I imagined her pride as she showed off the students’ emotional engagement; their clear sense of purpose; the impressive range of their independently generated ideas that populated their personalised pages. The inspector did not see these things and, because there was little evidence of explicit, ‘next steps learning’, initially refused to grade the lesson.
I was reminded of a video clip of a basketball match that I was shown some years ago. At the start of the video, viewers are instructed to count carefully the number of passes that one team makes.
had walked across the court and I had completely failed to notice.
The video clip was designed to illustrate the phenomenon of ‘selective attention’ and reminds us that we tend to see what we look for. And no matter how well intentioned any inspectorate may be, they will inevitably have been briefed to look out for specific elements of pedagogical practice. ‘Next steps learning’ is currently on their list. Perhaps they believe, as Diane Ravitch once expressed: ‘If mastery of the content or curriculum standard is neither measurable nor demonstrable, then it is probably so vague that it has little meaning or value for teachers and students’.
This seems hard to refute. Yet it is important to ask, while we are wholly focusing on measuring whether students are climbing up specific, carefully planned rungs, are we failing to notice the gorilla? Elliot Eisner, a writer whose wisdom I respect, noticed that ‘Some objectives one cannot articulate, some goals one does not achieve by the end of the academic year, some insights are not measurable, some ends are not known until after the fact...many teachers have developed sufficient connoisseurship to feel that something is awry but have insufficient connoisseurship to provide a more adequate conceptualization’ (Eisner). Perhaps we know that there is more to teaching than
next steps learning, but we can’t always explain what.
Another writer, Myra Barrs, did manage to explain: ‘When teachers are required to analyse desired learning 'outcomes' into clear discrete objectives, and to use these as the focus of their teaching programmes, measuring the results at the end of the course…[they tend] to leave out some of the most subtle and important qualities that contributed to learning, and which were often unspecifiable and unmeasurable in the terms required.’
No, the ‘evaluative task in this situation is not one of applying a common standard to the products produced, but one of reflecting upon what has been produced in order to reveal its uniqueness and significance.’ (Eisner)
Hopefully too, she reminded OFSTED that in our schools, full of people who are unquestionably unique, only focusing on the next step will inevitably cause us to miss much that is significant, meaningful and ultimately mysterious.
member of NWP executive and London writing group