Of course if we are seeking to provide time for pupils to become absorbed in their learning experiences, and time to reflect upon them, the question then arises what is required of a ‘teacher’ in this model?
Now this is a huge question that I’ll no doubt return to, but I want to focus on just one element now. Teachers will have to become learners.
Gone are the days of the expert teacher, guardian of knowledge, authority figure who will graciously divulge their wisdom in their own good time (as long as we behave, of course!). The Internet has firmly put the nail into the coffin of that idea. ‘Knowledge’, ‘Facts’ are at the nimble fingertips of every student, and they know it! But this does not constitute a particularly valuable education, quite clearly. As NESTA point out in The Harris Report, knowledge will have to become ‘interwoven’ with skills. How do students best utilise information? What are the social and interpersonal skills required to give knowledge purpose and meaning, or to create new information and knowledge? How do we communicate knowledge and information, or adapt and collaborate in the face of changing knowledge and information?
The key thing here is that these questions do not come with answers that can be put into multiple-choice tests. They are processes. Processes that must be understood through experiences, and experiences cannot be rushed. So again, we come to the question what is required of a teacher in this model?
Teachers, like their students, will have to actively engage in the processes. Put another way, teachers will have to take the time to become absorbed in their own learning and to reflect upon their own learning. The question will be “What does it mean to learn” rather than “What does it mean to teach”. Rather than knowledge holders they become experts on learning pedagogies and practices; facilitators to guide and support the learning of others.
I’ve witnessed the impact of this first hand in a Primary School where we had been developing these Slow approaches over about 6 or 7 weeks. The teacher had just given the year 6 class a stimulus which was to deliver a themed learning day for Key Stage 1 which would use the schools outdoor spaces. She had been careful to refrain from giving any indication as to what this might mean. The whole process would belong to the class. Without any encouragement the class teemed with chatter as ideas and endless possibilities were batted around from person to person, table to table. Until two children stood up, clapped their hands sharply to get the classes attention; “Right, how are we going to do this?”
The class had taken control of their learning. They did not learn to be tested, except for the tests and challenges they set themselves. They did not learn in order to please the teacher or ask the teacher for ‘the answer’ (as they had done at the start of the project). The impact was a deep and powerful learning experience for all involved, including the teacher. Knowledge was acquired, utilised, adapted, and created because there was purpose.
And what of the teacher in this process? The process provided time (one was rarely stood at the front of the class ‘teaching’) for the teacher to look closely at the educational impact of what was happening in the classroom. In short the teacher became excellent at conducting practice research, analysing and evaluating her role and its impact, and making appropriate adaptations.
If schools are to be about learning, teachers must become experts at it. Slow, absorbed, reflective learning.