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.