We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A Paladin lacking in Wisdom

Stretch yourselves. Answer these questions, if you think you’re hard enough:

* There were no _________ remarks at the parents’ evening. Is the correct word: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?
* A lesson begins at 11:40. The teacher prepares a 10-minute introduction followed by a 15-minute video clip and then a 25-minute activity. At what time does the activity end? Give your answer using the 24-hour clock.
* The children enjoyed the _________ nature of the task. Is the correct word: mathmatical, mathematical, mathemmatical or mathematicall?
* Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?
* For a science experiment a teacher needed 95 cubic centimetres of vinegar for each pupil. There were 20 pupils in the class. Vinegar comes in 1,000 cubic centimetre bottles. How many bottles of vinegar were needed?

Michael Gove to set out tougher teacher training rules, reports the Telegraph.

Mr Gove is to publish new requirements for the “basic skills tests” to be completed before embarking on teacher training. Candidates will also be allowed a maximum of two re-sits for each exam.

The questions quoted above were from the current versions of these literacy and numeracy basic skills tests. One in five trainee teachers fails either the literacy or numeracy part of this fiendish Educational Tripos on the first sitting.

Oh dear. Is the correct word perthetic, pafetic, or pathetic?

Answer: all three, with knobs on. You might think from this that I am going to urge the Secretary of State for Education to an even more drastic reform than allowing only two re-sits. One re-sit! One re-sit and then euthanasia!

I make no such urgings. It none of it matters. The trouble is, to put in terms that an old D&D-er like the Minister would understand, is that it is a very bad idea to magic missile the orcs while the lich remains undefeated. The least of the problems with state education is that orcs who made a bad INT roll are let into the profession. Orcs can do quite nicely as teachers. A teacher needs to roll for three characteristics:

– knowledge of the subject he or she is to teach,
– the knack of teaching,
– ability to maintain classroom discipline.

Of course it is good to have rolled high in all three, and, to be fair to Mr Gove’s latest initiative, he is probably right that a 1 in any of them probably should disqualify the applicant. But a good score in two qualities can usually compensate for one bad roll.

But by Garl Glittergold’s holy nugget, I did not mean to get distracted by recommending this tweak or that tweak of Mr Gove’s new “tougher” criteria! It’s all pointless, I tell you. (Particularly as by Mr Gove’s express wish, a person who really had passed the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge would be refused a bursary to train as a maths teacher, if he or she had only a third class degree. Yes, really, even if they could work out how many bottles of vinegar were needed.)

The point was this. You don’t fight the orcs, Gove the Mighty But Deluded. You fight the liches. Give the man his due, allowing for the fact that “Secretary of State for Education” is a useless character class that ought to be deleted from any future editions, he is doing better than any we have had for years. If he survives the liches, he may even take the fight to the Blob itself.

Just leave the orcs alone. Head teachers can fight their own orcs, or hire ‘em, you don’t have to worry which. It is unbecoming for anyone above fifth level to bash an orc.

24 comments to A Paladin lacking in Wisdom

  • John Louis Swaine

    Crit!

  • Gordon

    I don’t know what is the significance of “orc” and whatever.
    As a long retired maths teacher I can just say that the questions quoted would be within the grasp of a 1950s average grammar school pupil. Long before I retired, ie in the mid 1980s I could not find candidates for a job in my department who could meet those standards.
    Giving people a second chance, ie retraining them is useless. I met a man who had some experience in that field and even though he worked for an inner London council, which put up my hackles immediately, told me that it never did work!
    The only solution is to get rid of the Education Department so that there will be nothing for the Secretary of State to be minister of.

  • Stonyground

    *Disapproving.
    *12:30 (Assuming that the question also used 24hr notation).
    *Mathematical.
    *184.
    *2 Bottles.
    I’m 52. I went to a very ordinary comprehensive. I did all of these in my head in a matter of seconds. I did check the spellings against a dictionary to avoid making a prick of myself but I had answered them correctly.

  • john

    I kept going over them looking for the “gotcha” the trick was there was no trick… You got me.

  • RAB

    Quite right Stoney. I was a Grammar school kiddie, and we could do all that in our heads aged 11.

    knowledge of the subject he or she is to teach,
    – the knack of teaching,
    – ability to maintain classroom discipline.

    I would say that two and three of those are actually the same thing.

    My wife is a qualified teacher who has never taught. She graduated in the mid 70’s when the Govt found that they had trained thousands more graduate teachers than had jobs for them. So she went and got another job entirely.

    I used to hang out at her College in Nottingham and talk to her fellow students in the common rooms (the bar more like!). I quickly found that they were not being trained how to teach or control a class in anyway whatsoever.

    More worrying, I found that 60% of her fellow students didn’t have a very good grasp of their chosen subjects.

    I also found that the main reason they had chosen teaching was because they could get 3 years in college ( pretty much free in those days) with low grade A levels. Plus the perks, as they saw them, short working day, long holidays, decent salary etc was the main attraction, not a burning desire to educate the next generation for a bright and prosperous future.

    Add to that all the wacky new methods of teaching, new maths, mad ideas on teaching reading and writing rather than basic tried and tested phonics etc, and the knock on effect of all that, 30 years on, amounts to the catastrophe that is British Education today.

  • llamas

    I’m supriised they even test them anymore. It’s so judgemental, the whole concept of answers being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Surely we’re looking for transgressive types, who can look behind such artificial hermeneutic constructs as accuracy to a deeper meaning of integrative diversity and encompassing the differences of all pupils and teachers in a progressive model of social justice. In fact, the whole idea of ‘teachers’ is so outmoded and divisive. Because we’re all really ‘teachers’, aren’t we, and the ‘teacher’ can learn as much from the pupil as vice versa. More, in fact . . . .

    Did I pass?

    To get into engineering school, when llamas was just a cria – two A’s and a B, in suitable A-levels. To get into teacher-training school – the ability to fog a mirror. I doubt much has changed.

    llater,

    llamas

  • RAB, you quote me as saying that three things a teacher should have are:

    - knowledge of the subject he or she is to teach,
    – the knack of teaching,
    – ability to maintain classroom discipline.

    and comment, “I would say that two and three of those are actually the same thing.”

    I disagree. I have met several people who were very good at explaining things in a clear, logical manner, using language that is at the right level for the student – in other words, who had the pure knack of teaching - but who lacked the touch of steel necessary to keep good discipline.

    A person who is a good explainer but lacks the charisma or ruthlessness to control a class can do OK in teaching individuals or small groups, or voluntary students, or in teaching classes in schools where the general level of discipline is high.

    Pity such a person who finds themselves in a tough comp. Pity their pupils, too!

    I agreed with the rest of your comment.

  • There were no _________ remarks at the parents’ evening. Is the correct word: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?

    Is the question on the spelling or on the truth of the statement?

    This is not clear. Was it more clear in the question as actually posed.

    A simpler, and probably more appropriate, question would be: which one of the following words is spelt correctly: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?

    A lesson begins at 11:40. The teacher prepares a 10-minute introduction followed by a 15-minute video clip and then a 25-minute activity. At what time does the activity end? Give your answer using the 24-hour clock.

    Did the teacher’s preparation turn into the actuality that the question requires? If so, the correct answer is 12:30.

    A simpler question would be: “At what time did the teacher plan for the activity to end?”

    The children enjoyed the _________ nature of the task. Is the correct word: mathmatical, mathematical, mathemmatical or mathematicall?

    See the comment on ‘dissssappppppproveeeeing’ above.

    Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?

    That would be “expected”. [Out of kindness, I'll accept "planned to be present" as a tolerable substitute; "involved" implies "engagement": an expectation additional to the other words, and beyond the needs of the question.]

    [Aside: Anyway, who cares: they either managed or did not, and will have learned the necessary lesson from the experience.]

    For a science experiment a teacher needed 95 cubic centimetres of vinegar for each pupil. There were 20 pupils in the class. Vinegar comes in 1,000 cubic centimetre bottles. How many bottles of vinegar were needed?

    SI units (MKS), the ‘modern’ scientific standard (since I was at school doing this sort of thing in the 1960s) would be millilitres (for the needs of each pupil) and litres (for the sizes of the bottles). [Note: we, grammar school physics pupils, were also taught the meaning of the CGS terms, their equivalence, and why they had been superseded.]

    Whether this is a good (ie acceptable) question depends on the age and educational level of the people taking the exam/test. Oh, twenty-something degree-qualified people. Well, if we doubt their ability to turn a 36-word sentence into the appropriate 4-value arithmetic calculation, we had bloody well better never show them the less than totally right measurement units in any way that looks a plausibly good teaching example for the bottom two thirds of the science class. [Aside: God, I hated saying that but, if one's pupils are struggling with concepts, it really is better for them to covert all measurement to the 'right' units right at the beginning, and to consider no calculations (arithmetic or algebraic) before they have done so.]

    The newspaper article reports:

    Figures show one in five trainee teachers fail either the literacy or numeracy test first time round. One in 10 trainees have to take the numeracy test more than three times to pass and one in 14 has to take the literacy test more than three times.

    And the questions about time and vinegar fall into which classes?

    Having recently fledged the second of two daughters through secondary school, and hence now being invulnerable to damaging them, I say with confidence that UK school teaching over the last decade and a half has been a significant disappointment to me. This is especially on science and maths, but also on logic and on language, the latter being as simple as the effective use of the different meanings of the words in a language that is rich in them.

    Precision and factuality are, I presume, reviewed in history classes.

    Elsewhere today I read that the DoE thinks teachers must scrape at least a lower second. I wonder where that puts Oxbridge and the Russell Group WRT recently ‘promoted’ technical colleges. The meaning of words: who gives a four star adjective?

    I’ll come back, if appropriate, on the third and later paragraphs of this Samizdata posting.

    Best regards

  • Hmm

    The patently-not-so occult secret of Teaching 101:
    Teaching isn’t learning.

  • * There were no _________ remarks at the parents’ evening. Is the correct word: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?

    The standard spelling is ‘candid’.

    * A lesson begins at 11:40. The teacher prepares a 10-minute introduction followed by a 15-minute video clip and then a 25-minute activity. At what time does the activity end? Give your answer using the 24-hour clock.

    Subjectively – and, after all, the experience of the lesson is its point – at 20:47, or 22:59 on a Friday.

    * The children enjoyed the _________ nature of the task. Is the correct word: mathmatical, mathematical, mathemmatical or mathematicall?

    No.

    * Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?

    13, plus or minus 3, within 95% confidence limits. Dropping to 6, plus or minus 2, on the aforementioned Friday.

    * For a science experiment a teacher needed 95 cubic centimetres of vinegar for each pupil. There were 20 pupils in the class. Vinegar comes in 1,000 cubic centimetre bottles. How many bottles of vinegar were needed?

    2 for the pupils, 1 for the sinks, 1 for the floor, 1 to disappear mysteriously and never be found in the bag-search afterwards, 4 for the Gospel makers, and 1 for his nob.

    I work in a school, and really fear for any aspiring teacher who has yet to learn any of these fundamentals.

  • Hmm

    Sorry folks, I can’t help it; Here’s how I would have answered:

    * There were no __f’ing useful__ remarks at the parents’ evening.

    * A lesson begins at 11:40. The teacher prepares a 10-minute introduction followed by a 15-minute video clip and then a 25-minute activity. At what time does the activity end? Give your answer using the 24-hour clock.
    ANSWER: 13:00, when the bell goes.

    * The children enjoyed the _SADISTIC_ nature of the task.

    * Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?
    ANSWER: 2. Chang and Verity

    * For a science experiment a teacher needed 95 cubic centimetres of vinegar for each pupil. There were 20 pupils in the class. Vinegar comes in 1,000 cubic centimetre bottles. How many bottles of vinegar were needed?
    ANSWER: 72.5. Approx 3.5 for each student except Kevin who needed 6

  • Preston Hill

    Llamas: “Did I pass?” Yes you did. But you would have done better had you found a way to employ the word “normative.” This must be done so nobody knows what you are talking about, but so everyone can pretend they know. This is mandatory in discussing education (to say “teaching” is now a faux pas, but can be overlooked if it not repeated). Adding some jargonish phrase like “partially illiterated” (I actually saw this in print recently, honest) would have gone a long way toward to showing that you were vocabularically challenged and entitled to extra credit or even tenure. On the whole, good work, but an educatee with your talent can do even better.

  • Hmm’s comment is the immediate thread winner :-D

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    I will not take the test, because I fear it is a trap- any answer will be ‘judged’ as acceptable (nobody can fail!), and I will be immediately drafted into the system as a British teacher! (After all, I can ‘interact’ with the keyboard- what else is required?)

  • MarkE

    I remember two teachers from my youth (it was a long time ago – I’m doing well):

    A went into teaching after an academic research career in his subject. He was undeniably brilliant in that subject, but totally unable to explain it to a class of 15 year olds seeing it for the first time

    B went into teaching despite what seems to have been an indifferent degree (at best). His grasp of his subject was far less than that of A, but by the end of each lesson we each knew as much about it as B himself. That proved enough to pass the O level.

  • Our best teacher was drunk, mostly, and he taught maths.
    Before the age of 14 or 15 I was terrible, and just resigned that I couldn’t ‘do’ maths. After one year in his class, I was moved into the higher maths group and am now the holder of an HNC in electronics engineering.

  • Another one who survived calculus – there seems to be a whole bunch of you here. I’m green with envy.

    Natalie, I have to take RAB’s POV here: good teaching is not just about the ability to explain, it is also (if not mostly) about the ability to incite interest. When that happens, there remains little need to impose discipline. I am not saying none, but little.

  • RAB

    Ta Alisa. I wasn’t really going to bother to come back and quibble with natalie, but my point remains that you are not a good teacher unless you can maintain your pupil’s attention and concentration.

    Knowing your subject is fine, as is being able to impart information clearly and concisely in perfect conditions, but if you can’t do it for 30 plus ( I was taught in classes of 30+) fidgety unruly eleven year olds (and this was 1963, we were angels compared to what kids are like now) then you are no teacher. Suited to higher education perhaps, where people actually want to learn, but not to the conscripts of our Compulsory Education system.

    I was thinking of my first Maths teacher in Grammar school when I wrote. He was a Cambridge graduate, so knew his stuff and in dead silence was a good communicator, but nasty little animals that all kids are, we instinctively knew how to wind him up, and would make silly little jokes that would push him into apoplectic rage. We spent half of all our maths lessons that first year, learning little and standing to attention by our desks, while he went purple in the face and threatened to chuck us all out the window.

    It helps if a teacher has a streak of eccentricity too. We had a Geography teacher who was nicknamed Eggy, bald as a coot, looked 108, with the weirdest Welsh accent you ever heard. He wasn’t 108 of course, probably early 50’s. He had been a Commando during WW2 and got blown to hell, had more steel plates in him than a steam engine, but his delivery of the subject was just spellbinding, you never knew what he was going to come up with next. So ladies and gents I give you one of his most famous “Eggyism’s, which explains in one pithy memorable line, all you will ever need to know about the climate and topography of the Subcontinent…

    “Remember bwoys, the Himilayas make India warmer than it really is”

  • llamas

    RAB makes good points.

    Back in the day, a teacher didn’t need, perhaps, quite so much force of personality to maintain order. The ingrained culture of outward respect and deference for all teachers, rigidly enforced, could cover for quite a few personal shortcomings.

    The ‘streak of eccentricity’ remark brought it all flooding back.

    We had one master who was internationally-renowned in the art of Scottish country dancing. To watch this guy, in his 40s, prancing around in full Highland dress, was a sore trial to the legions of teenage boys forced to both watch and participate (it was a PE requirement, solely due to his personal involvement), but the Code meant that we had to keep our thoughts to ourselves, on pain of durance vile.

    One headmaster was famous for his sartorial peculiarities, on a famous occasion pulling up a boy for wearing trousers wide enough to make ‘a skirt for a good-sized wench.’ You do not say this sort of thing to 13-year-old boys – not if you want to earn their respect, you don’t.

    One master taught art & architecture classes in spite of the fact that he was blind as a bat – he’d taught the same class for so long that he had it all in his mind’s eye.

    Ah, the dear, dead days.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Choey

    You have the wrong types of questions. The more typical question would be: An average tree in a particular forest yields 100 board feet of lumber. There are 95 trees in the forest. How do the squirrels and bunnies feel about the evil loggers chopping up their homes?

  • geek

    Well, wisdom is the paladin dump stat in the latest editions, so makes sense…

  • Steve

    This does remind me of sitting in a mathematics refresher for Masters students at a university in Northern England three years ago. One individual (with the obligatory ‘good first degree in science’, found difficulty with the concept:

    10/10 = 1

    Yes, for those of you who think you have had a nasty turn, that is ten divided by ten equals one. Admittedly there were a few numbers above and below the line. It was something like:

    148 x 0.65 x 10/ 45600 x 10

    But when the two tens were struck out the individual thought that it was some sort of fiddle. He was joined by three or four others similarly mystified. This was not a joke or a spoof, I knew them and they were hopelessly innumerate.

    Six months later all of them received their second science degree at a British university.

    P.S I did my 11+ in 1957. That alone would probably have given me a pass in the maths exam.

  • Steve,

    Yes – I get the impression fractions are taught in primary school and then scarcely touched again. When Imperial measurements were in use they got constant revision, particularly for boys doing metalwork and so on; with metric measurements they do not.

    (Correction: my son, having seen this, has slightly indignantly said that he has done fractions in secondary school, although they are not done as a topic in themselves, but as part of probability or some other topic. OK, exaggeration above – but he has to admit that he needed practice at home to reinforce the sketchy treatment in school.)

    Oddly, you might have found that your innumerate fellow students would have had little trouble with cancelling “x” top and bottom of an algebraic fraction. The problem really is just *numbers*. A lot of quite good students seem not to connect algebraic fractions with the 1/2 + 1/3 they did in primary school. Of course that makes them weak in algebraic fractions, but they can do them most of the time. Strange.

  • Plonk

    I was also a Grammar School pupil in the early to mid 60’s and I am pretty damn sure I wouldn’t have passed the 11 plus if I hadn’t been able to pass this test.
    I remember a few years back my youngest was having trouble with fractions. I sat down with her and showed her how I was taught. She got quite worried and kept telling me they were not allowed to do it that way.
    I persevered and she never looked back.
    What I don’t understand is why kids are not taught in a way that is known to work instead of constantly trying out new ways of doing things. I can only assume that the old ways are too difficult for most teachers to grasp.