noun: pedagogy; plural noun: pedagogies

the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.

I’m only 38 (39 next week, don’t forget to make me a card kids) but my PGCE year seems like so many moons ago. Despite only being fifteen years past, I feel myself constantly talking like an old sage to younger members of staff about how it was so much better back in the old days. 

After all, it was a golden time when thresholds were passed without hurdles, training was government subsidised, academy trusts had never been heard of, golden hellos were given out like toffees, a new national strategy for something or other appeared every week and of course, every child still mattered.  

It was a time when teachers entered the classroom having the experience of having spent at least a year (yes, I know a FULL YEAR) studying the very art of standing up in front of people and telling them about stuff they knew. There was educational theory upon educational theory. 

Some of these theories were developed by Plato, some were developed by trendy young bods at the DFE and no matter which way of doing it you actually subscribed to – one always contradicted the other. To a young, inexperienced teacher the white noise was deafening. The advice from those in the know however was abundantly clear. 

Take in everyone elses ideas. Learn all the teaching styles you can, but most of all, if you learn nothing else… Develop you OWN pedagogy – without having a clear idea of how YOU want to teach you’ll be stuffed. 

It wasn’t something I must confess that I ever feel I mastered during my eleven years in the classroom. With the day-to-day grind hacking away at my very motivation for being in the building in the first place, high ideas about my chosen methods of educational practice often passed me by. When you are struggling to keep your head above the water as I was, the last thing you’ve got on your mind is the finesse of your swimming stroke. 

Nowadays however things are much different both for me and those who find themselves still working hard at the coalface. My role as a freelance artist involves me swanning into a school at 8:30, whipping the kids up into a creative frenzy for the day, then disappearing at 3:30 before the traffic really hits. Sometimes I learn children’s names, sometimes I don’t. I’m never loaded with pastoral issues, I have no books to mark and I never, never have to phone a parent to discuss current levels of progress.

Well, bully for you Jenkins. Thanks for rubbing it in. What’s your point?

Well, I’ve had a bit of a moment – and it is only now that I have been freed up from the pressure of delivering the ever-shrinking curriculum every day that I have finally found myself the headspace to develop my own teaching practice. Now I work outside of the big top I don’t have to jump through the same hoops, leaving a very welcome vacuum for me to fill. 

It was only this month as well, despite now being a freelancer for well over two years that I have finally feel confident enough to say – “Yeah, that’s the way I do it. That’s what learning in a Paul Jenkins led classroom looks like.” 

I’ve only gone and got myself my own personal pedagogy! You’d think would have picked it all up a bit quicker, but as most of the females who went to school with me will testify – I’m a late bloomer. 

The concrete, no holds barred, ‘By jove I think he’s got it’ epiphany arrived for me this week with a Year 5 group who were creating group poems in a workshop I was delivering at a school in Wigan. After mind mapping (or splurging as I like to call it) ideas down onto paper (plain paper, never lined) in the messiest fashion possible, we were now in the process of structuring some verses line by line, conjoining the random nouns & adjectives they had jotted down to come up with some more ‘poetic’ sentences that we could use in a group poem.

– How about this as a line sir? “The huddling hedgehogs hid from the crisp, white snow?”

– Brilliant work X. You’ve managed to used alliteration and an expanded noun phrase in one line. 

– Did I? Oh yeah, I did!

The light bulb turned on and I got that adrenaline buzz that you get when you finally see a small person grasping a concept in front of your very eyes. (You know the one, it’s the look that makes all the hours of hair pulling worth it). 

I’d managed to make a bridge connection that he’d been struggling with after probably hundreds of SPAG lessons over the last six years. He knew what an expanded noun phrase was of course, he’d practiced making lists of them in his book a hundred times before. This time however he’d used it without thinking and it was the outcome of doing this that had become the lesson in itself. To top it off I’d been able to introduce the concept of alliteration to him as well, as that one had done a complete flypast for him up to now. 

He went out to playtime on a high, knowing that not only did he come up with a decent line to contribute to the group poem, but he was also ace at SPAG for a change.

Take it to bits – the best way to figure out how to put it together

This is definitely my preffered way of working. In engineering and physics circles the process is often referred to as ‘reverse learning’ and I think its suits me right down to the ground. The prime example when trying to explain reverse learning is the way we can teach students about how that chugging thing under the bonnet of your car works. 

You could spend weeks and weeks in a classroom learning labels for the various parts of a combustion engine, discussing principles of motion, energy efficiency and the intricate details of gear systems. 

Or you can give someone an old engine, ask them to take it apart and then try to put it back together again. Your teacher can be there for you to tell you which part might explode if you aren’t careful or the correct label for that whirry bit that makes the shiny bit go ping, but essentially you are leading the learning yourself and discovering concepts through your own initiative. 

It is this style of learning which, although messy (I’m trying to leave the engine analogy behind but it seems to keep following me!) is a fantastic way to encourage learners to investigate processes themselves, rather than spoon feeding them transient information for a test. If you understand the process, you can add the fancy labels later. 

In my poetry workshops, the children offer their outcomes first, then we unpick how they got there later. It is rare (in fact, it’s almost impossible) that they produce something has no literary value at all, so there is always something for us to deconstruct- our job is to give them enough inspiration to produce something you can pick apart later. 

As Bill Bailey once said when asked how he goes about writing a joke… 

“I start with a laugh and work backwards from there. What would cause that much mirth?” 

I would very much expect to see me working backwards from now on and I should imagine I’ll have good old laugh doing it too.