Without the stress to assess

‘As they arrive, I hear one voice outside the room louder than the rest. He seems to have plenty to say and I wonder how this might translate in the lesson. As the class come in there’s friendly chat between the teacher and students and I can see how relationships have formed with this group over the year and I think I have spotted the loud one but I’m not sure! They all seem happy to be in their music lesson and the teacher has found a nice balance between banter and the line that is not to be crossed!’ http://annagower.uk/2015/07/12/music-as-another-language/

This is the opening of Anna’s description of a music lesson observed: a thick description because it enables the reader to be there alongside Anna. We can see ourselves or not in what we read. We start to imagine the place, the pupils, the teacher. We think about the content of the lesson, the pedagogy and the purpose.

And what it’s like without ‘the stress to assess.’

What a relief from all those blogs promoting this and that approach to education but rarely, so it seems, telling us what it actually looks like, what this means for the actuality of the classroom, what it means for the teacher, the pupils.

With Anna’s story we are grounded through the telling of how it is. And that draws forth elegant writing, in this case about the teaching of music.

Write-ups of lessons observed in today’s audit culture are frequently not like this but rather made to grade – does this lesson make the grade?

This is part of the drive for school improvement. How can your teaching become more effective, technically more replete? And at the heart of this is an input-output model of efficiency, with progression in learning presented as the absolute metric. This of course constrains what the observer sees and is able to tell. The result is too often a reduced and partial account, a filleted version of what has transpired and with the teacher’s values lost in limbo. [1]

Anna’s account exposes the shallowness of this doctrine and shows how much more complex is a music education.

Karl Popper tells us that all observation is laden with theory no matter how vague or embryonic that theory may be. [2] We observe with ideas to test, hunches to confirm or dispel. But these things, as in this case when observation is non-judgmental, are likely to lie below the surface of consciousness waiting to be prompted by what we see and hear.

Thus Anna not only tells the story but in due course presents a number of propositions and questions, and then we all have something to think about, agree with – disagree with.

Describe thickly = interpretation = analysis = ideas and propositions to evaluate and test = a more mature discourse

Thank you.


[1] But is the tide turning? Is the culture changing? Are teachers finding their voice? Well, there’s a lot of bottom up energy in the system. I recommend reading ‘Flip the system: changing education from the ground up.’ Eds. Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber. Routledge. Just published.

[2] Popper, K. (1986) Unended Quest. Fontana Press.

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