Hey Jimmy, gimme the gimmix
Another day – another fad:
John Cooper Clarke
How many gimmicks can one teacher get through? The short termism of ‘fill the lesson with gimmicks’ approach does untold harm to teaching and learning. That books and websites extol the virtues of little techniques you can use last minute for ‘starters’, for ‘plenaries’, and for that, ‘long dull bit in-between starter and plenary,’ should worry all who value thoughtful teaching.
The danger is not in some of the techniques per se, but lies in the fact that the short term gimmicks might be all or most of what there is. Why search for gimmick upon gimmick to get through a lesson with no thought to the overall need to teach something and for pupils to learn something? If a teacher doesn’t have a view as to how the whole of the course she is teaching unfolds over the years then she is more likely to seek out gimmicks, instead of every minute being precious, every minute is filled with activities. Instead of the gentle unfolding of interesting and/or difficult concepts, ideas, facts and skills, the lesson is about pace, engagement and getting through. Quick, grab a Bingo game! A last minute group game! A sponge ball to chuck at kids so that they have to answer a question in the plenary game!
The three part lesson adds to the problem, I mean what is a starter? In drama I would begin lessons with pupils standing still with their eyes closed, feet shoulder width apart, shoulders straight, heads straight… This was a starter ‘inactivity’ I suppose, but it served a purpose: focus, and I used the same beginning for nearly every lesson. Rather than a gimmicky starter, I would ‘begin at the beginning’ in a ritualised manner. I wasn’t desperately searching for a starter activity five minutes before I went into the classroom.
The queue at the photocopier is telling, does the queue consist of teachers holding meticulously sought out material that will aid understanding of the topic in hand, or are they clutching a word search that they needed five minutes ago? Do the teaching library shelves contain well thumbed copies of Teaching Gimmick books hastily read whilst spilling coffee and thinking about how to get through that lesson with 9Q last thing on Friday? Or is the staff room full of teachers talking about and sharing material to teach, about the content of the course, adding depth or breadth to what is being studied. Thinking about content might be last minute, it might be discovered during a lesson as the teacher gets further insight into the material being studied, this intellectual process is not aided by inane activities. A staff room full of teachers laughing, discussing, thinking, talking about other things than teaching too is undoubtedly healthy, though shouldn’t be forced by gimmicky happiness or mindfulness initiatives.
Gimmicks detract from teaching and learning and we let these thousand techniques bloom at our peril, for they stand in the way of a thought through pedagogical process. The thousand pacy ‘fun’ distractions that are being used in a classroom near you end up in with pupils looking for short term entertainment rather than the deeper joy to be found in getting to grips with a subject.
If you’re into gimmicks drop them now and get a grip.
6 thoughts on “Gimmicks: A Thousand Techniques Bloom”
I appreciate your point. However, I still find the kind of books that I assume you refer to useful at points. A fairly significant part of my teaching does involve filling buckets (though I like to think I light a few fires here and there en route), of simply getting kids to absorb and manipulate pieces of information (word meanings, historical events, the opinions of particular groups and individuals) before evaluating and responding to them. For me books like Paul Ginnis’s ‘Teachers Toolkit’ are useful resources for planning ways of doing this other than reading a pice of text and discussing it (which is often great, but not for all of the students all of the time.)
I’m reassured by the fact that the more I read contemporary opinion on this, the more it is becoming clear that educators are now once again in favour of actually teaching rather than entertaining their charges. Currently reading Doug Lemov and he extols the virtue of teacher talk along with high impact activities to ensure challenging objectives and ultimately mastery are achieved.
I strongly believe that it is time that the word ‘mastery’ found its way back into all teaching discussions.
It’s very easy to make a facile “no gimmicks” argument without differentiating between resources or tools for specific purposes by specific teachers. Just lump everything into one category and have done with it.
‘Gimmicks’ are not positive things, they are, by definition, gimmicky. OED online defines them as: A trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade. My use of the word is specific they are often ‘trade’ oriented or are used to be ‘attractive’ of attention to ‘entertain’ a pupil and take up her time. Tools that are for specific tasks in the thought out process of teaching something are not gimmicks. Gimmicks don’t include all tools, some tools, however, might be used in a gimmicky way sometimes. I used some examples, and ‘lll thought through’ might be an important context for thinking about this.