You may have missed it but there was something of a spat on Twitter a few weeks back when one blogger suggested that certain books weren’t worth reading. After all sorts of guff about the ‘pedagogy police’ was slung back and forth the dust settled, an apology was issued, and we all went on with life as before, bruised but wiser.
But there was some sort of consensus that slagging off ideas wasn’t very nice and that criticism should be constructive. I think.
Last week, as you’ve probably heard, I got to meet with Ofsted’s National Director of Schools, Mike Cladingbowl. At one point during the discussion on Ofsted not having a preferred teaching style he asked, his voice dripping with scorn and incredulity, “Did you know, someone has written a series of books called The Perfect Ofsted Lesson?”
“Well, I’d burn them!”
“Oh, OK. I don’t know whether you know, but I actually wrote one of them.” Cue awkward pause.
“I’d still burn them.”
I pointed out that almost the first thing I say in my book is that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson. I checked it earlier today and here’s what I actually say in the introduction:
I passionately believe that by understanding a few simple principles and working hard to follow them, you can deliver the perfect English lesson. The very best English lessons provide engagement, motivation and genuine progress in the crucial skills of communication. I aim to lay out before you a smorgasbord of proven and successful titbits which you can mix together and use as and where you see fit.
I have to say, I felt a bit disappointed in myself. In an earlier draft, this paragraph read as follows:
Is there such a thing as the perfect English lesson? Well, no, probably not. There is, you may be disappointed to discover, no single lesson that you can trot out endlessly and clap yourself on the back for being a good egg. If there were it would quickly become stale and we’d both be exposed as frauds. But, if we remove the definite article and consider instead possible ingredients of a perfect English lesson, then we can probably agree that there is some mileage in reading on. This book is an attempt to capture a few of these perfect moments and unpick the thinking behind them. I aim to lay out before you a smorgasbord of tidbits exemplified by my own teaching as well as the teaching other English teachers of my acquaintance which you can slot together and use as and where you see fit.
That is what I wanted to say (and what I actually believe), but the process of editing is remorseless. However, that is the message of the book. There is no right way to teach, but there might be good ways to teach. I base most of my assertions on research and have actually used all the ideas in the book, for whatever that’s worth.
It should probably go without saying that I would write a very different book today and, although I’m still proud of, and stand by, most of it, there are things I would change. Hey ho! That’s the beauty of publishing. I was immensely flattered to be asked to write it and it has served me well.
But that said, I go to great pains in the book to make it clear that all the myths that have grown up around “what Ofsted want” are nonsense, and I hope that, in its own small way, the book might have helped some teachers to rid themselves of some of the most pervasive and pernicious pieces of misinformation about what might constitute good teaching.
Imagine my surprise when I was emailed this picture
There is some irony that my books sets out to make many of the points Mike makes in his bullet points.
Anyway, this isn’t an apology. There’s actually something quite piquant about being on a banned list. The title is, perhaps, regrettable but hopefully we try not to just judge a book by its title. I know many people have been put off reading it because of this, but many more will have bought it because of the O word. It was never an attempt to tell anyone how they should teach but instead set out to explore how you could teach.
But it got me thinking: are there books on teaching we should ban? Would anyone ever agree? Is this nothing more than revealing a preference for a particular teaching style?
Anyway, when compared to Ofsted’s own good practice guides, I think it bears up rather well.