I’m as bored of having a timeline full of times tables chat over the last few days as the next person but, perhaps inevitably, it’s taken a shift in rhetoric and to be honest this trend for equating things to child abuse has proper pissed me off. I came perilously close to spewing out a Twitter thread about this on Thursday but thought better of it in order to focus my thoughts a little more. This isn’t a subject to be flippant about and quietly seething at the quiz was probably not the right time to put my point out there.
The word ‘abuse’ has many uses and degrees of seriousness; whether that’s in terms of verbal abuse, abuse of power, emotional abuse or physical abuse, I think most people can understand the nuances. I understand that the word ‘abuse’ can be used as hyperbole – I’ve used it myself when people (hilariously) suggest triple barreling mine and Howard’s surnames and I tell them that should we have children I would consider it tantamount to child abuse. The thing about these recent comments though is that it’s not being used as hyperbole, it’s being used as a direct comparison with actual life-changing abuse as a central point in an argument against doing something with children. Again.
I’ve worked with children from some very difficult backgrounds for well over a decade; many of them having suffered different forms of abuse and children for whom school is their safe place with routines when home is chaos. There are children who have witnessed and experienced things I can’t even imagine and school is the one constant in their lives. Often these children are ones with 100% attendance and poor behaviour on the run up to holidays because they won’t be at school for a week. Far from being an abusive environment, school and education can be healing.
Of course kids’ll complain about learning things that are tricky. It’s what they do. But basic maths isn’t abuse, it’s a right. I understand concerns about workload, pressure on pupils or staff from these tests, all of that. It’s a separate argument. My issue here is that it doesn’t matter what the argument is – phonics, school uniforms or rote learning, at the moment I couldn’t care less. Flippantly making use of the term ‘child abuse’ to describe pedagogy people disagree with is not routine, throw-away commenting we can afford to get complacent about. It’s not hyperbole, it’s insulting and it’s damaging.
Last week I finished reading Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C. I knew it would take me a bit of time to process my ideas but I keep thinking about it in relation to things so I decided to write about them now even if my processing hasn’t finished yet. I started reading it in the summer, mostly in the garden and a long way away from work (there’s a squished ant inside the front cover and everything). Back to work and things take over and it took me a while to pick it up again, but I did.
First off. I loved it. There is a mixture of history and theory, working out of ideas and backing them up with evidence and viewpoints, and finally a plan of how all of this can work in schools today. His proposal explores applying the trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) to contemporary education. Combining the building blocks of traditional knowledge with questioning and debate, before communicating and expressing what has been learnt. This isn’t just a book with a single idea or research at its heart – it’s a quest that Robinson has set out on to construct a better path for education, putting his ideas together through intense background study, seeking the views of others and debating different opinions before communicating his message via this book (see what he did there?).
There were times when reading this book that I felt very uneducated and did that very British thing of just rolling along hoping I’d understand at some point. Mostly I did, sometimes I checked back. I’ve not read a lot about the history and development of education. There was a bit here and there on my MEd courses but that was research centred and I found it fascinating to see how all these ideas of how to educate were formed and transformed – something I should probably look at more. I’m not going to focus on that here, I’m going to pick out my favourite bits from the last section of the book about how we can put it into practice, because that’s the bit I’ve been thinking about most.
This bit will make little logical sense as I pick out some favourite bits and ask myself questions. It’s only in this order because that’s how it is in the book.
The description of The Renaissance Person p.162
I love the idea that we’re all exposed to so much more information now and we should embrace this and allow it to shape us. Our pupils come from some pretty limiting backgrounds and we do our best to throw as much at them as possible whilst they’re with us. I think this is a really good foundation for any school ethos. I also found myself linking it with the recent ‘futurologist’ guff – not the learning styles stuff, but the many different careers stuff. Maybe it’ll be a Renaissancey thing where they can move from passion to passion because they have the opportunity?
Parental Engagement to Close the Gap p.191
Totally agree with this one. Especially working with the ‘naughty boys’ where you tend to get the ones ending up at the PRU and an SEMH school like ours, and the ones put in a residential school (or the well off ones packed off to boarding school). I’ve read a few things on parental engagement and we discussed it at our first TSA journal club. At the moment if there’s anything I’d like to do some research around, it’s probably this.
Active Citizenship p.223
LOVE this idea of pupils bringing issues into the classroom that they can work around and campaign for. Get to know their local and wider environment, build confidence and challenge opinions. Brilliant.
Awesome Quote p.227
“When teachers have the choice, they must not choose knowledge by how accessible it is, but by how important it is; they should then use their professionalism to make it accessible.”. I’m ALL about this.
The Authentic Curriculum p.241
I linked this with the Active Citizenship idea really. We need to make sure it doesn’t matter where they come from, they all get a chance and quite often we’re trying to keep ours out of prison. ‘Real experimental learning’ is a bit like extreme work experience with opportunities from all over the place. We do a lot of this already and I like the fact we can give it a name. I spent the best part of two years trying to start up a Scout troop in school and it’s fallen at an administrative hurdle. I hold out hope…
The simple tables on pages 236/7 of Teaching styles and Learning methods categorised with each element of the trivium have been the thing that has really shifted my thinking around. All the other things are interesting ideas I want to ponder on and see if there’s a place to use them in school. The trivuim set out in these tables is something that has prompted me to change the way I think about what I’m trying to achieve with my work.
The tables set out how to teach (and learn) within different elements of the trivium. From Grammar and getting a solid foundation, through Dialectic with more independence of ideas, to Rhetoric and the formation and spreading of thoughts and opinion; I think it fits the classroom well, but it’s also made me think about how we should approach research engagement in schools.
It’s easy to forget how little engagement most teachers have with research when you’re in the researchED/Edu-twitter bubble, but it’s said often enough about CPD that if we take into account the needs of pupils when teaching, we should take into account the needs of staff when training, and research engagement should be no different. I’m wondering where school research sits and how I can use the idea of the trivium in my role as research lead.
For me, most of the people I work with are at the beginning of their research journeys (I cringed too but I can’t think of another way of saying it). They need the grammar. Before rushing full pelt into research, I need to work out how we can build up a solid foundation of basic knowledge and terms, familiarity with things like EEF toolkit, get into the habit of asking for evidence. I need incremental steps, to provide resources, increase capacity incrementally and to scaffold. I need to encourage reading, accessing information and learning to deal with not understanding. Once people are in a position where they feel more confident they can move to the Dialectic – questioning, comparing sources, habits of discussion and critique. Finally we can move to the Rhetoric. Self-reflection, expressing opinions, positing questions and connecting with other institutions and expertise. Only at this point perhaps are we ready to use the full potential of things like journal clubs – too soon and it won’t have the impact.
I’ve also considered Lesson Study. The impact of lesson study on teaching and learning is still questioned and some of that is about chucking a process at staff that they might not understand. One of the things that gets mentioned when the Japanese version of lesson study is compared with the emerging UK versions is that in Japan the research element takes the form of a massive piece of work. I wonder if the scale of this initial research means that teachers work through each element of the trivium as they are producing it. The scale allows for the time they need to work through the theory, argument and form an opinion, and by reducing that for our programmes, do we miss stages out? If teachers don’t have time to get grounded and really understand the research lessons they’re planning, is the impact going to be less?
I know it’s important that there’s room for everyone to develop at different rates and with the structure of the trivium (even if it’s in the way I think about it rather than a formal programme of development), it’ll be easier to see where people are headed and I don’t think it’ll seem quite so much like it’s falling on deaf ears, rather a matter of building experience. One thing I have wondered is if we need to be able to teach the whole trivium or do we specialise in particular elements? Does a research lead need to be better at the groundwork or good at all of it?
Finally, the other thing I’ve been pondering this week is our school motto. ‘Choice and Responsibility’. Robinson discusses using each element of the trivium to create rounded school mottos and I’ve been trying to think about what we could add to ours to complete the set. Inform? Challenge? Share? It probably depends how you categorise each word into the trivium. Is ‘choice’ about us providing a choice/well-rounded information (grammar) or about questioning and making a choice (dialectic)? Is ‘responsibility’ about using their knowledge to make the right decisions (dialectic) or about the conclusions they make and take forward (rhetoric)? I’m still thinking about it and suspect I’ll keep on thinking about it. Until I read the next one…