Have you ever had a driving lesson watching the instructor drive the car?

Posted by Phil on Apr 20, 2016

The title of my think piece really struck a chord with me about how people effectively learn and the example of the driving test is difficult to assess as it doesn’t quite make sense, but isn’t this exactly the same process adopted my many schools. It is also quite interesting, that with almost every article I read relating to the tasks I find myself thinking of ways to style my own methods of teaching.


Michael Pershan is quite scathing of Khan’s ideologies and on reflection he has every right to be. Yes, Khan’s method allows the student to work at their own pace but is that good enough on its own. I have heard that Eastern Maths students tend to have a better understanding, and often questioned why, and the Timms studies certainly go a long way to showing us why. Japanese methods allow the student to explore their own methods in finding a solution to a problem, and I think this goes some way to dispelling the myth of “one way to skin a cat”. Mathematics is about finding solutions, but there are most often more ways of coming to the answer, doesn’t the Japanese method allow students to identify a variety of methods which will certainly allow for a far greater level of understanding.


Going back to my own methods, I want to give students the freedom to allow them to develop their own understanding and if they are allowed to do this wouldn’t this create the most efficient method for that particular student. Allowing an open forum will also give the opportunity to discuss different methods which might be consider even more efficient by the individual, but at least this will give the student the opportunity of choice, something that is not broadly given in our schools today.


Andrew Blair’s Inquiry Teaching proposal is very much linked to both the Japanese method along with Pershan’s critique, as it puts an emphasis on the students’ own ability of inquiry. I think the fundamental key to this method is “encouraging students to negotiate the structure of activities, the inquiry teacher aims to harmonise method with content”. With this there would be an emphasis of the teacher to supply relevant and appropriate material meaning the teacher still has a significant role to play. One potential problem would be that the inquiries of the students could bring up a number of methods, and time constraints would only allow the teacher to “harmonise” a limited number of such. The teacher will then have the responsibility of “discarding” methods which an individual student might find themselves at ease with, as they focus more elsewhere. As with most elements of teaching it appears that achieving the appropriate balance is key.


One last point when thinking about my own teaching style is, will they fit in with the school I work for? Schools, or on a more granular basis, subject departments, will have their own structure and ideologies and our own desired style may have to be compromised to some extent.


  1. Fintan Donnellan
    24 April 2016

    Like you Phil, I’ve also thought about how much freedom we’re going to have to bring our own way of teaching to whatever school we are in (depends on the school). It’s quite easy to feel pessemistic about it all: How can we implement these changes?; Is there enough time?; What are other teachers’ views? But we have to believe that we can make some change.
    As for the inquiry method, it’s the judging to what degree does the teacher participates in the students’ inquiry that I would be incomfortable with. How independent should the student’s work be? When’s the appropriate time to drop a hint? It’s something that would require careful thought.

  2. Charli
    28 April 2016

    I think these tasks are helping to try and get us as well informed as possible at this stage of how we can develop our teaching styles in preparation for next year. I think we have to have the confidence in ourselves to know we can provide a difference to students wherever we end up. That being said, I’m not so sure I would suit being in a Maths Mastery subscribed school where I have all of my lessons planned for me and not based on the students in front of me.

    I agree that the inquiry method would sometimes be difficult to keep on top of in the sense that we don’t want students to work out a problem with a method that is too specified and they wouldn’t be able to bring forward to tackle similar problems in the future (or exams).

  3. aw677
    28 April 2016

    There is much here that I agree with, Phil. It is very difficult to get our heads around the concept that less is actually more, especially when we consider our own experiences as students. I think moving forward we will have to balance our own idea’s and values within the framework of the school in which we eventually teach, I think the compromise will be greater initially as we learn our trade in a practical sense but I think given time change will be inevitable.

  4. pepsmccrea
    28 April 2016

    Lots of strong questions posed here. Not just about the ideas being explored, but the challenges of their implementation (a significant issue). Really enjoyed the title > was kind of hoping that you’d discuss your thoughts on it in more detail!

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