Some students have a complex understanding of success and often they see images of people achieving instant success on reality shows and programmes like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or ‘The X-Factor’. The hard work is hidden from audiences. The VT shows a week’s worth of blood and sweat reduced to a soundbite of 10 seconds. We see the trauma of the press reaction or a nasty comment from someone on Twitter but a lot is missing. Where’s the boredom of learning lines? Where’s the boredom of going through the same dance movement over and over again? What they, and we, see is the polished sugary niceness of the performance. It looks effortless. It looks like they have only practised it once, but they have a ‘natural’ talent for performing, when in reality it has taken much more effort. Maybe we need to see the effort that people put behind work and learning.
Before you start thinking that I am a draconian, tweed-wearing, coffee-breathing stuffy dinosaur of education past, listen to some of these thoughts. Why do some students find revision difficult? It might be their inability to work independently, or it might be that it is hard to make revising knowledge fun. Why do some students struggle with the leap between GCSE and A-level? It might be that they lack the skills necessary, or it could be their expectations of learning – they think things will be fun and engaging as they always have been in KS3 and KS4. Why do some students struggle at university? It could be that they chose the wrong course, or it could be that the learning isn’t tailored for their interests, but for academic success.
Now, some of these points might be leaps of imagination, on my part, but I do feel that we have a duty to prepare students for life and work. I love teaching, but there are some tough bits, and, occasionally, some dull bits - I am not complaining, honestly. Every job I have had has been the same; some good bits and some dull boring stuff. Real life can be, well, a tad bit boring too. I am not advocating that we sit students on a chair and role play sitting on counter waiting for your shift to finish in three hours, but I think we have to be honest about life and learning. It is not all tap dancing, sunshine and smiles – what do you mean that doesn’t sound like your life?
One of my best experiences in school, as a student, was very dull, when I think of it. I spent a whole week translating line by line Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’, including the prologue. I have kept the exercise book because I am so proud of it. It’s full of mistakes and it makes my marking hand twitch, but I loved the whole process. It was painstaking; it was frustrating; it was backbreaking; it was boring. It worked for me and it helped me prepare for university. It showed me how I could achieve something if I worked hard at it. Now, I could have had an experience where I had a section involving laminated cards, a small video, a presentation and a quick word search, but I don’t think I would have got under the skin of the text. I engaged with the language and story in way that, I feel, I couldn't have got any other way. It prepared me for working through Shakespeare plays line by line and Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’. How I ‘get a text’ now is to trawl through it line by line. If only I understood this before: I thought I could watch the video of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and read a few extracts and that would help me with my A-levels – it didn’t.
It is not just teaching that is affected by this cultural shift. How many channels on TV do we have now? Click. I remember the days of four channels. Click. Now we have an endless amount of things to watch a click away. Click. Click. Click. Also, the film ‘Avengers Assembled’ typifies this notion towards boredom and a short attention span. Bloody great film, but every five minutes it has an action scene or some special effect to make sure you don’t nod off. Compare it with Richard Donner’s sublime ‘Superman’ 70s film and you see a big difference. There are lots of lengthy characters building dialogue scenes it it and the action and special effects tend to be in the background. It is as if CGI is the film equivalent of Ritalin. It stops the audience from misbehaving and moving out of their seats. It isn’t just films; it’s also TV. Look at a new episode of Doctor Who and you’ll notice the pace of things is phenomenal. You barely have time to notice the plot as one thing happens after another in quick succession.
Where does it leave us teachers? The B Factor or The Boredom Factor. Personally, I think that we have to actively work with students to give them a variety of things. However, I think we should be honest about what learning is: it is hard, difficult and boring. It takes effort, thought and willpower. We shouldn’t propagate the myth that ‘learning is fun and easy’. A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. A spoon full of sugar goes together perfectly with a spoon full of nasty, yucky medicine. Maybe, we need to balance the sugar with the medicine. Not every aspect of teaching can be sugary. Some of it needs to be medicine, but we need to be clear about that. You might think this is a heavily disguised attempt to promote chalk and talk teaching and death by textbook lessons – I am not. I just feel that we need to have a balance in our teaching and that the students need to know that the sugar isn’t the main part of learning and how the medicine is the most important part of what we offer. The fix. The cure. The source of their improvement.
I am not sponsoring a Pepsi Zero approach. A sugarless experience. We need lessons to be ‘fun’ at times to hook students in, but it is the spoon of medicine after the fun that is the most important thing as it is challenging, thought-provoking, demanding, effective and occasionally boring.
Right, I am bored of this and I have some flashcards to laminate, an interpretive dance of 'Of Mice and Men' to prepare and a joke about subordinate clauses to write. Oh, and I am off to find a more interesting blog….
Thanks to @Gwenelope again for editing duties.
Thanks to @Gwenelope again for editing duties.