Manual Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners (Outstanding Teaching (Crown House Publishing))

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Developing OUTSTANDING Teaching Practice -- Planning -- NQT -- Teachers

Indeed, there is a significant secondary literature that would be pertinent to this for example Greene [ 2 ], Jackson [ 3 ], Granger [ 4 ], Hansen, , [ 5 , 6 ]. This would be an interesting and valuable project, but it is not the primary concern here. Instead the purpose of the present paper is to forge new lines of enquiry, in particular in relation to how playfulness and seriousness are manifested in contemporary education.

This was more than a purely theoretical issue for Dewey; at the time of writing, in the early twentieth century, pressure had been brought to bear on more conventional schooling from a number of different sources, most notably the educational reformers in the Manual Training Movement. Dewey was also responding to current research in child psychology and his own teaching experience in the classroom. Dewey itemized these as, …work with paper, cardboard, wood, leather, cloth, yarns, clay and sand, and the metals, with and without tools.

Processes employed are folding, cutting, pricking, measuring, modelling, pattern-making, heating and cooling, and the operation characteristic of such tools as the hammer, saw, file etc. Outdoor excursions, gardening, cooking, sewing, printing, book-binding, weaving, painting, drawing, singing, dramatization, storytelling, reading and writing as active pursuits with social aims not as mere exercises for acquiring skill for future use. Not everyone agreed that such activities were suitably educational and Dewey himself voices concern and spends considerable time and effort rethinking their educational worth.


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Dewey acknowledges that the inclusion of more practical activities in the curriculum and school environment, particularly those associated with play such as games, drama and construction, had made school much more enjoyable for children and made managing them far less onerous as well as seemingly enhancing their learning. However, the down-side was a suspicion that schools were being tempted to use such activities simply to make life easier and provide relief from the strain and tedium of formal school work.

Such activities therefore needed a more rigorous justification. To do so would require reconsideration not only of how we understand play as an active occupation but also how we understand work, particularly in the educational context. Clearly one of the dominant factors in such a picture is that of economic necessity.

Therefore absence of economic pressures in the educational context of the school means activities which normally possess an instrumental value in wider society can be pursued for their own sake and enable such growth to occur. Dewey suggests that by incorporating these activities into the curriculum the natural outcome of acquiring knowledge through activities done for their own sake will be to enhance the experience of learning, with play activities no longer carrying the stigma of lacking purpose and work activities no longer carrying the stigma of drudgery and coercion.

Play and work will co-exist as harmonious characteristics of activities done for their own sake within the educational context.

Engaging Learners

However, in How We Think [ 9 ], the emphasis on the relative importance of play and work as physical activities and their interconnectedness is internalised as Dewey considers the relationship between playfulness and seriousness as states of mind. We might wonder why Dewey appears to privilege the attitude over the activity. To do so, he argues work should also be understood as an attitude of mind, an orientation towards activity. The psychological equivalent to characterising activities as work is to characterise the attitude of work as seriousness.

In this Dewey echoes the thoughts of other philosophers and writers who have sought to express not only something important and vital about childhood but also a sense of what is lost and what must be rediscovered in adulthood through the paradoxical juxtaposition of the playful and the serious. Dewey is not taking up these thoughts directly. His point is not so much that these qualities have become lost but are divided and displaced in contemporary industrial society.

It is from a distorted and divided perspective that adults construct the educational experiences of children.

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What seems conjoined and natural in the young child becomes dichotomized and estranged in the adult. Thus Dewey must work with dichotomy, estrangement and paradox in order to resolve them in the ideal mental state. An education that seeks to replicate the natural responsiveness of the child to its world but within the classroom in its broadest sense, is the desired aim. What precisely does he hope to achieve?

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Therefore one thought is that he is illustrating an ideal blend of process and product within the classroom environment. Given he understands schools as having essentially failed to achieve this Dewey seeks a model for the kind of engagement he advocates. What permits him to do so is that in the general picture of adult necessity that forms the background to classroom activity, one type of individual stands out as not having succumbed so utterly to these necessities: the artist.

The artist retains the childlike capacity to respond openly with both seriousness and playfulness to the world and is able to turn responsiveness into the products of art. The picture is of an ideal synthesis of artistic inspiration and artistic technique that produces the successful the work of art, together with an assumption that the work of art will be complete. Too much concern for or too little skill in the execution of technical aspects and the work will be unsuccessful.

Likewise if not enough inspiration or imagination has gone into the work of art, it will also be judged a failure, revealing little about its subject matter. Its final form will be an expression of its means and ends.

Engaging Learners (Outstanding Teaching Series) by Andy Griffith

In Deweyan terms it is in the harmony of means and ends that we have the attitude of the artist. Given this is the ideal balance of mental forces that Dewey wants students to exhibit, what then is the role of the teacher? Thus the task of the teacher is not simply to develop the right kind of orientation towards activities but to achieve an ideal balance between the inspiration and vision necessary to engage and animate students and provide them with the guidance essential to acquiring mastery over the means of executing that which they have been inspired to produce within a particular subject or academic discipline.

It is both a difficulty and a reward. It is not easy but it is worth pursuing.

The problem is not Gradgrindian factsas such but the way in which those facts are presented and taught, leaving little room for imaginative play upon them. The role of the teacher is to create opportunities for this in the classroom. It is the playful that engages the interest of the student, encourages inquiry, exploration, experimentation, encourages students to question their assumptions about a topic, unsettles prior knowledge and opens up students to the possibility of new knowledge. It is the serious that ensures learning is absorbed in terms of clearly identifiable ends. The student may be puzzled, curious, bewildered, amazed, encouraged to speculate and so forth but this will be in order to meet those ends.

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Outstanding Teaching by Andy Griffiths and Mark Burns (2012, Paperback)

A good example of how pedagogical practice can be understood as harmonising the serious and the playful in this purposeful way is found in Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns Griffith and Burns, [ 11 ]. Their claim is that, Play is a serious business. Encouraging play and playfulness will help students not only get more enjoyment from their learning but also more progress. Using playful methods in our teaching can get students to be more alert, more interested, more engaged and into more flow.

Play can also become a more desirable habit for both teachers and students, enabling them to value playful ways of exploring learning and living. In the course of offering useful advice to the teacher about such things as targeted use of games, acquiring a sense of humour and relaxed persona, modelling playfulness and developing clowning and stand-up skills, they present an example of how play is used by a teacher to enable more serious work, in this case the practical study of a Shakespeare text, Anne Riley knows that when she wants her GCSE English students to act out a scene from Romeo and Juliet she has to warm them up first.


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  8. She gets students to simply walk past each other. Then she asks them to walk past each other and make eye contact. And then she asks students to walk past each other with a swagger.

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    She gradually builds engagement before any dialogue from the script is spoken. As described the serious educational work is the acting out of the scene. Committed and engaged involvement will then enable the students to write with insight about the play, drawing on their own experience.

    This is the engagement that is referred to. The teacher breaks down the component parts, particularly those that are difficult to sustain or require the students to be warmed up. Thus it is a step by step introduction to what is required in the scene to make it convincing—the making and breaking of eye contact, the use of appropriate body language, movement and gesture, hopefully leading to convincing and appropriate expression of dialogue.

    Of course it is not enough to simply do the exercises. You can walk, make eye contact, swagger, badly. The students may be embarrassed and not take it seriously, undervaluing the work. Their work itself may be ineffectual. The teacher knows this. The exercises target what is most difficult—holding eye contact in close proximity, keeping a straight face, enjoying the swagger, playing with it threateningly. They are therefore something more than just a warm-up. In gradually building engagement the exercises will come to constitute part of the scene and are bound up both with the representation of the text through its physical and vocal embodiment and with taking it seriously.


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    This might appear to present a good example of what Dewey was seeking to justify. It draws on an activity like drama, it harmonises the preparatory process and the end product, reflecting a harmony of seriousness and playfulness in the students themselves and between teacher and students. As a result of their engagement the students will be able to successfully respond to the formal educational demands that will be made on them, for example in being able to answer an exam question in a literature paper with insight and understanding.