A Balance of Approaches in Education

Some years ago now, I did a student survey which looked at which subjects in the school were favourites with the students and which were least favourite, and then tried to delve into the reasons why.

It was quite clever (I thought) because it was worded in such a way as to reveal what was going on with each subject. It looked at what subjects were considered to be most and least boring, what was happening with differentiation, and how each subject dealt with the tricky subject of its own nomenclature, often the first place that students trip up - but all from the student’s point of view. The results at that time presented a real glimpse into what was going on in each subject at the end of Year 11.

In brief, though all subjects did well, from the students’ point of view the ‘best’ subjects were Maths, Art and Drama, in that order. Strangely enough, these subjects were the ones which consistently got the best exam results over the years at that school. So there was a direct correlation between how the students felt about them, and how they were actually performing in them.

To grasp what this was all about, you have to understand something that is so obvious it can be overlooked: schools deal with children. Whereas adults usually (though not exclusively) have enough self-awareness and experience to be able to evaluate what is happening when they sit down to study something, a child, even an older child, more often does not. Engaging a child’s attention and then holding it, through 15 years or more of intense learning, through a potential minefield of many and varied subjects, and then expecting that child to emerge at the end with full understanding and ability to apply all that he or she has learned, is the particular challenge of a school.

Back when I was doing this survey, I was also working on the school’s curriculum, upgrading it towards a consistent and high standard curriculum for the first time. It became clear that the Maths department could be used as a model for developing a truly workable method of education. What I meant by that was an educational approach which took the best of what systematised learning had to offer and combined it with the best of what interactive, class-based lessons had to offer to produce an all-round education that was not only effective in terms of getting hard, academic results, but which was also fun and alive and warmly thought of by the students themselves.

A magic combination, in other words, making the most of the advantages of using set work while also valuing and emphasising the incredible power of communication and interaction with subject-passionate teachers that occurs in some class-based lessons in schools.

Art and Drama were and are very successful because of this high level of communication and interaction in lessons; Maths was successful because, while retaining the valuable elements of class-based lessons, the way the set pieces of work were constructed meant that no one got left behind academically.

Our most sucessful subjects (academically) were the most (student-)loved subjects!