Hywel Roberts, ‘Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally’ (2012)

oopsRegular readers of this blog will be aware that I’m planning a career change. Come September I’ll be re-training as an English teacher, and returning to my old secondary school to do it. I’ve felt for a while that I needed a different direction, one away from my current job working in libraries; so when my Council announced it was making widespread redundancies, I decided to turn this news into an opportunity and grab it with both hands. Even though I haven’t started yet it already feels like the right move.

Which is not to say that I’m not also terrified, albeit in a good way. What’s increasingly dawning on me is just how much I need to learn. There’s so much reading I know I need to do – not only the course texts but also around teaching and pedagogy and behaviour management and the curriculum… It’s difficult to know where to start, but what’s given me real encouragement is stumbling on Hywel Roberts’ terrific Oops! Helping Children to Learn Accidentally, one of a number of books recommended to me by a teacher friend.

I was instantly struck by how accessible it was, which is not surprising given Roberts’ subject matter. As its title suggests the book is all about luring your pupils into learning when they’re only vaguely aware that that’s what is happening. Roberts likens it to setting a trap: digging a pit, covering it with leaves and letting them fall into it. There are a number of different aspects to this approach. I particularly liked the chapter which highlighted the use of stimulating, ‘fat’ questions to support learning, as well as ensuring that pupils were given adequate time to reflect on and answer them.

Roberts is also very fond of what he calls ‘learning accidents’. He rightly acknowledges that a teacher can never really know how a class will react to a particular lesson plan (even when it has been used successfully before), so instead they should embrace this uncertainty and go with it, delivering learning outcomes in a fresh and interesting way. The book is full of good examples; whilst many of them are initially drawn from Roberts’ experience as a drama teacher he’s also keen to stress their relevance to all subjects in the curriculum. ‘These aren’t just tips and techniques… It’s actually a way of thinking and delivering; it’s a refining of your practice and an opportunity to reflect on how you deliver content to the children in your class… Sometimes it just comes down to what we need the children to learn and how we deliver that need.

hywel robertsWhich is not to say that the teacher should relinquish all control of their classroom – far from it, a point that Roberts is very clear on. Rather, what he is advocating is a loosening of that control – with the teacher turning from ‘the sage on the stage‘ to ‘the guide on the side‘ and allowing pupils some room to dictate the direction of their learning. The teacher’s job is to ensure the necessary objectives are covered, something that can be much better achieved by ensuring this learning is relevant to pupils’ lives outside the classroom. Not only does this help in engaging with them, it also better prepares them for the world they will step into when they leave school.

Since deciding to become teacher it seems that almost every story I read about education is negative, whether a lack of funding; the high numbers of teachers leaving the profession; or the heavy workload. I can’t deny that these have given me pause, and made me ask myself ‘am I doing the right thing?’ I think so, but I’ll only really know for sure come September. At the moment I genuinely have no idea what sort of teacher I’ll be, but finding out is one of the many things that makes this move so exciting. In his book Hywel Roberts has given me some wise words and an exciting target to aim at, and if I can get anywhere near it I’ll be very happy.

Hywel Roberts website is at http://www.createlearninspire.co.uk/


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