A dangerous dichotomy

I can hardly believe this article! Resilience, problem solving, change management, communication skills and other so-called “soft skills” are exactly what employers want, more so than narrow exams the kids crammed for so their school could get a clutch of A’s or C’s.”

The above comment was a response to this blog post by David Didau. It expresses a viewpoint which I feel needs to be challenged.

I have been concerned for some time now by the assumption that, if you believe in an academic curriculum where subject knowledge is prized, then you are automatically in favour of “cramming” students for exams. I have never felt this. However, I can understand where the idea is coming from. If your examination board spec involved so called “controlled assessments” (now thankfully abolished), you were virtually obliged to spend valuable lesson time on cramming, as I soon realised after relatively poor exam results in the first year it was introduced. If you have organisations like PiXL promoting the idea that “the spec” should govern the whole curriculum and that responsible teachers will break it down into a checklist of statements to be ticked off, followed by an almost military approach to examination preparation, it is hardly surprising if some teachers begin to reject the idea of a subject based curriculum. Some then speak in favour of a curriculum where lesson objectives revolve around “soft skills”. Stuff academic content, just get pupils drawing pictures of beehives surrounded by a swarm of bees to create images of “good learners”.

Of course, a subject teacher does need to be aware of what the examination at the end of the course involves. Pupils also need to be aware of what will be required. In the weeks leading up to the exam, it would be an irresponsible teacher who did not spend time on examination preparation. Yet, in over 25 years of teaching, my most successful A level students were not those who spent time ticking off a checklist of the exam spec. Equally, my best lessons were those which went beyond the exam spec. I now attend conferences for languages teachers, where MFL teachers discuss the “challenge” of prose translation, which is now once more on the spec. I actually taught it when it wasn’t and I still choose passages which are more challenging than those required by the spec. Why do I do this? Because I want my students to appreciate my subject as an academic discipline. Also, because I am not simply cramming them for the exam, resilience, thinking skills and communication skills develop from having to grapple with the academic content of the subject.

Therefore I get irritated with the idea that the choice is either a curriculum which involves cramming for exams, or a content free “soft skills” curriculum. It doesn’t have to be like this.



This entry was posted in Knowledge, Pedagogy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A dangerous dichotomy

  1. ijstock says:

    Well said – something I have been thinking about too. The best way to good exam results is to understand the subject, not just know a set of mechanical parts. At the risk of deploying another increasingly over-worked word, it’s about mastery. And exams are best used as retrospective validation of learning, not its raison d’etre.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s