Making No Sense of it All.

I’ve just spent the past half hour espousing the need for a knowledge-centered curriculum, as opposed to a discovery-centered curriculum based on skills, to my colleagues. I guess I was arguing for a traditionalist approach whilst my colleagues were strictly progessive. They used phrases like, ‘we need to educate the whole child’ and ‘we should be teaching them the skills for real life.’ I realise that my desire to perceive education as belonging to one of either of these two approaches will rankle with some. However, I am at the early stages of my foray into evidence-based practice and educational debate; I need to think in terms of these binary oppositions, for now. Only once I’ve understood these, will I be able to form a clearer, more nuanced opinion. Knowing black and white will give me a clearer opinion of grey. 

Here’s a summary of my thinking:

Above all else, students should be taught knowledge and they should be taught it directly and explicitly. Less time should be given to discovery-learning tasks and the honing of skills; more time should be spent on teaching students as much knowledge as we can possibly teach them in the short time frame we have.

Here’s what my colleagues think:

We should educate the whole child. In real life students don’t need to know what a caesural pause is, but they will need to know how to be resilient. Giving them ‘the answers’ doesn’t teach them anything.

Here’s my argument:

Students that know more will be more able to discover skills, at a later date, the skills needed for the ‘real world.’ Students that know more, will develop skills such as independence, resilience and grit, simply through exposure to advocates and practisers of these concepts in taught instruction. Besides, people that assume that a knowledge based curriculum dispenses with these skills don’t take into account the fact that any knowledge has to be consolidated through post-modelling practice and testing-two things which could contribute to the development of independence, resilience, and grit. If you fail a test on something you’ve been taught, you need to be resilient and independent in your approach to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes again. Furthermore, progressives who advocate a discovery approach are underestimating the opportunities that life outside of the educational environment provides to develop these characteristics.

Here’s what my colleagues said in reply:

Education is real life; we shouldn’t see school and time outside of school as separate. It is damaging to children. Rather, we should be advocating a holistic approach.


And that’s as far as we’ve got. For my own good, I want to list things hampering my argument:

• A lack of knowledge; I want to be able to cite studies that contradict my opponents’ argument but lack the know-how to do this confidently and fluently.

• Recognising the truths in my opponents’ statements. For example, one colleague told me, “Everything you’re saying is based on knowledge that you’ve acquired on your own. You’ve developed the skill of self-education.” He’s right, isn’t he? I argued that without direct instruction, I can’t be sure that what I’m teaching myself is correct, but this seemed to hold no sway.

• Lack of clear definitions: Is a discovery-based approach the same as a progressive approach? Is this the same as a skills-based approach? And what is a skill?

• My reputation for being provocative and contrary.

• My desperation for things to be black and white, when in fact they’re probably grey.

• My reluctance to admit this to colleagues.

• My reluctance to admit defeat.






Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

1 thought on “Making No Sense of it All.”

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