Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the paradox of orthodoxy

More from Sue Palmer. This excerpt is from To prescribe or not to prescribe.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In autumn 2003, five years after the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy, a colleague and I presented a series of conferences around the country on the theme of Literacy: What Works? We asked the 500 primary teachers who attended to list the three best and three worst results of the NLS. Since numeracy is not my strong point, I had no idea how long it would take to collate 2 x 500 x 3 written responses. Six months and ten floppy disks later, I’m still at it – and still puzzling over the paradoxical nature of the results, particularly as regards the prescriptive nature of the NLS.

On the one hand, teachers clearly appreciate some aspects of centralised prescription. Just under 300 comment favourably on the structure provided by the Framework of Objectives, the document which set out teaching objectives for each year of primary school. As many put it, ‘we now know what to teach and when’, and words like clarity, focus, continuity and progression crop up repeatedly. There’s also considerable praise for many teaching strategies introduced by the Strategy.

On the other hand, well over 300 responses in the ‘worst things’ section relate to the ill-effects of prescription from on high, pointing out that many teachers now think in boxes, follow plans blindly, feel insecure and deskilled, and are afraid to innovate. The general impression, reading through these dispatches from the front, is that teachers may know what to teach and when, they may be equipped with worthwhile strategies, but all too often the final outcome is not better teaching but the dead hand of orthodoxy.

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