.
However, I think I was naive to have this reaction. I suggested that Tom could be construed to be making further prescriptions on behalf of the government, to which he replied:
I then (also wrongly) suggested that being appointed by the government meant that Tom was speaking for the government:
My disagreement with Tom's views on teaching was wrapped inside my political distrust of anyone who would choose to work with this government:
I am encouraged by Tom's response to my 'political' concerns, and hope that he is able to change education for the better.
So why did people have such a strong reaction to this article? Was it the inflammatory Evening Standard headline? Was it disagreement with the content? Was it political? Or do people just love making posters?
I think @BodilUK sums up the discussion well with this comment: