Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Practice doesn't matter

Some time ago I was involved with an e-learning programme on coaching for the FA (Football, or soccer for US readers). I spoke to the guy a few years later who told me the programme had made a fortune for the FA, showing that branded, quality, niche, generic, e-learning content can make money.

Pathetic on practice
What was more interesting was his analysis of the ills in British football, exemplified by recent England performances. He explained that our heritage in sport was rooted in the public school system which valued 'games' but not 'practice'. To practice was seen as a form of 'cheating' old chap. So we like to play competitive sports, not practice to improve. This is so true. I've seen my kids get turned off football and rugby, despite being keen when younger, because it simply wasn't any fun playing on huge pitches with huge goals designed for six-foot goalkeepers. It was all about 'getting stuck in' with little real coaching. They gravitated towards Tae Kwon Do which is mostly practice, with occasional competitions, and flourished (for 4 years, four/five times a week, a clutch of medals, heading towards black belt next year).

Homework seen as cheating
A further reflection was around the issue of homework. Most parents I speak to with children in the state system are shocked at the lack of homework. Perhaps this has its roots in the same culture, that practice is wimpish, only for swats, and doesn't matter. The students who do lots of homework are the students who do well academically, it's as simple as that. They learn how to learn and develop intrinsic motication and discipline around learning. These students often hide the fact that they do stacks of work at home, for fear of being ridiculed. They learn to keep quiet about doing homework.

Homework creates autonomous learners. It teaches them to learn efficiently. It prepares students for the leaps from primary to secondary to tertiary education. It allows parents to contribute to their child's education and keep track of their progress. Looking back on my 50 years on this planet, most of what I learnt was in the quiet of my own room, not in classrooms. It's a shame that this valuable ethos is being abandoned.

Thinking in the box
There is, of course, another reason for the collapse of autonomous learning (homework) - the teaching profession's obsession with classroom-only learning. Like full-size pitches in football, they're too big, anonymous, impersonal. They strip the fun out of learning. Educational theorists and practitioners can only think in the box, that box being the Victorian classroom. This is why the main investment in technology was in whiteboards. A more cynical observer would say they simply can't be bothered marking.


Anonymous said...

I come from a different educational background. While we were still fairly new to the UK and trying to get our heads around the education system, I discovered that one of my sons was in the middle of exams. I asked the teacher why we hadn't been told. Pointing out that we could have helped him to revise and prepare. I was told that this was exactly why I hadn't been told because "not all children have such supportive parents and we can't have yours getting an unfair advantage."

I got pretty much the same response when I discovered that each term had a "theme" and that every subject had that theme woven into it somehow. I asked to be advised at the beginning of the term what these themes were, so that we could arrange family outings and activities that might support that theme (such as visiting the Egyptian display at the British museum and hiring the animated movie Prince of Egypt when the theme was Egypt). This, too, was seen as unseemly and I was advised to leave their education with the school.

There seemed to be this desire to level the playing field down to the lowest common denominator. It's a very different attitude and one I am in no hurry to adopt.

Donald Clark said...

A similar response is often given for not using technology for learning and homework. They claim that they can't do it because some (a shrinking minority) may not have a PC at home.

Imagine for a moment the following parallel argument. We can't possibly use books because some houuseholds don't have them at home.

Unknown said...

Karyn, I'm lost for words and amazed. Home schooling is looking more and more favourable.